Updates on COVID-19 Financial Relief

From student debt to taxes to monthly bills, coronavirus is affecting your finances. This round-up can help you find the information you need now.

COVID-19

by NEA Member Benefits

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Updated: June 15, 2020 1:42 p.m. EDT

NOTE: The information related to coronavirus is changing frequently. We’re updating this page as often as possible.

The novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, has had an impact on the health and well-being of people all over the globe. To slow the spread of the disease, billions of people have practiced social distancing and self-quarantining, and many countries as well as U.S. states temporarily closed all but essential businesses.

The deep short-term economic toll of coronavirus is more obvious than its expected long-term financial impact. Millions of Americans—including many public-school educators—are grappling with loss of household income, paying bills, buying essentials and other money matters.

Measures have been taken to relieve the financial burden many are now facing. As always, NEA Member Benefits is committed to helping members with their personal finances—to help you have what you need to make smart financial decisions.

Below, we’ve compiled some information and resources to make it easy for you to find out about important changes that are affecting your budget. Check this page regularly for updates.

You can click these links to go directly to the sections you’re interested in:

Federal reliefTaxesMortgage/rentUtilitiesBankingUnemploymentHealth insurance ­• Student loan debtInterest ratesRetirement fundsYour membership benefits

Relief measures from the federal government

In mid-March, the federal government passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which provides temporarily expanded family and medical leave to Americans who work for certain types of employers. Check with the Department of Labor (DOL) to see whether any leave you take related to coronavirus (for yourself or if you’re caring for a family member) would be covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

On March 27, President Trump signed the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act, a stimulus plan that included sending money directly to many Americans through “recovery rebates.” These rebates won’t be counted as taxable income because they’re technically a tax credit advance.

Qualifying U.S. taxpayers were expected to receive payment based on your adjusted gross income (from either 2018 or 2019, depending on whether or not you already filed this year):

  • $1,200 for single filers with incomes under $75,000. The payment reduces $50 for every $1,000, up to $99,000.
  • $1,200 for heads of household with incomes under $112,500, reducing $50 for every $1,000, up to $136,500.
  • $2,400 for filers who are married and file jointly with incomes under $150,000, reducing $50 for every $1,000, up to $198,000.
  • $500 per child age 16 and younger

The Washington Post has a free coronavirus stimulus calculator that can help you estimate how much you’re likely to receive.

As of early June, payments had been sent to more than 150 million Americans. If you qualify and if the Internal Revenue Service already had your bank account information on file, you most likely have received your payment via direct deposit.

For the remaining qualifying taxpayers, the government started mailing out preloaded debit cards to home addresses on file in late May, instead of mailing paper checks as originally planned. The plain envelopes (marked “Money Network Cardholder Services”) and unexpected debit cards (issued by “MetaBank”) were dismissed by some recipients as junk or a scam, so be sure to look through your mail carefully if you’re still waiting for your stimulus payment. Also, read the accompanying information to understand your options for accessing the funds on the card and what, if any, fees may apply.

The IRS launched its “Get My Payment” tool to help you track when you can expect to receive your payment, but some people have reported having difficulty using it—experiencing error messages, getting locked out of the system and other issues.

Be aware that scammers are preying on people who are anxious to receive their stimulus payments, to commit tax-related fraud, identity theft and more. The Treasury Department advises not to give any personal information or processing fees to anyone claiming to be able to send your coronavirus stimulus payment faster.

The IRS isn’t calling, emailing or texting taxpayers, either: If you’ve filed taxes in the past two years, they already have either your direct deposit account information or your mailing address. Otherwise, as noted above, you can enter your information directly on irs.gov.

Unemployment benefits were extended to provide an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits and an additional $600 per week, on top of your state benefits, for up to 4 months. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs since the CARES Act was passed, and the expanded unemployment benefit put in place then is still slated to end in July, if lawmakers don’t extend it further.

As of early June, as many states and businesses had reopened, lawmakers were considering whether a second round of stimulus—referred to as the HEROES Act—should be implemented to aid Americans still out of work. 

The NEA is urging members to push Congress to do more to ensure that all educators, students and working families will be helped. You can send a message to your representatives and senators via this form to call for cancellation of federal student loan payments, injection of more money into state budgets to help avoid laying off educators, and closing the “homework gap” by providing resources for students who lack internet access at home.

Tax filing and payment deadline extensions

The tax filing deadline was extended to July 15—an extra three months. According to the IRS, you also can defer your federal income tax payments without penalties and interest, regardless of the amount owed, until then. If you’re due a refund, you can go ahead and file. The fastest way to get your refund is through direct deposit.

Each state is devising its own plan for tax deadlines. Although many are following the IRS’ lead, others have set different due dates. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants is maintaining a list of the latest information.

Help for some homeowners

If your single-family home mortgage is backed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac or the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), you can request that your payments be suspended or reduced for up to 12 months, without incurring late fees or negatively affecting credit reporting. You can check to see if your mortgage is owned by either Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, and contact your loan servicer to discuss your forbearance agreement options.

Once the moratorium period ends, people will be expected to continue to repay their loan amounts, depending on their lenders’ terms. Experts recommend paying whatever you can during this time to lessen the load when the bill comes due later.

It’s best to contact your mortgage service provider directly to see what help you may be able to get if you’ve been affected physically or financially by coronavirus. If you currently have a mortgage through our First National Bank of Omaha Home Mortgage Program and you have been impacted by COVID-19, your service provider, DMI, has a range of hardship programs to help you with your payments. To request assistance, visit loansolutioncenter.com or call 1-855-290-9359 (Mon-Fri, 7:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m CT).  

If you rent and your landlord has a federally backed mortgage, the CARES Act provided temporary help, stating that renters couldn’t be evicted or charged fees for 120 days (through July 24) for non-payment of rent, and that once the ban expires, landlords would have to provide 30 days’ notice for evictions. 

