Updated May 29, 2020
The coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, is impacting households, communities, and businesses. One out of three Americans report they have lost income because of the pandemic. In an April survey, 9 out of 10 Americans say that the pandemic is causing them financial stress, with half reporting that they are worried about paying their bills. The frequently asked questions below highlight some common financial challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The answer to each question has links to government websites and the types of assistance that might be available. We will keep updating this information as new policies and resources are put into place.
If you would like to talk to a financial counselor about your situation, options include:
- Free – The UW-Madison Extension has financial educators who can help you find resources and come up with a personal plan. Find contact information for Extension financial educator by clicking on this link.
- Free – The Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education is currently offering free financial counseling and coaching with their certified professionals. Click here to visit the AFCPE website to set up an account and request services.
- Free or low-cost – The National Foundation for Credit Counseling is a network of nonprofit consumer credit counseling agencies that provide services online and over the phone. Click here for the NFCC website or call 833-746-7577.
You can also contact your local UW-Madison Extension office for more financial information. Click here to find your county Extension office.
- Start by creating a budget. Write down any last paychecks due to you or savings you may have, and then list your monthly bills. You can print out or save this budget worksheet in Word or fill out a basic budget worksheet online.
- Prioritize your bills by what is most important to keep you safe – housing, food, utilities, your car, and whatever else you need. Write down your minimum payment due and when it’s due.
- Check out the ‘frequently asked questions’ below to find links to resources to help you make ends meet meanwhile. Resources depend on your situation and could include help with food, healthcare, utilities, housing, student loans, and more. There are also certain debts, like federal student loans, with temporary holds put on them.
- Let your creditors know about your financial situation, as hard as it is to think about it. It’s best to contact your creditors as soon as you know you will miss a payment so they know you are keeping track and working on the situation. Check out the Extension publication on Dealing with a Drop in Income for steps to take in prioritizing bills and a script you can use to contact creditors about a payment plan. Be sure to keep track of everyone you talk with and any paperwork you share.
- Start looking ahead. You could start to think about how you might use the government’s economic stimulus payments, if you qualify, or any expected unemployment benefits. Use any future income to pay those high priority bills that can’t be covered by government resources and that haven’t been put on hold by government authorities.
If you would like to get in touch with an Extension financial educator, please do contact one of our educators throughout Wisconsin by clicking on this link.
- Click here for information from the DWD on frequently asked questions about Wisconsin Unemployment Benefits and the COVID-19 Coronavirus.
- The Wisconsin DWD is now accepting PUA applications. Go to the DWD website for more information and to apply for the PUA program. You can also check out this chart to see if you might be eligible for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program.
- When you are ready to apply for unemployment benefits in Wisconsin, apply online through the DWD website. If you worked outside the State of Wisconsin, you can find links to other state’s workforce websites here.
- If you or someone you know is not able to apply online, call Wisconsin DWD at (414) 435-7069 or toll-free (844) 910-3661 during business hours: Monday – Friday 7:35 AM – 3:30 PM. When you reach a claim specialist, you will tell them the week you are requesting your claim to begin. It is important to note that benefits will start from the time you became eligible for unemployment, not from the time your application is submitted or approved.
- Many unemployment application websites are experiencing problems due to the high number of applications and it may take many tries to get through on the phone.
Appealing a rejection: If you disagree with the Unemployment Insurance determination, you need to request a hearing by filing an appeal within 14-days of the determination. Follow the instructions on the back of your determination letter for filing an appeal, as stated on this DWD appeals website. Continue to file weekly claims while the appeal is pending. If you would like to talk with a lawyer about your situation, you can find free legal advice in Southern Wisconsin on the Legal Action of Wisconsin website or in Northern Wisconsin on the Judicare website.
Visit this Extension website that covers food resources to help get through the pandemic. Resources include both public and private food programs, and food assistance available to families with children out of school.
Funding options through the SBA include:
- Paycheck Protection Program – The SBA is now accepting Paycheck Protection Program applications from participating lenders. Click here for PPP information and updates.
- Check with your financial institution to see if they are an SBA lender. If not, use the ‘get local assistance’ search on the PPP website. New lenders now include Square, Paypal, Intuit, and others.
- Economic Injury Disaster Loan Emergency Advance – The Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL)-COVID-19 related assistance programs include EIDL Advances which provides a forgivable loan advance of $1000 per employee (full or part-time) up to a maximum of $10,000 per business. Click here for information on the EIDL Loan Advance.
- Notice: As of May 4, the SBA resumed accepting new Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and EIDL Advance applications on a limited basis. At this time, only agricultural business applications will be accepted due to limitations in funding availability and the unprecedented submission of applications already received. Agricultural businesses can apply for EIDL assistance here.
