Resources for consumers impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak
Our staff is keeping this resource guide up to date with information about COVID-19 resources, including the federal CARES Act relief package. Bookmark this page and check back regularly.
In light of the recent coronavirus outbreak, public and private resources are becoming available to help deal with lost wages, illness and school closures.
We will continue to update this list as we learn more.
- This publication is part of the COVID-19 Educational Resources training module.
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Table of Contents
The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (Stimulus #2)The second coronavirus pandemic stimulus package was passed by the U.S. Congress in late December 2020. The bill contains relief policies that provide financial help to families, additional unemployment funds, rental relief funds and extended small business loans. While many of the programs’ specifics are still being worked out, here’s what we know (we will update this guide as more information becomes available):
Stimulus payments (round two)
- Individuals making up to $75,000 a year (adjusted gross income) will receive a $600 payment. Heads of household making up to $112,500 and couples (including spouses whose partner died in 2020) earning up to $150,000 a year will get $1,200. Calculate how much you’ll get using Forbes’s second stimulus calculator . (Stimulus payments are based on 2019 tax returns.)
- Adults with dependent children will receive $600 for each child aged 16 and younger.
- Couples that filed taxes jointly and have at least one partner with a Social Security number are eligible for a single $600 payment. Each of their children (aged 16 and younger) with Social Security numbers are eligible for the $600 payment. This is a change from the first stimulus package, and the update is retroactive. If you did not receive the first stimulus payment in the spring and are now eligible, you’ll be able to make a claim for the money in your 2020 tax return.
- Payment distribution is expected to begin before the new year, and in the same way consumers received their first stimulus payment. (Electronic payments will take less time to be delivered than a paper check or a prepaid card.) Those who filed their 2019 tax returns online will receive their money automatically, as will Social Security recipients and those who uploaded their bank account information using the IRS's online portal to receive their first payments.
- If your income changed in 2020 and you are now eligible for the stimulus payments, or if you never received your first economic stimulus payment, you can claim this money in the form of a refundable tax credit when you file your 2020 income tax return. The IRS has more information here.
- If you are worried that you won’t receive your stimulus payment due to your bank account’s overdraft fees, call your bank and ask for a fee waiver so that you may access the stimulus funds.
- Everyone who qualifies for unemployment benefits will receive an extra $300 in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation weekly benefits, on top of the existing state benefit, for 11 weeks.
- The unemployment benefits extension applies to those receiving state benefits as well as to gig workers, those who are self-employed and part-time workers receiving checks through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. Everyone who qualifies for unemployment checks will get the additional weekly payment of $300.
- Use the U.S. Department of Labor’s Unemployment Benefits Finder to locate your state’s unemployment office and start your claim.
- The second bill includes $25 billion in emergency rental assistance and an extension of the CDC’s rental eviction moratorium through Jan. 31. The rental assistance is expected to be distributed through state and local governments. For more information on rental assistance, visit the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
- A moratorium on rental evictions on properties secured with a government-sponsored enterprise (GSE) mortgage (in other words, financed with loans purchased by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac) has been extended through Jan. 31.
- The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) extended moratoriums on single-family foreclosures and real estate owned (REO) evictions until at least Jan. 31.
- The second stimulus bill reopens the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for small businesses that have seen a drop of at least 25% in their revenue during the first, second or third quarter of 2020. Eligibility is limited to companies with fewer than 300 employees. It also reduces the maximum benefit from $10 million to $2 million. The bill allocates $12 billion for minority-owned businesses.
- Live venues, theaters and museums that have lost at least 25% of their revenues in 2020 are now eligible for PPP loans. During the first 14 days of the program's implementation, grants will be awarded to those who have faced 90% revenue losses. Those who have experienced at least 70% revenue losses will be eligible during the next two weeks. After the first month of the program, any other eligible businesses can apply for grants. Check for updates on the U.S. Small Business Administration website.
