Financial Resources to Help Get Through COVID-19

Updated November 23, 2020

The coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, is impacting households, communities, and businesses. As of mid-July, half of American adults reported they had lost employment income because of the pandemic. About one-in-four adults reported that they either missed last month’s rent or mortgage payment, or had slight to no confidence that their household could make the next payment on time. 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.

I have no money coming in. Where do I start?

When your income suddenly stops, it’s natural to feel shocked or panicked or to want to ignore the situation. The sooner you look at your household budget, the more options you have and the better off you will be in the long run.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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, or other items. There are also certain debts, like federal student loans, with temporary holds put on them.
  4.  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. Keep notes on everyone you talk with and any paperwork you share.
  5. Start looking ahead. Some households might expect to receive unemployment benefits or to start getting more hours at their job. 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.

Can I get unemployment benefits?

The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development has information on who may be able to get unemployment insurance and how to apply on their website. Usually self-employed people, freelancers, farmers, and contractors can’t get unemployment, but the CARES Act created a temporary Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program to help these independent workers who are no longer able to work. If you have been turned down for unemployment benefits in Wisconsin because you receive Social Security Disability Insurance, you may now qualify for PUA.

The Wisconsin DWD began distributing the Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) program in mid-October which will provide an additional $300 per week, before taxes, for eligible individuals. The LWA funds retroactively cover six weeks of unemployment benefits between August 1 and September 5, 2020, and will be sent automatically to all eligible individuals.

  • Click here for information from the DWD on frequently asked questions about Wisconsin Unemployment Benefits and the COVID-19 Coronavirus.
  • 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.
  • You can also check out this chart to see if you might be eligible for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. Go to the DWD website for more information and to apply for the PUA program. If eligible, the PUA program provides benefits for up to 39 weeks or until December 31, 2020.
  • Benefits will start from the time you became eligible for unemployment, not from the time your application is submitted or approved.
  • 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 listed below. When you reach a claim specialist, you will tell them the week you are requesting your claim to begin.
    • If your last name begins with the letters A to M, please call Monday – Friday between 6:15 a.m. and Noon, or Saturday 7:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
    • If your last name begins with the letters N to Z, please call Monday – Friday between Noon and 5:30 p.m., or Saturday 7:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

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.

If your 26-weeks of unemployment benefits has ended:

  • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) – This is a temporary program set up by the CARES Act that provides up to 13 additional weeks of payments to individuals who have exhausted their regular Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits. After your 26-weeks of regular unemployment has run out, you will need to file a PEUC initial claim through the DWD.
  • Extended Benefits – The DWD website states that Wisconsin has met the criteria for turning off the EB program effective November 7, 2020. No EB payments can be made for weeks claimed after the week ending November 7, 2020, regardless of whether or not an individual has claimed the full 13 weeks of EB.
  • Individuals receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) are not eligible for either PEUC or EB. The PUA program provides benefits for up to 39 weeks or until December 31, 2020.

Unemployment Fraud: Be on the lookout for any information you may receive from DWD. Fraudsters are using people’s stolen information to apply for UI benefits and have those benefits deposited into their own financial accounts. If you learn that someone is using your identity to collect unemployment benefits, report this immediately on the DWD fraud website or call the DWD Fraud Hotline at 800-909-9472 (Monday through Friday from 8:00 AM – 4:00 PM). The Federal Trade Commission provides guidelines for UI fraud victims, including links to file an identity theft report. You can also file a complaint with the WI Department of Ag, Trade, and Consumer Protection on their website.

Am I eligible for any public health insurance or food assistance?

If your income has dropped or stopped, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services has information on government assistance programs to help with health insurance, food, and other needed resources. Click here to visit the DHS website for eligibility information, a list of information needed to apply, and a link to apply for benefits.

The Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance also has answers to frequently asked health insurance questions and links to get started in finding health insurance on their website WisCovered.com. Individuals anywhere in Wisconsin can also call the OCI with healthcare questions at (877) 947-2211.

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.

What are options for my small business or farm?

Some businesses have been ordered to close and others have lost revenue or shortened their hours due to the pandemic. A range of grants and loans have been put in place to provide needed support to get through the pandemic and recession. The Wisconsin Department of Administration has a COVID-19 Response & Recovery website that shows how and where investments to respond to COVID-19 are happening around the State.

NOTE: Beware of fraudulent businesses claiming they provide pandemic relief funds or that they are SBA lenders. The FTC has filed a complaint against one company that’s already misled thousands of companies. Only use the official websites for SBA, WECDA, or other links below.