- Applicants who have already submitted their applications directly through the SBA will continue to be processed on a first-come, first-served basis.
- For pending or future loan applications, note that applicants need to have a credit history that’s acceptable to the SBA. If you have a freeze on your credit report, you would need to lift that freeze when applying for the EIDL loan.
- SBA Express Bridge Loans – Enables small businesses who currently have a business relationship with an SBA Express Lender to access up to $25,000 quickly. Click here for more information on Bridge Loans.
- SBA Debt Relief – The SBA is providing a financial reprieve to small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, including covering principal, interest and fees on new and existing SBA loans. Find out more on their website.
Resources specific to farmers and ranchers:
- US Department of Agriculture – This USDA website provides information on USDA Service Centers and updates to resources that support farmers and ranchers through Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and other USDA agencies.
Programs specific to Wisconsin-based small businesses:
- The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC)
- Ethnic Minority Emergency Grant information – Between May 18-24, 2020, WI-based, for-profit, ethnic minority-owned businesses with five or fewer employees may apply for a one-time grant of $2,000 for short-term operations assistance through Wisconsin’s Collective Ethnic and Diverse Organizations. Businesses must not have received assistance through WEDC’s Small Business 20/20 Program or the SBA Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
- Wisconsin SB20/20 grant information – Businesses that are not currently CDFI clients are not eligible to access these funds, but WEDC will work to expand access to funding through other programs as more resources become available.
- The Wisconsin Small Business Development Center (SBDC) has staff available to help small business owners work through the process of qualifying and applying for SBA disaster loans. Click here to go to the Business Development website to find information for filing on line or through mail, as well as links to other partners, including WWBIC, Western Wisconsin Women’s Business Center, Veterans Business Outreach Center, or SCORE. The Wisconsin SBDC business answer line is (800) 940-7232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Through UW Extension:
Individuals are no longer able to update their dependent information or provide direct deposit information for their payment. If the IRS does not have your direct deposit information, eligible individuals will either receive a paper check in the mail or a prepaid VISA debit card issued by Meta Bank over the next few weeks and months. If you have dependents under the age of 17 but did not receive a payment for these dependents, you will need to file a 2020 tax return to get the $500 payment for each dependent under your care.
Who will get a payment?
- Individuals who earned less than $75,000 will get a one-time payment of $1,200, with married couples getting $2,400 if they earned less than $150,000. Payment amounts will be lowered for higher income earners.
- Families would also get $500 for each ‘qualifying child‘ – children under age 17 on Dec. 31, 2019; claimed as a dependent on the taxpayer’s federal tax return; and in most cases, living with the taxpayer at least half the year.
- To get a payment, you need to have a valid Social Security number. That means immigrants with green cards and those on H-1B and H-2A visas will get payments. Nonresident aliens, temporary workers, and immigrants in the U.S. illegally won’t get a payment. Individuals without a SS number who are married to an active member in the armed services and filed taxes jointly, will be eligible for the married couple payment.
- A person who has made too much money to qualify for these stimulus payments, but then had their income drop in 2020, would receive a tax credit when they file their 2020 income taxes.
- No relief payments will be garnished for back taxes and payments will not be taxed regardless of a person’s 2020 income.Those in arrears for child support, however, will most likely have their emergency payment seized.
- According to the IRS, a payment made to someone who died before receiving the payment or was incarcerated at the time of the payment should be returned to the IRS by following the instructions in the Q&A about repayments.
- If you owe your bank money in overdraft fees or missed loan payments, for example, your financial institution may be able to take your payment money out of your checking or savings account. A creditor could also take your payment out of your account if they have a lien or levy against you for an unpaid debt. If you have questions about your legal rights, you can find free legal advice in Southern Wisconsin on the Legal Action of Wisconsin website or in Northern Wisconsin on the Judicare website.
How will the government know to send me a payment?
- If you’ve filed for taxes in 2018 or 2019 – Payment checks will be based on your 2019 tax return, if you’ve already filed, or else the government will use your 2018 tax return. Payments would be sent to the direct deposit account used for your tax filing or mailed to the address that was used last if no banking account information is on file.
- If you receive Social Security, Social Security Disability Insurance, or Railroad Retirement – The IRS will use the information from the Social Security Administration to send economic impact payments. Since the IRS would not have information regarding any dependents for this group, each person would receive $1,200 per person, without the additional amount for any dependents. Individuals with representative payees will begin to receive payments via direct deposit or Direct Express debit cards starting May 22, while paper checks will be mailed starting May 27. You can learn more about activating and using the debit cards on this website.
