Don’t Get Stuck with a Costly Bill When Times Are Tough
Communication is key to any good relationship, and that applies to the relationship between customer and service provider. So when life throws unexpected curveballs that put you off your game financially, the first thing to do is pick up the phone and reach out to those institutions. Even under “normal circumstances,” these firms may surprise you with their level of understanding. And now, with coronavirus impacting so many Americans, these companies may be even more accommodating. There are ample resources available to help during a time of need, whether you’re having trouble meeting a mortgage payment, burdened by credit card bills, or simply want to finish a major home improvement project. Make the eight calls here and you’re sure to gain a hopeful perspective on your financial situation.
Car dealerships and the financial institutions that work with them may be willing to defer payments, or at least extend loans and leases. After all, these companies want your continued business, so it’s likely that they’ll offer a little grace until you get back on track. During the current pandemic, most automakers are offering financial relief programs to customers who have recently purchased a vehicle, or who have ongoing loans or leases. They also offer discounts on purchases for those in a position to buy.
Credit Card Company
Most credit card companies are reasonable and willing to work with customers through a difficult time, so that the debts will ultimately be repaid. In most cases, credit card companies will provide minor accommodations, such as reducing an interest payment, or cancelling a service fee, assuming that it will lead to getting payments back on track. COVID-19 has prompted many credit card companies to offer additional relief programs that lower monthly payments, provide relief from late payment fees, temporarily lower account interest rate, or even offer short term loans.
Banks are accustomed to working with folks who need financial flexibility. After all, these institutions cannot operate unless their customers’ finances are stable. And now, in response to the coronavirus epidemic, national financial institutions are working with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to help customers. To receive this aid, contact your bank and ask what options they offer, which may include skipped payments, deferred payments, and payment extensions. You may also be able to arrange a small loan to finish an ongoing home improvement project, arrange for waived fees, or get extended repayment terms.
Cell Phone and Internet Service Provider
Wireless carriers are highly competitive with each other. They don’t want you to switch to another company, so they tend to work with you, potentially raising limits on data, reducing or deferring bills, and/or offering better package options. Wireless companies have now taken additional steps during the coronavirus pandemic to offer financial relief in the form of suspended payments, waived fees, and discounts. Some companies also offer unlimited data upgrades as discounted rates and mobile hotspot allowances. Benefits differ by company, but most want to help their customers stay connected.
While unemployment in the U.S. is staggering right now, if you have retained your job, your employer may be a good resource for financial assistance—especially if you work for a large company. It simply makes good business sense: An employer would rather help out a trained, trusted employee than go through the expense of finding a new one. During the current health crisis, some firms that can afford to do so are offering bonuses to employees who can keep working, or continuing to pay those who must stay home to care for loved ones and/or maintain social distance. Other employers have been able to provide the necessary equipment for employees to work from home, keeping them employed and safe. Even employers that are unable to keep workers on full salary during this period may be able to offer alternative work options that don’t rely on human contact, paid training from home, or future bonus agreements once you have returned to work.
It may seem like a waste of money to continue insuring a vehicle that’s sitting in your driveway while you’re on lockdown. However, if the insurance is cancelled while you still own a vehicle, future insurers can see that there was a lapse in coverage, which can raise your rates. Fortunately, most insurance companies are offering discounted rates, credits, and refunds during the coronavirus pandemic. What’s more, if you need to be away from home and won’t be using your car, you may be able to negotiate a lower rate to keep the vehicle insured during your trip. Call the insurance company, explain the situation, and ask for a reduced rate.
Getting a break from your water, gas, oil, and/or electric company may depend on whether your area is served by a private or government-owned utility. Privately owned utilities may be open to discussing lowered rates, deferred payments, or waived fees, but they tend to cut off service more quickly than state- or municipality-owned providers. So contact your private provider ASAP to avoid paying a service fee to have the utility reestablished.
Public utilities are reliant on a constituency. Meaning that they must often adhere to rate stability, policies that protect the community, and public opinion. These utilities may shut down a service for non-payment, but the timeline is often longer than that of a private company. Private utilities answer only to their investors, allowing them to charge higher amounts to customers. This increased income pays for additional manpower and a company agenda streamlines their day-to-day operation.
Private or public, utilities are generally open to working with customers in need. Many states are suspending public utility disconnections during COVID-19, but check with your state utility commission or local utility for details.
While students and alumni often carry deep debt, loan providers may be willing to reduce payments, extend terms, or defer payments if necessary when things are tight. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was recently implemented to automatically suspend principal and interest payments on student loans held by the federal government until September 30, 2020. If you have a private loan, your lender may have other options, such as a loan extension, payment freeze, or an adjusted payment plan, to help you at this time.
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