There’s no denying that the coronavirus pandemic has had significant effects on the US economy. Although Americans working full-time normally spend more than one-third of their day at their jobs on average, widespread business closures and massive layoffs have left millions out of work for the foreseeable future. And although President Trump signed the CARES Act into law in late March, which provided nearly $500 billion in economic distress relief for companies nationwide, that hasn’t proven to be enough to keep every business open and operational. Even for businesses that have kept the lights on during the pandemic, an uncertain prognosis looms.
Understandably, many Americans have been forced to make drastic budgetary changes during this time. While increased unemployment benefits provided a much-needed buffer for the millions who were eligible for payment, there are others who continue to barely scrape by. And now that unemployment benefits are back to pre-pandemic levels, it’s likely that the American public will continue to struggle even more.
But since 35% of your credit score depends on how promptly you pay your bills, it’s worth knowing which bills you should prioritize — and what to do when you seem to be out of options. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when you’re planning out your financial affairs for the coming weeks and months.
Identify Which Bills Should Be Paid First
Under normal circumstances, you’d probably prioritize your bills by which debts come with the highest interest rates. While that’s still a valuable idea to keep in mind, you’ll need to concern yourself with the absolute necessities first — especially as eviction processes have resumed once more. Your rent or mortgage payments, food, medications, and utilities should come first. Car payments and cell phone bills should come after, followed by other debts and loans. Back taxes and student loans don’t really need to be on your radar right now if you’re strapped for cash. Once you organize what you owe, you’ll have a clearer picture of your list of priorities.
Contact Your Creditors For Assistance
It’s worth noting that many lenders are making every effort to work with borrowers during this time. However, you can’t simply assume that you’ll be okay not to make payments. You need to contact your utility company, your credit card company, and any other lenders as soon as you know you won’t be able to make a payment. More than likely, they’ll be willing to work with you on a repayment plan or on some kind of payment structure that allows you to make partial payments until you get back on your feet. But it’s important that you be proactive and upfront with your creditors. In some cases, legal protections won’t keep your services from being turned off if you haven’t done your due diligence.
Beware of Debt Relief Options
When times are tough, debt relief or settlement companies may sound like an attractive option. But before you enroll in any kind of debt relief program, you’ll want to read the fine print and make sure you have a complete understanding of the risks involved. In some situations, a company might offer debt relief or consolidation, but it might turn out that they’re actually offering a loan. In other scenarios, working with a debt relief company could actually hurt your credit score. Be sure to conduct thorough research and look for customer reviews before resorting to this type of program. In many cases, working with a credit counselor may be a much better option.
Dealing with debts of any magnitude can bring on a substantial amount of stress — and during these uncertain times, that’s the last thing anyone needs. But if you’re facing undue financial hardship as a result of the pandemic, it’s important to get ahead of the situation before it spirals out of control. With these tips in mind, you’ll be in a better position to be in control of your finances — even when so much is outside your control.
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