- If you did not need to file taxes in 2018 or 2019 – If the IRS does not have information on file for low-income taxpayers who have not filed any tax returns, individuals will need to file a tax return for 2020 in order to claim the payment.
- Supplemental Security Income recipients – Individuals with representative payees will begin to receive payments via direct deposit or Direct Express debit cards starting May 22, while paper checks will be mailed starting May 27. Relief payments will not be considered as income and the payments are excluded from resources for 12 months. Find more information on the Social Security Administration website.
- Veterans – The VA also has a special coronavirus website at this link.
- For taxpayers who do plan to file their 2019 taxes:
- The IRS has tax form 1040 and instructions on their website. Be sure to include direct deposit banking information on your 2019 return.
- The IRS reports delays in processing mailed paper tax returns and encouraged individuals to file electronically.
- For those concerned about visiting a tax professional or local community organization in person to get help with a tax return, the emergency relief payments will be available throughout the rest of 2020.
- Note for Medicaid recipients in a nursing home or assisted living facility: Nursing homes and assisted living facilities are not allowed to take the stimulus payment money from their residents just because they’re on Medicaid. If a facility has taken a payment, the Federal Trade Commission instructs individuals to seek assistance in getting the payment returned. Individuals can file a complaint through the WI Department of Ag, Trade, and Consumer Protection at DATCPHotline@wisconsin.gov, through their toll-free hotline at (800) 422-7128, or online at https://datcp.wi.gov.
The Federal Trade Commission cautions all households to BEWARE of SCAMS. Keep in mind:
- The government will not ask you to pay anything up front to get this money. No fees. No charges. Nothing.
- The government will not call, email, or text to ask for your Social Security number, bank account, or credit card number. Anyone who does is a scammer.
- The FTC encourages anyone who is contacted by a scammer asking for your bank account number or Social Security number to file a complaint on their website using this link.
The WI Department of Administration announced a new program using federal CARES Act funds to provide financial assistance for owed rent and security deposits for eligible households. These WRAP (Wisconsin Rental Assistance Program) will be available to adult WI residents with household income at or below 80% of the county median income in the month of or prior to the application date. Any payments received, up to $3,000, will be paid directly to landlords or rental management companies. Find a list of the agencies administering this funding for each county on this infographic.
With the 60-day freeze on evictions now ended, each landlord or rental management company will determine how to handle any delayed rent payments. If you know you will not be able to pay all or some of your rent at any point, it’s best to contact your landlord before you miss a payment so they know you are keeping track and aware of the situation. Check out the Extension publication on Dealing with a Drop In Income for steps to take in prioritizing bills and contacting your landlord about a payment plan.
If you find that you won’t be able to make all of your next mortgage payment by the due date:
- You are encouraged to contact your lender or servicer right away, before you miss your payment due date or make a partial payment. Your mortgage servicer is the company that sends you the bill for your mortgage payment.
- If you’re not sure who holds your mortgage, you can call the MERS Servicer Identification System toll-free at 888-679-6377 or visit the MERS website here.
- Write down all the steps you take, such as any phone calls you make and who you talk with, emails you send, and what types of information or documents you have shared.
- Ask your mortgage servicer what options they have to offer. Some servicers may want a balloon payment of all missed mortgage payments and fees at once, but other servicers are willing to modify your loan and add on a few more months to the end of your current mortgage.
- If you need help to figure out your options for catching up with future mortgage payments, contact a HUD-approved housing counselor through the Federal Making Home Affordable website. You can also call HUD at 888-995-4673 for round-the-clock foreclosure avoidance assistance.
Watch this video from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for more information on Federal mortgage relief programs. About half of all mortgages in the US are federal loans. These federal programs include:
- The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development authorized the Federal Housing Administration to put a hold on foreclosures for single-family homeowners who are unable to pay their federally or GSE-backed mortgage.
- Your lender or loan servicer may not foreclose on you for 60 days after March 18, 2020.
- You also have the right to request an extension for up to another 180 days if you experience financial hardship due to the pandemic. You must contact your loan servicer to request this forbearance. No additional fees, penalties or additional interest (beyond scheduled amounts) will be added to your account.
- Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have laid out options for mortgage relief, with borrowers eligible for forbearance regardless of whether their property is owner-occupied, a second home, or an investment/rental property. You can also find a housing counselor and options to avoid foreclosure on the Freddie Mac website and on the Fannie Mae website.
- Many provisions have also been put in place by USDA Rural Development to assist rural residents, communities, and business. Foreclosure and eviction moratoriums are in place for 60 days for Single-Family Housing Guaranteed Loan and Direct Loan programs, and for Section 515 Multi-Family Housing. Read more about the USDA community relief measures here.