The federal government announced that owners of multifamily properties under qualifying mortgages can get relief on the condition that they don’t evict their renters who are experiencing coronavirus-related financial hardship. Your local or state housing website may have details if eviction moratoriums have been instituted.

Those protections cover about 30% of U.S. residential renters. Currently, there isn’t a coordinated effort on either the federal or state levels to ensure relief for millions of renters affected by coronavirus. In some states, governors and state supreme courts have provided guidelines on rent waivers, deferrals and evictions, while other jurisdictions are leaving decisions up to landlords.

Internet and phone providers maintain service

The FCC announced that it had created the Keep Americans Connected Initiative, in conjunction with at least 800 communications providers, to ensure that Americans won’t lose their broadband or telephone connectivity.  

The participating companies have pledged to keep service on, waive late fees and open up WiFi hotspots. This pledge was renewed through the end of June. This will be especially important if it’s extended as teachers and students strive to continue learning online if their school buildings remain closed in the fall.

If you’re experiencing financial issues, check with your phone or internet provider to see if you qualify for a waiver. While you’re at it, contact your other utilities such as electric and water to determine if they’re offering leniency for customers who are in financial distress.

Leniency from financial services companies

Many banks are offering refunds on overdraft fees and monthly maintenance fees. Credit card companies may offer refunds on late fees. Reach out to your current banking institutions to learn more or if you’re having problems managing your checking and credit card accounts.

Bankrate.com is tracking banks and credit card issuers that have offered to provide assistance to customers experiencing financial hardship now. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has compiled some FAQs about overdrafts, bank branch closures and access to your money.

If you currently use financial services benefits through NEA Member Benefits, check our Member Assistance Program page for details and contact information for our partners.

Unemployment benefits might apply

Even you haven’t been laid off, you still might qualify for unemployment if you haven’t been able to work full-time due to quarantines, shutdowns or furloughs. Check with your state to see what benefits are being offered now and what you might be able to qualify for.

The CARES Act provided an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits and an additional $600 per week, on top of your state benefits, for up to 4 months. That federal measure is slated to end in July, if lawmakers don’t opt to extend it further.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Unemployment Benefits Finder provides information on filing for help, as well as COVID-19 updates related to unemployment qualifications and benefits.

Subsidizing health care after job loss

Some states, especially those hit hard by coronavirus, temporarily opened enrollment under the Affordable Care Act so people who have been laid off can sign up for health insurance. Find out what your options for coverage are if your employment status has been affected by coronavirus, and check here to see if your state is accepting applications now.

Temporary student loan debt relief options

Borrowers with federal student loans have been able to drop their interest rates to 0% and suspend payments through Sept. 30, 2020. Check your online federal student loan accounts for billing updates. You can find more information on the Federal Student Aid website.

The proposed HEROES Act calls for extending that repayment leniency through September 2021. If federal action isn’t taken, borrowers will have to start making student loan debt payments again on Oct. 1.

The federal relief measures don’t apply to private student loans, however. You can check with your loan servicer to see if you can qualify for leniency. If you have a loan through our partner, College Ave Student Loans, and have been impacted by COVID-19, you can get a temporary repayment forbearance on your loan for up to 90 days in accordance with their Natural Disaster Policy.

Additionally, if your income has gone down suddenly due to a layoff or reduction of hours, you may be eligible to have your student loan payment reduced through a federal income-driven repayment program. Check your options using  the new automatic sign-up tool that our partners at Savi created to help NEA members dealing with the economic impacts of the novel coronavirus.

Even if you’re not eligible, you can run your numbers through the NEA Student Debt Navigator Tool to see if you might be able to reduce your monthly payments.

If you are skipping some payments on your federal loans as allowed by the CARES Act, keep an eye on your credit score. Although credit scores weren’t supposed to be affected, some borrowers are finding that theirs have dropped in recent weeks because their loans were incorrectly reported as “deferred” instead of “on time,” as required by the CARES Act. At least one class action lawsuit has been filed.

Interest rate changes could be a benefit now

The Federal Reserve Board lowered interest rates to near zero in March. In early June, they indicated that rates would remain low in the long term as the economic outlook and recovery is uncertain.

Lenders have lowered interest rates on savings vehicles such as savings accounts and CDs, so your money may not be earning much sitting in such accounts. On the other hand, borrowers could find potential savings in the form of lower interest rates on new and refinanced mortgages, car loans, credit cards balances and student loans in the upcoming academic year.

It’s important now to try to minimize any negative impact on your credit score because a reduced score will affect your ability in the future to obtain loans and get competitive interest rates on them.

Retirement savings borrowing rules relaxed

The CARES Act includes provisions for coronavirus-related distributions. Starting this year, the Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) rules already had changed to raise the age for mandatory withdrawals to 72, up from 70½. However, distributions that had been required to be taken in 2020 have been waived.

You also can withdraw funds—more than usual, earlier than usual and without penalty—if you’ve been impacted by coronavirus. There’s no 10% early withdrawal penalty for those 59½ and under; there’s no mandatory federal withholding on early distributions; you’ll have up to 3 years to return the funds to your retirement accounts or to pay income taxes on early distributions; and the maximum loan amount has increased to $100,000.

NEA Member Benefits and our partners are here to help

If you currently participate in some of our member benefits programs, you may be able to get assistance with your bills now. Check our Member Assistance Program page to find details and contact information.

If you need additional assistance from us directly, please contact our Member Advocacy Center. You can call (800) 637-4636 or email at ask-us@neamb.com with questions about our products or services. We’re available Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST, and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. EST.

Additional professional-related resources are available on NEA’s “Schools and Coronavirus” resource page.

Financial resources for NEA members