Update on Unemployment Programs: What You Should Know about the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021

Unemployment programs have been incredibly important throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. When the global health crisis first began, many businesses shut down and the unemployment rate spiked almost immediately. Now, over a year since the initial outbreak, many businesses have been able to adjust to the “new normal” and hiring is picking back up. However, many people are still out of work, and thankfully there is still relief. Here is a quick look at some of the important updates you should know.

On March 11, 2021, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 into law (also known as ARPA). This law is the most recent in a line of pandemic-related legislation going back to early last year. The CARES Act was the first legislation. It was followed by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (which included the Continued Assistance for Unemployed Workers Act), and now ARPA. ARPA arrived just in time and extended provisions in the previous Continued Assistance for Unemployed Workers Act which expired March 14. Here is a closer look at some of the important provisions regarding unemployment benefits under this new law.

Unemployment Benefits

Legislation during the pandemic has created a robust framework of various unemployment programs. Here are some of the most important ways ARPA affects the different programs:

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC). This program provides unemployment benefits even after you exhaust state your state unemployment compensation benefits. You can think of this program as essentially extending the period of time you can collect unemployment. Though the money comes from the federal government, this program is designed to essentially work like an extension of your usual state benefits, and the program is administered by each state.  ARPA extends PEUC benefits up to a maximum of 53 weeks and through September 6, 2021.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). This program temporarily provides unemployment insurance to freelancers, self-employed individuals, and other workers who would usually not be eligible. ARPA provides for a maximum duration of PUA benefits of 79 weeks (up to 86 weeks for individuals in those states with high levels of unemployment) and it extended the program through September 6, 2021.

Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC): This program originally provided an extra $600 per week in unemployment benefits in addition to state benefits. The program was extended by the Consolidated Appropriations Act through March 14, 2021, but at a reduced benefit level of $300 per week. ARPA extended the program through September 6, 2021, and the amount remains at $300.

Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation (MEUC). This program was not part of the CARES Act. Instead, it was created by the Continued Assistance for Unemployed Workers Act. This program is designed to help workers who have self-employment income and traditional income (i.e. reported on a W-2). It provides assistance to eligible workers who earn at least $5,000 in self-employment income, are not in the PUA program, and who are eligible to receive state unemployment. The MEUC program is extended through September 6, 2021, under ARPA.

Income Tax Waiver

One of the big “gotchas” with unemployment benefits (both before and during COVID-19) has been that the benefits are considered taxable income. ARPA has provided some relief on this issue. ARPA provides a tax break by waiving federal tax on $10,200 of unemployment benefits collected in 2020. This applies to each taxpayer who earns less than $150,000. Many, but not all, states are offering similar tax waivers for state taxes.

Moving Forward

As you can see, ARPA has brought about many important changes. Perhaps most importantly, key unemployment programs have been extended, and there is a tax break for the benefits received last year. Gig workers may also find some additional assistance as they now have PUA and MEUC as potential relief options.

If you are unemployed, you not only need to determine the right benefits options, but you also need a structured budget and financial plan. The NFCC can help. Contact an NFCC-certified credit counselor to get started.

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Freddie Mac Resources for Homeownership: In Times of Crisis, #HelpStartHere

There’s no question the COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented economic hardship for so many, including those struggling to make their mortgage payments. To help arm consumers with the knowledge they need to make proactive and informed decisions now and in the future Freddie Mac launched #HelpStartsHere, an initiative focused with providing affected homeowners with options to stay in their homes.

Homeowner Resources

As part of the #HelpStartsHere initiative we’re pleased to share two key resources that were developed to help educate you and address the housing challenges you may be facing.

Sustaining Homeownership in a Crisis: An Interactive Guide for Homeowners

This interactive guide, available in English and Spanish, provides information and resources on:

How mortgage servicers can help clients that have experienced job loss, reduced income, illness or other issues related to COVID-19 that impacts their ability to make their monthly mortgage payment.
Steps to take to stay organized and on track if you pursue mortgage relief options.
Avoiding scams such as “foreclosure rescue fraud.”

Overcoming Today’s Homeownership Challenges

This online resource, available in English and Spanish, guides borrowers who are seeking assistance as they look to evolve post-COVID. There are four profiles featured, each facing different challenges and seeking guidance:

Existing homeowners who developed a workout plan with their Servicer but are uncertain of their future options.
First-time or new homebuyers facing a COVID-19 hardship.
Borrowers looking to sell their home during COVID conditions.
Future homebuyers seeking financial planning and mortgage assistance.

CreditSmart® Homebuyer U – Now Available in Spanish!

