Tools for Managing Your Finances During the COVID-19 Pandemic

This page is NOT a source for medical information about COVID-19 or the coronavirus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO) webpage for health-related information.

Click a topic to jump to that section of the page:

About This List
Comprehensive Sources of Information
Cash Payments to Families aka Economic Impact Payments or Rebates 
Paid Sick Leave and Family Leave – Including Self-Employed
Unemployment Insurance
Mortgages
Renters
Credit Cards, Personal and Auto Loans, and Other Bank Services
Credit Reports: Free Weekly Reports Through April 2021
Income Taxes
Student Loans
Emergency Financial Aid
Utilities
Small Business Assistance 
Existing Government Support Programs
Tips for Managing Your Money
Free Financial Coaching

About This List

This page is a work in progress. I am adding to and updating this page as new information becomes available, including new actions by federal and Illinois government and financial institutions. I will continue to add general financial information sources.

This curated list contains sources that I have carefully evaluated for credibility and relevance as we deal with the financial fallout of the coronavirus. I have included official announcements from government entities, summaries and explanations of those government actions, and more general guidance about managing your personal finances during this unusual and stressful time. Where possible, I have used government and non-profit sources. But if I have found the most useful information on a commercial site with which I am familiar and that I trust, that is the link I will provide here.

I have spent the past 27 years providing research-based, non-commercial financial education, including nearly 20 years with University of Illinois Extension and the past 8 years through my own financial education LLC. To compile this list, I have used all that I have learned about selecting reputable sources of information. I hope you will find this list helpful.

Finally, I apologize in advance for any errors on this page. Although my goal is to be 100% accurate, that’s not likely to happen. That’s why I encourage you to visit the links I have provided rather than relying solely on my explanations. Back to top

Comprehensive Sources of Information

The CARES Act is the third and largest piece of legislation dealing with the corona virus pandemic, including cash payments to families, expanded unemployment benefits, and suspension of payments to certain student loans. Summaries have been published by NPR, the Associated Press, and Consumer Reports. The Tax Foundation published an extensive list of FAQs covering all parts of the Act, and the National Consumer Law Center has compiled a comprehensive list of consumer protections put in place in response to the COVID-19 crisis, including actions taken by individual states.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a comprehensive page, Protecting Your Finances During the Coronavirus Pandemic, that includes links to videos, articles, and press releases about the various government programs and money management tips that are especially relevant right now.

Forbes has compiled links to all of their pandemic-related articles in one place at Your Money And Coronavirus: A Financial Protection Guide, under headings including Income Replacement (stimulus payments and unemployment, etc.), Taxes (stock market losses, delayed filing), Housing, Student Loans, Banking, Insurance, Retirement, Budgeting, Credit Cards, Small Business, and Helping Others. Disclaimer: I have read only a few of these articles. I may or may not agree with all of their recommendations. But I typically find Forbes articles to be thoughtful and factually accurate.

The City of Chicago has compiled an extensive list of federal, state, and city resources with excellent explanations about each one. The list includes programs specific to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as standard assistance programs.

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) has compiled a list of daily announcements from federal agencies. While their focus is to track information that impacts state legislatures, many of these same announcements affect us as individual consumers. Links on the NCSL page will take you directly to the official federal agency announcement. Back to top

Economic Impact Payments – Cash Payments to Individuals & Families (the CARES Act)

Details about the distribution of these checks continue to be updated on the IRS website at https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus.

The CARES Act, signed into law on March 27, 2020, authorizes cash payments to individuals and families to help them during the COVID-19 health crisis. The IRS Economic Impact Payment Information Center has an extensive Q&A covering seemingly every situation.

The maximum payment is $1200 for the taxpayer and $1200 for the spouse, if filing jointly, plus $500 for each dependent child aged 16 or younger. A maximum amount was not included in the final version of the bill. 

Payments will be made based on your adjusted gross income (AGI) as shown on your 2019 tax return, or on your 2018 return if you have not yet filed for 2019. Tip: Find your AGI on the 1040 form, line 8b for 2019 or line 8 for 2018. 

Filing statusFull payment if AGI below:*No payment if AGI above:
Single, married filing separately$75,000$99,000
Head of household$112,000$136,500
Married filing jointly$150,000$198,000
If your income is between these numbers, your payment will be reduced by 5% of the excess over the full payment amount.
*Some sources say these limits only apply to households with no children or, for head of household, only 1 child.

