April 17, 2020 – By Latoya Irby
The COVID-19 virus has ravaged both the world and our personal finances. Stay-at-home orders and the closure of non-essential businesses throughout the U.S. have led to pay cuts, job loss, and furloughs, leaving many consumers struggling to pay bills or stretch their money during the coronavirus. Fortunately, many companies are providing assistance to customers facing hardship.
What to Do If You Can’t Afford Monthly Payments
Taking measured steps can help consumers manage their finances during times of financial hardship. Start with an assessment of your bills and income so you know what you can handle.
“For those struggling to make payments during COVID-19, prioritizing your expenses is a must,” Madison Block, Marketing Communications & Programs Associate at American Consumer Credit Counseling, told The Balance via email. “Housing, food, and medications are the most important expenses right now. If you can’t afford credit card payments, contact your creditors before you miss a payment to see if they can reduce interest or waive fees.”
Keep in mind that companies may be experiencing higher than normal call volumes. Contacting your billers via online chat may be faster than speaking with a live agent over the phone.
You can simultaneously reduce or eliminate non-essential expenses, like streaming subscriptions, to free up more room in your budget. Some monthly billers—particularly those with contracts like gym memberships—may already be freezing accounts while they’re closed to the public. If not, see if they’re willing to pause your subscription until the crisis is over.
Tapping into stimulus payments and other benefits may also help you make ends meet. “This money should be used to cover immediate expenses or, for people with a little more breathing room, put into an emergency savings account where you can access the funds in a pinch,” Navy Federal’s Jaspreet Chawla, Senior Vice President of Savings Products, told The Balance via email.
Mortgages or Rent
Many city and state governments have placed a moratorium on both evictions and foreclosures, which can give you some breathing room against the consequences of missing any payments. Check your local government’s website to learn whether there are restrictions in your state.
Foreclosures have been halted on homes purchased with a federally-owned or federally-backed mortgage for 60 days after March 18, 2020. Additionally, if you can’t afford monthly payments during the coronavirus, you can request forbearance from your loan servicer for up to one year. During the forbearance period, you’ll be safe from additional fees, penalties, or additional interest (beyond scheduled amounts).1
You can initially request forbearance for 180 days. If you continue having trouble making payments after that time, you can request an additional 180-day extension. Interest may still accrue on your loan and could be added to your balance at the end of the forbearance period, which could push your payoff date further into the future.
Otherwise, if you do not have a federally-backed mortgage, it’s best to contact your mortgage lender to ask about hardship options like forbearance, which suspends your payments for a certain period of time. Wells Fargo, for example, is suspending residential property foreclosure sales and evictions, as well as offering hardship options.
If you’re renting from a landlord who holds a federally-backed mortgage, you can’t be evicted for 120 days starting March 27, 2020.1 Then, after the 120-day period is up, the landlord has to provide a 30-day notice to vacate before starting the eviction process. Other renters must work out payment arrangements directly with their landlord.
Several credit card issuers are helping cardholders who are struggling to pay bills during the coronavirus with relief options such as extended due dates, waived late fees, and no negative credit reporting. We’ve gathered statements from many of the major credit card issuers, but always check with your card issuer for the latest hardship options.
Bank of America
Make a request for payment deferral by simply logging into your online account. According to a bank representative, Bank of America has already helped 1 million clients suffering a COVID-19 hardship with payment deferrals during this crisis.
Customers can request payment relief online by logging in to their account at the website listed on the back of their card. Once you’re on the website, choose “Contact Us” and then “Payment Relief” to submit a request.3
Capital One cardholders who are having trouble making payments can contact customer service by phone at 1-800-227-4825 for assistance with payments.“We understand the concern and uncertainty people may be experiencing surrounding the coronavirus (COVID-19) and are committed to being responsive to the needs of our customers and associates as the situation evolves,” wrote a Capital One representative in an email to The Balance. “We also understand that there may be instances where customers find themselves facing financial difficulties. Capital One is here to help, and we encourage customers who may be impacted to reach out so we can discuss and help find a solution.”