In addition to our #HelpStartsHere resources Freddie Mac offers CreditSmart® Homebuyer U,

a comprehensive homeownership education course offered through an interactive, guided experience. It offers six modules, each focused on key learning principles to promote education, homebuyer preparedness and financial management.

If you’re struggling to make your mortgage payments due to the COVID-19 pandemic, or wish to refresh your learnings about homeownership sustainability, we encourage you to turn to CreditSmart Homebuyer U with particular focus on Module 6: Preserving Homeownership.

Module 1: Overview and Introduction of the Homebuying Process
Module 2: Managing Your Money
Module 3: Your Credit and Why It Is Important
Module 4: Getting a Mortgage
Module 5: Finding a Home and Closing on a Loan
Module 6: Preserving Homeownership

Participants will enjoy numerous benefits including:

Ability to toggle between English and Spanish translation throughout the course.
Flexibility to take the course at your own pace using multiple devices (mobile phone, tablet, desktop).
Functionality allows users to log in/out of the tutorial from any device while saving progress on-demand.
Compatibility with multiple internet browsers.
Convenient access to course completion certificate.
User support available in English and Spanish.

Printable certificate of completion with the user’s name is generated after successfully completing the final quiz. A copy of the certificate can also be provided to a co-borrower, the lender or other housing professional.

The successful completion of this tutorial satisfies the homeownership education requirement for the Freddie Mac HomeOneSM and Home Possible® mortgages which offer a low, 3% down payment option.

During uncertain times and financial hardship understanding the options available to sustain homeownership is vital to making proactive, informed decisions.

Help starts here ̶ with Freddie Mac.

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How to Set Realistic Financial Goals for 2021 and Reach Them, Despite Uncertainty

For most people, 2020 has been a challenging year. From the COVID-19 pandemic to the subsequent recession to the many unprecedented political and cultural events, this year has been one for the history books. While most are hoping that 2021 is nothing like 2020, the reality is that the future is uncertain.

As you think ahead to 2021—and having a clean slate in the new year—financial goals may be your top priority. Here are some tips for making realistic financial goals and reaching them, so that 2021 can be a major “bounce back” year for you.

Basic Rules for Goal Setting

You may have heard of the SMART goal system, but here’s a reminder. Goals should be:


We’re focusing on the “A” for attainable, but you will want to keep all of these in mind as you create goals. If you create an attainable goal—meaning that it is realistic and manageable—but you fail to put a time parameter on the goal, then it may not be very effective. Similarly, a goal could be realistic but not very specific. This could mean that you wouldn’t even be able to say with certainty that you completed your goal because it was not clearly defined. You get the idea—just keep this SMART system in mind and make sure each individual goal meets all the criteria.

What makes a goal realistic or “attainable”?

To be a realistic goal, the goal needs to be within reach. However, don’t fall for the temptation of thinking that only easy goals are realistic. It’s actually very important that you set goals that will motivate you, and very easy goals often are not motivating. On the other hand, you do not want to set a goal that is too difficult to complete, because that may not be realistic and could lead to burnout. You are really looking for the sweet spot of something that is challenging but not so difficult that you have a high likelihood of failure. When setting a realistic goal, it may be helpful to do the following:

Ask yourself if this is a relatively small or large goal. Is it short-term or long-term? For larger and long-term goals, you will need to make sub-goals, which are milestones along the way.
Research your proposed goal. Can you find stories or data about other people who have achieved the same goal? If no one has ever accomplished it before, then it may not be realistic.
Assess your starting point. Even if you know a goal is achievable, make sure that it is achievable from your starting point.
Find what motivates you. Motivation is the secret sauce when it comes to goal setting and goal achievement. When you’re motivated, you can do more than when you’re not. Use motivation to set harder goals than you would otherwise, but you also need to find ways to stay motivated as you work toward your goal.

Tips for Financial Goals

There are some specific strategies available that can help you achieve your financial goals. After all, financial goals are some of the most common new year’s resolutions. These include, paying off debt, building an emergency fund, and saving for a specific expense like college or homeownership. Using these strategies can help ensure you don’t fall short of whatever goal you set.

These are not sophisticated strategies by any means, either. Instead, think of them as basic habits you will need to implement in order to maintain financial success and stability

Budget Before, During, and After

We can’t overstate the importance of budgeting. When it comes to achieving your goals, your budget will be the ultimate road map. Hopefully, you already have a budget. If so, that will give you a clear “starting point.” But if not, the important thing is to maintain a budget moving forward.

A good budgeting system will give you a real-time way to check in on how you’re doing. Are you staying within your spending constraints in various categories? Has your income picked up or dropped off? Where do you need to cut back, or where can you put extra funds when your income changes? A good budget holds the answers to all of these questions.