If you don’t qualify based on your 2018 or 2019 income, but you do based on your 2020 income or you qualify for a larger payment, you will receive the payment as a credit when you file your 2020 taxes. 

How will you get your payment?

Use this flow chart to see how you should receive your Economic Impact Payment.

Payments will be automatically generated and deposited for those who filed 2018 or 2019 taxes with refunds that were automatically deposited. Payments began showing up in back accounts on April 15. Payments for Social Security, SSI, veterans, and Railroad Retirement benefit recipients who do not have to files taxes will also receive $1200 payments automatically. If they also have a spouse and/or dependent children who qualify, they should use the Non-Filers: Enter Your Payment Info Here tool to provide the needed information.

If the IRS doesn’t have your direct deposit information, they will mail you a check. You can use the Get your Payment app to provide the IRS with your bank account information to get your payment quicker via direct deposit.

If you have not filed because you are not required to file a tax return (i.e., your income is below the amount where you would be required to file), provide your bank account information and details about your family using the “Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info” tool. Check that page for a list of information needed before starting the process. Don’t be surprised if you see a message that you are leaving the IRS website; the tool is provided by a certified partner of the IRS.

If you have moved or your bank account information has changed and you have not yet filed your 2019 taxes, file your 2019 taxes electronically ASAP. If you have already filed your 2019 taxes, the IRS intially said you would not be able to update that information. But they are constantly refining how this works, so check the Get My Payment FAQs, which are updated frequently, for the most current information.

Resolving Problems with Payments

You can find guidance on many issues on the Economic Payment Info Center web page. Scroll down to the the question numbers listed for each issue.

You are not eligible for a payment and were sent one in error. This includes those who:

  • died before their payment was received- Q10
  • are aliens but are not qualifying resident aliens for 2020  – Q11
  • are incarcerated – Q12.

If you received a payment in error, you are required to return the money. See Question 54 for instructions.

You believe you were eligible for a larger payment than what you received. As of June 1, 2020, Question 29 on the website said they did not have a process in place to make corrections to payments at that time. If that changes, the answer to Question 29 should be updated. If you are not able to get the remainder of your payment in 2020, you will be able to claim the additional amount on your 2020 tax return that you file in early 2021. Todo that, hang onto Notice 1444 that you received in the mail detailing the payment you received.

Can creditors take my payment? The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau states that the Federal government will only withhold money for child support payments, not for taxes or defaulted student loans. David Dayen, writing for The American Prospect, cites other potential risks to your payment. For example, if you owe money to the bank where the payment is deposited, it probably depends on either bank policy or state law. Other creditors could try to garnish your checking account. To make it more difficult for creditors to claim the money, MSN Money listed suggestions from Lauren Sanders, associate director at the National Consumer Law Center, including: direct the deposit to a new account perhaps at a smaller bank, or don’t provide direct deposit information so you get a check that you can cash instead of it going into a bank account.

What records do I need to keep?

Once you receive your payment, you will receive a notice by mail, labeled Notice 1444 – Your Economic Impact Payment. Question 43 on the Economic Payment Information Center says that you should keep that notice with your tax information for the 2020 return that you will file next year.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, signed into law on March 18, requires employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide two weeks of paid sick leave and up to three months of family leave at no less than 2/3 of the employee’s regular pay for workers affected by the virus. There is a list of qualifying reasons for the leave. The Act mitigates the financial impact on the employers by reimbursing the cost via tax credits.

Certain self-employed workers are helped, too, with refundable tax credits equivalent to the sick leave amount.

Kiplinger and NPR both wrote useful summaries of this Act. Back to top

Unemployment Insurance

Unemployment benefits are managed by each state individually. CareerOneStop.org provides links to each state’s unemployment information.

Under the CARES Act, the Federal government is offering to pay for five types of expansions to state unemployment insurance, if the state agrees to the expansion. Summaries have been published by numerous organizations including the Tax Foundation, The National Law Review and the National Employment Law Project. For Illinois, see the IDES web page for a list of FAQs.

Unemployment benefits are taxable income. To avoid a tax bill and possibly penalties when you file taxes next year, either elect to have taxes withheld from your unemployment check or make quarterly estimated tax payments to both your state and to the IRS. In Illinois, use this form to request withholding of both state and federal taxes. In any state, you can also fill out IRS Form W4V and submit it to the payer of your benefits to request federal tax withholding only, not state.

