some tips and tricks and resources out there
Below is some guidance, resources, and tips and tricks on how to weather COVID-19 financially. It is changing hourly and many organizations, governments, and individuals are jumping in to help – so there is hope!
One of the more comprehensive sources to explain the Federal economic stimulus support is in this New York Times article (free to access and regularly updated): F.A.Q. on Stimulus Checks, Unemployment and the Coronavirus Bill.
- Debt Payments – preserving cash – list out your biggest fixed-amount bills and call your lenders ASAP (like right now or this weekend). You may likely get a 30-day to 90-day grace period. But please note, you will have to pay it all back eventually – and interest charges will still accrue during the grace period. The more you communicate with lenders quickly and honestly, the more they will want to help you. They have a lot of discretion right now to help. You can call our housing or personal finance teams for help.
- Mortgages – If your loan is under HUD/FHA, VA, USDA, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac (about 95% of all mortgage loans) – you will likely be eligible for a 3-6 month deferral (and maybe more after the first six months). Call your lender, ask them if you are under any of those programs and tell them you are undergoing a hardship due to COVID-19 and would like to understand the options for deferring. Most foreclosures are halted and Maine courts are closed. If you were already in foreclosure, things may be different – call our housing counseling team for help. [Please note, MaineStream is none of these, but we will work with current borrowers for deferral hardships.]
- Student loans – All federal student loans can get a deferral with a no-interest period through September 30, 2020. For private or state-funded programs, it will depend on each. Call your lender and figure out what your options are.
- Credit cards – There is no mandate to give a grace period, but most credit card providers are offering grace periods or an ability to lower your minimum monthly payment (e.g. right now the minimum payment is $200 – if you can afford $25 monthly – ask for that). If you have decent credit, it may make sense to ask for an increase in your line of credit. (Just in case – please be careful of new debt right now-this is a “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” kind of debt!)
- Car Loans – Like credit cards there is no grace period mandate, but many of the lenders for these loans are the same banks offering help for mortgages and credit cards. Call your lender and ask if there is anyway to have a grace period or reduction in monthly payments.
- Rent and Avoiding Evictions– In the beginning of the crisis, the mandate only pertained to HUD-financed properties or FNMA-funded properties – for which there are not many in Maine. Now in Maine, all evictions are not allowed and the courts are still closed. Either way, call your landlord now if you feel there will be a hardship and work something out. Many have forgiven a month or two, most offer a deferral of 1-2 months, and some are swapping for barter, e.g. paint a room for them for barter. If a landlord tries to self-evict or locks you out, call the Penquis/MaineStream Housing Counseling team, Pine Tree Legal and call your local code enforcement team at your city or town – you have some rights and most people will come to you in your defense.
- Economic Stimulus Checks – the “$1,200” checks. These are real and coming in a few weeks. If you file taxes regularly or receive social security (and you are eligible), then you should get your checks automatically. You might receive less or more than $1,200 though. Look here for IRS Guidance and a simple calculator:
- Unemployment Insurance. If you are not working or working less due to COVID-19 – you are eligible for unemployment insurance now in Maine. The website and phone lines at Maine DOL (1-800-593-7660) are backed up, but do keep trying. Maine Equal Justice Project (626-7058), Pine Tree Legal, and the local career centers (11 across the state) can help as well.
- Donations/grants/food. The best places to go for general help are to call Maine 211 or check out Mainers Together. If you are recently unemployed and have kids in the home, you may be eligible for WIC EBT grocery help – call your local WIC office (far right side of the page). For food donations, visit the Good Shepherd Food Bank’s site of which food banks are open across the state.
- Saving money/costs ideas. Bangor Daily News and Hello Homestead have a great series of articles on how to save money using different ingredients for cooking, saving energy, etc.
- BUYER BEWARE – SCAMS!!!! In a lot of cases now, unfortunately, if it sounds too good to be true, it is. Of course, hackers, thieves, and scammers have ramped up their activity – ah humans…Be very wary of mandates (like you must, etc.) and free money – and check the source. The MaineStream team is extremely good in ferreting out rats and scams – we’re happy to confirm if something is real for you or clients. Also check out Better Business Bureau (BBB), US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), or contact the Maine Attorney General – Office of Consumer Complaints as well.
note: this was originally published on April 6, 2020
To find out more about Personal Finance issues during COVID-19, go here.