How to Get by During the Covid-19 Pandemic in Florida
In the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, many are still suffering financial losses here in the Tampa Bay area and across the country. It can be hard to just get by during the Covid-19 pandemic. Beyond government help, there are things you can do on your own to help you through the pandemic. Let’s take a look at how the economy stands, some things you can do to dial down financial pressure off and things you can do to be prepared if and when the most recent stimulus package becomes law.
The Economy Now
Here’s where we are:
- In 2020, the US economy dropped 3.5%, the worst decline since 1946. As a comparison, at the worst point of the last financial crisis, which was in 2009, the economy contracted 2.5%
- 19 million people in the US were receiving unemployment as of February 6, 2021. About 3/4 of those were getting money from federal benefit programs including programs that provide benefits beyond the 26 weeks given by most states.
- Household debt reached $14.56 trillion in the last quarter of 2020. That’s $414 billion more than at the end of 2019, However, the spike is partly because of new mortgages and refinancing driven by low-interest rates.
- Consumer credit card balances rose to $819 billion in the fourth quarter of 2020, up from $807 billion in the third quarter. 41% of credit card accounts carried a balance at some point in Q3 of 2020.
- 10,000 stores are expected to close in 2021, which will set a new record. 1,678 already closed by January 22.
If you find yourself struggling to get by during the Covid-19 pandemic, following are just a few things you can do. We have provided a list of resources at the end of this article to learn more.
You May Be Able to Get Some Covid-19 Relief from Your Bank and Creditors
Ask Your Bank to Waive Fees
Whether it’s to help the community or gain good PR, many banks are being more flexible than usual during the pandemic – but you have to ask.
Some banks are waiving insufficient fund fees and even other fees such as monthly checking account maintenance charges. If your checking account shows a negative balance and one or more insufficient fund fees, first put the amount to cover your purchases into the account. Then, call your bank to ask for fee and penalty waivers. When asking for charges to be waived, be sure you mention you are having financial difficulties due to Covid-19. They may have a limit to the number of charges they will waive at one time, However, you can call back another day if you have more than that number.
So, for example, if you have four $34 insufficient fund charges at Chase Bank, you may be able to get three of them waived and save $102 just by calling and asking. You may be able to get the fourth one waived if you call a day or two later. Different banks have different guidelines, and there is no guarantee.
Renegotiate Your Loans and Debts if You Are Having Financial Difficulties Due to Covid-19
Some lenders and even debt collectors are giving breaks to consumers trying to get by during the Covid-19 pandemic including some Florida debt collectors. One Palm Beach debt collection agency is even pushing the message that “Debt collectors care too.” But once again, you need to communicate with the lender or debt collector to find out what’s possible.
Before you call, you might want to take a look at the lender’s website to see if they have published any programs to help during the pandemic. It may be wise to record the call. If you reach an agreement, ask the lender to provide written confirmation.
Possible outcomes may be that you can skip some payments, reduce your monthly payments or have some fees and penalties waived. You might even be able to negotiate a permanent lower interest rate. A recent New York Times article suggested asking how any changes will affect your credit score and whether you can make up missed payments in one large payment after agreed no-payment months.
Be Ready if the Covid-19-Relief Package Passes the Senate
As prior governmental relief is soon ending, the House just passed a massive $1.9 trillion relief package. It provides for stimulus checks and additional assistance for those who need help paying the mortgage, need food assistance or are unemployed or uninsured. Parents will also receive a better tax break under the legislation. You can get a good summary of the House bill here and how it can help financial difficulties due to Covid-19.
Now the House bill will go to the Senate where it could face hurdles becoming law. If it passes the Senate, there may be some changes to the original House bill. However, you can still be ready. Here are the highlights of some of the provisions of the House bill as well as some relief that has already gone into effect under presidential executive orders.
Seek Housing Relief
Florida homeowners and renters will want to see https://www.floridahousing.org/about-florida-housing/covid-19-information-resource.
Under the House bill, approximately $10 billion is earmarked to help homeowners with mortgages, property taxes and utilities. This is intended for those having trouble paying their bills.
Also, be aware that President Biden has extended a ban on housing foreclosures until June 20 for federally guaranteed mortgages. It had been scheduled to expire on March 31. You need to request a pause in or reduction in your mortgage payments. This is not automatic. See https://www.floridahousing.org/about-florida-housing/covid-19-information-resource.
If the House bill makes it past the Senate, about $19.1 billion will be sent to state and local governments to help those with limited incomes with rent and utility bills. In the meantime, President Biden has extended a federal moratorium on evictions until March 31, 2021.
File Your Taxes if You Are Late
Under the House bill, stimulus checks would be sent to those who meet certain financial requirements. These requirements will be based on either your 2019 or 2020 income. There is no reason to file your 2020 taxes early, but if you neglected to file your 2019 taxes, better file for one of those years now.
The House bill allows for up to $1400 per person. Those earning under $75,000 a year (or married couples earning less than $150,000) would receive the entire sum ($1,400 each). The checks will be prorated for those earning more. However, individuals earning over $100,000 per year are not eligible, and neither are families earning over $200,000.
In a departure from the last round of payments, adult dependents are eligible. To be clear, it’s possible for a family of four to get up to $5,600.
We would like to repeat that this is the House bill and is subject to change in the Senate if it passes.
Check if You Can Get Unemployment Under the New Rules of the Pandemic
Under the House bill, unemployed people will get an additional $400 per week through August 29. Those enrolled in pandemic unemployment programs could also continue receiving benefits until that date.
The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program gave assistance to freelancers and independent contractors adversely affected by the pandemic. It also provided extended benefits for those running out of state benefits. Without the passage of a new Covid-19 relief package, those benefits start to run out mid-March. This is a major reason there is time pressure to get the House bill passed in the Senate and on the President’s desk for signing very soon.
Assuming the new relief bill passes the Senate, you may be eligible for PUA if you are not eligible for regular Reemployment Assistance or other state or federal reemployment benefits. You must be unemployed or partially employed because of specific Covid-19 reasons. Get more information about Pandemic Unemployment Assistance in Florida.
You must complete an application for state Reemployment Assistance benefits before applying for PUA. Florida provides an application on this website, but once again, benefits are ending soon unless the new legislation passes. Learn more at http://floridajobs.org/ .
Seek Help if You Need It
What we have said here today are only a few of the resources and methods you can use to get by during the Covid-19 pandemic. Here are some resources you may want to consult:
- Assistance Resources in Hillsborough County
- Your Money: A Hub for Help During the Coronavirus Crisis: A New York Times article that covers a wide variety of types of help and may give you an idea where to start depending on the problems you face.
- COVID-19 Resources for Florida Nonprofits and Small Businesses
- Florida Dept. of Economic Opportunity
- Unemployment Insurance Relief During COVID-19 Outbreak, US Dept. of Labor
- Covid-19 Response, Florida Dept. of Children and Families
- Information, Health and Food Help During COVID-19 Outbreak in Florida, an AARP resource list
- Help for Renters, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
Debt Fighters Can Help You
If you have been adversely affected financially by the pandemic, get debt collectors off your back. Contact Ziegler Diamond Law: Debt Fighters for a free consultation by submitting this form or just call us directly at (727) 538-4188 in Clearwater, (813) 225-3111 in Tampa or (352) 600-1326 in Mt. Dora.
We will analyze your situation and lay out the best options for you to move forward. Video and phone consultations as well as in-person consultations are available.