8 Pandemic Relief Programs Are Set to Expire. Here’s What You Should Do Now
For many of us, the end of 2020 can’t come soon enough.
But if you’re among the millions of people who’ve leaned on pandemic relief programs to stave off an economic hardship, you might be eying the end of the year with some trepidation as those programs’ deadlines draw near.
The $2.2 trillion CARES Act was passed back in March, and some of the programs have received extensions through the end of the year. But so far, many of those programs have uncertain futures beyond 2020.
We’ve sifted through the various programs to check on the end dates, potential extensions and what you can do before their deadlines arrive.
8 Pandemic Relief Programs End Soon — Here’s How to Prepare
We’ve rounded up pandemic relief programs that were launched by the CARES Act — plus some that states and even lenders may offer on their own. Here’s what you need to know.
1. Unemployment Benefits
What It Is: Unemployment assistance during the pandemic has been a lifeline for the millions of people who’ve lost their jobs.
In addition to state unemployment benefits, the CARES Act included Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, which provided an additional $600 per week payment to supplement state-level Unemployment Insurance programs.
That program ended in July, but Congress approved a 13-week unemployment insurance extension, known as Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC).
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), established by the recent $2 trillion federal stimulus package, offers unemployment benefits to people who don’t typically qualify for their state’s regular unemployment program. A whole new set of people are now eligible for unemployment benefits including gig workers, independent contractors and furloughed workers.
When It Ends: Without new legislation, no PEUC or PUA benefits will be paid after Dec. 31, 2020.
What You Can Do: Make sure you’ve exhausted all of your state and federal options. Although it’s possible benefits will be extended, you need to be prepared for the worst-case scenario.
Check with your state and local governments about unemployment assistance, whether it’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) or other programs.
Also, be proactive by creating a bare-bones budget and seeking free financial advice about your options for dealing with bills. If possible, get a bridge job to bring in at least some cash as you look for employment. Check here for more options if you can’t find work.
2. Mortgage Moratoriums
What It Is: Surviving this year has been stressful enough without losing your house. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac put a moratorium on foreclosures on single-family mortgages. For homeowners in COVID-19-related forbearance, servicers can also offer the option to defer missed payments.
When It Ends: The moratorium ends Dec. 31, 2020.
What You Can Do: If you are unable to pay your mortgage — or think you may be in the near future — the time to act is now. Reach out to your loan servicer about your options, whether it’s a loan modification, payment plan or deferment. The key is not to wait until you’re already behind on payments and in danger of foreclosure.
3. Suspended Evictions
What It Is: The Center for Disease Control issued an order early in the pandemic that bars most landlords from pursuing evictions.
When It Ends: The ban ends Dec. 31, 2020.
What You Can Do: If you think you can’t pay rent for the upcoming month, it’s best to speak with your landlord sooner rather than later. You may be able to come to a resolution that doesn’t involve eviction or having delinquent payments on your credit report. Here are some tips for negotiating with your landlord.
And don’t forget about state-level assistance — here’s how to apply for rent assistance programs in 26 states.
4. Effects on Credit Scores
What It Is: The CARES Act says your lender is supposed to report your loan as current while your payments are deferred, so long as you weren’t already delinquent.
Considering the chaos of this year, though, mistakes can happen, so you should check your credit report regularly. The three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — began offering free weekly credit reports during the pandemic.
When It Ends: Free reports are available through the end of April 2021.
What You Can Do: The key here is that you need your lender’s permission before you’ve missed payments, regardless of CARES Act protections.
Look for a customer service number on a copy of your bill for your mortgage, credit card, auto loan or other loan. When you call, have your account number and a clear explanation about why you will be unable to pay a bill. Ask them about assistance or hardship programs and how they report the missed payments to the credit bureaus.
To verify, request your free weekly credit report by going to AnnualCreditReport.com.
5. Paying Utility Bills
What It Is: When the pandemic hit, states issued individual orders and passed legislation that required utility companies to respond to the economic impact of the coronavirus in a variety of ways, including suspending disconnections and waiving reconnection fees and late fees. Depending on state law, some municipalities issued orders and utilities implemented assistance programs.
When It Ends: Because the programs were started on a state-by-state basis — or by individual communities and companies — the end date varies. Check out the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners’ map that notes the status of each state’s disconnection moratorium and payment plan.
What You Can Do: Call your utility company to explain your situation. If you’ve been enrolled, call to ask about extensions or payment programs available.
If you’re unable to pay a bill due to unforeseen circumstances — a medical emergency, death in the family or loss of a job — an organization called Modest Needs may be able to help.
This non-profit provides small grants to deserving individuals who would otherwise be capable of paying their expenses and aren’t eligible for other kinds of social assistance.
6. Student Loan Forbearance
What It Is: As of March, all payments and interest on federally held student loans have been suspended. The suspension does not mean that the federal government is making your student loan payments — you just aren’t accruing interest or incurring late fees during this period.
In addition, each month during the forbearance counts as payment for the purpose of a loan forgiveness program.
When It Ends: The forbearance was extended until Jan. 31, 2021.
What You Can Do: Don’t wait until next year to reach out to your student loan servicer. If you’re on the standard repayment plan and are unable to make the payments, apply for an income-driven repayment plan, which could substantially reduce your monthly payments when the forbearance period ends. If you’re already on an income-driven plan, update your income to modify your monthly payment.
7. 401(k) Hardship Withdrawals
What It Is: The CARES Act made it easier to use your retirement savings if you’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have suffered financially due to the virus. For example, if you’ve been laid off, your hours were cut or you had to close your business due to the virus, you’d qualify.
Usually, you pay a 10% penalty on early 401(k) withdrawals, but the CARES Act waives that for coronavirus-related withdrawals up to $100,000 or 100% of your vested balance. You can spread the income tax bill over three years, and you have the option to repay your plan over three years.
You can also borrow up to $100,000 or 100% of your vested balance if you’re impacted by coronavirus. For those, you typically repay over five years, but the CARES Act lets you hold off on making payments for a year.
When It Ends: The period ends Dec. 31, 2020.
What You Can Do: If you think you’ll need access to this money, take the loan or withdrawal before the end of the year to limit the damage. And before you do anything, contact your 401(k) provider to double check your plan is eligible for the CARES Act waiver.
8. FSA Rollovers
What It Is: Flexible Spending Accounts have traditionally offered employees a way to put aside pre-tax money in an account to use on medical (HCFSA account) or child care expenses (DCFSA account). The only catch: You had to know how much to budget for each year or risk losing any leftover funds when your plan’s year ended.
The pandemic has made it difficult for some people to spend all of the money they have set aside in their Flexible Spending Accounts, while others need more money than they planned for.
To help with some of these problems, the IRS made changes to FSAs as part of the CARES Act, including allowing a carryover of $550 for an HCFSA account.
When It Ends: In an HCFSA, the IRS allows a carryover of $550 for 90 days into the next plan year, which is usually March 15. There is no such allowance to carryover money for DCFSAs.
What You Can Do: Check in with your FSA accounts — do you have a significant amount of money leftover? If your employer offers the flexibility, ask about rolling over extra funds or for a grace period to use the extra funds before you lose them.
You can use your HCFSA funds for more products this year, specifically feminie hygiene products and over-the-counter medicines. Here’s what else you can buy with your HCFSA money.
Dealing with multiple issues at once can all be overwhelming, and crisis money management hardly seems like a long-term solution. If you’re not sure where to start, take these five steps to start managing your money during these uncertain times.
Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a staff writer/editor at The Penny Hoarder. Read her bio and other work here, then catch her on Twitter @TiffanyWendeln.