Managing your bills during COVID-19

COVID-19 has thrown the economy into a tailspin. Many people have been laid off, furloughed, or are working fewer hours. And as wages dry up, bills can pile up.

Debt can be tricky. Here are some ideas about how you can manage your debts and start regaining your financial well being.

  • Gather your bills: Make a list of your monthly bills: rent/mortgage, car payment, utilities, student loans, medical bills, and anything else. Consider how much you need for food, medicine, and other necessities.
  • Ask for help: Many companies have special programs to help people right now. Contact the companies you owe money to and try to work out a new payment plan with lower payments or delayed due dates. Make sure to get any changes in writing.
    • Find out if your state or local government offers programs that will allow you to hold off on paying some bills right now.
    • Trouble paying your mortgage? Here’s some advice on how to manage that problem. If you have a government-backed mortgage, you may be able to delay payment by contacting your servicer.
    • Need additional help? Check out ftc.gov/creditcounselor for tips on how to choose a counselor who really helps you out.
  • Prioritize if you need to: If you still can’t pay everything on time, look at what would happen if you couldn’t pay each bill and decide which bills to pay first. Would you lose your home? Would your car be repossessed? Would your debt go into collection and affect your credit report?
  • Study up: Check out the FTC’s advice on how to cope with debt in the short term, and how to get out of debt when you are able.
  • Watch out for scams: In stressful times, scammers are everywhere. Beware of any company that guarantees that creditors will forgive your debts, or makes you pay up front for help. If you are looking for debt relief, make sure to find help you can trust.

For more information, go to: click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to develop a plan to manage their debts, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Ask students if they should turn to a company that claims to offer assistance in solving debt problems? Why or why not?

Discussion Questions

  1. Why should you avoid waiting until your account is turned over to a debt collector?
  2. What is a constant worry for a debtor who is behind in payments of bills?

Fill out the FAFSA

For many people, how to pay for a college education is one of the major financial decisions before deciding on a school. There are many different ways to pay for college. Understanding your choices can help you make the right decision for your situation.

Start by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

A critical first step for many prospective students is to complete the FAFSA . FAFSA completion is an important part of the student aid process.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, some states have extended their FAFSA deadlines. . Contact your school’s financial aid office to find out if their priority FAFSA deadline has been extended.

Why fill out the FAFSA?

Filling out the FAFSA is required if you want to apply for federal assistance, including grants, loans and work study. Your eligibility for need-based federal aid, such as Pell Grants and subsidized student loans is determined by your FAFSA submission.

Filling out the FAFSA does not commit you to taking out student loans or accepting the financial aid offered. However, if you do not submit a FAFSA you will not be able to access federal grants or other forms of federal financial aid.

In addition, states typically require students to complete the FAFSA to qualify for state grant programs, and most colleges and universities will not consider awarding any institutional aid, until the FAFSA has been submitted.

Even if you have not finalized your plans for this fall, consider filling out the 2020-2021 FAFSA sooner rather than later, many state and schools award aid on a first-come, first-serve basis and may have established earlier, “priority” deadlines. If you miss a key deadline to complete the FAFSA, you will limit your ability to qualify for state or institutional funding.

For more information:

finaid.org

http://studentaid.ed.gov

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students why it is important to complete the FAFSA form sooner than later?
  • What basic information is needed before beginning the FAFSA application process?

Discussion Questions

  1. Where can you get assistance if you need help in filling out the FAFSA form?
  2. Why is important to take advantage of any scholarships and grants before applying for a federal loan?

Financial Literacy for Children

A lifetime of skillful financial decisions starts with experiential learning at a young age. To increase financial literacy for the next generation, consider these actions:

  • Give children a payday. Instead of a weekly allowance with simply giving money, create a system of earning these funds. Connect their household chores to earned amounts with a weekly payday. This practice can teach a child that people are paid for work to earn money for their living expenses.
  • Create awareness of opportunity cost. Every financial decision has trade-offs. Once money is spent, that money is not available for other uses. Keeping money in a clear jar allows the young person to visually see what funds are available, and when the money is gone.
  • Allow children to experience borrowing. If a child wants to buy something but does not have the money, set up a signed loan agreement with repayment terms. Also create a plan for the amount owed to be taken from future household earnings. Have the young person physically pay the money to better understand how credit works.
  • Connect them in the budgeting process. Include children in the discussion of family finances and the household budget to help them understand where money is spent. Consider creating a chart with spending amounts, or use slips of paper representing money that are used to pay the bills each month.
  • Teach wants vs. needs. Shoes or a clothing item may be a need but not a high-fashion version. To cover the cost of the higher-priced item, young people should be required to earn the amount for the additional expense.
  • Use money games. These activities can help children understand earning, saving, wise spending and other basics of money management for a financially sound future.

