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
Summaries and Lists of Government Programs and Edicts
Cash Payments to Families aka Economic Impact Payments or Rebates (the CARES Act)
Paid Sick Leave and Family Leave – Including Self-Employed
Unemployment Insurance
Mortgages
Renters
Credit Cards, Personal and Auto Loans, and Other Bank Services
Income Taxes
Student Loans
Utilities
Small Business Assistance 
Existing Government Support Programs
Free Services 
Tips for Managing Your Money

About This List

This page is a work in progress. I will add to and update the list as new actions are taken by federal and Illinois government and financial institutions, and I will add general financial information sources. If you have suggestions of sources to add, please send me the link and the reason it should be added by going to the Contact Karen form or making a comment at the end of this post.

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.

Summaries and Lists of Government Programs and Edicts

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.

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.

Cash Payments to Families aka Economic Impact Payments or Rebates (the CARES Act)

Details about the distribution of these checks will be posted 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 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. If your AGI is at or below the following numbers, you will get the full payment. Tip: You can find your AGI on the 1040 form, line 8b for 2019 or line 8 for 2018. 

  • $150,000 for joint filers
  • $112,000 for head of household
  • $75,000 for single filers and married filing separately

If your income exceeds these numbers, your payment will be reduced by 5% of the excess amount. A single tax filer with no children and an AGI of $99,000 or more would receive no payment; a married couple filing jointly with no children and an AGI of $198,000 or more would receive no payment. Payments for taxpayers with children will phase out at a higher income. 

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

Payments will be automatically generated and deposited for those who filed 2018 or 2019 taxes with refunds that were automatically deposited, and for Social Security and Railroad Retirementt recipients whose benefits with direct deposit. If the IRS doesn’t have your direct deposit information, they will mail you a check. To receive your benefit sooner, watch for a portal the IRS will create where you can enter your bank account information. 

Tip: If you are not required to file a tax return (i.e., your income is below the amount where you would be required to file), you should file a simple 2019 tax return including bank account information in order to receive your payment and have it automatically deposited.  The form and instructions will be coming soon at  https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus. 

Update: After much confusion, the Treasury and IRS issued a joint press release on April 1, 2020 clarifying that recipients of Social Security and Railroad Retirement benefits would NOT need to file a tax return in order to receive their Economic Impact Payment.   

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.

Unemployment Insurance

Unemployment benefits are managed by each state individually. Illinois had already made special provisions in its rules for who could receive unemployment insurance as a result of COVID-19. Check the state’s COVID-19 and Unemployment Benefits for more information. 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. 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. 
  • 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 these benefit programs. 
  • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA): This program gives benefits to three categories of workers: 1) those who are not usually covered by unemployment insurance, 2) those who have used up any other unemployment benefits, or 3) those who are unable to work as a direct result of the coronoavirus public health emergency. This program runs from January 27, 2020 through December 31, 2020, and benefits can be paid retroactively.  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 becuase they place of employment is closed because of COVID-19, etc. 

Mortgages

Mortgage payment relief comes in three flavors, depending on what type of mortgage you have: FHA, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac – backed mortgages, or a mortgage held by a commercial lender.

If you have an FHA mortgage, HUD has issued a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions for single family owners for the next 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. In addition, those impacted by COVID-19 are eligible for forbearance which will allow them to reduce or suspend payments.

Forbes has compiled an alphabetical List Of Banks Offering Relief To Customers Affected By Coronavirus (COVID-19) which includes actions they are taking about credit cards and other banking services, These options may include options regarding mortgages. 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.)

Insight: While you can’t be foreclosed or evicted during this time, you still owe the payments on your mortgage. If interest will continue to accumulate, it may be easier to continue making your monthly payments if at all possible.

Renters

Renters in some areas may be protected from eviction. Cook County suspended court-ordered evictions for at least 30 days as announced in an order dated March 14, 2020.

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 take out up to $100,000 without paying an early distribution penalty that normally applies if you are not yet 59 1/2. The distribution will be still taxable income (unless it is coming from a Roth account). By default, the income will be spread over three tax years. You also have three years to pay this money back into your retirement account. 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: 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. If you can’t pay back the loan, perhaps because you lose your job, this loan becomes taxable income.

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.

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.

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

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. First quarter 2020 estimated income tax payments are also postponed from April 15 to July 15, 2020, but second quarter 2020 estimated income tax payments are still due on June 15, 2020.

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. 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.

Regarding face-to-face taxpayer assistance, the IRS posted this announcement on its website:

The IRS has temporarily closed all Taxpayer Assistance Centers and discontinued face-to-face service throughout the country until further notice. The IRS is continuing to process tax returns, issue refunds and help taxpayers to the greatest extent possible. Click here for more info on taxpayer assistance center closures.

https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus

Student Loans (Section 3513 of the CARES Act)

The White House announced help for people with certain federal student loans on March 20. Those plans were expanded as part of the CARES Act. The official government webpage for student loans, studentaid.gov, has established a page for updates related to the coronavirus, but as of 3/28/2020 some entries still refer to President Trump’s initial statements on March 20. Other sections reflect the updated information from the CARES Act. Read carefully to be sure the section you are reading is the most current.

Only certain types of loans are eligible: those owned by the US Dept. of Education. TIP: Use the tools on my Student Loans Resources page to figure out what types of loans you have.

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, which would entirely be applied to the loan principal. You will also be notified prior to the end of the suspension.

If you have a qualifying loan, your payments will automatically be suspended with no interest and no late fees through September 30, 2020. However, borrowers can choose to continue making payments. Another feature of the program which may be just as important as the suspension itself is how the suspension will impact loan forgiveness programs: these suspended payments will be treated as if the borrower had made the payments, so the suspension should not impact a borrower’s ability to qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness or 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 count as paid by you. Suspended payments will also be reported to credit reporting agencies as made.

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.

If your federal loan is not eligible for the suspension and you are having difficulty making your payments, there are other, permanent features of your loans that may help, including

SavingForCollege.com has posted links to lenders of private loans who may also allow borrowers to skip payment or make other arrangements.

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.

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.

Existing Government Support Programs

There are several government assistance programs that will continue to serve people during the coronavirus pandemic. If your income has dropped, you may be eligible for programs you didn’t know about before, such as:

There are several 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. If you live in Illinois, click the “Illinois” links to apply.  

If your income has dropped, you may be eligible for programs you didn’t know about before. These programs help pay for:

  • Gas or electric bills for heating and cooling: The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) helps low income households may provide assistance. Eligiblity 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) 
  • Food assistance: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) was formerly known as Food Stamps. It helps low income people by the food they need. For Illinois, you can learn about

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and WIC ( Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children)

Free Services

coming soon…

Tips for Managing Your Money

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.

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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