The benefit expansions are:

  • Elimination of waiting period: Normally, unemployment benefits do not start until you have been out of work for one week. Under the CARES Act, the Federal government is offering to pay for benefits for the first week if the state agrees to provide that coverage. 
  • Additional $600 per week for up to 4 months, through July 31, 2020: The Federal government will cover the cost of an additional $600 per week in benefits for unemployed workers. This is a flat amount; it is not prorated based on the regular amount of your unemployment insurance benefit. 
  • Benefits for an additional 13 weeks: Unemployment benefits usually last for 26 weeks. The Federal government will pay for an extra 13 weeks of payments. This program will end on Dec. 26, 2020. 
  • Partial unemployment benefits when moved to part time work, aka Short-time Compensation/Work-Sharing: To help employers avoid layoffs by moving people to part time work, the Federal government will reimburse states for who provide partial unemployment benefits in these situations.  
  • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA): This program gives benefits to three categories of workers: 1) those who are not usually covered by unemployment insurance such as gig workers and other self-employed people, part-time workers, and those who have not worked long enough to be covered, 2) those who have used up any other unemployment benefits, or 3) those who are unable to work as a direct result of the coronovirus public health emergency. This program runs from January 27, 2020 through December 31, 2020, and benefits can be paid retroactively. Illinois has created a downloadable PDF guide about these benefits. NELP explains that the first group includes, “self-employed workers, including independent contractors, freelancers, workers seeking part-time work, and workers who do not have a long-enough work history to qualify for state UI benefits.” The third group includes people who cannot work as a result of being diagnosed with or having symptoms of COVID-19, being quarantined, not working because their place of employment is closed because of COVID-19, etc. See the NELP article for a complete list of qualifying COVID-19 impacts.

In his YouTube video, What you should know about Unemployment Insurance, Dr. Craig Lemoine, CFP and Director of the Financial Planning Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, explains how unemployment works. He shared this graphic explanation of how these expanded benefits will work, and noted the cost of providing them based on the 10 million people already unemployed as of April 2, 2020.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Dua7RXWSaw&feature=youtu.be

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Mortgages

If your mortgage is owned or backed by the federal government and you have been financially impacted by the pandemic, you can request forbearance (pausing or reducing) of your payments for up to 180 days, and you can request an extension of up to an additional 180 days.

The CFPB blog post, Guide to Coronavirus Mortgage Relief Options. spells out almost everything you need to know about mortgage forbearance under the CARES Act. It even lists the federal agencies and entities who might own or back your loan, making your loan eligible for forbearance:

  • U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) 
  • U. S. Department of Agriculture 
    • USDA Direct 
    • USDA Guaranteed 
  • Federal Housing Administration (FHA) (Includes reverse mortgages) 
  • U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) 
  • Fannie Mae 
  • Freddie Mac 

This guide will also help you figure out what assistance, if any, you are eligible for, plus what to do after you receive assistance. They also clearly state, “If you can pay your mortgage, pay your mortgage.”

Tip #1: One question that is apparently not addressed by the CARES Act is how payments for property taxes and insurance will be handled if you make payments toward those costs each month, which are held in an escrow account. Before agreeing to forbearance, ask for details on how that will work. If the lender will pay them, how will they be paid back? Will they maintain your existing homeowners insurance policy?

Tip #2: Ask how and when you will need to make up the suspended payments. Will they be added to the end of your mortgage, extending your mortgage for the same number of months as the forbearance? Can the payoff time for your mortgage be extended – in essence, refinanced – into a longer term mortgage? Or, if you loan is not with Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA, VA, or USDA, will you have to make a balloon payment equal to all the skipped payments once the forbearance ends? That might be impossible. Know in advance how you will make up the payments to be sure forbearance is the right choice for you. Back to top

Tip #3: Mortgages in forbearance must be reported as current on your credit report, as long as you were current at the time the forbearance began. But you should check your credit report to be sure it’s being reported correctly. Fortunately, the three major credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and Transunion – have agreed to provide free weekly credit reports through April 2021. Request these reports online at annualcreditreport.com.

If you have an FHA mortgage, HUD issued a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions for single family owners for 60 days, apparently beginning on March 18, 2020.

If your mortgage is backed by either Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac (referred to as the Enterprises), the Federal Housing Finance Agency announced that foreclosures and evictions have also been suspended for at least 60 days, as of March 18, 2020.

