As COVID-19 cases in the United States and around the world increase by the day, people are scrambling. Businesses are closing, schools are shutting their doors, and grocery stores are struggling to keep up with demand. This isn’t the first economic crisis these generations have seen (remember 2008?), though, and it probably won’t be the last. For many, the last crisis is a distant memory, and this one will be someday as well. While things may be tighter, protecting your financial health will ensure they don’t stay that way forever and that life can get back to normal for you as soon as possible.
Familiarize Yourself With Mobile Banking
If you’re someone who has always preferred to go into your bank to cash checks or conduct other business, now is the time to familiarize yourself with mobile banking. Chances are your bank has both a website and mobile app available for you to use. They’ll allow you to schedule bill payments, check balances, and even cash checks without needing to set foot inside a branch. If you have credit cards through multiple banks, familiarize yourself with the mobile options for each one. This will allow you to monitor balances and transactions more thoroughly, which means you will be less likely to overlook any unexpected or fraudulent charges.
Make Payments on Time if You Can
With people working from home, having their hours cut, or being laid off altogether, it’s to be expected that many won’t be making their bill payments on time. However, if you can afford to use some of your savings to pay bills, you should. This ensures you maintain your good credit score (or keep helping it rise) regardless of the situation. Even if your creditors are providing extra time, pay the bills as you have the money available. If you wait to pay them just because you can, you could find yourself in an even bigger financial jam down the road, since you’ll have a month or two of past payments to catch up on in addition to the current ones.
Contact Your Creditors
Across the country, many utility companies, internet providers, and cell phone companies are already offering extensions on bills and refusing to disconnect service for the duration of the outbreak. However, mortgage companies, landlords, and credit card providers haven’t been so quick to follow suit. Beyond that, many people will still need a few weeks to get their finances back to normal after taking time off. This means that you should contact your creditors now to come up with solutions. When you talk to your landlord or mortgage provider, they may have options to help you prevent eviction. Many credit card companies offer forbearance, which allows you to take time to get back on your feet when you can’t make minimum payments. Each company’s guidelines for forbearance are different, but typically allow for up to six months of no payments and may even work to get you a lower interest rate.
Think Hard About Promotional Financing Options
If you are short on cash but don’t already have a credit card you can use, you may be considering getting one to help you through the downtime the coronavirus outbreak is causing. Promotional financing options are especially tempting during a time like this, but be sure you have a plan to pay them off before you sign up for one. An introductory offer of 0% APR may seem amazing, but it’s only truly great if you pay off the bill before the introductory period is over. If you know you can only afford $50 a month and that your interest rate will go up after 12 months, you won’t want to put more than $600 on the credit card. Additionally, after the introductory period, your APR could jump quite high and make your payments much more than you budgeted for. For this reason, any card you get during a financial crisis should truly only be used for emergencies.
Keep Your Investments
When you see stocks plummeting, it can be tempting to sell everything you have. Even people who don’t own stocks often see a dip in the value of their retirement accounts during widespread financial crises. While it’s true that watching your numbers go down is stressful, it isn’t necessarily the end of the world and definitely doesn’t mean you should sell right away. This is especially true if you plan to use the value of your stocks for retirement and won’t need them for years yet. Remember, the crisis won’t last forever, and eventually, stocks will begin to climb again. People who buy stocks hope to do so at a low price and sell at a high one. When you sell yours because of a large drop in their value, you’re losing money. As long as your current financial needs are taken care of, keeping your investments where they are is the best option for your long-term financial health.
Monitor Your Credit Report
Even if you don’t expect to have any financial hardships during the COVID-19 outbreak, it is important to keep close track of your credit score (you should be doing that anyway). Unfortunately, some unscrupulous individuals take advantage of crisis situations to prey on people who are too busy worrying about other problems to notice if something seems off in their financial reports. Keeping a close eye on your report will help you notice issues right away. In addition to receiving free reports through TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian, you can search Google with a term such as “get my credit score” and use other monitoring programs. There are even programs available that will pay you cash to boost your score. Credit Sesame has been an industry leader for years and helped millions with their credit. Now, they offer Sesame Cash for consumers who want to improve their credit.
When COVID-19 hit Wuhan, China in December, nobody quite knew what to expect. Everyday citizens certainly couldn’t have predicted that jobs, businesses, schools, and even government buildings would shut down in an attempt to keep people healthy. The best thing you can do for yourself in today’s reality is to listen to health and government officials to keep you and your family healthy, pay what bills you can, and make plans for those you cannot in an effort to maintain your credit score as best you can. Remember, life has ups and downs, and life will get back to normal before you know it!