For additional information on financial literacy for children, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students conduct online research to locate other actions used by parents to teach their children smart spending and wise money management.
  • Have students talk to parents to obtain suggestions that might be used to teach wise money management to children.

 Discussion Questions 

  1. What are the financial, social, and relational benefits of children learning smart spending and wise money management early in life?
  2. Describe possible money management learning activities for children that involve creative use of technology.

FINRA Investor Education Foundation Publishes “The State of U.S. Financial Capability”

Did you know that in 2018:

  • 19% of households spent more than their income?
  • 46% of individuals lacked an emergency fund?
  • 35% of credit card holders paid only the minimum on their credit cards?

In September 2019, the FINRA Foundation released data from its latest Financial Capability Study—one of the largest and most comprehensive financial capability studies in the United States. Among the findings, younger Americans, those with lower incomes, African-Americans and those without a college degree face the toughest financial struggles. More than 27,000 respondents participated in the nationwide study. Conducted every three years beginning in 2009, it measures key indicators of financial capability and evaluates how these indicators vary with underlying demographic, behavioral, attitudinal and financial literacy characteristics—both nationwide and state-by-state.

For more information, click here

Teaching Suggestions:

  • Ask students if they spend more than their income in a given year.
  • Ask students if they have a rainy day fund. If not, why?
  • Ask students if they pay in full when the credit card bill arrives. If not, why?

Discussion Questions

  1. What might be some reasons why almost one in five households spends more than their income?
  2. Why is it important to have a rainy day fund? Why almost half of Americans lack such a fund?
  3. Why is it vital to pay credit card bills in full? What are the costs of paying a minimum balance?

Apartment Loans

Many recent college graduates choose to rent expensive, upscale apartments rather than putting money into savings. Their “fear of missing out” (FOMO) on being “close to the action” or luxury-living amenities comes at a cost, with high demand for these units resulting in spiraling monthly rents.  To cover these higher costs, “apartment loans” are now available in several urban areas.

Similar to the high-risk mortgages that triggered the financial crisis in 2008, apartment loans may be viewed as predatory lending.  Renters may borrow up to $15,000 with no interest for the first six months, but then encounter an annual interest rate of 15-17 percent.  Some justify these loans in that the costs are lower than payday lending.

If you have to take out a loan to pay the rent for an apartment…you CAN’T afford to live there.  Your ability to build wealth and long-term financial security will depend on living within your income.

For additional information on apartment loans, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students conduct a survey of renters to determine actions they took to determine the location and cost of obtaining an apartment.
  • Have students create a visual presentation with the dangers of apartment loans.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What actions might be considered to avoid apartment loans?
  2. Describe financial and personal concerns associated with apartment loans.

Fake Credit Repair: Good Teton Professionals, LLC

In June 2019, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charged that two defendants, Douglas Filter and Marcio G. Andrade, using such trade names as Deletion Experts, Inquiry Busters, and Top Tradelines, used deceptive websites, unsolicited emails, and text messages to target consumers with false promises of substantially improving consumers’ credit scores by claiming to remove all negative items and hard inquiries from consumers’ credit reports.

The defendants also falsely claimed to substantially improve consumers’ credit scores by promising to add consumers as “authorized users” to other individuals’ credit accounts.  In most instances, however, the defendants were not able to substantially improve consumers’ credit scores.  The complaint also alleges that the defendants charged illegal upfront fees and failed to provide consumers with required disclosures about their credit repair services.

The defendants often used illegal remotely created checks to pay for the credit repair services they offered through telemarketing, according the FTC’s complaint.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to prepare a list of federal laws that protect consumers from operators of fake credit repair schemes.
  • What is the best advice before you sign with such companies as, Grand Teton Professionals, LLC; to repair your poor credit?

Discussion Questions

  1. What is a household to do if it is experiencing problems in paying bills, thus resulting in poor credit scores?
  2. What are your options, if you are having problems paying your bills and need help?
  3. Discuss the statement, “Only time and a conscientious effort to pay your debt in a timely manner will lead to the success of improving your credit report.”