Save as Much as Possible

Many, if not all, financial goals involve saving to different degrees. The more you save, the more flexibility you will have and the more purchase power you will have. Take a critical look now at the categories in your budget to see where you can make cuts. Every extra dollar you save will be an extra dollar toward your financial goals.

Have an Emergency Fund

Building on the previous point, it is important to build an emergency savings fund equal to six months’ expenses or more. You will want to do this as soon as possible, so it may even be your first major financial goal. Given all the economic uncertainty around us, this step can provide much needed stability.

Assess Your Credit

Many goals also involve credit health, directly or indirectly. Having good credit is an important piece of your financial puzzle. Remember that you can review your report for free at annualcreditreport.com. You should do this frequently to track your progress and ensure your reports are accurate.

Have Accountability

It is easier to stick to a plan when you have someone supporting you along the way. Find a trusted relative or friend with whom you can be open about your finances and goals. Ideally, this would be someone who has already achieved the goals you are working on, or who is on a successful financial path themselves.

Good Luck Achieving Your Goals!

Remember to make SMART goals. A major factor is that your goals should be attainable, which means they should be realistic and manageable for you. By implementing some basic financial strategies and habits, you will be well on your way. If you’d like help with your financial goals, particularly with credit or debt, learn more about credit counseling or get started today.

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Where to Apply for Jobs During the Pandemic – Who’s Hiring?

If you’re out of work because your position was cut during the pandemic, you are certainly not alone. Many service-based industries have made substantial job cuts since March, and the employment landscape is constantly shifting beneath our feet. Hopefully, you are already taking the basic steps of staying in touch with your state unemployment office to make sure you receive your benefits. That office should also be able to point you to many resources that could help in your job search. However, you might also consider that some industries and sectors in the economy are hiring right now and may be more stable in the future. Here are some jobs you may consider moving forward.

Sectors that Jumped in August

The most recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that a few industries made impressive hiring gains in August. Government hiring was up significantly, mainly due to positions related to the census. Retail added almost 250,000 jobs, professional and business services accounted for 197,000 new positions, 174,000 people started jobs in leisure and hospitality, 90,100 people were hired in health care and social assistance, and the transportation and warehousing sector added 78,100 jobs.

Some of these sectors, most notably leisure and hospitality, were hit hard by the pandemic and many of these “new” jobs might just be filling roles that went away when the pandemic began. Still, these numbers provide some hope for workers seeking employment in restaurants, bars, and other travel or hospitality settings.

Big Employers

The current environment, with future economic uncertainty still looming, may make the perfect time for joining a large established company. Large employers can often offer stability when others cannot. This is particularly true when the company’s business model is well-suited for the realities of the life during the pandemic. Enter Amazon.

Amazon’s hiring plans have made major headlines this year. As MarketWatch reports, just this month Amazon announced 33,000 new jobs in its corporate and technology divisions, and today it announced 100,000 new positions. This is actually the fourth major hiring announcement Amazon has made this year.

Amazon is not the only company on a hiring spree this year. Other companies with business models related to online shopping and shipping/transportation having been doing quite well and hiring new workers.

And that industry is not the only game in town, either. Companies in other industries are hiring, too. the Muse has published a list of large companies hiring during COVID-19, covering a wide array of industries and job types.

Small Businesses

Working for a large company has its perks, but you may also want to consider smaller businesses. Some small businesses are beginning to hire more regularly, after weathering the initial storm of the pandemic. Before COVID-19, the low unemployment rate had made it hard for some small businesses to attract and retain good employees. Now that more people are looking for jobs, good opportunities at small businesses may be more competitive.

If a small business made it through the pandemic and is hiring full-time positions now, that may be a positive indicator of the company’s stability moving forward. Definitely don’t count out successful, smaller employers.

Pandemic-Proof Occupations

One way to think about a job search is by asking who is hiring now. Another way is to think about which jobs are pandemic-proof. The disruption of the pandemic has divided jobs into those that are “essential” and those that are not. With a potential second wave on the horizon, or even without a second wave, many job-seekers may prefer the stability that comes with an essential role.

The Economic Policy Institute has labelled the following sectors “essential.” That is not to say that these sectors did not experience declines this year. Instead, it is an indicator that they were most resilient. It could be a smart move to transition to one of these career fields, though most will require specific skill-sets and training:

Food and agriculture
Emergency services
Transportation, warehouse, and delivery
Industrial, commercial, residential facilities and services
Health care
Government and community-based services
Communications and IT
Financial sector
Energy sector
Water and wastewater management
Chemical sector
Critical manufacturing

Moving Forward

Being out of a job is difficult, but there are some promising signs that hiring will continue improving in certain sectors. Consider learning any new skills required, dusting off your resume, and taking advantage of the opportunities that are available in the job market now. Even if landing a dream job is not an option right now, you will likely be much better off by getting full-time employment and then continuing to look for a better fit in the future.

