Although it seems like much of life is cancelled, our daily lives and needs haven’t shut down. They have just adapted to the “new normal.” What the country (indeed the world) is going through with changes of employment and temporary closures, has been a shock to the system. But, as a nation we are doing our best to adapt and respond—as we always do in times of crisis.
So, let’s focus on what we can do to improve our financial lives if we’re able — and hold them steady if we’re not. Here are our suggestions.
If you can tread water (or better)…
Use your stimulus payment wisely.
Single Americans who make up to $75,000 annually will be getting $1,200 from the government to help them manage their money in this time of need. (Those who make $75,000 – $99,000 will get less but still something. The limits are doubled for married filers and higher if you’re a head of household.) If you qualify for this boost, don’t let it burn a hole in your pocket. Spend it on essentials you need now to get you through, or put it away for a rainy day. Never has the need for an emergency fund been so pressing. And a great place for exceptional savings rates is your Credit Union’s free Rainy Day Savings account.
Keep track of your bills.
For many people, it’s hard enough to stay up to date with the many monthly bills we pay — and with incomes uncertain for so many it’s even harder. Take the time to calendarize when each bill comes in, then set reminders before the due date. (Some billers will do this for you.) Right now, the last thing you need are late fees. The Credit Union’s Online and Mobile Banking are great, free ways to keep an eye on your accounts. Plus, you’ll get convenient 24/7 access and the ability to transact virtually.
Focus on the basics.
Financial therapist Amanda Clayman encourages us to focus on what we really need to be spending money on right now. Take a look back at your spending since you’ve been under stay at home orders to see where your money is going and where — if anywhere — you can cut back.
Get strategic about credit card bills.
In normal times, we’d be the last ones to suggest doing anything but paying your bill off, in full, every single month. These are not normal times. If your emergency fund is looking shallow, keep some of your powder dry by making a smaller payment and keeping hold of the cash. Also, call your card issuer to see if you can get a break on your interest rate or if a balance transfer to a 0% card is within reach (just be sure you’d recoup anything paid in balance transfer fees in savings on interest).
Talk to your lenders if you can’t pay your bills.
Many credit unions and banks are helping their customers by putting them on payment plans to lessen the financial burden of large credit card bills during the Coronavirus, especially since many are reliant on their credit cards during these times. A number are also waiving penalties and fees. If you need help, pick up the phone and call your lender. Then, check out what the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has to say about it.
Halt your mortgage payments.
If your home loan is federally backed (including VA, FHA and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans) the CARES Act allows you to press pause on your payments for up to 180 days with no penalties, reports the CFPB, and then ask for another 180 days when that is over. If yours is not, contact your servicer to see what sort of relief they’re offering to their customers. Just be careful that you understand what happens at the end of any period of relief. And if your income rebounds and you can start paying your mortgage, do so.
Save on student loans.
Until September 30, no federal student loan payments are expected to be made, according to the CFPB. If you stop your payments until then, you won’t face any penalties on missed payments during that time. If you do want to pay now, though, you will benefit from a 0% interest rate on payments until September 30, meaning you’ll make a bigger dent in the amount you owe in total.
Remember you’re not alone.
“Personal finance can be private, but it’s also universal. Everyone deals with it, and in these times of crisis, we can be civic-minded and united in our support for one another,” Clayman says. Reach out to your friends to discuss your financial — and other — anxieties, even if it’s not something you typically do. And count your Credit Union among your support group. We’re , and will always give you candid, impartial advice and support.
This article was developed in partnership with SavvyMoney.