Funding options through the SBA include:

  • OPEN: Economic Injury Disaster Loan – SBA is continuing to accept new EIDL applications from qualified small businesses and U.S. agricultural businesses. Eligible 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.
  • OPEN: 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:

  • ENDED: We’re All In Small Business Grant Phase 2 – Businesses can review grant information on the WI Department of Revenue (DOR) website. Applicants will receive an email by November 23 confirming whether they will receive a grant. Grants will be issued on December 4, 2020.
  • ENDED: The WI Department of Children and Families round of funding for the Child Care Counts Supplementary Payment Program Round 2 closed on Friday, November 6, 2020. Payment notifications were issued on November 14, 2020.
  • The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC)
    • 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 online or through the 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 sbdc@uwex.edu.
  • Through UW Extension:

Is the government going to mail me a check?

One-time Economic Impact Payments have already been sent to “most taxpayers” according to the IRS. The IRS has set up a Coronavirus Tax Relief web page with information about who is eligible and how payments will be sent out. If you know you will still be getting an economic impact payment, you can check the status of your payment on this IRS website. EIP’s are being sent out by direct deposit, paper check, and as a prepaid debit card. 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. If you didn’t file taxes in 2018 or 2019, the deadline has just ended to provide information to the IRS through the Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info online tool by 2:00 pm CT on November 21, 2020. The IRS now offers a toll-free number for payment questions at 800-919-9835 but warns about long delays. There are no plans for a second payment from the government at this time.

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 should be returned to the IRS by following the instructions in the Q&A about repayments.
  • Following an October court order, the IRS cannot deny payment to someone who is incarcerated if they meet the criteria described above. Information had to be provided to the IRS by using the Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info online tool by 2:00 pm CT on November 21, 2020. Any future government appeals to this court ruling will be posted on the IRS webpage.
  • 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.

Did you miss the deadline to register online for the Economic Impact Payment?

You may still be eligible to receive a payment in 2021 if:

  • You did not register online, by mail and did not get a payment in 2020 or,
  • You received a payment, but it wasn’t the full amount of the Economic Impact Payment. The maximum credit is $1,200, or $2,400 if married filing jointly, plus $500 for each qualifying child.

When you file a 2020 Form 1040 or 1040SR you may be eligible for the Recovery Rebate Credit. Save your IRS letter – Notice 1444 Your Economic Impact Payment – with your 2020 tax records. You’ll need the amount of the payment in the letter when you file in 2021.

If you have received IRS Notice 1444 in the mail stating that your payment was sent, but you did not actually receive your payment or may have accidentally thrown out your check, you can request a trace on the payment. Follow the IRS instructions for conducting a trace (FAQ #55). No one from the IRS will call or email asking for personal information or money.

The Federal Trade Commission cautions all households to BEWARE of SCAMS. Here’s the latest text message scam from the IRS. 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.

What if I can't pay my rent?

The U.S. Center for Disease Control has issued an Order for a “Temporary Halt in Residential Evictions to Prevent the Further Spread of COVID-19.” This CDC Order started on Friday, Sept. 4 and lasts through December 31, 2020. This moratorium does not happen automatically. If renters are unable to make their monthly rent payment, the renter must give a ‘declaration’ to their landlord or property manager. Each adult listed on the lease, rental agreement, or housing contract must provide a declaration. Be sure to keep a copy of your declaration for your records.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition website has fact sheets and declaration forms available in 13 languages, including English and Spanish. You can also visit the WI Department of Ag,Trade and Consumer Protection website for Frequently Asked Questions about the CDC Order.

You can use this declaration form or write your own declaration that states the following:

  1. The individual has used best efforts to obtain all available government assistance for rent or housing;
  2. The individual either (i) expects to earn no more than $99,000 in annual income for Calendar Year 2020 (or no more than $198,000 if filing a joint tax return),6 (ii) was not required to report any income in 2019 to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, or (iii) received an Economic Impact Payment (stimulus check) pursuant to Section 2201 of the CARES Act;
  3. The individual is unable to pay the full rent or make a full housing payment due to substantial loss of household income, loss of compensable hours of work or wages, a lay-off, or extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses;
  4. The individual is using best efforts to make timely partial payments that are as close to the full payment as the individual’s circumstances may permit, taking into account other nondiscretionary expenses; and
  5. Eviction would likely render the individual homeless— or force the individual to move into and live in close quarters in a new congregate or shared living setting— because the individual has no other available housing options.

This CDC order does not:

  • Forgive the overdue/past due rent which would come due when the moratorium ends after December 31, 2020.
  • Stop landlords from charging fees, penalties, or interest due to late or overdue rent payments.
  • Prevent eviction for other reasons not due to nonpayment of rent, such as engaging in criminal activity on the premises.
  • Require landlords or property owners to renew a lease that expires during the eviction moratorium.
  • Cover mortgages or foreclosures.
  • Address existing eviction orders that may result in individuals being removed from their home before Friday, September 4, 2020.
  • Provide any funding for tenants, landlords, or property owners.