If your employment situation is having a negative impact on your personal finances and credit, talk to a credit counselor for free help.


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Using Your PPP Loan as a Self-Employed Worker

When the coronavirus pandemic forced businesses across the country to close, the government created the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to give small businesses an immediate influx of cash via forgivable loans. What you may not have known is that sole proprietors, independent contractors, and gig workers are also eligible for PPP.

Although the PPP expired in August, Congress is in talks to renew the program in the coming months. If you’re a sole proprietor, independent contractor, or gig worker who has been impacted by the pandemic, PPP may be a great option for you.

How Can You Use PPP?

Self-employed workers are subject to different rules than other small businesses when it comes to PPP. That’s because they likely have different needs and operate under different business models. In order to qualify for total loan forgiveness, you must meet a couple of criteria.

Owner Compensation Replacement

A new rule issued by the SBA allows self-employed workers to use up to 2.5 months’ worth of their loan during a 24-week period to effectively pay one’s own salary. Because the self-employed tend not to have employees, “Owner Compensation Replacement” allows you to use PPP money as a payroll source for yourself and still receive complete forgiveness on the loan. 

To calculate the amount of Owner Compensation Replacement that is eligible for forgiveness, you multiply your reported net income in 2019 on your Schedule C business tax return by 2.5/12 (or 0.208). This will likely amount to your entire PPP loan assuming it did not factor in additional payroll expenses.

So, someone who reported a business net income of $50,000 in 2019 would be eligible to receive a fully forgivable $10,400 loan over an eight-week period. After that, any additional PPP funds you receive will need to be spent on business expenses in order to be forgiven.

Self-employed individuals with multiple businesses are capped at $20,833 in owner compensation. 

For independent contractors and gig economy workers, upon approval, eight weeks of PPP funding will be automatically forgiven as a salary replacement.

Other Business Expenses

Outside of Owner Compensation Replacement, there are stricter requirements for self-employed PPP recipients to qualify for forgiveness. The categories that are eligible for loan forgiveness are:

Rent on office space and equipment.
Business utilities like gas, water, cable, software and Internet.
Mortgage interest for pre-pandemic business property mortgages.
Required business services that support the production of your product or services.

Note that you cannot use PPP funds to pay for benefits like health insurance premiums or retirement benefits. Also, you cannot pay contract workers with your PPP funds; you may only use them to pay W-2 employees. However, you may choose to allocate your Owner Compensation Replacement funds to contractors, as the IRS does not dictate how to use income with this classification.

Applying for PPP Forgiveness

To apply for PPP loan forgiveness, self-employed individuals can use the simplified Form 3508EZ. As long as you don’t have employees on payroll, this form applies to you. If you do have payroll expenses, you can use the standard Form 3508.

When you apply, you’ll need to submit a Schedule C from your 2019 tax return showing the income and expenses from your sole proprietorship. You’ll also need a 2019 IRS Form 1099-MISC detailing all non-employee compensation, invoices, bank statements, or a book of record that proves you’re self-employed.

Typically, lenders will take up to 60 days to make an assessment on loan forgiveness.

If you don’t seek forgiveness, you can alternatively choose to carry the loan balance at 1% interest for two to five years. That interest rate would likely be the lowest you could get on the open market by a wide margin. Although PPP loans were always intended to be forgiven, and you may not prefer to pay interest on a loan, the option is there if for some reason you can’t qualify for loan forgiveness. It’s still better than applying for an ordinary SBA or bank loan.

The Bottom Line

You don’t need employees to qualify for loan forgiveness under the Paycheck Protection Program. The PPP has specific rules for self-employed workers, independent contractors, and gig workers that allow them to reclaim salary lost due to the pandemic. But in order to receive full loan forgiveness, you must meet a couple of requirements. Now, you should know how to take full advantage if PPP continues in the future.


About the Author: Sally Lauckner is the editor-in-chief at Fundera, a marketplace for small business financial solutions. With over a decade of experience in print and online journalism, Sally has written and edited extensively on small business and personal finance. Sally has a master’s degree in journalism from New York University and a bachelor’s degree in English and history from Columbia University. 

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What the President’s Executive Actions Mean for Your Finances: Student Loans, Unemployment and Housing

Millions of Americans have been watching the developments in Washington D.C. closely in recent weeks. With the pandemic and its economic effects lingering, many looked to Congress to pass additional relief, potentially including more stimulus checks to Americans. However, with talks in Congress stalling, President Trump signed executive orders and memoranda on several key issues. Notably, these did not include direct checks. This does not mean that Congress will not further deliberate, and it is still possible that Congress will pass a bill providing additional relief. But for now, here is what you need to know about a few key topics—evictions, unemployment benefits, and student loans—after the President’s recent actions.