Internet credit for low-income households
The Emergency Broadband Benefit is a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) program that offers an internet service discount of up to $50 per month for eligible households, and up to $75 for residents of tribal lands. Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer or tablet from participating providers if they contribute more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price. A household is eligible if at least one member meets at least one of these criteria: qualifies for the Lifeline program; receives free or reduced-price school breakfast or lunch; is on Medicaid or receives SNAP food benefits; received a federal Pell Grant for the current year; experienced a substantial loss of income since Feb. 29, 2020, and had a total 2020 household income below $99,000 (single filers) or $198,000 (joint filers); or meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income or COVID-19 program. The Emergency Broadband Benefit is not automatic; even if you already receive Lifeline benefits, you must opt in with your existing provider or enroll with another participating broadband provider. You can receive both Lifeline benefits and the Emergency Broadband Benefit at the same time—for example, a mobile phone with a Lifeline discount and home internet with the Emergency Broadband Benefit. Program enrollment begins May 12, 2021. Visit the Get Emergency Broadband site for more information, an application, and a list of participating broadband providers. The FCC also offers a directory of participating providers by state. The program will end when the funding runs out or six months after the government declares an end to the COVID-19 crisis, whichever comes first.
CARES Act (Stimulus #1)
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act went into effect on April 1, 2020. The bill contains relief policies that provide financial help to families during the coronavirus outbreak, including stimulus payments of up to $1,200 per adult individual, additional unemployment funds, and a moratorium on federal student loan payments.
Many Americans (over 80% of adults) can expect a one-time direct payment of up to $1,200 per adult individual ($2,400 for couples) and $500 for each child age 16 and younger as part of the government’s stimulus package to provide relief during the coronavirus outbreak. This payment is intended to help most Americans and is not dependent on your employment status. The maximum a family can receive is a one-time payment of $7,500. You can calculate how much you are likely to receive at the Washington Post.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will determine your stimulus eligibility based on your 2019 or 2018 tax return. If you haven’t filed taxes in those years, the income will be based on your Social Security statement. The IRS said that Americans who were not required to file taxes in the last two years (including low-income taxpayers, some veterans, and individuals with disabilities—but not Social Security recipients) will have to file a "simple tax return," with basic information like filing status, number of dependents and bank information so the government can send the stimulus money. The IRS has stated that those filing the simple form will not owe tax. Non-filers who would like to receive their payment through direct deposit can provide their bank details to the IRS here.
Stimulus checks will start hitting direct deposit accounts the week after Easter (April 12). If you have not already set up direct deposit with the IRS through previous tax filings, you can expect a paper check to be mailed to you in May, or you can provide your banking details to the U.S. Treasury. (Please note that due to high traffic, the website may not always load. Try accessing the site during off-peak hours). The IRS is posting updates on economic impact payments on its website here.
The IRS announced a new Sept. 30 deadline for people who don't typically file tax returns to claim $500 in stimulus money for their children. Non-filers, such as recipients of Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Railroad Retirement and Veterans Affairs benefits, can use an online tool on its website to claim their eligible dependents.
For more information on a simple tax return, or how to update your address with the IRS, visit the IRS website.
(Editor's note: We will update this section when the second stimulus package is passed by Congress.)
Sick leave / Family and medical leave
If you are sick and unable to work (or telework) due to the virus, you might be eligible for up to two weeks of paid sick leave (in addition to any sick leave you've already accrued) under the coronavirus emergency relief package. The new law also expands the Family Medical Leave Act until December 2020. In order to qualify under the new federal law (the Families First Coronavirus Response Act), you must work at a public agency, non-profit organization or private business with less than 500 employees, and you must meet one of the six criteria:
- You are subject to a federal, state or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19;
- You have been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine for reasons related to COVID-19;
- You are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis;
- You are caring for an individual subject to an order described in (1) or self-quarantine as described in (2);
- You are caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed (or child care provider is unavailable) for reasons related to COVID-19; or
- You are experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Secretaries of Labor and Treasury (clarification on this to come out in April).
Full-time workers are eligible for up to two weeks of paid leave, and part-time workers get a period of leave equal to the number of hours they work on average over a two-week period. The payments are capped at $511 a day for those who are sick with the virus or seeking care, and $200 a day for those caring for a sick family member or children.
The law says the benefit is not contingent on the employee finding a replacement worker.
Those working for companies that have more than 500 employees are excluded under the law. Employees at organizations with fewer than 50 workers are covered by the law, but the U.S. Department of Labor could exempt small businesses if providing paid leave would put them out of business. Employers can also decline to grant leave to workers on the front lines of the crisis: health care providers and emergency responders.
If you are not eligible to receive sick leave under the federal law, but you live in a state that requires private companies to provide sick leave to employees, you may still be eligible for some sick-leave compensation during the coronavirus outbreak. You can check to see if your state has a mandatory sick-leave law at the National Conference of State Legislatures website.