If you are unable to pay some or all of your next rent payment, the WI Department of Administration does have a 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) are 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, although many counties now have a waiting list for this limited funding.

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.

What if I can't make my mortgage payment?

If you find that you won’t be able to make some or all of your next mortgage payment by the due date:

  • You are encouraged to contact your mortgage lender or servicer right away before you miss your payment due date or make a partial payment. This video from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau walks you through 5 steps to ask for mortgage forbearance.
  • 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 or overdue property taxes on your home, 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.

About half of all mortgages in the US are federal loans. Watch this video from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for more information on Federal mortgage relief programs. 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 until at least December 31, 2020.
    • You also have the right to request forbearance for up to 180 days with the option for an extension for 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. Learn more about mortgage forbearance from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
  • 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.

What if I get behind on utility payments?

The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin has extended the moratorium on utility residential customer disconnections and refusal of service for nonpayment until November 1. This moratorium delays disconnection of services for residential PSC account holders who are behind on their utility bills. Note that water utilities not used for home heating that have submitted disconnection plans by Oct. 9 may begin disconnections on November 1. After the PSC utility disconnection moratorium ends November 1, Wisconsin then has an annual moratorium on cold weather disconnections for utility services used specifically for home heating that starts November 1, 2020, and ends April 15, 2021. Water, electric, and gas utilities that want to disconnect during the winter moratorium must file a disconnection plan with the PSC and receive approval before they can disconnect a customer who has fallen behind on payments.

PSC customers who are behind on utility payments are encouraged to contact their utility provider as soon as possible to set up a repayment plan. PSC utilities may also add on late fees to any overdue payments beginning July 15, 2020. Contact information for major PSC providers across Wisconsin can be found on the Wisconsin Citizen’s Utility Board website. If you cannot reach an agreement with your PSC utility or have a complaint against a PSC utility, you can contact the PSC by calling 1-800-225-7729 or file a complaint on the PSC website.

The COVID-19 moratorium and annual winter moratorium disconnection dates only include PSC utilities and do 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. For complaints regarding services not regulated by the PSC, contact the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection at 1-800-422-7128 or file a complaint online on the DATCP website.

For help catching up with utility payments:

  • 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 who is eligible for assistance and where to apply in your area.
  • 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. Parents can apply for Emergency Assistance through their local W-2 agency found on this Department of Children and Families website.
  • A positive COVID-19 test of a customer or a member of a customer’s household shall automatically be considered a medical emergency for the purposes of a 21-day medical extension of service (even if the customer has had an extension for another medical reason), and the 21-day extension must be extended if the customer, or a person in the household, is still under a COVID-19 quarantine at the end of the original 21-day period, as documented by a medical provider.

What if I can't pay my car loan or credit cards?

If you have more bills than money right now, 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. Some creditors are automatically waiving late fees, but other creditors ask consumers to call or fill out an online form. To assist in contacting creditors, the credit reporting bureau Experian website has a list of financial institutions, creditors, and insurers with website links.

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.” These CARES Act guidelines are in place until 120 days after the declared state of national emergency ends, which is currently the end of October 2020 if not renewed. 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.

What if I can't make my federal student loan payment?

To provide relief to student loan borrowers during the COVID-19 national emergency, federal student loan borrowers are automatically being placed in an “administrative forbearance”, which lets you temporarily stop making your monthly loan payment. This suspension of payments has been extended through December 31, 2020. Borrowers who can still afford to make payments will have any payments made during this time be applied directly to their loan principal which is the original amount of money borrowed.

Through December 31, 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.

For private student loans – 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. Any borrower who has experienced a change in income can contact their loan servicer to discuss lowering their monthly payment. If you have a private student loan through a commercial lender, 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. If you are a co-signer on a private student loan, check in with the primary borrower to see if they are able to keep up with their payments, or else the co-signer will be responsible for making those monthly payments. The private student loan co-signer may not be able to request an accommodation, but the primary borrower can.

Wisconsin borrowers can get more information about their loans or repayment options based on their specific circumstances by calling the free Student Loan Debt Hotline at: 833-589-0750. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also has guidelines and links to resources on their website to help people figure out their best options.

What if I didn't pay my income taxes by July 15?

If you did not pay your 2019 income taxes by July 15, 2020, you will be subject to interest and late-payment penalties from July 16 until the date of payment. If you are entitled to a refund, there’s no penalty for filing late.

Payment Plans: Qualified taxpayers can choose to pay any taxes owed over time through an installment agreement. Payment options include:

However, a taxpayer’s specific tax situation will determine which payment options are available. The IRS has more information for taxpayers who owe taxes, but cannot afford to pay the full amount.