Evictions (No Federal Moratorium for Now)

President Trump signed an executive order related to assistance for renters and homeowners, but this order is limited. The CARES Act had previously created a moratorium on evictions for federally subsidized housing and properties with federally-backed mortgages. However, those protections expired on July 25. The new executive order does not renew this moratorium or create a new moratorium. Instead, it directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Director of CDC to consider whether additional eviction protections are necessary. It also directs other federal agencies to take steps toward helping tenants during this time.

What should you do? The good news here is that this may lead to some additional protections for renters in the near future. But as of now, there is no widespread protection or moratorium from the federal government. If you are at risk of eviction, you should follow our tips in this post, specifically about knowing the current law in your state (some states have their own moratoriums or other restrictions) and contacting legal aid or other groups for help.

Student Loans

In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump administration announced a plan for federal student loan relief that involved suspending payments and temporarily reducing interest rates to zero percent. The CARES Act later extended this program, and set an expiration date of September 30, 2020. In an executive memorandum signed last week, President Trump extended these protections through December 31, 2020.

What should you do? First, you must remember that this only applies to federal student loans. If you have private student loans, you need to continue making payments or working within whatever arrangement you have made with your lender. In the case of federal loans, you likely will not need to contact your servicers in order to have your payments paused through the end of the year—this is supposed to happen automatically. Still, keep an eye on your statements and other communications to be sure.

If you are in the fortunate position of having money left over each month to put toward your student loans (and you don’t have other debt with higher interest rates), then continuing to aggressively pay the loans may be a great move. After all, the loans will be much cheaper in the long run if you prevent as much interest from accumulating. The order specifically allows for you to continue making payments if you would like.

On the other hand, if you are not in a position to be repaying your loans currently, think of this order as a measure that can buy you some more time. Start setting aside money for when your monthly payments begin again next January. Reevaluate your budget and make additional cuts if you can, to help free up more funds for your savings and future loan payments.

Unemployment Benefits

The $600 in additional unemployment benefits, called for by the CARES Act, has expired. In response, President Trump signed a memorandum calling for a “lost wages assistance program” that would work similarly to the previous program but provide $400 in extra weekly benefits instead. Importantly, this new program has a new eligibility requirement: in order to receive the extra $400, you must be receiving at least $100 in state unemployment. This means if you receive less than $100 in state unemployment benefits, you will not be eligible. One economist estimates that this will exclude about six percent of unemployed people.

The other details of this program are still coming together. The President’s action calls for states to provide 25 percent of the funding, something states may not be able to do for very long. The program has multiple scenarios under which it could end, with one potential ending date of December 6, 2020.

Out of all the executive actions, this may be the one to watch most closely. It arguably presents the greatest logistical challenges, especially given that states have struggled to handle abrupt changes in unemployment benefits and have constrained budgets.

What should you do? First, do not rely on receiving these extra benefits in the immediate future. There is no guarantee that the new program will be implemented in your state right away. Follow the news to learn about the developments of this issue, and stay in touch with your state unemployment office for the latest information and any action required on your part.

These changes may impact your situation. And, there may be more helpful changes and programs on the horizon. For now, continue focusing on what you can control, like maintaining a budget and trying to stick to it each month. We are here to help, contact a credit counselor for a free review of your situation.

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Tips for Renters and Landlords as the Eviction Moratorium Expires

An important protection for renters created by the CARES Act ended on July 25. Commonly referred to as an “eviction moratorium,” the protection applied to approximately 25 percent of renters nationwide and helped ensure that they would not be evicted during the ongoing health crisis of COVID-19. Now, this provision has expired, along with some states’ separate eviction moratoriums. On top of this, the $600 additional unemployment benefit created by the CARES Act has expired, too. As these critical programs come to an end, many fear that evictions will increase significantly. Here are some tips for tenants and landlords to navigate their housing situations in this new landscape.

Know Your State’s Law

The federal eviction moratorium only applied to subsidized housing and housing with a federally backed mortgage loan. It was estimated that this covered 25 percent of renters. While 25 percent is a substantial amount, the federal law left many unprotected. States stepped in to fill the gap, with many creating their own state-wide eviction moratoriums.

With the federal moratorium ending, it is important to be familiar with your state’s law. You need to know if your state has an ongoing moratorium. If it does, you need to know when that will expire. Every state is handling this differently. In Virginia, for example, the original moratorium had been extended but officially expired in late June. The governor then requested that local courts continue the moratorium, leaving it to their discretion. Therefore, in Virginia, whether or not you are currently protected from eviction depends on the policy of the city or county in which you reside.

