Coping With the Corona Virus-Related Financial Stressors

KEY POINTS

  • Nearly half of U.S. adults have reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the virus, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll.
  • A new NFCC survey finds situations that immensely exacerbate financial worries include not having enough savings, losing a job and the inability to pay debts.
  • Many large health insurance companies as well as Medicare have increased their capacity and coverage for telehealth visits with mental health providers.

Here are some tips from the mental health and financial experts on how best to cope with these common money stressors.

1. Not enough savings

If you find yourself struggling financially and have a limited emergency fund — or none at all — focus instead on what you can control. “First, carefully examine your expenses and reprioritize your spending. Cut out everything but the essentials , such as,  mortgage or rent, food, utilities and insurance,” said author and certified financial planner Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, who is also president of the Charles Schwab Foundation. “If you’re unable to pay a bill, contact your creditors right away. They may be willing to negotiate a payment schedule or waive late fees.

2. Job loss

If you haven’t already, file for unemployment benefits immediately through your state’s programThere will likely be a lag time until you receive your first check.

  • Make sure you still have health insurance. You could switch to COBRA to receive the same coverage you had under your employer for the next 18 months, but you have to pay for it yourself at a considerably higher cost than you were paying as an employee. “Do some comparison-shopping.”
  • Consider other jobs that you may be able to pursue. Use your down time to learn a new skill or start that side-hustle. Education, health care, and technology companies are among some of the industries hiring remote workers right now.

3. Inability to pay your debts

Nearly half of U.S. adults currently have credit card debt and 13% of them are not paying anything at all or don’t have a plan on how to pay, according to a report by CreditCards.com. 

Consider temporarily paying only the minimum on mortgage/rent, car loans and student loans as well, said Schwab-Pomerantz, whose Schwab MoneyWise website has a list of resources to help during the Covid-19 crisis. More help could be available. You may be able to lower or suspend your mortgage payments for up to one year in some cases. Contact your lender.  If you’re having trouble paying your rent, talk to your landlord about your situation and your options. Some states and municipalities are providing eviction restrictions for impacted individuals. Many utilities and phone companies have stopped cutting off services for nonpayment. Call them.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students how the corona virus has affected them, their relatives, or friends. What steps have they taken to minimize the effects of the corona virus?
  • List the steps to take if you don’t have enough emergency funds to get through this financial difficult period.

Discussion Questions

  1. How are millions of Americans coping with stress and anxiety as they deal with the fear and reality of death and disease due to the corona virus pandemic?
  2. Discuss the economic and emotional worries that are keeping American awake at night.

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?

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?

Why Buy When You Can Rent?

While car ownership has been a cultural milestone in our society, this tradition is diminishing with a trend toward renting or borrowing rather than owning. This situation is partially related to fewer teenagers opting to obtain a driver’s license. Also, fewer young people are buying homes, giving preference to the flexibility of renting.

The owning of “stuff” is shifting toward “decluttering” and choosing instead to rent items as needed. A strong belief that overconsumption is putting our planet at risk is driving the rise of the sharing economy. In addition, there is a growing trust to value exchanging items with “real people” rather than buying from major companies.

In addition to Zipcar, which rents vehicles by the hour, other rental business models include:

  • Ann Taylor’s Infinite Style service that allows a person, for a $95 monthly fee, to rent up to three garments at a time.
  • SnapGoods rents cameras, power tools and home appliances, such as blenders.
  • Frankfurt airport has a service that allows travelers to store winter coats when flying to warmer climates. Other businesses are considering a service to rent cold weather clothing to travelers arriving from tropical areas.
  • Since about one-third of new vehicles are leased, Cadillac created the “Book By Cadillac” program allowing a person to exchange up to 18 vehicles a year.

The many empty stores in malls create opportunities for “swap meets” and “rental fairs” for various products, using these spaces to also build connections in the local community.

For additional information on renting instead of buying, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students locate examples of sharing economy businesses and rental companies in your community and online.
  • Have students talk to others to obtain ideas for new types of rental businesses.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What do you believe are the benefits and drawbacks of renting instead of owning?
  2. Describe actions that might be taken to determine needs and ideas for rental businesses in a community.

 

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?

Know your debt collection rights

Know someone who’s behind on their bills? Maybe debt collectors are calling for payment? The Federal Trade Commission’s new debt collection video can help you understand your legal rights – and may lower your stress level.  In the video, you’ll see how bad debt collectors try to get you to pay up. Bad debt collectors will say anything to get you to pay – and they’ll make it feel urgent to get you to pay immediately. But there are laws to protect you. Debt collectors:

  • Can’t call you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.
  • Can’t use profanity, threaten violence or harass you to pay
  • May not lie or pretend to be someone they’re not
  • Cannot ask you to pay a debt that doesn’t even exist
  • Can’t threaten you with arrest or deportation
  • Cannot tell anyone – except your spouse or attorney – about your debt

If a debt collector calls and uses any of these tactics, hang up and report it to the FTC. Remember: you have the right to be treated fairly – no matter what.

For more information go to: consumer.gov/debt.

To view the video, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  1. Ask students to summarize the steps they may take if a debt collector calls.
  2. Let students make a list of danger signals of potential debt problems.

 Discussion Questions 

  1. Which federal law regulates debt collection activities and protects consumers from abusive collection practices?
  2. Does the law erase the legitimate debts consumers owe?

Phantom Debt Collectors

Consumers across the country report that they’re getting telephone calls from people trying to collect loans the consumers never received or on loans they did receive for amounts they do not owe.  Others are receiving calls from people seeking to recover on loans consumers received but where the creditors never authorized the callers to collect them.

The FTC is warning consumers to be alert for scam artists posing as debt collectors.  It may be hard to tell the difference between a legitimate debt collector and a fake one.

A caller may be a fake debt collector if he/she:

  • is seeking payment on a debt for a loan you do not recognize;
  • refuses to give you a mailing address or phone number;
  • asks for personal financial or sensitive information; or
  • exerts high pressure to try to scare you into paying, such as threatening to have you arrested or to report you to a law enforcement agency.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  1. Ask students to make a list of protections provided by the Fair Collection Practices Act.
  2. Ask students to prepare a list of steps they should take if the harassment continues.

Discussion Questions

  • If you think that a caller may be a fake debt collector, why is it important to ask the caller for his name, company, street address, or telephone number?
  • If you think that a caller may be a fake debt collector, should you stop speaking with the caller? Why or why not?

Overhauling Debt Collection Market

New Protections Would Limit Collector Contact and Help Ensure the Correct Debt is collected

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is considering to overhaul the debt collection market by capping collector contact attempts and by helping to ensure that companies collect the correct debt.  Under the proposals being considered, debt collectors would be required to have more and better information about the debt before they collect.  As they are collecting, companies would be required to limit communications, clearly disclose debt details, and make it easier to dispute the debt.  When responding to disputes, collectors would be prohibited from continuing to pursue debt without sufficient evidence.  These requirements and restrictions would follow the debt if it were sold or transferred.

For more information about the proposals under consideration, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students what federal laws already prohibit debt collectors from harassing, oppressing, or abusing consumers.
  • Ask students if they, their friends or relatives, have ever been harassed by creditors. If so, what were their experiences?

Discussion Questions

  1. Debt collection market generates more complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau than any other financial product or service. Why?
  2. What might be some common complaints against debt collectors seeking to collect debt from consumers?