How to prioritize debt payments in the pandemic

A singular crisis has led to extraordinary relief options for borrowers. Interest and payments have been paused on federal student loans. Homeowners can request nearly a year of mortgage forbearance. Credit card issuers and other lenders dramatically expanded hardship programs.

Still, many Americans say they took on more debt last year because of the pandemic, according to NerdWallet’s household debt survey.

If you are one of them, or if you have other household debt that’s been put on hold, you may not want to rush to pay that money back even if you can. In my latest for the Associated Press, how to be strategic when dealing with pandemic-related and other debt.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 3 things to know if you’re new to gig work. Also in the news: How to craft smarter money goals in 2021, the do’s and don’ts of getting and using a paycheck protection program loan, and 5 steps you can take to pay off consumer debt.

3 Things to Know if You’re New to Gig Work
To the IRS, you’re a small business.

How to Craft Smarter Money Goals in 2021
The pandemic has changed everything.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Getting, Using a Paycheck Protection Program Loan
Best practices that can help small businesses owners get their PPP loan funded and forgiven.

5 steps you can take to pay off consumer debt
Creating the right plan.

Q&A: Should you pay down debt with extra cash? It may not be the best plan during a pandemic

Dear Liz: I’m a teacher on an income-based repayment plan for my federal student loans. I don’t qualify for any loan forgiveness programs for teachers because I teach in an affluent area. Right now, interest and payments on federal education loans have been suspended because of the pandemic.

I’m trying to decide what to do when payments have to restart. Should I pay down a chunk of the loans from the money that accumulated in my savings from not having to make loan payments since April? Or pick back up where I left off with making near-double payments to get down the principal (slowly) and pay off loans in another five to six years? Or only make the minimum income-based payments while waiting to see if the new administration offers more comprehensive loan forgiveness for teachers? Thank you for any insights.

Answer: Although you may not qualify for loan forgiveness through programs meant to help underserved communities, you can still qualify for the federal public service loan forgiveness program. This program erases debt for schoolteachers and other public servants after they’ve made 120 qualifying payments toward their federal student loans.

You can learn more about this program at the U.S. Department of Education site. Follow the rules carefully because many people who thought they were on track to get forgiveness have discovered otherwise.

If you’re eligible, consider making only the minimum payments on your loans so that the maximum amount is forgiven. Even if you’re not eligible for forgiveness, though, you don’t necessarily want to rush to pay off this relatively low-rate, tax-deductible debt.

You should be on track with your retirement savings, have paid off all other, higher-rate debt and have a substantial emergency fund before you make extra payments on education debt (or a mortgage, for that matter). “Substantial” means having three to six months’ worth of expenses saved. If your job is anything less than rock solid, you may want to set aside even more.

Keep in mind that the money you send to your lenders is gone for good; you can’t get it back should you need it later.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Hotels turn to elopement package to attract those planning weddings. Also in the news: Ideas for paying off credit card debt, how the pandemic has changed Americans’ financial thinking, and how President Biden’s executive orders will affect your debt.

Hotels Turn to Elopement Packages to Attract Those Planning Weddings
These deals can save you money on your wedding, and earn you points — as long as you keep the guest list small.

Ideas for paying off credit card debt
Tackling your debt in the new year.

‘Financial security is fun now.’ Many Americans want to keep saving more and spending less
A pandemic shift to a simpler financial life—how you can do it, too

How Will Biden’s Executive Orders Affect Your Debt?
Another extension on student loan payments.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 5 holiday disasters that are covered by home insurance. Also in the news: How to get started on a post-pandemic budget recovery plan, a new episode of the Smart Money podcast on lessons listeners learned during the pandemic, and 3 mistakes to avoid when you buy a recreational vehicle.

5 Holiday Disasters That Are Covered by Home Insurance
Here’s how home insurance pays for fires, stolen gifts and other seasonal disasters.

How to Get Started on a Post-Pandemic Budget Recovery Plan
Rebuilding emergency funds, paying off debt and planning for the next crisis are top strategies for 2021.

Smart Money Podcast: Listeners Share Money Lessons From the Pandemic
Insights from our listeners.

Three mistakes to avoid when you buy a recreational vehicle

Life and money lessons from the pandemic

I’m a “be prepared” kind of person. I like having money in the bank and a good stock of emergency supplies.

But I wasn’t prepared to see empty shelves at the supermarket, or thousands of cars lined up at a Texas food bank, or nurses dressed in garbage bags because there wasn’t enough protective equipment.

The pandemic showed me that being personally prepared isn’t enough. Our communities need to be better prepared, as well.

That lesson may seem obvious in retrospect — many lessons are. But the revelation made me curious about what other people have learned from this year. In my latest for the Associated Press, four of my buddies in the personal finance realm agreed to share what the pandemic has taught them about money and life.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to maximize travel rewards on holiday spending this year. Also in the news: Your guide to hotel travel with pets, why renting out your RV has become a lucrative pandemic side hustle, and how to avoid this fake Zoom meeting invite phishing scam.

How to Maximize Travel Rewards on Holiday Spending This Year
Think of your once-a-year holiday shopping as an opportunity to earn more points on your travel credit card.

Your Guide to Hotel Travel With Pets
Finding a pet-friendly hotel can seem complicated unless you know what to look for.

Why Renting Out Your RV Has Become a Lucrative Pandemic Side Hustle
Renewed interest in traveling by motorhome or camper van has fueled the growth of the RV rental market.

Avoid This Fake Zoom Meeting Invite Phishing Scam
Not even your boring work meetings are safe.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Financial advice that rarely fits all. Also in the news: Telehealth gets a boost among Medicare recipients in the pandemic, things to keep your holiday packages safe, and when you should transfer your credit card balance to a low-interest card.

Financial Advice That Rarely Fits All
One size doesn’t always work.

Telehealth Gets a Boost Among Medicare Recipients in Pandemic
Medicare dramatically expanded benefits for remote health care in response to COVID-19. Here’s what you need to know.

Do These Things to Keep Your Holiday Packages Safe
You can invest in a security camera or send packages to a secure location, like the post office.

Should You Transfer Your Credit Card Balance to a Low-Interest Card?
Look out for the introductory period.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Changed travel plans on the menu this Thanksgiving. Also in the news: Online shopping already hit holiday-lvel peaks this year, when you can apply for a credit card after bankruptcy, and how the pandemic has made the racial retirement gap worse.

Changed Travel Plans on the Menu This Thanksgiving
Three in 5 U.S. adults who had Thanksgiving travel plans say these plans have been affected by the pandemic, according to a NerdWallet survey.

Online Shopping Already Hit Holiday-Level Peaks This Year
Shopping looks a little different this year.

When Can I Apply For A Credit Card After Bankruptcy?
Your options are limited.

The pandemic has made the racial retirement gap worse. Here’s how individuals can close it.Closing the racial retirement gap for people of color, even in this pandemic, could begin with broadening access and financial education.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Travel insurance options for digital nomads. Also in the news: What to do if you’ve been denied student loan refinancing, a new set of shopping tips in the pandemic, and what really happens when you file bankruptcy.

Travel Insurance Options for Digital Nomads
Digital nomads might travel for extended periods of time, so their needs are different than the average traveler.

Denied for Student Loan Refinancing? What to Do Next

A New Set of Shopping Tips in the Pandemic
Keeping yourself safe.

What Really Happens When You File for Bankruptcy
A look at each type of bankruptcy.