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As the world continues to learn more about COVID-19, or the coronavirus, it's clear that the pandemic may impact several aspects of our lives.
The spread of COVID-19 has caused turbulence in global and U.S. economic markets and local economies. Concern and uncertainty over what's to come have resulted in wild market swings, leaving many Americans questioning the state of their finances.
Try to remain calm during these times and if necessary, seek assistance from family and those close to you, and consult professionals before making any big financial decisions.
If you're concerned the spread of COVID-19 could impact your personal finances, retirement, personal investments or credit, here are five actions you can take that could help keep you financially sound:
1. Reconsider Your Budget
If you think current conditions could impact your income or finances, consider tightening your budget to help make sure you have enough funds to cover your expenses. Making a budget and sticking to it is a sound strategy at any time, but especially when your finances may take an unplanned hit. Putting more of your money into an emergency fund is one budgeting move that could help you weather income uncertainty during this time.
2. Consult Financial Experts
For those with investments, savings or retirement accounts, U.S. market fluctuations could cause significant concern. Before you make any hasty decisions with your investments, consult financial experts where you invest or bank, or talk to your company's 401(k) representative to get professional advice on what actions, if any, you should consider.
3. Make All Payments on Time
While it may get difficult, try to make at least your minimum debt payments by their due date every month. Credit scores are greatly impacted by late or missed payments. If you hope to emerge on the other end of this crisis with your credit score intact, make every attempt to maintain on-time repayment even if you're only paying the bare minimum your creditor requires.
4. Get Help if You're in Financial Trouble
If you find yourself unable to pay your bills, contact your creditors before missing a payment to see if they can provide assistance. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has also vowed to work with banks and financial institutions to create solutions for those affected by the COVID-19 crisis. While overall policy is being developed, be sure to contact your individual creditors to see if they have unique policies for people affected.
If you feel you may not be able to keep up with minimum payments and need help managing your existing debt, consider working with a certified credit counselor. Nonprofit counselors can offer you advice and even create a debt management plan, if necessary, to help you repay your debts in a manageable way.
5. Stay on Top of Your Credit
Whether or not you've missed any payments, staying on top of your credit reports and scores is always a good idea. You can also take action if you find any inaccurate information or want to limit your exposure. Experian has several free options that you can access from home:
- You can get a free copy of your Experian credit report to check what appears in your credit file. If you see any inaccuracies, first contact your creditors for more information. Inaccurate information could also be a sign of identity fraud. You should check your credit reports with all three credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax). You can get a free copy of your credit report from each bureau once every 12 months at AnnualCreditReport.com.
- If you want to dispute any information in your Experian credit report, you can do so online at Experian's Dispute Center. Remember that disputes need to be made with each credit bureau where the inaccurate information appears.
- If you fear identity theft may occur or has occurred in your name, you can also place a free security freeze on your Experian credit file so no creditors can gain access to your Experian credit report. This prevents people from getting their hands on your personal information and applying for credit in your name. You can lift the freeze at any time.
Put Your Health and Well-Being First
While the current uncertainty can be unnerving, staying calm and taking actions to protect your health and financial well-being will position you to weather the COVID-19 health crisis as well as possible.
For more information on COVID-19 and more details on what you can do to stay safe, pay attention to guidance from your local officials and visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website.
Due to the COVID-19 crisis, please also note that Experian call wait times could be extended. We urge you to use Experian's online self-service options when possible. We apologize for any inconvenience and thank you for your patience.