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. Wisconsin DOR encourages taxpayers with questions to submit them online or call DOR’s individual customer service line at 608-266-2486. Regular hours are from 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday thru Friday.

For individuals and businesses who make estimated tax payments, the first and second estimated tax payments were both due on 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.

Should I take money out of my retirement savings to pay for my living expenses now?

The CARES Act passed on March 27, 2020 puts into place new rules around hardship withdrawals and loans from 401(k), 403(b), IRA, and similar types of retirement plans, if the allowed by the plan. The Internal Revenue Service allows “hardship withdrawals” from certain retirement plans when you’re faced with an “immediate and heavy” financial need which now includes if individuals, their spouse, or dependents are diagnosed with COVID-19, and those who have been laid-off, had work hours reduced, or were unable to work due to lack of child care. Anyone withdrawing funds from their traditional retirement account will have up to three years to pay the taxes due on the money withdrawn, although all early withdrawal penalties will be waived. Another change to these new retirement account ‘coronavirus emergency’ withdrawals is that you can put the money back into your retirement account for up to three years after the withdrawal. Usually, retirement account contributions have strict annual contribution limits that can make it hard to rebuild a retirement account after a hardship withdrawal.

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 your spouse or partner lost their job, and your family’s health insurance, you are now eligible for what is called a special enrollment period. Special enrollment period means you can immediately enroll in a health insurance plan through your job, if you are in a job that offers health insurance. Another option is that your spouse or partner can continue their employer coverage for up to 18 months in a plan called COBRA. With COBRA, your family will be required to pay the full monthly premium and it may be expensive.

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. This fact sheet from Covering Wisconsin helps walk through these different health insurance options.

The Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance also has answers to frequently asked health insurance questions and links to get started in finding health insurance on their website WisCovered.com. Individuals anywhere in Wisconsin can also call the OCI with healthcare questions at (877) 947-2211.

Can I get emergency paid sick leave?

Full-time employees may be eligible for 80 hours of paid sick leave – or less hours for part-time employees – through their employer to cover time off of work for self-isolation or caring for family members. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act takes effect April 1, 2020 and remains in effect until December 31, 2020. This new law provides guidelines for Emergency Paid Sick Leave, expanded Family and Medical Leave, employer tax credits, increased emergency food assistance, and other programs. The Emergency Paid Sick Leave rule applies to certain public employers and to businesses with 500 employees or less, though businesses with fewer than 50 employees may be able to get some exemptions due to economic hardship. Find more information about the Act for both employees and employers on the Department of Labor’s website. The DOL has also provided this employer poster for workplaces and requires employers to post this information in “a conspicuous place on its premises.”

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.

Are there other services that can help me keep up with bills?

Call 211 or click here to visit the 211.org website for referrals to food assistance, paying housing bills, accessing free child care, or obtaining help with other needs. You’ll be able to enter your zip code on the website to be connected to your local 211 office. A few internet broadband providers are continuing to provide households with free basic internet service if they do not already have internet service.

What can I do if I'm a financial caregiver for another person?

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a series of resources available to those who are serving as caregivers for older adults and/or persons with disabilities and particulars to consider during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Click here to learn more.

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.

Can a store raise the price on an item when it's in short supply?

Wisconsin’s declared period of abnormal economic disruption ended on July 3, 2020. In March, Executive Order #72 was put into place to prevent skyrocketing prices on high-demand consumer goods during the coronavirus pandemic. The end of the abnormal economic disruption declaration means that future price changes will not be subject to price increase prohibitions described in state law.

Complaints about prices that existed before the July 3rd end of the emergency declaration will continue to be investigated, even if those complaints are filed after the declaration ended. Questions about price gouging, scams, or other consumer issues should be directed to the Department of Ag, Trade, and Consumer Protection’s Hotline toll-free at (800) 422-7128 or by email: DATCPHotline@wisconsin.gov.

Where can I find more information on the virus?

Click here to go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for information on minimizing your exposure to the virus, what to do if you think you may have the virus, and links to community resources.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services also has a website for COVID-19 that provides up-to-date information and additional resources.

Additional resources related to COVID-19

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.

IRS Guidelines for Charitable Giving in 2020 – If you are in a position to support your community in natural disaster recovery, COVID-19 pandemic aid, or another cause that’s personally meaningful, your charitable donations may be tax-deductible. The CARES Act allows taxpayers who don’t itemize deductions to take a charitable deduction of up to $300 for cash contributions made in 2020 to qualifying organizations. For the purposes of this deduction, qualifying organizations are those that are religious, charitable, educational, scientific, or literary in purpose. These deductions basically reduce the amount of their taxable income.

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.

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