Consumer Watch: Staying financially afloat during COVID-19 pandemic

Manuela Martinez was recently laid off and plans to file for unemployment. She'll join the more than 40 Million other Americans who have filed for unemployment since the pandemic began.

"What went through my mind when I got laid off was like, 'How am I supposed to pay my electricity bill, how am I supposed to pay my rent hile also thinking about how am I going to set food on the table,'" she said.

But Manuela is taking steps that can help.

"So I reached out to some of my credit card companies and requested them to stop interest rates," she said. "They actually took ownership to say, 'Listen, you don't have to pay anything for the next three months, some of them two months.'"

It's important to get a handle on how much cash you have coming in and how much needs to go out.

"Normally, you might focus on paying down your highest interest rate debts first, but these aren't normal times," says Consumer Reports Editor Scott Medintz. "You may have to focus instead on essentials, such as rent, utilities, and pharmacy bills."

For those who've suffered a financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic, many banks are deferring credit card payments like Manuela's and waiving fees for a period of time.

"If you get a 'hardship accommodation,' make sure that your payments are reported as 'current' on your credit report, rather than delinquent, so it won't impact your FICO score," Medintz said.

You may have heard the CARES Act may offer relief from mortgage payments. But the law's passage doesn't mean you can simply ignore your mortgage bill.

"The law doesn't kick in automatically," Medintz said. "You have to contact your service and it doesn't say how you'll be asked to pay up afterward. Your servicer should contact you about a month before the time is up to offer you a realistic repayment plan."

The law applies only to federally-backed mortgages. You can find out if this is an option for you by speaking to your mortgage servicers.

Finally, the most important thing to do if you're concerned about missing a payment is to reach out with questions before your deadline. That will give you time to consider all of your options.
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