Helpful Financial Tips


If you are concerned about your financial well-being, there are steps you can take today to prepare for a period with reduced income. 

As we continue to assist those furloughed by the COVID-19 crisis, our social workers have created a checklist that we encourage you to review if you are in need of assistance.

Click the drop-downs in each section below for more information.

2020 Income Tax Filing – Stimulus Payment Recovery Rebate Credit

The IRS typically begins accepting tax returns in late January or early February. (Tax returns for 2019, for example, were accepted starting Jan. 27, 2020.) Those who are eligible for a $600 stimulus check but didn’t receive it automatically can claim the amount as a tax credit (called the Recovery Rebate Credit) on their 2020 federal income tax return. Those who were eligible for a $1,200 stimulus check (or $500 dependent payment) but didn’t receive it will also be able to claim that money as a tax credit on their 2020 return.

Typically, taxpayers with direct deposit who file their federal returns electronically can expect their refunds in one to three weeks. Those who mail in their returns and get a refund in the form of a paper check typically have to wait as long as two months. Keep in mind that due to the pandemic the IRS has taken longer than usual to process tax returns.

If you want to see when you will get your payment, check the IRS “Get my payment” tool. It’s an extremely popular site at the moment, so be patient. It’s updated once a day, so checking repeatedly during the day will just slow the system.

The IRS is gearing up for the 2020 tax filing system, so it can’t reissue and mail checks. If your check is lost or stolen, your best bet is to file a 2020 tax return electronically and get your stimulus check that way. For more information about Economic Impact Payments and the 2020 Recovery Rebate Credit, visit IRS.gov/eip

Rental Assistance

In response to COVID-19 and its economic fallout, many cities and states are creating or expanding rental assistance programs to support individuals and families impacted by the pandemic, and the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) is tracking in-depth information on these programs.

You can use the interactive map and searchable database to find state and local emergency rental assistance programs near you. You can also see the latest news on rental assistance programs through the state-by-state news tracker. Note that this is not a comprehensive list of ALL rental assistance programs, but the list is updated frequently.

https://nlihc.org/rental-assistance

Stimulus Check Information

On December 29, 2020, the Internal Revenue Service and the Treasury Department began delivering a second round of Economic Impact Payments as part of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 to millions of Americans who received the first round of payments earlier this year.

Use the link below to check on the status of your payment or to learn more about the current available aid.

https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/economic-impact-payments

December 2020 Stimulus Deal – as of 12/28/20

Payments

Individual adults making up to $75,000 a year receive a $600 payment, and a couple earning up to $150,000 a year would get twice that amount. Also, $600 for each dependent child.  Note, dependents that are age 17 or older, are not eligible for a payment and you cannot collect one on their behalf.

People with incomes just above these levels will receive a partial payment that declines by $5 for every $100 in income. For example, a person who earned $80,000 in 2019 will receive a payment of $350 ($5,000/$100 = 50 x 5 = $250 reduction)

Did you make much less money in 2020 than 2019, thus making you eligible for this newest payment even though your 2019 income makes you appear ineligible? When you file your 2020 return, there will be a way for you to claim this money then in the form of a refundable tax credit.

When Will Payments Arrive – first payments to go by mid-January.  Under the CARES Act, it took about two weeks for payments to begin landing via direct deposit.

If you never received a payment or only partial payment from the previous stimulus – You must claim a “recovery rebate credit” when you file your 2020 tax return. The Internal Revenue Service page for specifics. https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/recovery-rebate-credit

Potential Change for ‘mixed-status’ households

A citizen married to someone who is not and uses an Employer Identification Number instead of a Social Security Number – meant that neither of you were eligible for first stimulus payments.  The new stimulus bill is said to “expand these direct payments to mixed-status households.”  * Update pending.

Dual Wage Earner

There is a provision to help unemployed people who have a mix of income from both self-employment and wages paid by other employers.

A person earned most income through larger freelance jobs from movies, but took lower-paying jobs at restaurants in between. Such a worker would qualify for lower, state-level benefits based on the restaurant work.

There is a $100 weekly payment will be added to the $300 weekly federal benefit, and will also end on March 14. The benefit will begin only after your state reaches an agreement with the Labor Department.

For Individuals Previously Overpaid by Unemployment

Hundreds of thousands of people are estimated to have been overpaid by the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, in large part because of administrative errors that occurred while trying to quickly push benefits out using a new program.

Even when the state is at fault for over-payment, the recipient is still generally responsible. And states often collect what’s owed by automatically withholding a portion of a person’s benefit.

