Guest Voices banner over woman working on her finances

It’s an unprecedented time in the world as we witness and endure the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Extreme and brave measures have been taken to not only protect us as individuals, but also our family members and communities. With most of the nation at home, social distancing and sheltering-in-place, the virus is taking its toll, not only on the physical health of many, but also our financial health as a nation.

As a money coach, it has been my duty to inform my clients, who come from all different backgrounds and are each being impacted by this pandemic in a different way, what their options are for financial relief, and how they can take charge of their individual financial situations.

I am hoping that this article can serve as a resource – one that might assist you in finding some financial relief, assistance, and new ideas to take action and gain control of your money – while you navigate the financial repercussions that this pandemic may create for you.

Here are some facts and practical advice to guide you through this time of uncertainty:

Develop Your Baseline Budget:

Whether you’re currently facing financial hardship or not, now is a really good time to look at your present-day financial situation and take control of what you can and try to prepare for what may possibly come.

Now would be a good time to cut down to or at least have an idea of what your “baseline budget” looks like. This budget consists of all the expenses that cover your bare minimum necessities, anything required to keep your family or yourself healthy and safe.

I encourage all my clients to develop an expense “hit list” that helps them determine what costs should be included and excluded from their baseline budget.

An easy way to pull this together is to look at the last three months of expenses from your bank account and/or credit card statements.

Separate all your expenses between necessary “bare necessities” and “other.” At this time, minimum or monthly required debt payments are considered “bare necessities,” but you’ll see later that there may be a way to cut these or find relief for these payments during COVID-19.

Once you have an idea of your baseline budget, you can cross reference the monthly expenses with your current projected monthly income, given your individual or family’s job and income status.

If you’re bringing in more than the baseline, it may be wise to consider saving the excess for emergencies in an Online Savings Account. If you already have a solid emergency savings in place – a good rule of thumb is six months’ worth of your baseline budget – you can choose to save, spend, or invest the excess, depending on your goals and job security.

If you’re not bringing in enough income to cover your baseline budget, a good next step is to look at the financial relief options available to you during this time of hardship.

Federal Student Loans:

If you’re one of the millions of U.S. citizens with federal student loans, the recent passing of the $2 trillion economic stimulus package by the federal government has made it so that federal student loan payments, as well as interest accruing on them, are paused until September 30 of 2020.

That means, for nearly 5 months, you don’t have to make payments towards your federal student loans and interest won’t accrue, so, come October 1 of 2020, you’ll pick up where you left off in March. You can learn more here (data as of 4/14/2020).

Note: This does not apply to your private student loans. If you are unsure whether your student loans are federal or private, give your servicer a call. Double-check online or with your lender to make sure payments will be halted for you.

This should create quite a bit of breathing room in your baseline budget, but if you’re bringing in enough income, it could still be wise to revert these payments to an emergency fund, and next, to a higher-interest rate loan where financial relief has not been provided. If that doesn’t apply, it’s up to you whether you use these payments and revert them entirely towards the principal on your federal student loans, invest for a long-term goal, or do whatever you’d like with the money that you make.

Banks, Private Student Loans, and Other Lenders:

It’s not just the federal government that is providing financial relief to those with debt and cash flow trouble.

Several banks, including Ally Bank, are providing financial hardship options for vehicle payments, home loan payments, and waiving certain banking and brokerage fees. Even some private student loan and personal loan servicers are offering assistance.

Your best option is to research and call your lenders and banks to inquire about their financial hardship and community support options. Don’t be afraid to request assistance, even if it’s not explicitly stated on their website. They are likely expecting these calls and may be willing to help.

Utility Companies and Other Mandatory Bills:

Many gas, electric, water, and other utility companies across the nation are offering flexible payment options and waiving certain fees that relate to their services. You might also have luck with your cell phone, internet and cable companies, as well as insurance companies.

With the financial relief options provided by banks, lenders, brokerages, and even your everyday service companies, your initial baseline budget can get cut down quite a bit, specifically during this difficult time. This is a global pandemic, so now is the time to ask for the help and assistance that is being widely provided, if you need it.

Again, check online or call these companies to understand what their assistance programs entail and decide if it’s best for you to opt-in or carry on as is.

Stimulus Checks:

With the recent passing of the stimulus package, qualifying U.S. taxpayers can expect to receive a one-time stimulus check to ease the financial burden of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the information found on the IRS website:

U.S. residents will receive the Economic Impact Payment of $1,200 for individual or head of household filers, and $2,400 for married filing jointly if they are not a dependent of another taxpayer and have a work eligible Social Security number with adjusted gross income up to:

  • $75,000 for individuals
  • $112,500 for head of household filers and
  • $150,000 for married couples filing joint returns

Taxpayers will receive a reduced payment if their AGI is between:

  • $75,000 and $99,000 if their filing status was single or married filing separately
  • 112,500 and $136,500 for head of household
  • $150,000 and $198,000 if their filing status was married filing jointly

The amount of the reduced payment will be based upon the taxpayers specific adjusted gross income.

In addition, people are eligible for an additional $500 per qualifying child.

The above data is as of 4/14/2020.

You can do whatever you please with the checks, as they will not be taxed nor expected to be paid back; however, as a money coach, I think it’s wise to use this money for any “baseline budget” bills that are coming due or past due, if your income isn’t enough to cover these costs.

Similar to the above, the next place this excess money would be useful is inside an emergency savings fund. If you have more than six months’ worth of your baseline budget saved up, the money might be well spent towards small luxuries, to pay down the principal on a high-interest rate loan (bonus points if your interest has been paused), or invested for a long-term goal like retirement.

Unemployment:

With the halt on operations for many businesses that have been deemed “non-essential” during these trying times, millions of salary and hourly workers are finding themselves furloughed or laid off, while contractors, freelancers, and gig economy workers are out of work.

Typically, contractors, part-time workers, and the self-employed aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits, but the emergency relief bill is changing who qualifies for unemployment, for how much, and for how long.

Each state has their own unemployment program that determines how much a qualified individual can receive and for how long. With the stimulus package, individuals can receive an extra $600 per week on top of your state’s unemployment benefits, plus cover you for an extra 13 weeks beyond what your state covers.

You can apply for unemployment immediately through your state’s system – every state is different, so do your research – and, if you’re not sure whether you can receive unemployment benefits, it’s wise to double-check as those who wouldn’t have qualified in the past might qualify now, given the current circumstances.

Any little bit of financial relief and control can help make this already uncertain and difficult time a little less so. If you do happen to have extra cash flow coming in, consider saving it in an Online Savings Account that will work hard for your money, like the accounts available at Ally Bank, and for more tips on how to manage your money, visit my YouTube channel at youtube.com/wanderwealthybytesswicks.


Headshot of Tess WicksTess Wicks is the founder of and voice behind Wander Wealthy, a podcast and YouTube channel for millennial women who want to make smart and savvy financial decisions. She is a wealth and mindset coach, who provides tools and education for online coaches and service-based entrepreneurs.