When the pandemic hit the U.S. hard in the spring of 2020, the government and private sectors responded with coronavirus aid in the form of a relief package, loan forbearance, eviction moratorium, hardship assistance, and additional unemployment benefits. But as 2020 comes to a close, many of those benefits will end or have already expired, leaving some households facing increasing financial hardship in 2021.
Here’s a year-end roundup of what we know now about which programs are expiring and when, and what you can do to prepare if you’re about to lose benefits you’re relying on. Forearmed with this knowledge, you can make a plan for any financial challenges that may lie ahead in 2021.
Housing: Mortgage forbearance and eviction moratorium
According to the Aspen Institute, about 30-40 million Americans are at risk of eviction. The states predicted to have the highest eviction risk are:
- Alabama – 37%-48%
- Louisiana – 36%-56%
- Oklahoma – 36%-51%
- New York – 36%-45%
- South Carolina – 35%-52%
- Tennessee – 35%-52%
- Nevada – 34%-47%
Here’s a quick snapshot of the protections that exist for renters and homeowners, and when they expire:
- Government-funded rental housing – Protection expires on December 31, 2020. Check to see if local or state eviction moratoria could provide additional protection in your area; here’s a state-by-state guide. Unfortunately, many of the most vulnerable states like Alabama or Louisiana haven’t announced extra protections. One exception is New York, with protection extended to January 1, 2021. Some other states have broader protections, a few include:
- California has extended eviction protection to February 1, 2021 and put a hold on utility shut-offs until April 16.
- The District of Columbia has put a hold on both evictions and utility shut-offs until the end of the state of emergency.
- Kansas will prevent evictions until January 26, 2021 and has some required utility assistance as well.
- Private rental housing – This varies depending on state and local eviction moratoria. Check your local housing authority to find out what protection exists, if any, and when they expire.
- Federal mortgage loans – The CARES Act prevents eviction through December 31, 2020, allows a forbearance of up to 180 days, and an extension of another 180 days (360 days total), which you must contact your lender to request.
- Private mortgage loans – Homeowners must ask for a loan forbearance from the mortgage lender. If you take this route, the end of the forbearance period is determined by your agreement with your lender.
To learn more, check out some of our most popular posts about coronavirus housing assistance:
- Are You Still Not Using a Hardship Program for Your Loans?
- What Happens When Your Loan Forbearance Ends?
- Changes in Eviction Protection: Update
- The Good News and Bad News About Your Mortgage During Covid-19
Student loan forbearance
When it comes to student loans, whether you have a federal or private lender can make a big difference to any forbearance you can receive.
- Federal student loans – Payment forbearance, zero percent interest accrual, the pause on collections activity, and the tax-free employer contribution benefit have all been extended to January 31, 2021.
- Private student loans – There’s no government stimulus program protection for private student loans, so contact your lender to find out if they can defer your payments if you need hardship assistance.
Here’s where you can learn more from our top posts on student loan forbearance:
- How Does Student Loan Forbearance Affect Your Credit Score
- Is Student Loan Forgiveness Coming?
- 7 Smart Ways to Pay Off Student Loans
Unemployment hardship assistance
Coronavirus aid under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) benefits from the CARES Act are set to expire on December 26, 2020. The Century Foundation estimates that this will leave around 12 million Americans without unemployment benefits.
Many unemployed workers have already exhausted their benefits as they reached the maximum 26-30 week benefit limit. States depend on the federal government to provide unemployment funds, especially as state coffers run dry due to the pandemic, and now it’s a waiting game to see what additional help Congress will provide.
Check out these stories to learn more about jobs and unemployment issues nation-wide:
- What the Latest Jobs Report Means for Your Finances
- Best and Worst States for Coronavirus Unemployment Benefits
- Unemployed Due to Covid-19? Here’s How That Affects Medical Benefits
Paid FMLA leave
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) provided paid FMLA benefits to qualifying employees unable to work for COVID-related reasons. Only certain public employers and private employers with fewer than 500 employees are eligible. This benefit expires on December 31, 2020.
Will we get more coronavirus aid?
Congress is working on a $908 billion relief package* to extend government stimulus programs and financial relief, but we don’t know when, or if, it will pass into law. It’s also unclear what kind of benefits will be included, or if there will be more stimulus checks. In May, the Heroes Act passed in the House, but failed to get Senate approval.
If the latest bill fails to pass, Americans may be stuck waiting until after the Biden Administration takes office on January 20, 2021. Even then, it may take weeks or months for the new president and Congress to hammer out a coronavirus aid package that everyone can agree on. Until new government stimulus programs are announced, what can you do to get by?
5 Ways to help yourself
If you’re going to be caught in a tight financial situation between the time the current benefits expire and when a new coronavirus aid package is passed, here are some ways you may be able to save until things get better.
1. Utility hardship assistance
Check with your local utility companies – water, sewer, gas, electric, cable, internet, etc. – to find out if they have a hardship program you can enroll in.
2. Loan forbearance
If you have private loans – mortgage, student loan, car loan, personal loan, etc. – contact your lender to ask for a forbearance, if you haven’t already done so. To make it easier for you, we’ve compiled a list of click-to-call phone numbers and websites for many lenders here:
Keep in mind: Even if you’re able to get a forbearance on your loans, the amount you owe keeps accruing. Depending on the agreement you have with your lender, you may be required to make a lump-sum payment of all back payments when the forbearance period ends. Take that into account as you do your planning.
3. Affordable food
Eating your veggies and exploring meat alternatives isn’t just good for your body and the environment, it can be good for your pocketbook too. Check out our tips and creative ideas for saving on food here:
If you’re strapped for cash to purchase food, you can also look to a food bank for help. Sites like Feeding America can help you find food banks in your area.
4. Shopping savings
Look for ways to get creative when it comes to buying the essentials you can’t go without. Here are some ideas to get you started:
While the current situation may be serious, these are steps you can take to help you weather the storm. It will get better, but for now, look at every line item in your budget and ask: How can I get help with this? There is never any shame in asking for help, especially in times like these.
5. Reducing your debt payments
If you need to seriously reduce the amount of money you’re paying on your credit card debt each month, you can also ask for help from Freedom Debt Relief. When you call one of our certified Debt Consultants, they help you find ways to reduce your payments while still getting your debt paid off. If you want to avoid bankruptcy but need to reduce your debt payments, debt relief may be a good option for you. You can get started right here.
*Editor’s Note, December 28, 2020: As of Monday, December 28, President Trump has signed the coronavirus relief bill into law. However, delays in the signing may cause some benefits to be delayed or shortened. In addition, the president has also requested an increase in the stimulus check amount from $600 to $2,000. Votes in Congress are pending at time of writing. We will cover more on the package as it develops. Please come back to our blogs for updated news and information.
- How to Find the Coronavirus Assistance You Can Get from Your State (Freedom Debt Relief)
- Open Enrollment 2021: Should You Change Health Insurance in a Pandemic? (Freedom Debt Relief)
- Reducing Expenses During a Sudden Financial Hardship (Freedom Debt Relief)
- How’s Your Mental, Physical and Financial Health During COVID-19? (Freedom Debt Relief)