Coronavirus crisis has people struggling to pay bills: Heres what you can do
Wednesday is the first of the month, when most rent payment and a handful of other bills are due. If you are struggling amid the ongoing coronavirus-induced financial crisis, here are some resources that are available to help.
The pandemic has clobbered the U.S. economy, forcing many businesses to shut down due to government-mandated orders. A record-shattering 3.28 million people filed for unemployment claims in the week ending March 21, according to U.S. Department of Labor data released late last week.
While millions have been told that they cannot work amid the COVID-19 crisis, most still have to pay bills. Here is what to know if you worry you might not be able to make a payment.
What to do if you are struggling to pay your mortgage or rent
If you are struggling to pay your rent or mortgage amid the pandemic’s economic fallout, the federal government and some local authorities have announced a series of moratoriums on evictions and other actions.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced a foreclosure and eviction moratorium earlier this month for single-family homeowners for the next 60 days if they have Federal Housing Administration-insured mortgages.
The action “will allow households who have an FHA-insured mortgage to meet the challenges of COVID-19 without fear of losing their homes, and help steady market concerns,” HUD Secretary Ben Carson said in a statement.
More information on the HUD’s eviction and foreclosure moratorium can be found here.
Homeowners in danger of missing a payment should reach out immediately to their lender online rather than by phone because of recent staff reductions, according to the Housing Policy Council, a group of lenders whose members include JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Citigroup. The group is working to streamline procedures so lenders are not overwhelmed and requests can be quickly processed, in many cases without requiring immediate proof of need.
“And finally, it is critical that we continue to message that all those who can pay their mortgage, should pay their mortgage,” reads the group’s COVID-19 statement on its website.
Wells Fargo Home Lending said in a press release that they are granting an immediate three-month payment suspension for customers who request assistance on their mortgages. For customers who take advantage of the payment suspension, the lenders said they also won’t report past-due status to consumer reporting agencies or charge late fees during the three-month period.
Moreover, major cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Seattle have also instituted moratoriums on evictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic if you are struggling to make rent. For more information, check your local city or state’s housing websites.
New York City and Los Angeles’ eviction moratoriums also apply to small businesses or commercial properties.
Experts also urge that if you think you are struggling to pay your rent, be sure to take action as soon as possible.
What if I can’t pay my energy bills?
Some electric and utility service providers have announced steps to help financially if you are unable to make payments for your home or small business.
Consolidated Edison company of New York announced late last week “you won’t lose your power now because you’re having trouble making payments.”
The company said it would not shut down power for non-payment and is waiving late-payment fees. Moreover, it said it will also waive fees for payments with credit cards or debit cards and that customers can arrange for “payment extensions and agreements” through their account on their online portal.
In California, Pacific Gas and Electric announced similar measures, saying it “has voluntarily implemented a moratorium on service disconnections for non-payment,” amid the coronavirus pandemic.
PG&E’s moratorium applies to both residential and commercial customers.
“We recognize that this is a rapidly changing situation and an uncertain time for many of our customers. Our most important responsibility is the health and safety of our customers and employees. We also want to provide some relief from the stress and financial challenges many are facing during this worldwide, public health crisis,” the company’s chief customer officer and senior vice president Laurie Giammona said in a statement. “We understand that many of our customers may experience a personal financial strain due to the slowdown in the economy related to the pandemic.”
Across the country other energy providers have announced similar measures, including Pennsylvania-based PECO and Florida Power & Light.
If you are worried about missing a payment or getting your services shut down, check to see what help is available with your local provider as soon as possible. Experts also urge reaching out to service providers online if possible, as many have reported long wait times or not being able to get through to someone on the phone amid the pandemic.
What if I can’t make an internet or phone payment?
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai urged internet and telephone services to ensure that Americans do not lose their broadband or telephone connectivity amid the crisis earlier this month, and a growing list of companies have signed the FCC’s “Keep Americans Connected” pledge to not terminate services over the next 60 days.
The full list is available on the FCC’s website here.
AT&T announced on its website that for the 60-day period beginning March 13, it “won’t terminate service and will waive late payment fees of any wireless, home phone or broadband residential or small business customer due to an inability to pay their bill as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.”
The company also said it is waiving domestic wireless plan overage charges for data, voice and text for residential or small business wireless customers who may be facing economic hardships related to the pandemic.
Verizon said it will waive late fees and overage charges until May 13 for customers and small businesses “who let us know they are unable to pay as a result of economic hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and we will not terminate service to those customers.”
All of the internet and phone bill relief efforts mentioned above, including the FCC’s list of companies, also apply to small businesses.
What if I can’t pay my car payments?
Ford and its U.S. dealers said they are offering customers who have been financially impacted by COVID-19 six months of payment relief for eligible new-car buyers.
Toyota and Lexus said they are also providing payment relief options, including extensions or lease deferred payments amid the pandemic.
This report was featured in the Wednesday, April 1, 2020, episode of “Start Here,” ABC News’ daily news podcast.