How to Approach Bill Payments During COVID-19

En español: The COVID-19 pandemic has upended many industries, and as a result, Americans who can’t work from home, have seen their hours cut, or can’t work at all during this crisis may be facing serious financial hardship. In response, some banks, utility companies, and individual property owners are recognizing the need to provide flexibility to help people stay safe and secure during this time. Here are some tips to defer your bills or payments, and how to avoid traps that may leave you financially vulnerable.

Evaluating your Finances
  1. Make a list. Gather a complete list of your bills and payments -- from student loans, to credit cards, to rent and utilities. Note the companies’ names for each and any relevant affiliates.
  2. Assess interest rates. For each of your credit cards or loans, make note of the interest rates you’d owe for each if you weren’t able to make your payment. If you have a choice of multiple credit cards, you should use the account that accumulates the lowest interest rate.
  3. Determine which you can pay: If you cannot pay all your bills, evaluate which you should pay first because they will have long term impacts on your finances, home, credit rating or other factors. Prioritize those first.
Engaging With Your Company or Provider
  1. Gather the information you’ll need. Look up the information that your bank or loan servicer requires to submit a request or make a payment. This can include your social security number, your account username and password, your most recent address, and any information you may have used to create a two-factor authentication login for increased security. 

  2. Try multiple methods of contact. Many customer service phone numbers are being flooded with callers hoping to get in contact with a real person as quickly as possible. Knowing this, companies are begging their customers to use the online channels they’ve set up for COVID-19 concerns. If you do call, you should factor in that you may be waiting awhile and consider that an online option may actually be faster.

  3. Calmly explain your circumstances. This pandemic has affected people in countless ways and many are struggling. Explain the details of your situation and the concerns you’re facing, while tying your request back to your strengths -- whether that’s a good credit score, consistently on-time payments, etc. 

  4. Make a specific ask. Will your bank lower your minimum payment for the next few months? Can they waive any interest fees or overdraft fees on your balance? These are all important and specific asks that may clarify for the customer service representative what you’re looking for.

Changes in Bank and Utility Policies

Many banks are publishing exceptions during this pandemic that may allow you to postpone debt payments -- with offers of zero interest or lowered minimum payments. USA Today has also identified how some utility companies like Comcast and AT&T are providing free services

Here’s a list of major banks’ updated policies and contact forms for COVID-19 concerns. We will continue to update as new information becomes available.

    How to Avoid High Interest Rates and Scams
    1. Avoid cash advances and payday loans. These loans are easy to receive, but can become incredibly expensive, with huge interest rates that add up quickly if you fail to pay off the full amount within 2-4 weeks. If you’re struggling financially, it’s better to take the steps above, rather than buy into these cash advances or payday loans. 
    2. Don’t share your bank or financial information. Many scammers are using this pandemic as an opportunity to trick people into disclosing their confidential information, and may try to contact you with fake opportunities for loan forgiveness or early stimulus checks. Never share your social security number or other banking information over the phone with an unverifiable number, email, or website.