Here’s What Irma Victims Need to Know About Falling Behind on Their Bills

an uprooted tree in the road
Hurricane Irma damage in Seminole, Florida. Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder

Editor’s note: This post will be updated as we learn about other companies that are waiving fees and penalties for Irma victims.

As the remnants of Hurricane Irma pass through, the last thing you want to think about is how the money you spent on gas, food, water and hotel stays during the emergency will impact your ability to pay for your regular living expenses.

While you’re assessing damage to your home or car, you definitely shouldn’t have to think about how you’re going to cover your student loan payment this month or how much your next cell phone bill will be because of the extra data charges you racked up while your Wi-Fi was out.

We know exactly what that’s like.

Our staff at The Penny Hoarder, headquartered in (usually) sunny St. Petersburg, Florida, was hit by Hurricane Irma this week, and we have some of those same worries.

Thankfully, we’ve got some good news that will hopefully ease a bit of your post-disaster stress as you wait to resume normal life.

Automatic Forbearance for Federal Student Loan Borrowers

If you’re working on repaying federal student loans and you live in an area impacted by Hurricane Irma, you will be happy to hear that there will be no penalty if you can’t make your student loan payment this month.

According to an email from student loan servicer Great Lakes Educational Loan Services, payments for September have been suspended automatically, and your next payment due date is October 2017.

Additionally, if you were past due on your student loan payment before Irma, your slate has been wiped clean — your account is now up-to-date. Unfortunately, however, any late payments that appear on your credit report will remain.

Of course, some parts of Florida were impacted far more severely than others. If the one-month automatic forbearance is not enough, a 90-day forbearance is also available on a case-by-case basis if you contact Great Lakes.

Do you have another servicer for your federal student loan or are you worried about your private student loan? It’s likely that your servicer has a similar program in place, too. Your best bet is to contact your servicer to find out the details.

AT&T, Verizon Customers: Don’t Worry About Overages

Whether you were using your phone to look up information for your home insurance policy or marking yourself safe on Facebook while your electricity and Wi-Fi were out, there’s no doubt that the impending overage charges have you a little worried.

But if you’ve got AT&T or Verizon, you should have received a text message similar to the ones my co-workers did telling you that you won’t be changed for overages on data, calls or text messages.

That text should also tell you when your charges will resume.

If you didn’t get that text or you have another cell phone provider and you don’t have an unlimited plan, call your provider. Once you explain your situation you may be able to convince them to waive the additional charges you rack up over the next few days.

Your Banks, Credit Card Companies May Be Flexible, Too

Chase Bank customers should already have gotten an email saying that the company plans to waive late fees, overdraft fees and ATM service fees for all its customers who were in the path of Hurricane Irma.

The late fee waivers apply to mortgages, auto loans and leases, credit cards and business bank accounts.

The fees will be waived until Sept. 24, and if you have already been charged, your fees will be refunded.

Bank of America followed suit and is also refunding any fees assessed for overdrafts, replacement cards, ATMs, early withdrawals on certificates of deposit and late payments on mortgages, auto loans, home equity loans and personal loans.

Of course, if you don’t bank with Chase or Bank of America, contact your bank or credit union to see if it will offer a similar program.

Struggling After Irma but No Fee Waivers Offered? Ask Anyway

As you’re checking in with family and contacting insurance companies, don’t just ignore the new bills that are adding up if you don’t get fee waiver offers from companies you owe.

It’s possible that they simply don’t have an automatic policy in place for when a disaster strikes where their customers live.

When you call, just be ready to explain the kind of damage you suffered or how many days you expect to be away from work. Then, explain when you can resume normal payments.

While we can’t guarantee every company will be sympathetic, at least a few might be.

Desiree Stennett (@desi_stennett) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s among the lucky few on The Penny Hoarder staff with access to electricity and internet right now.

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