The latest legislation will fix that by giving states the discretion to waive the over-payments when honest mistakes were made that could be painful for the claimant to repay.

Unemployment Insurance Extended

The new stimulus plan will restart an extra federal benefit, of $300 per week, that is provided on top of the usual state benefit. Will last through March 14.

Everyone eligible for unemployment benefits will receive an extra 11 weeks.

Also covered are those who are receiving payments under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which covers the self-employed, gig workers, part-timers and others who are typically ineligible for regular unemployment benefits.

Most states pay benefits for 26 weeks, though some offer less. After that, the CARES Act had extended benefits by 13 weeks. The latest package would tack on 11 more weeks, bringing the total extension to 24 weeks – i.e., 50 weeks total (original 26 weeks plus the extended 24 weeks).

Please be aware -In periods of high unemployment, some states may limit the unemployment benefit to half the length of the state’s standard benefit period.   

If your benefits have already run out, experts said to check your state’s website for further instruction about whether you will be required to do anything to receive the extra 11 weeks of aid. The states will probably reinstate them automatically but expect to wait at least a few weeks.

Assistance Paying for Broadband

The new bill will also offer up to $50 per month in assistance (or $75 for people living on tribal land) to tens of millions of people with low incomes, including households with a Pell grant recipient or a child qualifying for free school lunch. Also eligible: Everyone who can document a “substantial” decline in income because of a job loss, furlough or successful unemployment benefits application.

It will take at least 60 days for regulators to set rules for the benefit, and it will last only as long as the $3.2 billion in allocations does. If you think you might be eligible, start asking your broadband provider about it in January.

Housing Stipulations

The agreement will provide $25 billion to be distributed through state and local governments to help renters who have fallen behind.

To receive assistance, households would have to meet several conditions, according to a congressional aide: Household income (for 2020) cannot exceed more than 80 percent of the area median income; at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability; and individuals must qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship — directly or indirectly — because of the pandemic.  Assistance would be prioritized for families with lower incomes and that have been unemployed for three months or more.

More details regarding stipulations for receiving housing assistance can be found at:

https://financialservices.house.gov/uploadedfiles/era_1-pgr_12.20.20.pdf

The National Low Income Housing Coalition has operated 500 emergency housing programs during the pandemic, because of the new stimulus, many programs will continue.  To find a program in your state go here https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1hLfybfo9NydIptQu5wghUpKXecimh3gaoqT7LU1JGc8/edit#gid=79194074

The agreement will only extend a moratorium on renter evictions through Jan. 31.

To be eligible, renters must have experienced a “substantial” loss of household income, a layoff or “extraordinary” out-of-pocket medical expenses, among several other conditions — and they cannot expect to earn more than $99,000 in 2020 (or $198,000 for married people filing their tax returns jointly).

The form from the CDC to fill out: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/declaration-form.pdf

MORTGAGE FORBEARANCE – you may qualify for a forbearance, which allows homeowners to temporarily pause or reduce payments for up to 180 days (after that, homeowners can ask for an additional 180 days). These rules, which apply to federally backed mortgages, are still in effect as part of the CARES Act relief package passed in March.

If your loan is backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, the two government-sponsored entities, there is no precise end date to the policy — regulators will wind it down when they deem it appropriate. But homeowners with loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration must contact their servicer and request an initial Covid-19 forbearance on or before Feb. 28. That had been set to expire on Dec. 31 but was extended on Monday.

The Federal Housing Administration, which often insures loans to borrowers who make smaller down payments, said on Monday that it would extend its foreclosure and eviction moratorium through Feb. 28. It had been set to expire on Dec. 31.

Any skipped payments ARE NOT forgiven and must eventually be paid back. But if borrowers cannot make the extra payments right away, they may be eligible to push back what they owe until the home is sold, refinanced or when the loan term is up.

The situation is murkier for borrowers with private mortgages, which are not covered by the same protections, though some providers have extended similar relief.

Protections for Bankruptcy Filers

Consumers filing for bankruptcy under Chapter 13, which requires a partial repayment of their debts, can still have their remaining debt discharged even if they fall behind on three or fewer home mortgage payments (on March 13 or later).

The same goes for consumers who have temporarily stopped making mortgage payments through a forbearance. Some bankruptcy courts argue that consumers can be denied a discharge if they are not current on their mortgage, even if they are otherwise up-to-date on other payments under their bankruptcy plan, said John Rao, an attorney with the National Consumer Law Center.

The bill provides other protections: People who have filed for bankruptcy or who have already received a discharge cannot be denied a mortgage forbearance or eviction protection created under the CARES Act.