Forbes has compiled an alphabetical List Of Banks Offering Relief To Customers Affected By Coronavirus (COVID-19) which, in addition to any accommodations about mortgages, includes actions they are taking about credit cards and other banking services. A link to each bank’s COVID-19 webpage is provided, so that you can easily track down more details from your lender. Forbes also has a Mortgage Relief Tracker which links to both the FHA and Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac relief programs, as well as initiatives from individual banks. (I know that Forbes has a lot of ads on its website, but this is the best list I could find of what is available regarding mortgages.)

NPR is continuing to update their reporting on this issue.

Renters

Renters in many areas may be protected from eviction. The CARES Act prohibits building owners with mortgages backed by the federal government from evicting tenants for 120 days beginning March 27. In Illinois, Governor Pritzker’s Stay at Home Order included a prohibition on any law enforcement officers carrying out evictions until the end of the state’s disaster proclamation. That proclamation was originally set to end April 7, but was later extended to April 30. Nolo.com, a self-help legal website, is maintaining a list by state of bans on evictions, utility shutoffs, and other actions protecting tenants. The National Housing Law Center published an analysis of federal and state eviction rules.

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Retirement Plans

The CARES Act loosens several rules related to retirement accounts to help individuals deal with the coronavirus crisis.

Coronavirus-Related Distributions: The CARES Act made it easier to take money out of your qualified retirement plan such as a 401(k) or IRA if you experience an emergency such as testing positive to the cornonavirus or financial hardship due to current health crisis. You can take out up to $100,000 without paying an early distribution penalty that normally applies if you are not yet 59 1/2. You have three years to pay this money back into your retirement account. In that case, it functions like an extended rollover and there will be no taxable income. If not repaid, the distribution will be taxable income (unless it is coming from a Roth account). By default, the income will be spread over three tax years. Correction: This section previously incorrectly stated that you would not be able to repay the distribution.

Tip: Evaluate this decision carefully, and consider other options before taking the distribution. Will you have to sell investments at a loss to take the distribution? If you hope to repay it, how secure is your job? Will you be employed long enough to pay it back? If you do pay it back, will you be buying back investments at a much higher cost than when you sold? How much will it cost to pay your tax preparer to record the distribution and repayment on your tax returns, and possibly file amended returns due to the complexity? Consider other options first, such as cutting expenses and use other resources such as food banks and the new assistance programs listed under other headings on this web page. Retirement accounts are largely protected from creditors; in a worst-case scenario where you eventually file for bankruptcy, you would be generally be allowed to keep your retirement account.

Enhanced loans, payments delayed one year: The maximum amount that you can borrow from your 401(k) is increased from 50% of your balance up to $50,000, to 100% of your balance up to $100,000. This applies only for 180 days after the law was implemented, presumably the date it was signed: March 27, 2020. If you have a 401(k) loan and owe a payment before Dec. 31, 2020, you can delay repaying for one year.

Caution: If you can’t pay back the loan, perhaps because you lose your job, this loan becomes taxable income. Borrowing money means you are spending your future income. You will have less to live on in the future as you pay back the loan. You may also be selling investments when their value is low so that you can borrow the money, and buying those investments back later on at a higher price.

Skip your 2020 RMD: If you are 72 or older in 2020, you would normally have a Required Minimum Distributions (RMD) from each of your retirement accounts this year and every year hereafter. But the CARES Act suspends RMDs for 2020, even for beneficiaries. If you turned 70 1/2 in 2019 and were waiting until the last minute to take your first RMD, using the grace period that runs until April 15, 2020, that RMD is also suspended. For an in-depth discussion of this topic, read the post on the Nerd’s Eye Blog.

Make 2019 IRA contributions up until July 15, 2020: With the deadline for filing taxes delayed until July 15, you also have until that date to contribute to your IRA and count it as a contribution for 2019. Back to top

Credit Cards, Personal and Auto Loans, and Other Bank Services

As stated above in the mortgage section, Forbes has compiled an alphabetical List Of Banks Offering Relief To Customers Affected By Coronavirus (COVID-19) which includes relief and hardship programs they are offering for credit cards, other loans, and certain banking services. For example, some banks are:

  • waiving monthly service fees
  • waiving early withdrawal penalties on CDs
  • suspending auto repossessions
  • allowing account holders to request waiver of overdraft/NSF charges Back to top

Credit Reports: Free Weekly Reports Through April 2021

The three major credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian, Transunion – are offering free weekly credit reports through April 2021. These free credit reports can be accessed only online, on the same website where you request your free annual credit reports: https://www.annualcreditreport.com/. Use these free reports to make sure that mortgages and student loans in forbearance, and other debts for which you received an accommodation are properly being reported as current., as explained in my blog post.