Several states, including California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Washington, offer paid family leave. If you live in one of these states and have to care for someone who has contracted COVID-19 or is quarantined, you can apply for the state’s Paid Family Leave benefit. Benefits are similar to those from disability insurance—a percentage of your wages, depending on income.
If you have tested positive for coronavirus, or have been exposed to the virus, you may be able to file for temporary disability insurance from your state. California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island offer the benefit to residents. The programs are meant to partially replace wages for workers who are very ill, injured off the job, and unable to work. The amount of weekly benefits varies by state and individual, and depends on income. If the state approves your claim, you may need to wait a few weeks before you get a check.
Unemployment insurance is a joint federal-state program that provides temporary benefit payments to employees who are out of work through no fault of their own, until they can find another job. If you were laid off or lose hours due to the coronavirus, you can file for unemployment benefits to partially replace your wages. Be persistent: Many states are overwhelmed by the number of people filing for unemployment, but don’t give up on trying to apply. Consider applying during off-peak hours, like early in the morning, or late in the evening when the system is not as busy.
Gig workers and freelancers, who previously were not able to claim unemployment benefits, are now covered under the new law. Click here to see a list of FAQs regarding unemployment eligibility. (Editor's note: We will update this section when the second stimulus package is passed by Congress.)
The CARES Act allocated $350 billion to help small businesses keep workers employed amid the coronavirus pandemic and economic downturn. Known as the Paycheck Protection Program, the initiative provides 100% federally guaranteed loans to small businesses through the U.S. Small Business Administration. Loans can be up to 2.5 times the borrower’s average monthly payroll costs (not to exceed $10 million).
The loans may be forgiven if borrowers maintain their payrolls during the crisis or restore their payrolls afterward.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has issued an FAQ guide to help small businesses and self-employed individuals prepare to file for a loan.
You can start your application for a federal small business disaster loan by visiting the U.S. Small Business Administration’s website.
If you have placed a security freeze on your credit reports, remember to temporarily lift (remove) it if you are applying for these funds. Your credit will be checked as part of the process, and you will not want the protection of a security freeze slowing down the application and approval process.
Important: If you applied for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan before Monday, March 30, 2020, you need to apply again to access the $10,000 advance on an Economic Injury Disaster Loan even if your previous application was declined or is still pending.
State and local governments have also started to step up to help small businesses, including:
- New York City is offering interest-free loans of up to $75,000.
- Washington State is allowing eligible small businesses to defer business and occupation taxes.
- Florida small businesses can apply for interest-free loans of up to $50,000.
Workest, a website geared toward the small business community, is keeping an updated list of financial assistance programs by state and county, including tax penalty waivers, government-backed lines of credit and bridge loans.
Hospitality and service industry workers
USBG National Charity Foundation’s Bartender Emergency Assistance Program provides grants of up to $2,500 to bartenders and their families. You do not need to be a USBG member to apply.
One Fair Wage is providing temporary cash assistance through its emergency fund to help restaurant workers, car service and rideshare drivers (like Uber and Lyft), delivery workers and more. A Spanish-language site is also available here.
Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation is also offering short-term relief for restaurant employees and owners, and has links to other emergency funds available to those in the restaurant industry.
The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation has a relief fund that provides $500 grants to restaurant industry employees who have been impacted by COVID-19.
“Essential” businesses hiring
As many retailers around the country are forced to close their doors, businesses deemed “essential,” like grocery stores, pharmacies and Amazon, are hiring thousands of employees to help with the surge in demand, including delivery drivers, warehouse employees and sales associates.
Food and meals
Find your local food bank for help with groceries at Feeding America.
School breakfasts and lunches
Many local school districts are still providing two (to-go) meals a day while public schools are closed. In fact, many districts are expanding the free- and reduced-lunch program to include free meals for all children under age 18. You may also be able to pick up meals from the school you live closest to, instead of picking up meals from the school you attend. Visit your local school district’s website for updates, or enter your ZIP code here to find your local school district. You can also use the USDA’s tool to find meals while schools are closed.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
SNAP benefits (formerly known as food stamps) can help low-income families pay for food. Eligibility is based on your household’s size, income and expenses.To find out more about SNAP, or to apply for the benefit, contact your state office. Find your state's office online, or call 800-221-5689 to hear the toll-free number for your state’s program. SNAP has expanded the benefit to cover online grocery orders from participating retailers, including Amazon and Walmart, in 15 states and the District of Columbia.
Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC)
WIC provides nutritious foods and nutrition education to low-income pregnant women, women who have recently given birth, and infants and children up to age five. Learn more online at the USDA’s WIC website.
Meals on Wheels delivers food to seniors at home who are unable to purchase or prepare their own meals.
Aging in Place reviewed the best grocery delivery plans for seniors, including Instacart, Amazon Fresh and Walmart.
Regardless of your age, check with your local grocery store to see if it offers delivery or curbside pick-up services. (Please note that many grocery delivery services have been delayed due to demand during the coronavirus outbreak.)
Local restaurants are also offering to-go orders, zero-contact curbside meal pickup, and/or delivery service through third-party companies like GrubHub, Uber Eats, Caviar and Seamless as a way to stay open during this time. Call your favorite local restaurant and see if they are still offering to-go meal options.
Vulnerable community shopping hours
Grocery stores around the country have started offering designated shopping hours for seniors, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems. Local shops and national chains like Target, Dollar General and Whole Foods have announced these special shopping hours, typically held an hour before the store opens to the general public, as a way to help vulnerable communities avoid the spread of the coronavirus. Call your local stores or have a neighbor inquire about special shopping hours in your neighborhood.
Find a list of your local farmers markets that feature local farm vendors that sell produce and products directly to customers (usually in open-air venues).
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
CSAs provide local, seasonal food, including produce, meats, dairy and bread, directly from farmers. Food is usually delivered or available at a local pick-up spot. Click here to find a local CSA, or search online for “fresh produce delivery” to find the options in your area.
The Biden Administration extended the rental eviction moratorium on properties secured with a government-sponsored enterprise (GSE) mortgage (in other words, financed with loans purchased by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac), through March 31, 2021. Find out if you live in a property that is prohibited from evicting tenants for failing to pay their rent because they are affected by COVID-19.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued an order in early September banning landlords from evicting tenants from properties they can no longer afford to rent due to income lost as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The order would make it illegal to evict any qualifying tenant (see criteria, below) through March 31, 2021. Tenants would still be required to pay rent owed per the terms of the lease, along with any fees, penalties or interest charged by the landlord, in April.
In order to qualify for the eviction protection, your 2020 income must fall below $99,000 (single) or $198,000 (couple filing a joint tax return); you’ve sought all potential sources of federal housing aid; and you cannot afford to pay the rent due to a pandemic-related job loss or reduced work hours. You must declare your inability to pay by filling out and signing the CDC’s form and giving it to your landlord. The form can be found here in English, here in Spanish, and here in Vietnamese.
Make sure you complete the form, sign it, make a photocopy or take a picture of the completed form, and hand the document directly to your landlord. If you are unable to give it to your landlord in person, send the document by certified mail and keep the receipt showing the document was delivered.
The CDC’s order is new, and it remains to be seen how it will be implemented. If you are facing the threat of eviction and are unable to pay your rent due to hardships brought on by COVID-19, you should speak to a housing counselor or tenant attorney for guidance.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition has an FAQ page on the CDC’s new eviction moratorium here and the National Housing Law Project provides an overview of the order and links to the tenant declaration forms in Arabic, Spanish and Vietnamese.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Find a Housing Counselor tool provides a list of HUD-approved counseling agencies in your area.
Numerous states, cities and counties have implemented their own temporary eviction moratoriums in response to the COVID-19 crisis. If states or localities provide eviction protections that are equal to or greater than those in the CDC order, tenants can still rely on those protections. This does not relieve a tenant from the obligation to pay rent, or restrict the landlord’s ability to recover rent that is due.
The National Housing Law Project has published a state-by-state list of eviction moratoriums. It includes 24 categories of information concerning eviction for each state.
NOLO is also tracking eviction bans and other tenant protections, capturing the latest information on coronavirus-related measures by state (and by county and/or city, if applicable).
Communities all around the country have created over 500 emergency rental assistance programs during the pandemic. NLIHC has tracked them all here.
The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), Housing and Urban Development (HUD), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac all announced an immediate freeze on foreclosures and evictions until at least March 31, 2021 (but this could be extended), as well as a six-month forbearance for homeowners who can’t afford their mortgage payments (and an additional six-month period if needed). You can check whether your loans are backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac by visiting their websites:
Local sheriffs throughout the country are ceasing eviction enforcement, and courts are refraining from taking foreclosure cases. Experts advise that if you’re having a difficult time paying your mortgage, call your lender and ask them for options.