NOTE: this order only includes PSC utilities and does not include utility co-operatives. You’ll need to contact your non-public utility provider for their disconnection policy or to set up a payment plan. Low income individuals who have at least one child in the house and are facing an emergency can apply for Emergency Assistance to pay a utility bill if their non PSC utility has been stopped. Parents can apply for Emergency Assistance through their local W-2 agency found on this Department of Children and Families website.
The Wisconsin Division of Energy, Housing and Community Resources provides services to Wisconsin qualified residential households with energy assistance and weatherization needs. For more information call 1- 866-HEATWIS (432-8947) or visit their website for information on where to apply in your area.
Some creditors, such as federally-backed mortgages, rent, or student loans, already have a forbearance in place due to the CARES Act. The CARES Act also put into place guidelines that only apply to consumers who are approved by their creditor for a forbearance, workout, or similar “accommodation.” For these consumers, the CARES Act states that:
- If the consumer was able to get the accommodation while they were still current (less than 30 days late), their accounts still will be reported as current on their credit report.
- If the consumer was already behind on payments – or “delinquent” – when they received the accommodation, they will continue to be reported with the same delinquency status. For example, after the agreement is in place with the creditor, a 30 day late report will stay 30 days late and cannot be changed to 60 days late.
- If a delinquent consumer catches up on payments during the accommodation period, they can then be reported as current.
- CARES Act credit reporting protections do not apply to accounts that have been charged off. An account is charged off by a creditor when it is moved from profit to loss, occurring at 120 days past due for closed-end loans and 180 days past due for credit cards.
Make sure you have any new agreements in writing before you send in a payment. Keep track of all paperwork, plus who you talk with and when. It’s also important to check your credit report to make sure that creditors are reporting any agreements or accommodations as outlined by the CARES Act. The three major credit reporting bureaus – TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian – now offer free weekly online credit reports through April 2021. The weekly free reports can be ordered online at the only official website: AnnualCreditReport.com. In addition, each bureau has set up a website specific to the COVID-19 pandemic:
Beware of scams like emails or phone calls you get claiming to be from your credit card company or lender. When you reach out to creditors, call the customer number on the back of your credit card, use their app, or visit their website online. Click here to visit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau website for more tips and resources for working with creditors. As you plan for the potential impact of the coronavirus, there are a number of steps that you can take to help protect yourself or a loved one financially, both in the short and long term.
Through Sept. 30, 2020, the interest rate is 0% on the following types of federal student loans owned by US Department of Education:
- Defaulted and nondefaulted Direct Loans
- Defaulted and nondefaulted FFEL Program loans – Federal only, not those owned by commercial lenders
- Federal Perkins Loans – Federal only, not those owned by educational institutions
Your federal student loan servicer is the organization you make your monthly payment to. If you’re not sure who your servicer is, visit StudentAid.gov/login or call 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243). For more information, click here to go to the Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid website.
To preserve GI Bill benefits, the Veteran’s Administration has the authority to continue GI Bill payments uninterrupted in the event of national emergencies. This law allows VA to pay education benefits regardless of the fact that a program has changed from resident training to online training. Also, you will continue to receive the same monthly housing allowance payments that you received for resident training until 12/21/20, or until the school resumes normal operations of resident training. To learn more about options related to the GI Bill benefits, contact the VA’s Education Call Center at 1-888-442-4551 between 8 AM and 7 PM Eastern Time, Monday-Friday, or visit the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website.
Any borrower who has experienced a change in income can contact their loan servicer to discuss lowering their monthly payment. Keep in mind that the student loan forbearance, repayment plans, or deferment options offered through the Department of Education only apply to federal student loans. If you have a private student loan through a financial institution, contact your loan servicer as soon as you think you may not be able to make a payment to find out what options they have to offer. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also has guidelines and links to resources on their website to help people figure out their best options.
The Wisconsin Department of Revenue has also extended the state income tax filing deadline to match the Federal deadline of July 15, 2020. For income tax filers in Wisconsin, click here to go to the Department of Revenue website for links and information on filing state income taxes online or setting up a payment plan for state income taxes that are due.
For individuals and businesses who make estimated tax payments, the first and second estimated tax payment due dates are both now pushed back to July 15, 2020. The Internal Revenue Service has a special section focused on steps to help taxpayers, businesses and others affected by COVID-19. Click here to visit the IRS website. This IRS page will be updated as new information is available.