As you can see, this can get confusing. There are some resources to help you quickly learn the current law in your state. You could check out the Eviction Lab’s COVID-19 Housing Policy Scorecard, which tracks current policies in every state. Nolo has a similar guide. You may also consult your local legal aid organization. Legal aid groups have been on the frontlines of advocacy for tenant’s rights during the pandemic, and their staffs will be able to provide up-to-date-information. You might even start by visiting their website or Facebook page to get recent updates and information.

Be Aware of Future Changes

Congress is in the midst of approving a second stimulus bill. You should stay aware of the negotiations and be informed about the terms of the new law once it takes effect. While no one knows for sure what the new bill will include, it is possible that it could extend the eviction moratorium or create some new form of housing protection.

Watch Out for Misleading Tactics

Despite the moratorium, some landlords have resorted to misleading tactics, which could confuse tenants about their right and cause them to leave the property prematurely. One thing to keep in mind is that landlords must give 30-days’ notice before eviction. That notice cannot be given until after the moratorium. So even though the moratorium ended July 25, you have until at least late August before you can be evicted. Landlords may be deceptively threatening eviction sooner, or attempted to send notices prior to July 25.

Also, some landlords may dispute that they are a “covered property” and therefore may argue that the moratorium does not apply to them. If you need to confirm that your property was subject to the moratorium for any reason, check out the database created by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, which identifies most covered properties.

Again, you should also consider reaching out to a legal aid organization, other attorney, or tenants’ rights group for further assistance should you become the target of eviction proceedings that you believe may violate your rights.

Work Together When Possible

Landlords and tenants alike may find that working together will lead to the best solution. Given the widespread unemployment and harsh economic downturn caused by the pandemic, tenants may have more leverage than usual when it comes to negotiating. Landlords may feel that it will not be very easy to replace tenants, particularly those with strong payment records before the pandemic. Landlords also may also be understanding about the unique challenges involved in this situation, and be flexible in making alternative payment arrangements. HUD offers some advice about working with your landlord, including being candid about the specifics of your hardship, and keeping records of all communications.

Use Available Resources

Remember that you are not alone. Many people are working tirelessly on this issue. If you need help, consider reaching out to your local housing resources, including legal aid or other tenants’ rights groups. NFCC-certified agencies can also help with rental counseling or budget and credit counseling, which may help you restructure your personal budget and debt obligations in order to make your rent payments. Make sure you stay informed about your rights, follow any developments in a new stimulus bill, and remain in close communication with your landlord.

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How to Prepare Financially for When Your $600 of Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Ends

If you have been receiving an extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits—through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program, you should know that those benefits are set to expire very soon. That money may have been helping you hold together your budget during these uncertain times, and having it stop suddenly may pose financial challenges. Here are some tips on how to prepare for this upcoming change.


As a quick refresher, the FPUC program was created by the CARES Act. It provides $600 per week in federal unemployment benefits in addition to unemployment benefits that come directly from your state. According to the CARES Act, the program runs from April 5 to July 31. However, the real “end” date for the program is based on how your state runs its calendar for processing benefits. In most states, the FPUC program—and thus the $600 weekly payment—ends July 25 or 26.

Note: The FPUC program is one part of the broader “Pandemic Unemployment Assistance” (PUA). PUA has another component called the Pandemic Unemployment Emergency Compensation (PUEC), which provides an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits beyond what your state provides. The PUEC program remains in effect until December 31, 2020.

Planning for the Change

Since the income under the FPUC program is coming to an end very soon, here are some steps you can take to prepare.

#1 Stay Informed

You may have seen recent media coverage about the “next stimulus bill,” and you may have heard significant speculation about what it will include. Of course, any speculation is just a guess at this point, but you will want to be aware of any new changes that take effect. It is possible that the FPUC program could be extended or that a similar program could be created. There has also been discussion of bonuses for going back to work, which could affect your job searching strategy. You do not necessarily have to worry about every detail being discussed in Congress, but you will want to know the ins and outs of any new law that takes effect, since it will likely impact you directly.

#2 Save Up Now

Even though the end of the FPUC program is right around the corner, choices you make now could pay dividends for weeks, if not months, into the future. Set aside as much extra money from your final FPUC payments as possible. Padding your savings account may provide some much-needed reserves later.

