Tools for Managing Your Finances During the COVID-19 Pandemic

This site is being updated to focus on the assistance provided by the American Rescue Plan, the act that was signed into law on March 11, 2021. This legislation includes numerous types of assistance for families and individuals. It will take some time to get information on each of them populated here. Please check back in a couple of days if you don’t see information on the program you need information on. Or check the first list of resources below, Summaries of Assistance Provided by the American Rescue Plan.

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 of Assistance Provided by the American Rescue Plan
Economic Impact Payments and Recovery Rebate Credits 
Paid Sick Leave and Family Leave – Including Self-Employed
Unemployment Insurance
Mortgages
Renters
Retirement Plans
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

Summaries of Assistance Provided by the American Rescue Plan

How the Massive New Stimulus Law Can Help You, Consumer Reports, March 24, 2021. https://www.consumerreports.org/business-economy/how-the-massive-new-stimulus-law-can-help-you/

$1.9 Trillion America Rescue Plan Contains Wide-Reaching Tax Changes, Iowa State University Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation, March 16, 2021. https://www.calt.iastate.edu/blogpost/19-trillion-america-rescue-plan-contains-wide-reaching-tax-changes

These sources are targeted to professionals such as attorneys and tax preparers, but they will also be helpful to individuals:

The American Rescue Plan Act Greatly Expands Benefits through the Tax Code in 2021, Tax Foundation, March 12, 2021. https://taxfoundation.org/american-rescue-plan-covid-relief/.

American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, JD Supra. This website is aimed at attorneys. On this page, you can search for in-depth articles by topic. https://www.jdsupra.com/topics/american-rescue-plan-act-of-2021/

FACT SHEET: The American Rescue Plan Will Deliver Immediate Economic Relief to Families, US Department of the Treasury, March 18, 2021. https://home.treasury.gov/news/featured-stories/fact-sheet-the-american-rescue-plan-will-deliver-immediate-economic-relief-to-families

American Rescue Plan Act passes with many tax components, Journal of Accountancy, March 10, 2021. https://www.journalofaccountancy.com/news/2021/mar/tax-components-coronavirus-relief-bill.html The Tax Provisions of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, Wolters Kluwer, March 17, 2021. https://www.wolterskluwer.com/en/expert-insights/wbot-tax-provisions-of-the-american-rescue-plan-act-of-2021

Economic Impact Payments and Recovery Rebate Credits

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.

The IRS has detailed information for each of the three Economic Impact Payments. The IRS is the source of most of the information included here about the payments and claiming the Recovery Rebate Credit on your tax return if you qualify for additional money. If your questions aren’t answered on this webpage, you will probably find the answers here:

How to get your Economic Impact Payments, including any additional money for which you qualify

There have been three separate Economic Impact Payments since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. If you haven’t received all three payments, it’s not too late!

File your 2020 taxes to claim (Español):

There are several reasons you might qualify for more money from the Economic Impact Payments based on your 2020 return than you received based on your 2018 of 2019 tax returns. The same thing could happen next year when you file your 2021 taxes: you might qualify for more than you did based on your 2019 or 2020 tax return. For example:

Next year, if your 2021 tax return qualifies you for any additional money from the third Economic Impact Payment., you can claim it by filing your 2021 tax return. (See below for Reasons you might be eligible for more.)

The payments won’t cause other problems for you. If you have hesitated because of these concerns, don’t worry!

Who is eligible?

You are eligible to receive these payments (Español)  if you meet these three criteria as well as the income limits shown in the table.  

  • You are a US citizen or US Resident Alien
    • For married couples where only one spouse has a Social Security number, you can receive a partial payment.
  • You have a Social Security number that is valid for employment
  • You cannot be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return.

Payments are phased out for taxpayers above certain income limits. For Payments 1 and 2, the payment was reduced (phased out) by $5 for every $100 that your income exceeds the “Full Payment” amount in the table below. For those payments, the income at which payments fully phased out depended on the amount of the base (full) payment.  For the third payment, the phaseout range is much smaller and the income at which payments stop is the same regardless of family size.

