Americans are facing more than health concerns as a result of the spread of novel coronavirus COVID-19, recently labeled a pandemic. As events and attractions postpone operations, many workers are being laid off until further notice. Those who can work may be faced with the choice between showing up sick or losing income needed to pay rent.
The Federal Reserve, joined by other government agencies, has called on the financial services industry to “meet the financial needs” of people who are affected by COVID-19. Some of the country’s largest financial institutions have responded with measures to help their customers cope.
Which financial institutions are offering coronavirus assistance?
Starting March 9, 2020, the following are in place for an initial 30 days, according to the company website:
- “For Retail Bank Customers: Fee waivers on monthly service fees; waived penalties for early CD withdrawal.
- For Retail Bank Small Business Customers: Fee waivers on monthly service fees and remote deposit capture; waived penalties for early CD withdrawal; Bankers available after hours and on weekends for support.
- For eligible Credit Card Customers: Credit line increases and collection forbearance programs
- For eligible Mortgage Customers: A range of hardship programs through our service provider, Cenlar FSB. Please contact them at 1-800-2CENLAR (1-800-223-6527) ”
Wells Fargo shared its response to the coronavirus disease, stating that “Wells Fargo is committed to helping customers experiencing hardships, including from the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19). If in need of assistance, we encourage customers to call us at 1-800-219-9739 to speak with a trained specialist to discuss options available for their consumer lending, small business and deposit products.”
It also included its efforts to keep branches safe with sanitizing products as well as warning customers to look out for potential scammers impersonating government employees or charities during the crisis.
U.S. Bank has posted several products on its website that it is offering at a discount to help those affected by COVID-19. It is also directing customers to reach out to 888-287-7817 if in need of “additional support.”
Capital One published an update to its website, urging customers to take advantage of digital options whenever possible, and sharing their Contact Us page as a resource for those in need as a result of the coronavirus.
PNC posted the following statement to its website: “Should you, as a PNC customer, encounter hardship as a result of coronavirus, please call us at 1-888-762-2265 (7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. ET Monday – Friday; 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. ET Saturday & Sunday) to discuss your options. PNC offers an array of hardship relief options for which customers may be eligible depending on their product(s) and needs.”
PNC also left open the possibility to expand assistance programs in the future, if needed.
The product of a December merger between SunTrust and BB&T, Truist announced on its website that its team is “committed to working with our clients to reduce financial stress during this challenging and uncertain time.
- Heritage SunTrust clients, please contact 800-SUNTRUST (800-786-8787).
- Heritage BB&T clients, please contact 800-226-5228.”
Discover said in a statement that it “is extending relief to qualified customers who are experiencing financial difficulty caused by the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). Discover customers may receive assistance that can include support related to payment timing, fees and late payments.”
Discover is encouraging customers to reach out by phone or through its “mobile text app, which connects a customer directly with an agent.” To access relevant phone numbers and other questions related to COVID-19.
Nelnet, a student loan servicer, announced the following relief effort on its website: “If you’re affected by COVID-19 directly or indirectly and need our support, we’re here to help you with options to reduce or postpone your payments:
- Change your repayment plan to reduce your monthly payments
- Apply for a deferment
- Apply for a forbearance”
To access this relief, you can “visit Nelnet.com, email us at Help@Nelnet.net, or call us at 888.486.4722 from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. (Eastern) Monday – Friday.”
Navient, another major student loan servicer, provided a statement on its website for those affected: “If you’ve been impacted by the coronavirus and are having difficulty making payments, we encourage you to call us at 888-272-5543 to explore your options to reduce or postpone your payments.”
Great Lakes released updated information on its website, posting that if you are “affected by COVID-19 directly or indirectly and need our support, we’re here to help you with options to reduce or postpone your payments.”
SoFi published an alert to its website where you can find a list of general service-specific contacts, as well as resources provided in response to the novel coronavirus. For support related to student loan payments, SoFi advises that “to inquire about forbearance and hardship relief due to COVID-19, please contact MOHELA at 877-292-7470 or send a secure message through sofi.mohela.com and they can address your concerns.”
For support related to personal loan payments, SoFi directed customers to call its “Hardship Relief Team to go through your options at 855-456-7634.”
Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
At a March 17th press briefing, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced: “If you owe a payment to the IRS, you can defer up to a million dollars as an individual… interest-free and penalty-free for 90 days.”
As of March 20th, this move now also applies to Tax Day. Mnuchin announced via Twitter that the deadline to file your taxes will be postponed “from April 15 to July 15″ for “all taxpayers and businesses.”
Be aware that this move only applies to your federal taxes. You’ll need to check with your state to find out if it is offering any similar measures. Some states may charge you interest if you don’t pay anything you owe by the original April 15 deadline.
Community resources that can help right now
Free financial planning
Financial advisors across the country are offering pro bono advice to people whose wallets are impacted by the outbreak. The XY Planning Network offers a search tool on its site that helps pinpoint financial advisors (more than 50 listed) who are willing to provide free advice on coronavirus relief.
Internet companies providing relief
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, over 100 companies have pledged not to terminate services to any residential or small business customers who cannot pay their bills, waive any late fees and open its WiFi hotspots to any American who needs them.