#3 Keep Looking for Work

If you have been actively searching for employment opportunities, keep up the efforts. It can be difficult and disheartening to go through an extended period of unemployment, but your big break may be just around the corner. You might want to consider other sectors and industries. CNN put together a list of companies that are hiring during the pandemic. Given the nature of COVID-19, there can be an understandable degree of hesitation about working environments and an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19. Thankfully, many employers have created protocols to protect workers, but you will have to assess your level of comfort for each opportunity you consider. Also, remember that a back-to-work bonus could be part of a future stimulus bill.

#4 Cut Expenses

This sounds a bit cliché, but it is true regardless—when money is tight you will need to cut expenses as much as possible, in addition to attempting to increase your income. We have written about some cost-saving ideas during COVID-19, and now is a good time to implement those strategies if you haven’t already.

#5 Ask for Help

If the change in income puts you in financial bind, consider asking for help to get you through the transition period. This could take many different forms such as negotiating with your landlord to delay rent, receiving assistance from family members, or tapping into community resources to help you meet your basic needs. If you’re juggling credit card debt along with everything else, then credit counseling also may be able to help.

Change is around the corner, and the end of the $600 benefit may create a challenging transition period for you. Stay informed, keep making every effort to stretch your budget, and know that the NFCC is here to help should you need it.



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How the Coronavirus is Impacting the Military Community

As the effects of the Coronavirus linger and continue to impact millions of Americans, one group of consumers—members of the U.S. military—faces additional challenges and hardships. Of particular concern are costs created by restrictions on travel (especially during the peak military moving season) and hardships related to changes in employment. Here is a closer look at these negative impacts, along with resources for affected service members and their families.

Housing Costs

For most people, housing is one of the biggest line items in a monthly budget. For some in the military, this line item has doubled because of the Coronavirus. Military families planning to move as part of a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) may be paying rent or a mortgage on two properties. That is because many families had developed their plan for moving to a new location, including signing a lease or mortgage, only to find out shortly thereafter that COVID-19 would derail those plans. The Department of Defense announced a Stop Movement Order in March, and that order has been extended at least to June 30.

This can be especially problematic for families who were moving to a more expensive area. Their compensation may be scheduled to increase (adjusted for the higher cost of living), but the increase has not taken effect yet because they have not moved. Therefore, some families may be on the hook for more expensive properties but do not yet have an increased salary. And in some cases, families have lost their earnest money deposit (made as part of a home purchase to show good faith that a buyer intends to move forward with the purchase), again because of circumstances outside of their control.

Housing costs are not the only expense that has resulted from this situation. Many families may have already moved some of their belongings, anticipating that they would be without them for just a few weeks. Now that those items have been shipped or stored, and families are left stranded, many have incurred replacement costs to cover essential items like clothing and toiletries.

This PCS season has been far from ideal, and the impact has been widespread. An Army spokesperson told CNBC that approximately 24,000 families were affected in the Army alone. Affected personnel and their families can review these policies and tips to learn more about potential options available that may help offset the hardships associated with a delayed PCS. Service members may also look into the mortgage forbearance options provided under the CARES Act.

More generally, affected families should try to cut as many nonessential expenses as possible. If a family does not have a formal budget in place, now would be the perfect time to make one and to keep it relatively lean. Though the situation is still unfolding, families can develop some sense of certainty by making a plan and sticking to it.

Alternative Work Arrangements and Spouses’ Employment

Like other industries, the military has been forced to adapt its procedures to meet the demands of the COVID-19 environment. This means engaging in careful consideration of what is “essential” and what must be done on site or can be done remotely. These decisions are certainly more difficult in the context of an institution designed to serve and protect us. The Department of Defense has published extensive guidelines on these policies, which also cover impacts to pay and benefits.

Military spouses are also facing new challenges which can affect a family’s financial stability. Spouses may be facing additional responsibilities at home, particularly related to childcare. Given widespread unemployment across the country, many spouses have lost jobs or faced reduced hours as a result of COVID-19 as well.

Other Challenges

These stressors may make it harder for families to meet their basic needs. Some families face food insecurity, and on-base food pantries have reported increased demand. Many military families are ineligible for additional benefits that could help, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), sometimes due to the size of their housing allowance. In addition to finding support on base, these families can consult this extensive list of resources for help.

The pandemic has created an environment that takes its toll on mental health, with most Americans reporting that they experienced financial stress from COVID-19. Service members and their families may struggle to see the light at the end of the tunnel, given the unique challenges they face. Thankfully, there are many resources available both to the general public and through the Department of Defense.

Moving Forward

Military families are battling many of the same challenges that other Americans are facing as a result of the Coronavirus. However, their hardships may be more pronounced as a result of the military lifestyle. If you or someone you know is facing increased expenses or hardship because of PCS, reduced hours or unemployment, food insecurity, or some other financial challenge, consider speaking with an NFCC-certified credit counselor to help review the situation and make a plan for the future.

