What to do when you can’t pay your bills

The economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic could be profound. Many people are already losing jobs, with unemployment jumping at a record pace. Even those who stay employed may face reduced hours or uncertainty about how long their paychecks will continue.

If you’re in a situation where you can’t pay all your bills, or likely to be there soon, you may have some options to limit the damage to your finances. In my latest for the Associated Press, a look at those options.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 7 kinds of COVID-19 relief for college students. Also in the news: Why rich students get more financial aid than poor ones, a new episode of the SmartMoney podcast on Student Loans and the stimulus package, and what it means to be furloughed.

7 Kinds of COVID-19 Relief for College Students
From relief checks to Pell Grants.

Why Rich Students Get More Financial Aid Than Poor Ones
Accomplishments vs need.

SmartMoney Podcast: ‘Will the Coronavirus Stimulus Package Help Me With My Student Loans?’
Hitting the pause button.

What Does It Mean to Be Furloughed?
What to do when your workplace closes temporarily.

Q&A: Giving away your relief funds

Dear Liz: My wife and I are retired. We are comfortable financially, with a generous pension, maximum Social Security benefits due to start in a few months, and three years’ worth of ready cash in the bank. We don’t anticipate touching our investments until mandatory distributions from our IRAs kick in. Now we’re apparently going to get $2,400 tax-free as part of the coronavirus stimulus package. We don’t need the money, nor do we particularly want it. We’d welcome your thoughts on how we can give it away to generate the greatest good, on the individual and societal levels. Where is the “multiplier” effect the greatest?

Answer: Thank you for thinking of others. Donating money to a food bank is always a good choice. These charities often have deals with food suppliers that allow them to create far more meals using donated money than they would be able to produce with donated food. Cash also allows food banks to offer perishables. In some cases, food banks work directly with farmers to supply fruits and vegetables that are too imperfect to sell, which reduces food waste.

One option is to give through Feeding America, which represents a network of 200 food banks nationwide that feed more than 40 million people. Meals on Wheels is another option that helps 5,000 community-based programs.

There are many other ways, of course, to help people hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Before you give to a charity, check it out at one of the watchdog organizations such as Charity Navigator or CharityWatch. You’ll want to make sure the bulk of your money supports the cause, rather than fundraising efforts or overhead.

You also can use the checks to directly help people or businesses in need. Buying gift cards from local restaurants and small businesses offers a potential two-for-one benefit: You can give the cards to people who need the assistance while you help keep the businesses afloat. Or you can subscribe to newspapers and public radio stations that are working hard to bring you accurate and timely information about staying safe in the pandemic.

Q&A: How to figure out if your student loan qualifies for coronavirus relief

Dear Liz: I’m confused about what help is being offered to people with student loans. At first I heard interest was waived but payments had to be made. Then supposedly the stimulus package made payments optional. Is there something I have to do to get relief or is it automatic?

Answer: If your student loans are held by the federal government, relief should be automatic. You won’t have to make a payment until after Sept. 30, and interest will be waived during that time. In addition, federal collection efforts on defaulted student loans have been paused.

These provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act apply to federal student loans made through the direct loan program, including undergraduate, graduate and parent loans. You can log on to studentaid.gov to see if your loan qualifies.

If you have Perkins loans or Federal Family Education loans that don’t qualify, you can consolidate those loans into a direct consolidation loan, which would qualify. The provisions also don’t apply to private student loans, although your lender may offer other hardship options.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: COVID-19 loan options and payment relief. Also in the news: Why you shouldn’t give your adult kids your house, managing the high cost of infertility, and when you’ll get your Coronavirus relief check.

COVID-19: Loan Options and Payment Relief
Lenders respond to the pandemic.

Don’t Give Your Adult Kids Your House
Good intentions could cause big problems.

Managing the High Cost of Infertility
Evaluating your options.

Here’s When You’ll Get Your Coronavirus Relief Check
A look at the schedule.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: SmartMoney Podcast – Coronavirus and your portfolio. Also in the news: How to suspend or cancel car insurance temporarily, what to do when the Coronavirus crisis delays your wedding day, and Coronavirus food delivery options and how your credit card can help.

SmartMoney Podcast: Coronavirus and Your Portfolio
Managing the toll on your investments.

How to Suspend or Cancel Car Insurance Temporarily
Don’t pay for a car you’re not using.

What to Do When the Coronavirus Crisis Delays Your Wedding Day
Working with vendors and tips on paring back.

COVID-19: Food Delivery Options and How Your Credit Card Can Help
No-contact deliveries and savings on fees.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: What to do when your Coronavirus stockpile runs low. Also in the news: How expanded Coronavirus unemployment benefits work, buy a car at a safe distance with a No-Touch deal, and how to lift or cancel a credit freeze.

What to Do When Your Coronavirus Stockpile Runs Low
Shopping strategically.

How Expanded Coronavirus Unemployment Benefits Work
Understanding the CARES Act.

Buy a Car at a Safe Distance With a ‘No-Touch’ Deal
Car buying moves online.

How to Lift or Cancel a Credit Freeze
Thawing your credit.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: What to do if you’re laid off due to Coronavirus. Also in the news: Coronavirus relief for small businesses and the self-employed, free ways to protect your mental health, and 4 things to do for your parents during the Coronavirus outbreak.

What to Do if You’re Laid Off Due to Coronavirus
One step at a time.

Coronavirus Relief for Small Businesses and the Self-Employed
What the CARES Act offers.

Free Ways to Protect Your Mental Health
Just as important as your physical health.

Do These 4 Things for Your Parents During Coronavirus Outbreak
We all need to take care of each other.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Does life insurance cover deaths from Coronavirus? Also in the news: Everything you need to know about Coronavirus stimulus checks, how expanded Coronavirus unemployment benefits work, and what to do if you can’t pay rent this month.

Does Life Insurance Cover Deaths From Coronavirus?
Looking at the exceptions.

Coronavirus Stimulus Checks: How Much You May Get and When
All the details.

How Expanded Coronavirus Unemployment Benefits Work
Independent contractors are covered.

What to Do if You Can’t Pay Rent This Month
Face the problem head-on.

Q&A: Those IRS coronavirus-extended deadlines apply to more than just taxes

Dear Liz: Now that we’re not required to file our taxes until July 15 this year, has anything been said about pushing back the 2019 contribution deadline for IRAs and Roth IRAs?

Answer: The IRS recently confirmed that the deadline for making contributions to IRAs has also been extended to July 15. The deadlines were pushed back from April 15 because of stay-at-home orders and other disruptions stemming from the coronavirus outbreak.

You can contribute up to $6,000 to IRAs for 2019 if you’re under 50, or $7,000 if you’re 50 or older. The limits are the same for 2020.

You didn’t ask, but the deadline for contributing to a health savings account also has been extended.

HSAs allow people with qualifying high-deductible health insurance plans to put away money that can be used tax-free for eligible medical expenses. The maximum amount individuals can contribute to an HSA is $3,500 for individual coverage and $7,000 for family coverage. The “catch up” provision for people 55 and older allows an additional $1,000 contribution.