Deal Finder: Financial tips to survive COVID-19 pandemic

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By LaTina Emerson, The Shopper Deal Finder

We’re living in difficult times, and many people are experiencing financial challenges as they suffer job losses and struggle to pay bills and feed their families. During the global COVID-19 pandemic, businesses, non-profit organizations and even the federal government are offering some assistance to help weather the financial storm.

Rent and Mortgage Assistance

If you’re unable to pay your mortgage, federal officials have called for a nationwide halt to foreclosures and evictions for home mortgages backed by the Federal Housing Administration or Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which are government-controlled companies. The mortgage servicers must extend deferred or reduced mortgage payment options, which is called forbearance, for up to six months and must provide an additional six months of forbearance if requested by the borrower, according to a release by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

However, the moratorium doesn’t cover mortgage loans not backed by the federal government. If you have a conventional mortgage and you’re experiencing financial difficulties, contact your lender to find out your options and request assistance. For instance, Wells Fargo is suspending residential property foreclosure sales and evictions and offering fee waivers, payment deferrals and other assistance for mortgage customers who contact the financial services company.

To protect renters, the federal government has issued a 120-day moratorium on evictions from federally subsidized housing or from a property with a federally backed mortgage loan. For other renters, some cities and states have banned evictions during this time, but there are no universal guidelines. If you’re unable to pay your rent, contact your landlord to explain your financial hardship and try to work out a payment agreement.

The Salvation Army in Newnan offers rental and mortgage assistance, in addition to other vital services such as utility assistance and a food pantry. The Salvation Army food pantry is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30 a.m. to noon. For more information, visit https://salvationarmygeorgia.org/newnan/ or call 770-251-8181.

Utility Bills

Coweta-Fayette EMC: Until further notice, Coweta-Fayette EMC has suspended disconnection due to non-payment on electric accounts for families impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. For more information, visit https://utility.org/.

NuLink: Until further notice, NuLink will not disconnect services for customers in non-payment status. Accounts will still accrue monthly amounts that require payment as soon as the customer can manage, but the account will not be disconnected during this time. In addition, no late fees will be charged until further notice.

AT&T: For the next 60 days, AT&T will not terminate the service of any wireless, home phone or broadband residential or small business customer due to an inability to pay their bill because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

AT&T will also waive late payment fees for wireless, home phone, broadband residential, U-verse TV or DIRECTV customers, in addition to domestic wireless plan overage charges for data, voice or text for residential postpaid wireless customers. The waiver applies to fees and charges incurred between March 13 and May 13 due to economic hardship related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Customers should submit a waiver request through AT&T’s website. Allow one to two billing cycles to see the credit. For more information, visit https://about.att.com/pages/COVID-19.html#get-help.

Georgia Natural Gas: For those impacted by employment changes or business slowdowns, Georgia Natural Gas offers payment arrangement options. Call 1-877-850-6200 to speak with a customer service agent about payment options.

For assistance with other utility and household bills, contact your service provider to see what options are available.

Credit Card Bills, Auto Loans and Personal Loans

If you’re unable to pay your credit card bills, auto loans or personal loans, many companies are offering support for people whose income has been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. Contact your lender to see what options are available. For instance, Wells Fargo is suspending involuntary automobile repossessions, and on a case-by-case basis, the financial services company is offering fee waivers, payment deferrals and other assistance for credit card, auto, small business and personal lending customers who contact them.

Student Loans

The U.S. Department of Education has enacted COVID-19 student loan relief to federal student loan borrowers. Through the CARES Act, the interest rate on all federally held student loans will temporarily be reduced to 0 percent until Sept. 30, 2020. In addition, all federal student loans will automatically be placed on forbearance from March 13, 2020 through Sept. 30, 2020, which will temporarily suspend monthly payments.

For the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, borrowers who have a Direct Loan, were on a qualifying repayment plan prior to the suspension and work full-time for a qualifying employer during the suspension will receive credit toward the loan forgiveness program as though on-time monthly payments were made. For borrowers on an income-driven repayment plan, suspended payments will count toward income-driven repayment forgiveness.

For more information, contact your student loan lender or visit https://studentaid.gov/announcements-events/coronavirus#borrower-questions.

Energy Assistance

The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), an annual, federally-funded program, provides financial assistance to low-income households to help offset the costs of home energy, gas or propane bills.

The summer cooling assistance program, which offers electric assistance only, started taking appointments on April 1 for residents who are 65 and older. The general public can begin scheduling appointments on May 1. Households that received assistance during the winter program are eligible to receive summer cooling assistance as well.

For the Coweta County area, appointments must be scheduled online via Community Action for Improvement Inc.’s website: https://cafi.timetap.com.

To qualify, the total gross annual household income needs to be at or below 60 percent of the State Median Income guidelines for Georgia. Applicants must also provide the following documents: proof of household income, Social Security cards for all household members, valid photo ID for all adult household members and a recent copy of their household energy bill. Applicants are served on a first-come, first serve basis until funding runs out.

Unemployment Insurance

If your job has been impacted by COVID-19 and you need to file for unemployment, visit the Georgia Department of Labor’s website at https://dol.georgia.gov.

Internet Service

As parents are required to teach their children at home for the remainder of the school year, some companies are offering free and low-cost internet service. To ensure families maintain reliable access to online resources and the information they need, Charter Spectrum will offer free Spectrum broadband and Wi-Fi access for 60 days to households with K-12 and/or college students who do not already have a Spectrum broadband subscription. This offer is for any service level up to 100 Mbps. To enroll, call 1-844-488-8395. Installation fees will be waived for new student households.

Charter will also open its Wi-Fi hotspots for public use. In addition, Charter will continue to offer Spectrum Internet Assist, a high-speed broadband program to eligible low-income households that delivers speeds of 30 Mbps.

For more information, visit https://corporate.charter.com/newsroom/charter-to-offer-free-access-to-spectrum-broadband-and-wifi-for-60-days-for-new-K12-and-college-student-households-and-more.

Job Openings

If you’re looking for employment during this crisis, some essential businesses, such as grocery stores, retail stores, restaurants and online retailers, are hiring. Some of these companies include ALDI, Amazon, Dollar General, Dollar Tree, Dominos, FedEx, Kroger, Lowe’s, Papa John’s, Publix, Walgreens and Walmart. Also, some hospitals and healthcare organizations are hiring for a variety of positions.

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