Eligibility is based on Adjusted Gross Income (AGI)
Filing status:Full payment if AGI below:No #1 or 2 payment if AGI above:No #3 payment if AGI above:
Single or married filing separately$75,000$99,000*$80,000
Head of household$112,500$136,500*$120,000
Married filing jointly$150,000$198,000*$160,000
* The income limit is higher for larger families. A larger base payment amount resulted in a wider phaseout range.

How to claim on your 2020 tax return

Claim additional money on Line 30 of the 1040 tax form (Español). It is called the Recovery Rebate Credit.

In the instructions for the 1040 (Español) see pages 56 and 57, and the worksheet on p. 58. The worksheet may look intimidating, but you can do it if you just follow the instructions line by line. Read and answer each step before you look at the next one.

Get Answers to Your Questions

Answers to most questions about the payments can be found on the IRS website.

Special Situations

For married couples where only one spouse has a Social Security number, you can receive a partial payment. See Question #1 and read to the end for updates.  https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/questions-and-answers-about-the-first-economic-impact-payment-topic-a-eligibility

Incarcerated persons can now get payments  – see Q7 https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/questions-and-answers-about-the-first-economic-impact-payment-topic-a-eligibility

Payments to deceased individuals: see Question #5, how to return payments sent in error, and claim payments for people who died during 2020  https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/questions-and-answers-about-the-first-economic-impact-payment-topic-a-eligibility

Comparing the Three Economic Impact Payments

Economic Impact Payments
SourcePayments sent starting…
Payment #1CARES ActApril 2020
Payment #2Tax Relief Act of 2020December 2020
Payment #3  2021American Rescue PlanMarch 2021

Each program had a different payment amount. Only dependents under age 17 were eligible for the first two, but all dependents qualified for the third payment.

Payment Amounts
Taxpayer (Filer)SpouseDependents, per person
Payment #1$1200$1200$500 if under age 17
Payment #2$600$600$600 if under age 17
Payment #3  2021$1400$1400$1400 for all dependents

Payments were generated based on information from the most recent tax return that had been filed. The first and third payments began during the tax filing season. If the taxpayer had already filed that year, payments were based on the people, their ages, and income listed on that return. Otherwise, the information was based on the prior year’s return. For example, if a taxpayer had already filed her 2019 return before Payment #1 was calculated, that was used to calculate her payment. If she had not yet filed her 2019 return, the payments would have been based on the information on her 2018 return. 

Which year’s tax return is used?
Initial paymentAdditional $, if anyIf you didn’t receive the full amount:
Payment #12018 or 2019 if already filed2020*Final opportunity to claim or receive additional money compared to 2018 or 2019 is on your 2020 tax return.
Payment #220192020*Same as Payment #1
Payment #3  20212019 or 2020 if already filed2021*File your 2020 tax return by 9/1/2021 to receive any additional payment compared to 2019. Final opportunity to claim is on your 2021 tax return.
* If you would have received less money based on this tax return than what you already received, you do not have to pay it back.

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 – This section has not been updated for 2021.

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 – This section has not been updated for 2021.

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 – This section has not been updated for 2021.

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 – This section has not been updated for 2021.

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 the 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.

In order for you to repay the distribution, your plan must allow rollovers into the plan from other accounts. Employers are not required to allow repayment if they do not already accept rollovers.

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 – This section has not been updated for 2021.

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 2022

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 – This section has not been updated for 2021.

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 – This section has not been updated for 2021.

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 December 31, 2020. The original end-date set by the CARES Act (September 30, 2020) was extended by executive order by President Trump.

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 – This section has not been updated for 2021.

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 – This section has not been updated for 2021.

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 – This section has not been updated for 2021.

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.

Back to top

Free financial coaching – This section has not been updated for 2021.

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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