Almost every state is helping mortgage borrowers weather this national crisis. Forbes is tracking state mortgage relief programs here.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) Guide to coronavirus mortgage relief options is a good place for struggling mortgage borrowers to start. Its Find a Housing Counselor tool provides a list of HUD-approved counseling agencies in your area if you need free or low-cost advice on how to handle your mortgage at this time.
The National Housing Law Project is updating a list of resources for those who need housing assistance, including homeowner protection resources, a map of state eviction moratoriums, and tools for tenant advocates.
President Trump announced that major health insurers, including those who provide individual and family coverage and who are approved to provide care to Medicare enrollees, have agreed to waive copays for COVID-19 testing (but not treatment, if you need it). This includes Anthem, Aetna, Cigna, EmblemHealth, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Oscar and United Healthcare.
Health insurance plans will cover treatment for COVID-19, but they won’t necessarily waive copays or cost sharing for treatment, should you need it. This means you may still be on the hook to pay your plan’s deductible if you get ill. However, many states are requiring or recommending that insurers expand their coverage of key services beyond the minimum federal standard. The Commonwealth Fund is keeping track of states and their efforts to guide private health insurers during the COVID-19 outbreak.
If you lose your job and it provided your health insurance, you can keep your coverage for up to 18 months if you pay for it yourself (which typically makes the cost significantly higher). Your former employer must send you a COBRA letter within the 14 days after you stop working. You have 60 days to say yes or no (and you can change your mind if you originally decided no, as long it’s within the 60-day window). For more information, talk to your employer or human resources office, visit the Department of Labor online or call 866-444-3272.
Medicaid is free or low-cost healthcare coverage for low-income individuals and families. It’s a state program and each state has its own guidelines. To learn more, visit the Medicaid website.
The Affordable Care Act Marketplace
If your employer doesn’t provide health insurance, or if you’ve lost your job, you may be able to purchase a plan through the ACA Marketplace. While open enrollment is typically in the fall, and President Trump has decided to not open enrollment at this time, many states have reopened their health insurance exchanges, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New York, Rhode Island, Washington and Washington, D.C.
Federally-funded health clinics
To find free or low-cost clinics, search online at the Health Resources & Services Administration’s Find a Health Center website, call 877-464-4772 or email [email protected].
FEMA launched a funeral assistance program on April 12, 2021. Under the program, families who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 can apply for assistance with funeral expenses incurred after Jan. 20, 2020. To be eligible, the death certificate must indicate that the death was caused by, “may have been caused by” or “was likely a result of” COVID-19 or COVID-19-like symptoms (or similar language that indicates a high likelihood of COVID-19). The applicant must be a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or a qualified alien, but the person who died does not have to meet that requirement.
COVID-19 Funeral Assistance will reimburse up to $9,000 per deceased individual (but you can apply for assistance for more than one lost family member) for funeral services and interment or cremation. (Prepaid funeral expenses—costs paid before the individual died—are not eligible for reimbursement.) Find a list of eligible expenses, as well as documentation requirements (identification, death certificate, receipts, funeral home contracts, etc.), on the Funeral Assistance FAQ webpage.
To apply, call 844-684-6333 (TTY: 800-462-7585) Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern Time. During the call, you will complete a COVID-19 Funeral Assistance application with the help of a FEMA representative (there is no online application). Multilingual services are available. Learn more at the program webpage.
Several internet service providers, including Altice USA, Charter and Cox, are offering free internet for households with students in grades K-12 or college in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Comcast is offering free service to low-income households, free Wi-Fi hotspots for all, and eliminating data caps nationwide.
Every internet provider that has signed the Federal Communications Commission’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge has also opened up their Wi-Fi hotspots for free public use.
Utility companies around the country are suspending service disconnections and waiving late fees for customers struggling to pay their electricity bills, including Consolidated Edison, Georgia Power, Green Mountain Power, NV Energy, Pacific Gas & Electric, and Southern California Edison. Almost half the states in the country have imposed a moratorium on utility terminations. Call your local utility company and ask for a flexible payment plan if you’re struggling to pay—they may grant your request during the next few weeks.
