The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has caused enormous financial insecurity across the country, with more than 10 million Americans applying for unemployment last month alone. If you’ve been financially affected, you’re probably worried about how you’re going to pay your bills.
Timely bill payments aren’t just important to maintain your housing, services and other essentials. You also need to pay your bills on time to protect your credit, as late payments and accounts in collections can land on your credit report and damage your credit for years.
Luckily, many lenders and service providers are working with customers to help them avoid missed payments. Here are some ways to avoid missing payments during the COVID-19 pandemic.
1. Mortgage and Rent Payments
Homeowners: The federal government has halted foreclosures and evictions for 30 million Americans with mortgages backed by the FHA, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Many state and local governments have stopped foreclosures and evictions within their jurisdictions as well. For the time being, many Americans are protected from losing their housing. You should check to see if you are protected under federal, state or local law.
These measures won’t absolve you of your obligation to make your mortgage payments. Luckily, lenders have been ordered to offer forbearance programs for federally-backed mortgages that would allow borrowers to halt payments for up to a year.
Mortgages owned by private lenders, such as banks, aren’t covered by this order. But some states and banks have reached agreements to offer relief for private mortgages, suspending payments and foreclosures. These measures vary from state to state and bank to bank.
There may be several options offered by your lender in terms of a repayment plan, including:
- Paying your deferred payments in a single lump sum once forbearance ends.
- Paying off your deferred payments over a longer time frame once forbearance ends.
- Extending the length of your mortgage, tacking deferred payments onto the end of the loan term.
Homeowners should check their loan to see if it is eligible for federal or state protections, then reach out to their mortgage servicer to learn what assistance programs are available. Make sure to get any agreement in writing.
Renters: Renters in federally-assisted housing have had evictions and late fees suspended for 120 days. And multifamily landlords with federally-backed mortgages can receive forbearance on their mortgage payments if they halt evictions. This measure won’t cover all renters, so you should also check for relief and protection programs offered in your state or local area.
The best strategy is to notify your landlord in writing that, due to COVID-19, you will be having difficulty making your rent payments. Landlords may have mortgage forbearance options and assistance programs available to them and might be willing to work with you to ensure you don’t fall behind.
2. Utility Providers
Local and national service providers alike have enacted their own policies to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Many utility companies and service providers are suspending payments and offering other forms of assistance for customers in financial distress. Check with your suppliers one by one to see if you can pause payments, reduce your bills or receive assistance. Some companies have stopped service shutoffs due to unpaid bills for the time being.
3. Banks and Credit Cards
Banks and credit card companies are offering relief to customers who can’t make their payments. Many institutions are deferring payments and interest, waiving fees, offering alternate repayment plans and providing other forms of relief. Don’t wait until you’re about to miss your payment to reach out – check with your bank and credit card company to find out what help you can get.