Chase cardholders who have been affected by the coronavirus can delay up to three payments on a personal or business Chase credit card. You can request payment assistance directly online.
On April 7, 2020, Citi announced its offer to waive late fees and defer minimum payments on credit cards for two months. Accounts will be reported as current to the credit bureaus during the waiver period unless the account was delinquent before the waiver period began.4
Citi also offers a range of plans that customers can access by messaging customer service. Customers should text “App” to 692-484 and Citi will send a link to communicate through Citi’s mobile app.
Cardholders can call 1-800-497-2816 (TTY/TDD 1-800-347-7449) any time or send a message through the Account Center online or in the mobile app.
A 90-day credit card payment deferral is available for eligible members. Call 855-764-4617 to discuss your options.5
Wells Fargo offers fee waivers, payment deferrals, and other expanded assistance for cardholders who take the initiative to contact customer service.6
Federal student loan borrowers will not have to make payments until payments until Sept. 30, 2020.7 This courtesy is automatic, so there’s no need to contact your student loan servicer. You can also request a refund of any student loan payment you made after March 13, 2020, and use this money to help pay other bills.
Private student loans borrowers should contact the loan servicer to learn what options are available. You may be able to ask for forbearance, deferment, or income-based repayment options.
Auto lenders may offer payment deferment options to keep you from falling behind on your auto loan payments or facing vehicle repossession. Similarly, if you are leasing a vehicle, your financing company may allow you to defer payments or extend your lease for additional months. For example, Chase will automatically extend ending leases for six months as long as you continue making payments.8
If you’re struggling to pay bills as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Ally allows you to sign up for payment deferral by logging into your account. Payments will resume after the deferment period ends and your loan repayment period will be extended by the deferment time period.9
Wells Fargo is suspending involuntary auto repossession and offering hardship options for borrowers.6
Several cell phone service providers have offered to help struggling consumers by waiving late fees or offering payment arrangements.
AT&T is waiving late payment fees for postpaid wireless and domestic postpaid wireless plan overage charges for data, voice, or text for residential postpaid wireless customers on fees or charges incurred between March 13, 2020, and May 13, 2020, due to economic hardship related to the coronavirus pandemic. You can submit a waiver request online.10
T-Mobile customers who need help paying their bills can log in to their account to request a payment arrangement.11
Verizon will waive late fees and overage charges for 60 days from March 16 to May 13, 2020, for customers and small businesses that inform the servicer that they can’t afford monthly payment during the coronavirus. Your services won’t be terminated. Affected customers can let Verizon know they’re experiencing hardship by completing an online form.12
You might also consider adjusting your monthly service plan, even temporarily, to lower your bill. Lowering your rate plan or removing extra services can give you some relief and may even make your bill more affordable.
Many state governors have declared a state of emergency, which allows utility companies to suspend late payment fees and disconnections during this emergency. Some utility servicers are also waiving late fees and offering payment plans for customers who are impacted by the coronavirus. Most service providers present their current options right on their website.
What Are the Consequences of Not Paying?
Make sure you understand the implications of taking advantage of forbearance or other hardship programs. Delaying payments may lead to accrued interest and extended repayment timing.
Communicating with your billers is key to keeping your account in good standing. Missing payments without contacting your lender, credit card issuer, or other service providers could lead to late fees, negative credit reporting, and service disconnection. Charges may continue to accumulate, leaving you with a much bigger bill to pay once the pandemic ends.
It may be more beneficial in the long-run to make your payments if you can afford to so you’re not left with a huge pile of bills to pay when life returns to normal. That may mean tapping into any emergency savings you’ve built, applying for unemployment benefits, or using your stimulus payment. Reducing your spending to a barebones budget may help stretch any income you still have even further.
The Bottom Line
Use your emergency fund or apply for government benefits to help make ends meet. Cutting expenses will help reduce the number of bills you have to pay.
You’re not alone in this. Creditors, lenders, and other billers are providing a variety of relief options for consumers. Look for COVID-19 messaging on your billers’ websites to find out the best way to request a due date extension, get fees waived, or work out other payment arrangements.