Municipal water companies across the country, including in Detroit, New Orleans, Phoenix, Salinas, Seattle, St. Louis, and the state of Connecticut, have suspended service shut-offs—some will even reinstate your service if it was previously shut off, though service restoration may take a few days. Many states prohibit utilities from shutting off the water during a state of emergency.
Call the number on your utility bill to discuss options if you are having difficulty paying, or you need service restored.
AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon have signed on to the Federal Communications Commission’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge. Under this agreement, carriers have committed to take the following actions:
- Not terminate service to any residential or small business customers because of their inability to pay their bills due to the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic;
- Waive any late fees that any residential or small business customers incur because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic; and
- Open its Wi-Fi hotspots to any American who needs them.
Bank of America, Chase, Citibank and others are responding to the needs of their customers struggling to make payments due to the coronavirus by waiving late fees, providing payment relief and offering other assistance.
Goldman Sachs, the financial institution backing the Apple credit card, announced it will allow cardholders who ask for help to skip a payment, interest-free. American Express (credit cards) and Capital One (credit cards and auto loans) will also allow customers to skip their monthly payments, interest-free.
If you have a problem paying your credit card bill or loan payment, call your loan servicer and see if they will waive your monthly payment temporarily, without a late fee, and interest-free, in light of the current national crisis.
Automatic bill payments
If your bank processes your bill payments automatically, you may want to stop autopayments from your account for the foreseeable future. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau provides instructions on how to stop autopayments here.
Federal student loan borrowers will not have to make any payments on their loans through Sept. 30, 2021 (though that money will still need to be paid later). Interest during the forbearance period will also be waived entirely. These months of suspended payments will be applied toward a borrower’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness and/or Income-Driven Repayment Plan record and will count as qualifying payments.
If your federal student loans are eligible, you do not need to do anything to pause your payments—the payment and interest pause will be automatic. However, we recommend you log in to your student loan account to confirm that interest has stopped accruing on your student loans and that no payment is due. If you see that you owe a payment on your student loan, call your servicer (the company that sends you the monthly bill) and ask them about the CARES Act payment halt. (Updates to this forbearance process are being posted to the Education Department’s StudentAid.gov website.)
Perkins loans, commercially-held Federal Family Education Loans (FFELs) held by a bank or financial institution, and private student loans (student loans held by a lender that is not the federal government) are not covered by the CARES Act, and borrowers will still need to make their monthly payments at this time or call their loan servicer and ask about placing their loans in temporary forbearance. (Interest will likely still accrue while loans are in forbearance.)
The Department of Education has halted collection efforts on defaulted student loans, including wage garnishment and seizure of tax refunds. (If you filed your 2019 tax return after March 13 and your refund was seized, you will get a refund.) You may need to work with your employer to halt wage garnishments, so ask your HR representative or manager for help stopping future garnishments related to student loans.
If you are already enrolled in an income-driven repayment plan, but you've lost your job or your income has decreased, ask your loan servicer to immediately recertify your loans based on your new, lower income. Your monthly payment could be significantly decreased after the government’s payment halt ends in September. If you are not currently enrolled in an income-driven repayment plan, now is a great time to enroll. You can learn more here. Student Debt Crisis has created a free tool that helps you enroll in the best plan for your financial situation, or you can call your servicer directly to enroll in a plan for free.
If you are currently rehabilitating your defaulted federal loans, suspended payments will count towards your rehabilitation progress, as stated on Federal Student Aid's government website.
Ten states, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Virginia and Washington, and the District of Columbia have negotiated private student loan relief with major loan servicers, including Sallie Mae, Nelnet and Navient. A 90-day forbearance is available to private-loan borrowers and borrowers with non-federally held FFELs, and late fees, debt collection lawsuits and negative credit reporting are also suspended under the agreement. You must opt in to the forbearance by contacting your servicer, but you do not need to show evidence of coronavirus-related hardship to get relief.
You can find more information about the CARES Act and student loans at the Student Loan Borrower Assistance website.
Beware of student loan scams! There is nothing a debt relief company can do for you that you can’t do on your own, for free, by contacting your loan servicer. Any company that tries to tell you they can lower your monthly payments, or cancel them altogether, is charging you hundreds of dollars to follow the same process. Here are some other common student loan scams to be aware of.
The Trump administration announced that taxpayers and businesses will be given an extra 90 days to file and pay their 2019 federal tax returns, interest- and penalty-free, making the new deadline July 15. However, if you are due a refund, you should file your taxes as soon as possible.