Different than a hardship withdrawal, the CARES Act also includes an increase in 401(k) loan limits where borrowers can access up to 100% of their vested account balance, but the loans will still need to be repaid within five years — or sooner if you lose or leave your job — along with interest and fees. Additional changes in the law let individuals age 72 or older delay taking required minimum distributions from retirement accounts in 2020, and also extends the 2019 IRA contribution deadline to July 15, 2020. The IRS has set up a web page to provide new guidelines as they become available.
Taking a hardship withdrawal or a loan after the recent stock market declines would lock in any losses in the retirement accounts value. If the worst should happen and a person needs to declare bankruptcy in the future, also keep in mind that retirement accounts are protected from creditors in a bankruptcy and can be used to start over. You can find more information on pros and cons of options to increase your income in Extension’s Increasing Your Income handout.
My spouse lost their job and our family health insurance plan. What options do we have for health insurance?
If you or your spouse or partner does not have affordable health insurance benefits available through an employer, you can look for a plan on the Health Insurance Marketplace at www.Healthcare.gov. On the marketplace, most people receive financial assistance based on income. It is important to explore the costs for each option. If you’d like free, local assistance, Health Insurance Navigators can help you understand your options. Call 2-1-1 or 608-261-1455 to talk to a Navigator over the phone.
Employers are entitled to a refundable tax credit for the required leave paid, up to the limits specified through the DOL. Find more information and Frequently Asked Questions surrounding COVID-19 related tax credits for small and mid-size businesses on this IRS website.
There’s a new SCAM where strangers or acquaintances offer to do the shopping for older adults, and then take off with the older person’s money. If you know an older adult who could use help with supportive home resources, such as shopping, visit the website for Eldercare Locator by clicking here. Eldercare Locator is a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging and connects older adults and their families to services. You can also call them at 1-800-677-1116.
Update: DATCP is taking swift action to begin addressing complaints against Wisconsin businesses accused of price gouging. Click here to learn about the cease and desist orders that they have sent to 16 companies so far that are suspected of violations to Order #72.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services also has a website for COVID-19 that provides up-to-date information and additional resources.
USA.GOV – For answers to other questions, find a complete list of government agency resources related to COVID-19, including Health and Human Service updates and a link to the Federal Trade Commission’s website tracking scams related to the virus.
Wisconsin.gov – Has a website with resources and updates related to COVID-19, along with links to State agencies.
Advance Directive for Health Decisions – this is also known as a Healthcare Directive and tells doctors and family about what medical treatment you want if you are so sick you cannot make decisions anymore. A Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare, also known as a Healthcare Proxy, appoints a person to make health care decisions for you. Unlike many states, Wisconsin is not a “next of kin” or “family consent” state for adults. That means Wisconsin law does not let family members make decisions for incapacitated adult family members. As a general rule, spouses cannot make decisions for spouses, parents cannot make decisions for adult children, adult children cannot makes decisions for parents, with some exceptions for hospice and emergency care. Notarized signatures are not required on these forms, but you do need two witnesses when signing. Both forms are easy to fill out and can be downloaded from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services website.
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation – Visit the FDIC’s COVID-19 website with information for both consumers and bankers. If you have trouble reaching your bank, are looking for a bank to use, or have concerns about accessing your funds due to your bank’s reduced hours or ATM access, see the FDIC’s frequently asked question fact sheet with contact information surrounding your concerns.
The Eldercare Locator website is a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging and connects older adults and their families to services. If you know an older adult who could use help with supportive home resources, such as shopping, visit the Eldercare Locator. You can also call them at 1-800-677-1116.
Child Care Resources – Healthcare workers and essential employees are now able to submit a request for care through the department’s updated Child Care Finder. Workers can also proactively view up-to-date availability across the state using the department’s new child care map. More information for providers, essential workers and families can be found on the DCF COVID-19 Child Care webpage.
Financial Resiliency Center – The National Disability Institute offers resources and assistance to help those with disabilities and chronic health conditions cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Investing: Surviving a Volatile Stock Market – This University of Minnesota fact sheet suggests steps to consider if you have retirement or other investments in the stock market. The most important step is to not panic or make quick decisions.
Provide financial education to kids who are home from school – Click on this link to access Next Gen Personal Finance, where you’ll find lessons for all grade levels on topics like saving, budgeting, managing credit, and dealing with financial pitfalls.
Online security tips for working from home – Some US workers and many school children may be telecommuting — working from home — due to the pandemic. The Federal Trade Commission shares helpful cybersecurity tips and links for individuals and small businesses on their recent blog post.
UW-Madison Prevention Research Center – If you are currently pregnant or a new parent, you may be concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic and how it affects you and your family. Read about the current recommendations related to the virus and pregnancy, breastfeeding, and postpartum.