Indy Style

Where to get help if you can’t pay bills during COVID-19 crisis

You can’t wish your bills away, but you can take the initiative with lenders to help get them off your back. Jennifer Jolly, tech & life columnist has some expert tips to help you with the process.

Rent or Mortgage — You’re not alone:

  • One in every four people is unemployed.
  • Among America’s 43 million renter households – more than a half couldn’t make full rent payment by the 5th of May – but more than 90% were able to pay in full by today — according to the National Multifamily Housing Council
  • Indiana’s paused evictions, foreclosures, and utility shutoffs until July 1. The state is officially on the clock to have an emergency rental assistance program up and running so that no one’s evicted or homeless due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • If you can’t make rent — send an email or written letter to your landlord explaining the circumstances, followed by a phone call. 
  • IHCDA’s Coronavirus Eviction & Foreclosure Prevention Guide which provides a FAQ section and encourages renters to seek a payment plan with landlords. Renters should also consult a summary of their rights as a tenant from Indiana Legal Services, Inc. and may also file a complaint with the Attorney General’s office to report potentially unlawful evictions.

IF YOU CAN’T PAY YOUR MORTGAGE

  • Call your lender right away and use the “magic words” many customer service representatives are trained to listen for, “if you say you have been sick, or that you’ve lost work, or are facing other hardships,” — they are actually listening to hear you say you have been impacted by the pandemic, specifically with “health or job loss.” No matter what, “you have to be the one to take that first step and make that call.” 
  • If you have trouble getting someone on the phone, the site GetHuman might help. It lists working customer service phone numbers with insights on the wait times and the best times of the day to reach someone. If that still doesn’t work, send the company a direct message through Twitter. I’ve done that a few times recently and it actually worked putting me in touch with a person when all else failed.

Another great site to know about is JustAnswer.com.

For $5 to $40 – you can ask lawyers, accountants, all kinds of people for expert help for a fraction of the cost you would pay going to someone’s office to get oftentimes, the very same guidance. 

WHAT TO DO IF YOU CAN’T MAKE YOUR CREDIT CARD PAYMENT

The same rule applies to credit card payments, with one caveat. If you have a credit score of 690 or higher, now is a good time to apply for a zero percent interest rate card. If you’re able to get approved quickly, you might be able to transfer balances from higher interest cards and make payments that way. Some credit issuers, such as Apple, deferred payments without charging any interest last month, and more might be willing to that as pandemic-related burdens continue to take their toll. 

WHAT TO DO IF YOU CAN’T BUY GROCERIES, MEDICATION, OTHER ESSENTIALS

Call or go online to a service called 211.org. It’s the most comprehensive source of locally curated social services in the U.S. and Canada. You can call, text, or chat with a community resource specialist in your area 24/7 to get help with food, housing, utilities, and a host of other needs. Calls are completely confidential and help is available in 180 languages. 

WHAT TO DO IF YOU CAN’T MAKE YOUR CAR PAYMENT

If you’ve already called your lender and used the “magic words” to no avail, car-buying guide Edmunds has a running tally of relief automakers are offering right now on loans through manufacturers. 

Another good go-to here — and in general really — is a legal services website called DoNotPay. It bills itself as the world’s first chatbot lawyer, and it can help you access national, state, and local laws to uncover coronavirus related relief. You can use the site to help draft letters to lenders and ask for late or deferred payments on most of your bills, get help filing for Unemployment, and even use it to cancel subscriptions you no longer use. 

TAKE A DEEP BREATH

Whatever you do, don’t ignore the situation and don’t give up say the experts. It’s scary to see bills piling up and not have any money coming in, but don’t panic. Relief efforts are underway from the federal to the local levels to help people get through this difficult time. 

Many tech companies like Task Rabbit and Nextdoor (with Walmart) are also lending support. Both online services launched special programs recently dubbed TaskRabbit for Good and Neighbors Helping Neighbors to connect people with volunteers who can do things like pick-up groceries, medications, and other essentials, and then deliver them without contact.

Useful websites:

To find more useful information and articles, visit the Techish website.

For more from Jennifer, visit her Twitter and Instagram.

MORE STORIES