Income Taxes

The IRS has extended the filing deadline and, more importantly, the deadline for paying if you owe for 2019 taxes. The due date for both has been extended from April 15 to July 15, 2020. Payment of taxes owed can be deferred until July 15 with no interest or penalties, regardless of the amount owed. Eligibility is automatic; you do not need to do anything to take advantage of filing or paying as late as July 15.

The list of returns and payments affected by the new deadline continues to grow. As of April 9, the list includes both first and second quarter 2020 estimated income tax payments; returns for citizens living abroad,trusts, estates, and corporations; and 2016 returns being filed to claim a refund. Deadlines for all are now postponed to July 15, 2020. The new deadline also applies to IRA and HSA contributions for 2019.

Check the FAQs for more information or go to the IRS Coronavirus main page for links to all related information.

Illinois has also extended both the filing and payment deadlines for 2019 income taxes to July 15, 2020. However, state estimated tax deadlines have not changed. Instead, Illinois is allowing taxpayers to make estimated tax payments based on 100% of their tax liability for 2019 or 2018, as well as their estimated liability for 2020.

If you live in a state other than Illinois, you can find a link to your state tax agency through the Federation of Tax Administrators.

Insight: If you are due a refund, you should file as soon as possible.

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Student Loans

Federal Assistance Program (Section 3513 of the CARES Act)

The official government website for student loans, studentaid.gov, has established a dedicated page with extensive FAQs on all aspects of this relief.

If you have a qualifying loan, your payments will automatically be suspended (put into forbearance) with no interest and no late fees from March 13, 2020 through September 30, 2020.

No down side to forbearance: Suspended payments will count toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness and balance forgiveness at the end of an income driven repayment plan. If you are in the process of rehabilitating a loan that was in default, these suspended payments will also count as paid by you.

In addition, suspended payments will be reported to credit reporting agencies as made. To verify that suspended payments are being reported correctly, you can take advantage of free weekly credit reports through annualcreditreport.com.

Most Federal loans are eligible: those owned by the US Dept. of Education, which includes Direct Loans and FFEL loans (even if they are in default) as well as Perkins loans, except for FFEL loans owned by a commercial lender and Perkins loans owned by an educational institution. You can determine which of your federal loans are owned by the US Dept. of Education by following these steps from the studentaid.gov coronavirus web page under Borrower Questions:

  • Log in StudentAid.gov/login using FSA ID to access your StudentAid.gov dashboard
  • Click on “view details” to go to Aid Summary.
  • Scroll down to “Loan Breakdown.”
  • If you see a servicer name that starts with “DEPT OF ED,” that loan that is owned by ED.

Any loans not listed here are generally private loans.

The law requires that borrowers with qualifying loans be notified within 15 days of the law’s enactment of the suspension and their option to continue making payments. You will also be notified prior to the end of the suspension.

Borrowers can choose to make voluntary payments during the forbearance. This can be helpful for those on standard repayment plans where they will repay the loan in full. Voluntary payments will be applied 100% to principle, after paying any interest that accumulated before the automatic forbearance. That will result in less interest being added each month in the future, more of your payments going toward principle, and a quicker payoff of the loan. But for those who expect to receive loan forgiveness either from the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program or at the end of an income-driven repayment plan where the remaining balance is forgiven, will generally NOT benefit from making voluntary payments. In those situations, voluntary payments will simply reduce the amount of loan forgiveness they will receive.

If your federal loan is not eligible for the CARES Act forbearance and you are having difficulty making your payments, see the next section about other special arrangements during COVID-19. Also, there are other, permanent features of your loans that may help, including:

If your loan is in default, collections are also being halted. For example, if you are subject to a wage garnishment or your tax refunds are being held and applied toward what you owe, those actions will stop.