Filers can also have their utility service maintained or restored without paying a deposit, Mr. Rao said. All of these provisions expire a year after the bill is enacted.

Food Stamps

There are at least three provisions in the December 2020 Stimulus Deal related to food stamps:

1. The monthly benefit for SNAP (the official name of the program) will increase by 15 percent through June 30, 2021. As ever, qualification rules remain complex.

2. People collecting unemployment benefits will have an easier time qualifying for SNAP. The bill has language that will exclude those benefits from the income eligibility calculation in many instances.

3. College students will have an easier time qualifying. This is also complicated, but people who are eligible for a federal or state work-study program or whose financial aid application yielded an expected family contribution of zero dollars should check to see whether they would be eligible.

If your income is below a certain level, you may be eligible for Food Stamps until work resumes.  Visit the website below to view income minimums in your state.

https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program

Borrower, Beware: Credit-Card Fraud Attempts Rise During the Coronavirus Crisis

Wall Street Journal

May 27th, 2020

Fraudsters are increasingly using pilfered credit-card numbers and phishing attacks to prey on overwhelmed consumers and banks during the coronavirus pandemic.

There has been a big jump in attempted credit- and debit-card fraud since coronavirus shut down the U.S. economy earlier this year, according to Fidelity National Information Services Inc., known as FIS, which assists about 3,200 U.S. banks with fraud monitoring. The dollar volume of attempted fraudulent transactions rose 35% in April from a year earlier, FIS said, a trend that appears to be continuing in May.

Most of the fraudulent transactions were caught before they hit cardholders’ accounts, FIS said, but the spike in attempts presents another challenge for consumers and their lenders muddling through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Fraud is a perennial problem for banks. Fraud losses—including losses linked to credit and debit cards—cost banks, merchants and, in some cases, cardholders $16.9 billion last year, up 15% from a year prior and the highest level since 2013, according to Javelin.

Fraudsters are employing a number of tactics to dupe unsuspecting consumers and banks.

They are generating random card numbers until they stumble upon legitimate accounts and attempting more fraudulent purchases with card numbers stolen in pre-pandemic hacks, said Eric Kraus, vice president of fraud at FIS.

Phishing attacks—the use of phone calls, emails or texts to trick customers into handing over their credentials—are rising, too, so much so that executives at one community bank were certain they had been hacked before learning that many of their cardholders had instead fallen victim to scams, Mr. Kraus said.

Anton Hinton got a phone call in late April from someone claiming to represent JPMorgan Chase. 

The caller, who knew Mr. Hinton’s full name, email address and the last four digits of his account, said his debit-card number had been stolen and needed to be frozen.

The caller told Mr. Hinton to set up a digital wallet to make purchases until Chase could ship a new card to his home in Cleveland. While on the call, he got an email, ostensibly from Chase, with a one-time activation code to set up the digital wallet.

After he hung up, Mr. Hinton saw more than $300 in purchases had been made in Florida.

Chase refunded the charges and sent Mr. Hinton a replacement card. “Scams typically increase during times of crisis, like pandemics and natural disasters,” a spokesman said.

TED Talk: How to Make Stress Your Friend

Stress. It makes your heart pound, your breathing quicken and your forehead sweat. But while stress has been made into a public health enemy, new research suggests that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case. Psychologist Kelly McGonigal urges us to see stress as a positive, and introduces us to an unsung mechanism for stress reduction: reaching out to others.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE TED TALK

Credit Card Debt

If you have credit card debt and are concerned about paying your minimums, call your credit card companies and discuss with them your personal situation. Most credit card companies are encouraging their cardholders to contact them to discuss a reduced minimum payment and even lower interest rates. 

If you are overwhelmed with debt, now may be a good time to gain control over your personal finances.  The National Federation of Credit Counseling provides information on creating a budget, consolidating debt, and will give you a personalized report with options. 

https://www.nfcc.org/

Eliminate Unnecessary Expenses

During an economic downturn, it is a great time to look at your personal budget and reduce anything that is not necessary.  Remember, cable/satellite services, monthly memberships, and other automatic subscriptions can be paused and reestablished when things get back on track again.


What is important to remember during difficult times, is to remain calm choose peace over panic. Anxiety and, sometimes even depression, can be reduced by taking action steps to improve your situation.  We encourage you to hop online and explore some of the ways you can stay connected during this unique time. Hang in there, we are all in this together!

If you have extenuating financial circumstance due to accident, illness, injury, death of an immediate family member or a housing emergency, we are here for you.