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Scam Alert: Watch Out for these COVID-19 Scams

Consumers already have a lot on their minds right now, given the ongoing economic roller coaster ride, which shows no end in sight. Add one more item of concern to that list: pervasive and malicious scams. Of course, scamming activity is always a threat, but consumers should be on even higher alert now. Scammers like to take advantage of chaotic situations, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. Here is a closer look at some common scams and tips for avoiding them and protecting your personal information.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Coronavirus Treatments 

These two schemes prey directly on people’s concerns about the Coronavirus and their efforts to keep themselves and others safe. The first involves fake offers for PPE or for equipment used to manufacture PPE. In one variation of the scam, a fake seller will offer PPE, will only want to discuss the sale via telephone or email, and will demand payment immediately. The buyer is left with no way to verify the seller’s credentials. Chances are, if the seller will not prove their existence and legitimacy as a distributor of PPE, it’s a scam.

Another variation may involve a work-from-home scheme, advertised as a way to earn money by making PPE for other people. Sounds like a great thing, right? But here’s the problem: the “employer” will require payment for some type of manufacturing equipment. Again, the seller/employer will be impossible to verify. Don’t fall for it.

Another scam involves the promise of Coronavirus treatments. This scam boils down to false advertising. You might actually get something in return for your money, but it will be merely an unverified “treatment” with no scientific basis as a cure or preventative treatment. The FTC has cracked down against companies advertising these treatments, and reports that most have stopped. So, this scam may pose less of a threat in the future.

Tips: Do not pay for PPE (or anything else for that matter!) without verifying the legitimacy of the seller in multiple channels. Remember that there is no proven, publicly available Coronavirus treatment.

Contact Tracing and Mobile Banking Apps

As you may have heard, contact tracing is an important tool used by health officials to limit the spread of Coronavirus. It allows officials to find and notify the people who have been in contact with someone known to have the virus. Scammers are taking advantage by sending text messages telling people they have been exposed to the virus. The texts include malicious links, which when clicked can place dangerous software on your phone and potentially grant access to sensitive information. This scam may also include phone calls, in which a fake “health official” asks for information like your social security number.

Through this scam or others like it, spammers can put trojans or other malicious software on your phone. These sophisticated tricks can replicate applications on your phone to look like the real application, but are actually additional “layers” that steal your information (account names, numbers, passwords, etc.). As people are staying in their homes more, mobile banking is becoming more popular and is a particularly concerning target for these spammers. See this guidance from the FBI about how mobile banking scams work and steps you can take to improve your security.

Tips: Never give out your Social Security Number or other private personal information over the phone, particularly to someone who made an unsolicited call to you. Follow the general tips to be on guard against government impostor scams. Do not click links from text messages unless you are certain that the source can be trusted. Consider options to filter unwanted text messages on your phone. Use multi-factor authentication on your important accounts, to provide an extra layer of security between hackers and your accounts. If you have important information on your phone, consider backing up the device regularly.

Unemployment Benefits

Unemployment claims have increased significantly since the pandemic began, and the CARES Act expanded unemployment benefits. Now, scammers have devised a way to file for unemployment on your behalf and have the money routed to them. This specifically targets people who have not filed for unemployment. The FTC has called this a “large scale scam,” so you want to be on the lookout for suspicious activity. The tell-tale sign you have been affected is if you receive a letter about your unemployment benefits, but you never filed an application. If that happens, the FTC recommends that you notify your employer, report the fraud to your state unemployment office, report the fraud to the FTC, and review your credit reports. See their full recommendations here.

Tips: Keep a close eye on your mail during the pandemic. Do not throw mail from an unemployment office away thinking that it does not apply to you. If you receive a letter referencing an application for benefits that you did not submit, follow the FTC guidelines (linked above) immediately.

Utility Shutoffs

This is not a new or innovative scam, but it is a timely trick. With many people struggling to make ends meet, the threat of a utility shutoff may seem very real. However, you must be on the lookout for fraudsters who call, purporting to be your utility company. The scam can take many forms, including one where they do not claim you owe anything but actually claim that they need to process a refund! The absolute best rule is to hang up and call your utility company directly, using a trusted number from your bill or website. Also, check out the AARP’s guide to avoiding these scams.

Tips: Do not give any payment or other personal information to someone in an unsolicited “utilities” call. Call the utility company directly to inquire about the status of your account.

Be Careful!

As you can see, there are many ways that scammers are trying to take advantage of people in the current chaotic environment. Stay alert and follow these tips to avoid becoming a victim. If you are ever uncertain about whether a request is legitimate, remember that it is better to be safe than sorry.

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