Illinois Announces Relief Options for Private Loans and Federal Loans Not Owned by the Federal Government

Private loans are not covered by the CARES Act. According to WTTW and other news sources, Governor Pritzker announced on April 21 that the state had made agreements with 20 private student loan services to provide relief to borrowers. The agreement also covers Federal loans not owned by the Federal government and therefore not covered by the CARES Act forbearance program. Borrowers were instructed to contact their loan servicer for options, which include a minimum 90 day forbearance and waiver of late fees. Back to top

Emergency Financial Aid

If you are a college student who has been hit with additional expenses due to the disruption of campus operations as a result of COVID-19, ask your financial aid office about emergency grants. Schools who participate in the federal financial aid programs have access to funds for this purpose. The school determine the criteria for awarding the grants and the amount given. See the last question under the Student section at on the studentaid.gov coronavirus page , and read the reporting on this topic from US News and Word Report.

Utilities

The Illinois Commerce Commission has ordered electric, natural gas, water and wastewater utilities to cease disconnections and to suspend late payment fees until May 1,2020 and until the Governor officially ends the COVID-19 state of emergency if it extends past May 1. For example, this includes companies such as ComEd, Nicor Gas, and Peoples Gas.

Insight: Your utility bills will eventually have to be paid; they are not forgiven. Consider which course of action will be better for you in the long run: to continue to pay your utility bills each month, or to use that money for other necessities such as food, if you wouldn’t have money for it otherwise.

Consumer Reports has compiled information about the changes many internet service providers are making at this time in response to the Federal Communication Commission’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge. The goal is that customers have the data service and speeds that they need. At https://www.fcc.gov/keep-americans-connected, you can click to “Display the list of companies and associations who have signed the pledge.” There are more than 650 as of April 2, 2020. Back to top

Small Business Assistance

Several programs have been put in place to assist small businesses. The U.S. Small Business Administration is offering low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital to small businesses experiencing substantial economic impacts as a result of COVID-19.

The US Chamber of Commerce has created several resources for small businesses dealing with the impacts of the cornonavirus, including: issued a fact sheet outlining the emergency loan provisions of CARES Act, known as the Paycheck Protection Program. It answers questions such as:

The US Chamber of Commerce has created several resources for small businesses dealing with the impacts of the cornonavirus, including:

  • a dedicated corornavirus webpage linking to information about all the various programs available.
  • a fact sheet outlining the emergency loan provisions of CARES Act, known as the Paycheck Protection Program. It answers questions such as:
    • Am I eligible?
      • What will lenders be looking for?
    • How much can I borrow?
    • How do I calculate my average monthly payroll costs?
    • Will this loan be forgiven?
  • a page outlining all of the small business provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act including:
    • Emergency family and medical leave (FMLA) expansion
    • Emergency paid sick leave
    • Tax credits for paid sick leave and paid FMLA
    • Changes to unemployment insurance
  • a page outlining all of the small business provisions of the CARES Act including:
    • Paycheck Protection Program
    • Changes to the SBAs Economic Injury Disaster Loans
    • Tax changes 
    • Small changes the CARE Act made to provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to:
      • paid sick leave
      • paid FMLA

The fact sheet notes that it may not contain the most recent information: “The administration soon will release more details including the list of lenders offering loans under the program. In the meantime, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has issued this guide to help small businesses and self-employed individuals prepare to file for a loan.”

The City of Chicago has established the Chicago Small Business Resiliency Fund to provide emergency cash to small business during this health crisis. Back to top

Existing Government Support Programs

There are several permanent government assistance programs that will continue to serve people during the coronavirus pandemic. Details of some of these programs may differ by state, but https://www.usa.gov/help-with-bills will help you navigate to the right place for any of these programs in your state. If you live in Illinois, click the “Illinois” links for information or to apply.  

  • Gas or electric bills for heating and cooling: The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) helps low income households may provide assistance. Eligibility requirements may vary by state. 
  • Medical bills: You might qualify for Medicaid and CHIP (for children).
  • Prescription drug costs.
  • Telephone service: The Lifeline Program from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) provides discounts on landline or cell phone service for low income individuals. 
  • General assistance: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program provides temporary financial assistance for pregnant women and families with one or more dependent children. TANF provides financial assistance to help pay for food, shelter, utilities, and expenses other than medical.
  • Food assistance:
    • SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) was formerly known as Food Stamps. It provides money for low income individuals and families to use to buy food. The money is deposited onto a card, like a debit card, that you use to buy groceries. You must apply locally.
    • WIC is a food assistance program for women, infants, and children, designed make sure that pregnant women, new mothers, and young children can access the food they need to stay healthy. To apply, you will need to visit a local agency in your state.