Most states have pushed back tax filing dates and payment deadlines for individuals and/or businesses. If your local/county government has not postponed the date property taxes are due, they may be willing to waive penalties on payments that are delinquent due to the coronavirus. Check with your local taxing authority for your options during this time.
USA Today is keeping a list of states that are moving tax deadlines and waiving late payment penalties.
If you need help with your taxes, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program offers free tax help to people who generally make $56,000 or less, persons with disabilities and limited-English-speaking taxpayers who need assistance in preparing their own tax returns. Find a tax preparer in your area on the IRS website.
Lowlifes will always attempt to prosper during a crisis; the coronavirus outbreak is no different. For a list of the latest coronavirus-themed scams, read our SCAM GRAM newsletter and check out this article in Forbes on COVID-19 scams. The FTC has also put out a list of coronavirus-related scams and tips on how to avoid them.
Here are a few scams we’ve been hearing about:
- Fake emails from the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization providing virus updates and information on vaccines
- Fake stimulus checks that bounce when you cash them (similar to this scam)
- Scam calls asking for your bank details for a government stimulus direct deposit
- Scams relating to the $1,200 stimulus payments in general
- Stores selling fake cleaning products, like sanitizing wipes, masks and hand sanitizer
- Phishing emails related to restocking of items, like cleaning products and toilet paper, from big-name online retailers
- Fraudulent coronavirus antibody testing
Millions of travel plans have been disrupted, cancelled or rescheduled as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. It’s confusing to know when you’re due a full refund, or if a credit (for future use) will have to suffice. Here are a few helpful articles on the matter:
- Elliot Advocacy explains travelers’ rights and helps you decide if you should cancel your plans or wait for the hotel, cruise or airline to do it for you.
- The New York Times explains how airlines have been managing the massive travel disruptions.
- Consumer advocate David Lazarus wrote about cruise ship policies during the outbreak.
- The Washington Post provides some tips on how to secure travel refunds.
- Information on hotel cancellation and rebooking policies (including Airbnb) can be found on Business Insider.
- The Points Guy is updating a list of cancellation policies for domestic and international airlines.
- The New York Times looks at why it’s been so difficult to get refunds from online travel agencies (Expedia, Priceline, etc.).
If you have had an unresolved problem with an airline during this time, it is very important to submit a complaint to the Department of Transportation (DOT). Formally documenting your experience is the only way the government will get involved with a policy change (short-term or long-term). If the DOT does not receive complaints (or enough complaints) on an issue, it has no reason to step in and regulate.
If you have an unresolved complaint about a cruise, you can contact the Federal Maritime Commission for help mediating, though there is currently no federal oversight of the industry, since many cruise lines operate out of other countries.
Those with unresolved complaints about flights, cruises, hotels and timeshares should contact their state attorney general’s office, the Better Business Bureau, and also consider taking complaints to Twitter—private companies hate for complaints to be made public, and might contact you to show they are serious about resolving the issue.
- Consumer Action’s COVID-19 Educational Project provides free, helpful consumer resources for tough times on an array of issues, including housing, estate planning and job training.
- Veterans Education Success has published a coronavirus guide for veterans that covers mental health resources, emergency financial help, student loan information, and ways to keep your kids occupied at home.
- The Nation has compiled a list of grants that are supporting various communities all over the country.
- Wide Open School is a collaboration of publishers, non-profits, and education and technology companies that provides a collection of free lesson plans and activities for kids, organized by grade and subject.
- Consumer Reports’ coronavirus resource hub has information and articles on an array of topics, including health, home and home maintenance, tech and privacy.
- America Saves’ COVID-19 Resources page offers tips for budget grocery shopping, how to spend your stimulus check wisely, and more.
- SwiftStudent is a free tool that helps guide students through the financial aid appeal process (in other words, requesting more funding and financial aid from their college). The site provides templates and lets users plug in their information to generate a letter for submission to their school’s financial aid office.
- Google has curated a selection of teacher-approved apps, providing enrichment and entertainment for kids.
Published / Reviewed Date
Reviewed: March 26, 2021
No Download Available
Major funding for our COVID-19 Education Project was provided by Wells Fargo. Additional support courtesy of AT&T, Bank of America, Capital One, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Square.
(Original publication: March 18, 2020)
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