Getting Help Paying your Bills During COVID-19

Resources to reduce or negotiate your payments

There are more people struggling than usual to make ends meet because of the novel coronavirus. The following steps can help you manage your finances if you’re unable to cover all your expenses this month.

Reach Out for Help
  1. Make a list of all your bills and prioritize your necessities. Address your expenses, such as rent and utilities, that have the most immediate and dire consequences for nonpayment first.
  2. Reach out to the company or person you owe money to and explain that you need help because of the coronavirus. They might be able to delay or reduce your monthly payments or waive interest and late fees. (See more on that in the “available help” section below.)
  3. Take notes or screenshots of conversations you have with customer service representatives about help with your bills and get all agreements in writing.
  4. Check your financial statements and credit reports to make sure that agreed upon changes to your payments are accurate. Federal law allows you to request one free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each national credit bureau. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers currently have access to free weekly online reports through April 2021 at annualcreditreport.com.
  5. File a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) if you reach out to a financial company and don’t get the help you need. Visit consumerfinance.gov and click on “submit a complaint.” The company will have two weeks to respond before the CFPB will make your complaint public. So, the company might feel pressure to help you. Filing a complaint also documents for our government when consumers need help but aren’t receiving it during this crisis.
  6. You may want to discuss your options with a professional, such as a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-approved housing counselor, credit counselor, or lawyer, after doing some homework.  
Watch Out for Scams
  1. Stay clear of bad financial products and services that promise quick money, such as payday loans. Payday loans are a debt trap. If you’re already struggling to make ends meet due to the pandemic and you borrow from a payday lender, you’re likely to be forced to take out another loan to cover the first one you can’t afford. Before you know it, you’ve spiraled into a long-term debt trap that gets harder and harder to escape.
  2. Seek out alternatives to payday loans, such as loans from credit unions or from friends and family.
  3. Beware of phishing scams. Fraudsters may claim to be from the government or a company you do business with to discuss your stimulus check, other financial assistance or your existing account on file. Don’t provide personal or financial information by email, text or unsolicited call. Avoid clicking on links or attachments from unsolicited emails and texts, even if they appear to be from people you know. Contact the sender using a website or phone number you know is legitimate.
An Overview of Available Help

Below is an overview of available help. Our other consumer guides are available here. In addition, the New York Times has a guide to navigating financial issues, the CFPB has a list of available resources, the Federal Trade Commission has tips on dealing with the financial impact of the coronavirus, and the National Consumer Law Center has a guide to surviving debt that is free online during the COVID-19 crisis.

Mortgages & Rent

If you have a federally-backed mortgage, you are protected from foreclosure through at least August 31, 2020. You can also request a forbearance to pause payments for up to 180 days without having to pay everything back at once, and you can request an extension for up to another 180 days (for a total of 360 days). Repayment options differ between federally-backed agencies and may include payments made over time, a payment deferral until the end of the mortgage, or a loan modification. Companies offering non-federally backed mortgages have also said they’ll offer a break from payments. In either case, you should reach out to your mortgage servicer and ask for help.

If you’re a renter, there is a moratorium on late fees and evictions through July 24, 2020 if your landlord’s mortgage is federally backed. (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have extended a moratorium on evictions for single-family properties that are financed by them until at least August 31, 2020.) More than 30 states and dozens of other cities have also issued broader moratoriums on evictions. If you are facing financial difficulties, talk to your landlord. Share your financial situation, suggest a payment arrangement, and explain how eviction would impact you.

You may also want to consider contacting a HUD-approved housing counselor who can provide free or low-cost advice about your rental situation. You may qualify for free support from HUD-approved housing advisors, as part of Fannie Mae’s Disaster Response Network.

Student Loans

Federal student loans have automatically been put in administrative forbearance, which allows borrowers to temporarily stop making monthly payments through September 30, 2020. Interest rates for these loans have also been set to 0 percent through September 30, 2020.

If you have a private student loan, you should still reach out to your servicer and see what help they’re offering. California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and the District of Columbia reached a multi-state agreement with a dozen private lenders that provides borrower relief, including up to 90 days of forbearance without late fees. New York entered into a similar agreement of its own with private student lenders.

Other Loans and Credit

The banking industry has put out a list of financial institutions that are offering assistance to loan and credit card customers. The assistance offered varies considerably from company to company.

Credit unions are offering help with loans, loan modifications, fees and more.

Utilities & Other Bills

Many internet, phone and local utility companies have agreed to suspend shutoffs and waive late fees for nonpayment.

You can also reduce your energy expenses by saving energy at home.

Many auto and homeowners insurance companies are offering financial assistance, including delayed payments, late fee waivers, and pauses on policy cancellations.

Stimulus Checks 

The (Internal Revenue Service) IRS began depositing stimulus checks of up to $1,200 per person, based on income, in the middle of April. If the IRS doesn’t have your bank deposit information on file, a check will be delivered to the address the IRS has on file for you. You can check the status of your check here.

Unemployment Insurance

The CARES Act gave states the ability to extend unemployment insurance to more people than usual and increase the weeks and amount of benefits available to each recipient. Details for each state’s unemployment insurance program can be looked up here.