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Federal stimulus checks began flowing into Americans' bank accounts in mid-April. The stimulus money may help with a few expenses, but it's not (nor was it intended to be) enough to entirely support households through the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.
Here's how you can check the status of your stimulus payment, and additional resources you can use to cover costs in the coming months.
1. Check the Status of Your Stimulus Payment
If you haven't yet received your payment, it may be because you don't qualify based on your adjusted gross income or because someone claimed you as a dependent on their tax filing. You also won't receive it if you, your spouse or one of your dependents used an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) when you filed your federal tax return.
If you qualify, but are still waiting, there could be several reasons for the delay. Perhaps you changed your address, closed a bank account or didn't file taxes in 2018 or 2019.
You can use the IRS website to check the status of your payment, see how your payment will be sent and send the IRS additional information it needs to process the disbursement.
2. Apply for Unemployment
In normal times, unemployment is for those who are between jobs and looking for work. Today, more are having to rely on the benefit system to make ends meet as many businesses have shut down to slow the spread of disease.
You may be eligible if you've had to stop working, had hours cut or your pay decreased, and you will need to apply through your state agency. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act expanded unemployment coverage and benefits in the following ways:
- Self-employed, contract and gig workers, and those seeking part-time work, may now qualify for some unemployment benefits.
- You may receive an additional $600 a week in benefits through July 31, 2020.
- You may be eligible for an additional 13 weeks of benefits (the total is now 39 weeks, in most states).
- States can waive the one-week waiting period and requirement to actively seek work.
Some people still won't qualify, perhaps because they voluntarily left their job, aren't able to work or weren't working and paying into the unemployment fund before the COVID-19 pandemic.
The CARES Act also expands benefits to those who have previously used up unemployment benefits, meaning they may now be eligible for additional assistance.
3. Ask Creditors for Flexibility
Consider reaching out to your creditors and asking if they're offering hardship accommodations. Many financial institutions are offering this type of assistance to customers, which could include:
- Forbearance or payment accomodation (temporarily pausing or lowering payments)
- Waived fees
- Lower interest rates
Some loans, such as certain federal student loans, have automatically been put into temporary forbearance with a 0% interest rate.
Even if you can afford your bills, getting a lower interest rate could help free up money for other necessary expenses or allow you to build up your savings.
Keep records of the communications with your creditors, as the CARES Act also forbids creditors from reporting new negative marks on an account with an accommodation that the creditor gave you after January 31, 2020, unless the account was already delinquent. The rule lasts until the latter of July 25, 2020, or 120 days after the end of the federal COVID-19 national emergency declaration.
4. Cut Expenses
The coronavirus has drastically changed how households spend money. With shuttered stores and restaurants, you may be already cutting back out of necessity. Finding ways to save even more money will make it easier to cover your remaining expenses.
You could look for ways to cut back on certain bills. For example, if you're driving less, you may be able to contact your auto insurance agent and get a discount or change your policy to decrease your premiums.
Or, with many people stocking up on groceries and eating at home, it could be a good time to look for a cash back grocery card. If that's not an option, certain apps offer cash back rewards on grocery purchases no matter how you pay. You can also start meal planning and figure out how to make hearty meals on a budget.
5. Find New Sources of Income
While many jobs are on hold, you may still be able to make money with a new part- or full-time job, or flexible gig work. For example, grocery and delivery stores are hiring tens of thousands of new employees, and there are many ways to make money online.
You can look for openings and opportunities through traditional job boards and online freelance marketplaces. Also, reach out to friends, family members and contacts on social media to see if anyone is in need of an extra (remote) hand.
6. Tap Your Savings
If you have an emergency fund, it's time to put that money to work—the rainy day has arrived. An Experian survey found about one-third of respondents plan to use their savings for debt payments. Combined with the accommodations you asked for from creditors, tapping your savings could go a long way.
You might be able to take money from your retirement savings if you have a 401(k) or IRA. The CARES Act waives the penalty on up to $100,000 worth of withdrawals if you've been impacted by the coronavirus (although, you may still need to pay income taxes on the withdrawals).
Generally, tapping retirement funds is a last resort, but it might make sense for some households right now.
7. Research Free Assistance
Nonprofit and for-profit organizations are stepping up to offer different types of assistance to households in need. These can range from free groceries and meal delivery services to direct cash or gift card distributions. Individual professionals are also offering a hand with free and low-cost financial planning or counseling over the phone and online.
Many national organizations have coronavirus-specific pages on their websites, but also search for local resources. Some cities, neighborhoods and even streets have mutual aid groups online where you can offer or request help. There are also funds for people with specific identities or who work in certain industries.
8. Look for Funding
You might have already noticed creditors tightening their purse strings if your credit card's limit decreased or your card was closed. And it could be more difficult to get approved for a new loan or credit card. However, it isn't impossible.
There are emergency loans for people with poor or excellent credit, and online lenders that can often quickly process and fund new loans. Small business owners, including the self-employed, may also have access to additional types of funding.
9. Beware of Scams
Desperate times may call for extreme measures, but don't be blinded to the need to protect yourself. Fraudsters are using the coronavirus as the basis for new (or revised) scams to take your money and steal your personal information. Stay on your toes and watch out for scams.
The situation is changing every day, and new laws, resources and rules can impact your options. On the Experian blog, we continue to publish new guides and information related to personal finance and credit.
We've devoted much of our recent work to coronavirus-specific topics, some of which were also linked above:
- COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Credit Card and Debt Relief
- Best Ways to Use Your Stimulus Payment
- Protecting Your Credit During the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Crisis
- New Unemployment Benefits Under the CARES Act Stimulus
- How the CARES Act Stimulus Affects Your Student Loans
- How the CARES Act Stimulus Can Help Your Small Business
- How to Protect Your Business From Coronavirus Scams