As many areas are being hit with the temporary closure of businesses, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is offering advice about how to protect yourself financially during the coronavirus pandemic. This information is provided through the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services newsletter:
Steps to take if you have trouble paying your bills or meeting other financial obligations
If you have trouble paying your bills or loans, or paying on time, there may be a number of options to help, especially if you reach out early to your lenders or creditors.
Contact your lenders and loan servicers
If you’re not able to pay your bills on time, contact your lenders and servicers to let them know about your situation. Being behind on your payments can have a lasting impact on your credit. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other financial regulators have encouraged financial institutions to work with their customers to meet their community needs.
Credit card companies and lenders may be able to offer several options to help you. This could include waiving certain fees like ATM, overpayments and late fees, as well as allowing you to delay, adjust or skip some payments.
When contacting your lenders, be prepared to explain:
How much you can afford to pay.
When you’re likely to be able to restart regular payments.
In the case of mortgages, be prepared to discuss your income, expenses and assets.
If you are having trouble paying our auto loan payments, your lender may have options that will help. Tips include changing the date of your payment, requesting a payment plan and asking for a payment extension.
If you have student loans, you may qualify for a delayed or reduced payment program. Just remember, even though you don’t need to make payments now, interest will continue to accrue, and you will have to make up these amounts eventually. Contact your student loan servicer to find out more about your options. If you have a federal student loan, also ask your servicer about alternative repayment plans.
Work with housing and credit counselors to understand your options
These trained professionals provide advice at little or no cost and they will work with you to discuss your situation, evaluate options and even help you negotiate with your lenders and servicers.
HUD-approved housing counselors
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-approved housing counselors can discuss options with you if you’re having trouble paying your mortgage loan or reverse mortgage loan. This may also include forbearance or a modified payment program.
Reputable credit counseling organizations are generally nonprofit organizations that can advise you on your money and debts, and help you with a budget. Some may also help you negotiate with creditors. There are specific questions to ask to help you find a credit counseling organization to work with. Warning: If you’re considering working with a debt settlement company to address your debts, be skeptical of any company that promises to do it for an upfront fee.
Contact debt collectors
If you have a debt in collections, you can work with collectors to identify a realistic repayment plan. The bureau offers a number of resources for contacting and negotiating with debt collection companies.
Check your credit reports
If you’re working with lenders on payment assistance programs or forbearance, routinely check your credit reports to make sure the statements are accurate and that any delinquencies have not been improperly reported. Your credit reports and scores play an important role in your future financial opportunities.
What to do if you lose your income
State and local governments vary in the programs and offerings to help those financially impacted by the coronavirus. You can look to your state’s unemployment policies to identify current options for benefits. Your state’s public health office may also have information.
Older adults may be impacted by the coronavirus and quarantine procedures in different ways than the general public. There may be government benefits available to older adults who need financial help. Visit benefitscheckup.org for more information and to see if you qualify for any state or local assistance.