The “Bank of Mom and Dad” for Mortgages

Which source of home-buying finances has “millions of satisfied customers, has never asked for a bailout, and really cares about its borrowers”?  It’s the the “Bank of Mom and Dad.”

Parents and relatives are a common source of funds when buying a home.  With a difficult housing market, this financial assistance for young homebuyers is often necessary.  According to a study by Legal & General, the “Bank of Mom and Dad” is the seventh largest source of home-buying funds. The top six were Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, Quicken Loans, Bank of America, U.S. Bancorp, and Freedom Mortgage.

The downside of this trend is that many parents are postponing, and even endangering, their retirement years to provide financial assistance to their children. Before accepting funds from family members, consider these factors:

  • Assess the current and future financial impact for family members involved.
  • Evaluate the tax situation and costs that might be involved.
  • Determine potential implications for other family members.
  • Consider other sources and possibilities, such as making it a loan rather than a gift’ also investigate government or private programs available to lower-income or first-time home buyers.

 For additional information on family assistance for home buying, go to:

Link #1

Link #2

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students create a video presentation to demonstrate the positive and negative aspects of parents providing funds to their children for buying a home.
  • Have students conduct research online and with financial institutions to determine programs that are available to lower-income or first-time home buyers.

Discussion Questions 

  1. How might providing funds to children for buying a home affect the financial and personal situation of parents and other family members?
  2. Describe actions to take before parents provide funds to their children for buying a home.

Weighed down by debt? How to ease the load

If you’re overwhelmed by debt, it’s crucial to find a solution.

FDIC Consumer News offers a few tips.

  • Contact your lender immediately if you think you won’t be able to make a loan payment.
  • Reputable credit counseling organizations can help you develop a personalized plan to solve a variety of money problems. 
  • Be very careful of “debt settlement” companies that claim they can reduce what you owe for a fee.
  • Avoid scams.
  • Remember that you have rights when it comes to debt collection.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they know anyone who has had financial difficulties and how they resolved their problem.
  • Ask students to review the main provisions of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and how the law protects consumers from unfair debt collectors.

 Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it critical to contact your mortgage lender immediately if you think you can’t make a loan payment on time?
  2. In what ways reputable credit counseling organizations can help you develop a personalized plan to solve financial problems?
  3. What are the warning signs of possible fraud by a debt settlement company or credit counselor?

Activities to Combat Illegal Debt Collection Practices

In March 2018, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported on their 2017 activities to combat illegal debt collection practices.  The CFPB handled approximately 84,500 debt collection complaints, making it one of the most prevalent topics of complaints about consumer financial products or services.  The Bureau offered five sample letters that consumers may use when they interact with debt collectors.

The FTC resolved 10 cases against 42 defendants and obtained more than $64 million in judgements, focused on curbing egregious debt collection practices, including phantom departments, schools, non-profit organizations, banks, credit unions, other businesses and government agencies.  The agency logged more than 60 million views on its webpages, with its videos seen more than 581,000 times at YouTube.com/FTC, and its consumer blogs reaching 199,860 (English) and 50,480 (Spanish) email subscribers.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to review the major provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
  • Let students debate the issue, “Can governmental agencies stop unlawful practices of the debt collection agencies that harm both consumers and legitimate business”.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is it possible to live without using any form of consumer credit?
  2. What can the governmental agencies do to protect the legal rights of all consumers in a manner that is efficient, effective, and accountable?

How to Dig Out of Debt? Grab More Than One Shovel

Millions of Americans are dealing with debt overload every day.  If you’re struggling to pay your loans, credit cards or other bills, here are some steps you can take to begin managing your debt problems.

  1. Create a budget.
  2. Try to get a clear picture of your monthly income and expenses.
  3. Contact your creditors about easier ways to make your most important bill payments.
  4. Have a strategy for saving money on interest and fees.
  5. Consider getting help from a reputable credit counselor.
  6. Know your rights if a debt collector contacts you.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students debate this issue “Is it possible to live without using any form of consumer credit”.
  • Ask students if they have created a budget, borrowed to finance a car, and have a strategy for saving money on interest or fees.

Discussion Questions

  1. What factors should be considered when a person is determining the amount of credit he or she should take on?
  2. What actions are commonly recommended if a person has difficulty making credit payments?