Information is current as of March 19, 2021.
By Mario Gutierrez, NYLAG’s Director of Financial Counseling, and Ervis Burda, NYLAG’s Financial Counselor
A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, New Yorkers continue to struggle. For those fortunate to still have a job, they find it hard to make ends meet, but now with the added threat of exposing themselves to this terrible virus. For those no longer working, the challenge of stretching public benefits, stimulus checks, or hoping for temporary protections like eviction moratoriums and forbearance programs will extend, is tiring.
To help, we at NYLAG put together some actions people can take now to optimize limited funds and build financial resiliency for the current crisis. NYLAG’s only non-legal program, financial empowerment, has deep expertise around financial planning for a crisis. In fact, our unit started in 2009, in response to the Great Recession, the last financial crisis, and we have continued helping thousands of New Yorker’s restore their economic stability since.
Browse the list of resources below or scroll to the end of this resource to learn how to contact a NYLAG financial counselor or legal advocate with help on a specific issue.
CRISIS FINANCIAL PLANNING-WHAT TO DO RIGHT NOW.
- Prioritize bills – Whether your job has been affected or not, take a look at all your bills and fixed expenses, identify which ones are critical and which can be postponed or have flexibility. Do check in with service providers as some may be offering assistance or an option to temporarily skip payments.
- Reduce spending – You should continue to reduce nonessential and discretionary spending in the event things get worse. These expenses can include entertainment, certain food items, and luxuries. Those savings should be stuffed away in a savings account as an emergency fund in the event you lose income or there are gaps in your benefits.
- Reach out to credit cards – As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many financial institutions continue to have payment deferral programs. In addition, these institutions may also offer hardship programs or other debt management options. Contact your creditor for details.
- Change how you pay student loans – The Biden-Harris Administration has extended the student loan protections passed in the spring under the Cares Act (more info below), which automatically suspends all payments due on certain federal student loans until September 30, 2021. Interest will not accrue during the suspension of payment and there will be no negative effect on your credit. Federal student loan borrowers working towards loan forgiveness will be able to count this period for both public service and regular loan forgiveness, making this forbearance period a good opportunity for almost all borrowers. For more information, click here. Private student loan borrowers and federal student loan borrowers not covered by the CARES Act might still have some relief. Many private student loan companies continue to offer assistance and flexibility, impacted borrowers need to speak with lenders to find out their options. If you have federal student loans but are excluded from the relief currently, consider working with a financial counselor to review your options, you might be able to consolidate your loans into a more favorable program or payment status.
- Remove auto-debit payments – If you think you will experience a cash crunch, you should consider removing auto-debit payments from your bills and other utilities. This way you can provide yourself with more flexibility to prioritize expenditures.
Beware of price gouging and scams related to the Coronavirus. It is illegal for businesses to take unfair advantage of consumers when selling goods or services that are “vital to the health, safety, or welfare of consumers”. If you see any price gouging, you should file a complaint here. Services or companies that offer products to “cure” the virus, early/exclusive access to vaccines or other similar promises should be avoided. Be aware of calls and solicitations around claiming stimulus payments, getting student loan relief, or receiving unemployment benefits. Federal and state relief programs can be accessed directly and freely, you should not have to pay anyone to get assistance with the COVID19 relief programs above. You can find more information here.
- SNAP and food pantries – For those facing a financial strain, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), could be extremely helpful. It provides a cash benefit for food to help supplement those expenses. More information can be found here. Also, all recertifications for SNAP benefits have been postponed indefinitely. You can also consider checking out local food pantries, which you can find here.
- NYLAG’s COVID-19 Online Resource Center. Our online center houses easy-to-understand resources and up-to-date information on court procedures, policies, and COVID-related benefits. Browse now.
- NYLAG’s COVID-19 Legal Resource Hotline. NYLAG’s free hotline helps New York City residents impacted by COVID-19 get answers to their legal questions on the following issues: advanced planning, consumer debt, employee rights, housing, unemployment benefits, ublic benefits, special education K-12 issues, and more. Call us today.
- HFLS – The Hebrew Free Loan Society is offering the Coronavirus Financial Impact Loan to qualified individuals who have faced financial challenges due to the outbreak. Applicants need to have a co-signer and there are income limits. This loan has no costs or interest and more information can be found here.
- Self-care – The ever-changing situation is causing a lot of uncertainty and stress. As financial counselors, we know that financial stress impacts not only individual’s and families’ long-term financial well-being, but also their physical and mental health. NYC Well can connect individuals to free, confidential mental health support. They can speak to a counselor via phone, text, or chat; and if needed get referrals to mental health care providers. More information on NYC Well.
- Housing – Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are suspending all foreclosure sales and evictions of borrowers, expanding its forbearance program, and making additional disaster-related loan modifications. They are also suspending the reporting of delinquencies to credit bureaus. More information here. NYLAG has already posted on rights and protections for renters, which can be found here.
- Undocumented residents –Unfortunately, most of the relief will not reach undocumented residents. The New York State Young Leaders Council (NYSYLC) has launched an emergency fund for undocumented residents and accumulated resources tailored for this population, which can be found here.
These are scary times, but you do have some options. The steps and resources above can help to make a hard situation just a little bit better.
NYLAG’s financial counseling team is here for you.