Tips for Managing Your Money

There are two ways to balance your budget: reduce expenses or increase income. The forms of assistance that are being offered during the COVID-19 health crisis (listed above) deal with both: they will help to maintain income even if you are laid off or can’t work because of the epidemic and they suspend certain types of payments. In addition to those steps, there are other things you can and possibly should do on your own.

Cash is king: Hang onto it. You need emergency money.

When you receive your Economic Impact Payment/Rebate, you may be tempted to use it to pay down debt, thinking that you can always charge on your credit card if needed. During normal times, that would be a wise move. But these are not normal times. Cash is more valuable than a credit line. During the Great Recession, many people paid down credit card debt only to see their credit limits cut. Keep up the monthly payments on your debt, but for the time being, hang on to extra cash to build up your emergency fund. Learn more in a University of Illinois Extension blog post by my friend and former colleague, Kathy Sweedler.

Act now, not later

It typically takes human beings a while to adjust to changes, including changes in our income and the economy. But it doesn’t have to be that way for you. Every dollar you avoid spending now, so that you increase your emergency fund or avoid additional debt, is worth doing. A dollar saved now that can be used later for a true emergency instead of charging it, or a dollar of debt avoided now, will save you two or three dollars in the long term. That’s two or three dollars of your future income that you can either have to use as you please, or that you will have to use to pay down additional debt. You chose! Every single dollar matters: IT’S WORTH IT!

Even if your finances have not yet been impacted by the crisis, make a list of the things you can do. When my husband was at risk of being laid off, I had list of the actions I would take when and if it happened, from going to a less expensive plan for our TV/phone/internet to cancelling a warehouse membership I didn’t use very often.

Look for expenses that you can eliminate or reduce.

Check your credit card and checking account statements for recurring charges for things that you could do without. For me personally, I’ve been paying a monthly fee for photo editing software that I haven’t used in months. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has instructions for how to stop auto debits from your checking account that should do the trick even if the provider resists your efforts to cancel.

Prioritize

Not all of your obligations are equally important. If you don’t pay your credit card, it will hurt your credit history and you may pay interest and late fees. But if you don’t pay your auto loan, the lender could take your car. You might lose your job because you can’t get to work. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a guide to Prioritizing Bills that will help you prioritize the expenses that are most important for you to cover. Assistance programs being offered right now could change which bills have top priority.

If you can’t pay, call.

Whether it’s a credit card, your internet service, or your auto loan, call them. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a simple guide to help you. It focuses on credit cards, but the advice fits for other bills, too.

Check other topics on this page about assistance or accommodations that may be available with student loans, mortgages, credit cards and other bank loans or services, or utilities.

Think twice before raiding your 401(k).

Even though the CARES Act makes it easier than ever to pull money out of your 401(k), that doesn’t mean it’s a smart thing to do.

Investing

Dr. Craig Lemoine, CFP and Director of the Financial Planning Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has posted two videos specific to the current financial situation. COVID-19: Where Do We Go From Here? (20 minutes) is, a combination of investment basics and an historical & analytical perspective on the current stock market volatility, plus tips on how to deal with it. In a longer, one-hour video titled Navigating Your Personal Finances in a Time of Uncertainty, , he includes a panel of experts that covers some of the same information plus much more about managing your finances when income drops and we face so much uncertainty.

Avoid scams

Whenever there’s a crisis, the scammers are quick to respond. From fake cures to fake charities and tricks to get your private information, scammers have been quick to jump on the coronavirus bandwagon. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has tips to avoid them. The Federal Trade Commission is providing information to help you avoid scams about coronavirus relief checks, robocall scams keying into our fears during this time, and a laundry list of other scams tied to the cornonavirus.

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Free financial coaching

The Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education is offering free, virtual financial coaching sessions to help you get through the financial challenges of the pandemic. AFCPE is a well-known and respected organization made up of financial counselors, coaches, and educators. This free service is available to anyone. To request a virtual meeting, go to https://www.yellowribbonnetwork.org/afcpecovid19.

3 comments on “Tools for Managing Your Finances During the COVID-19 Pandemic
  1. Gwyn shea says:

    Thx Karen. Be safe
    Still have a little $ in market (don’t need for 5 yrs)
    Sold all Bond mutual
    Your prospective is always appreciated in these crazy days
    I see u at Wilmette or Evanston

  2. carol says:

    Thank you for taking the time to share these tools!

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