In a promise to “keep American connected,” the Federal Communications Commission’s site offers a full list of companies and associations that are participating.
Unemployment numbers will likely continue to rise as more businesses close shop during the coronavirus pandemic.
The U.S. Department of Labor has issued guidance giving states flexibility to amend their laws to extend unemployment benefits to workers impacted by COVID-19. Use this unemployment benefits finder tool to find specific details on your state’s unemployment insurance program, including additional help due to coronavirus. Many states allow you to file for unemployment benefits online, while other states provide toll-free numbers and alternative ways to file.
Some states are finding innovative ways to combat unemployment during this period of uncertainty. New York, for example, is waiving the waiting period for unemployment benefits for people affected by the virus, which may lead other states to follow suit. Typically, most states will pay benefits for up to 26 weeks, but the $2 trillion CARES Act expands unemployment so that when you hit the maximum number of weeks with your state, the federal government will kick in funds for an additional 13 weeks. In general, benefits are based on a percentage of an individual’s earnings over a recent 52-week period, up to a state maximum amount.
As of March 27th, unemployment benefits have been expanded to include self-employed people, gig workers, freelancers, and part-time workers. Check out this page for more general information on state unemployment insurance benefits, how to apply, and who qualifies.
What President Trump’s student loan relief means
President Donald Trump announced he is waiving interest on student loans held by the federal government until September 30, 2020. The waiver doesn’t apply to three types of student loans: state, private and the majority of Federal Family Education Loans (including Sallie Mae student loans). Borrowers will still be required to pay their monthly bill, but the payments will go towards a principal balance instead of interest.
On March 27th, the CARES Act, a $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package, was signed into law, allowing you to waive all federal student loan payments until September 30. The change is automatic and does not require you to contact your student loan servicer.
The office of Federal Student Aid recommends contacting your loan servicer as soon as possible if you’re struggling to make payments, as the legislation above only applies to loans held by the federal government.
If you’re concerned about your studies or loan repayment during the outbreak, the Federal Student Aid’s site answers several important questions for students, borrowers and parents. The site will be adding information for students, borrowers, and parents on its page on a regular basis.
Is a stimulus check coming in the mail soon?
For most Americans, yes. On March 27th, a $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package called the CARES Act was signed into law by President Trump, which will grant a one-time payment of $1,200 to single adults with Social Security Numbers who have an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or less. Married couples with no children who earned $150,000 or less would receive a payment of $2,400. Families with children will receive an additional payment of $500 for every child age 16 or under.
The income calculation will come from your 2019 federal tax return; if you haven’t filed yet, you can use your 2018 return. The payment, which is expected to arrive within three weeks for most people, will be distributed to the bank account you’ve set up with IRS via direct deposit. Otherwise, you would receive a check.
Military, veterans, and unemployed people are eligible for these stimulus checks, as well as people who receive Social Security and disability payments.
What can you do if you’re not a customer of a company currently advertising assistance?
1. Talk with your employer
Some companies have also been responding to this pandemic by expanding sick leave policies and creating safety nets for affected employees. Before resigning to falling behind on your bills, try communicating with your employer to see if they can offer any other options.
Amazon announced a new policy on Wednesday in response to the pandemic, offering part-time and full-time employees additional time off for illness or quarantine related to COVID-19.
2. Reach out to your credit card company
Even if your credit card issuer has not formally released a statement of support, if you are at risk of missing a payment it is worthwhile to contact the company to discuss your options. The FDIC advises on its website: “Your creditors will likely work with you on a solution, but it’s important to contact them as soon as possible and explain your situation.”
Late payments can hurt your credit score and pile on extra charges and fees so getting ahead of the issue will save you down the road.
3. Consider a balance transfer
If you’re concerned you will only be able to make minimum payments on your debt with a high interest rate, a credit card that offers balance transfer could be a helpful tool. Transferring your credit card balance from another card has pros and cons, but if you are a good candidate for the move, it could save you money on interest and buy you some time to repay your debt within the introductory rate period.
How can U.S. financial institutions better support consumers?
These measures are an important start to getting people the help they need, but the financial impact of the crisis is spreading along with the virus.
We asked experts what more could be done to protect consumers, as well as the economy:
Raise awareness of scams
Chane Steiner, CEO of Crediful, urges leaders to educate consumers on the dangers of investment fraud in this time of panic. He told us that these scams “will become a major issue as fraudsters try and trick people into making unsound investments out of desperation. Oftentimes they may claim that their proposal is the only ‘safe’ place to put money.”
Take cues from other countries
“In Europe in particular, several large banks are allowing homeowners to delay mortgage payments during the crisis. This is an extremely important gesture, since it allows people to keep up with daily expenses while they are out of work. Since most people do not work from home, a drop in income while quarantined can be devastating.” Steiner also recommends that the U.S. follow suit.
Support small businesses
Dennis Shirshikov, a Financial Analyst at FitSmallBusiness.com, suggests that banks should support the owners of small businesses “by moving services out of the branch and getting them on the ground.”
“While most national banks are not well-positioned to address this issue, local banks and credit unions can organize small business owners around these initiatives. By picking up deposits, exchanging money, and moving more transactions out of the bank, small business owners can continue to work and operate for the community,” Shirshikov says.