Category: Preparedness

CARES Act: Housing

Millions are people are out-of-work, furloughed, or have had their hours reduced. One of the first payments that often goes when times are tough is the mortgage or rent payment. It is generally a person’s largest bill (representing 25-50% of many people’s budgets) and not making that large payment can be seen as a way to continue purchasing things that are necessary right then (such as food and utilities).

If you, or a client you are working with, is struggling there is some relief in the CARES Act.

As is always the case in situations like this, TALK WITH YOUR LANDLORD OR MORTGAGE SERVICER ahead of time. Let them know what is going on. There are programs and policies in place, not just with the CARES Act, but in many states, cities, and companies. Chances are there is a program in place to help, but your best bet is to contact them before the payment is due.

Let’s take a look at both rent/eviction and mortgages/foreclosure and what provisions are in the CARES Act for each.

RENT/EVICTION

It is estimated that 1/3 of Americans did not pay rent or only paid partial rent in April. Under the CARES Act tenants cannot be evicted for non-payment of rent if their landlord has a federally-backed mortgage (which would include, among others HUD, VA, USDA, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and public housing).

This moratorium on evictions last for 120 days starting on March 27, 2020. After that the tenant needs to be given 30 days notice before they can be evicted.

It is important to note that this is not free money or free rent – the rent is still due, and the tenant can be evicted after the moratorium is over. Also this provision only applies to non-payment of rent – eviction can continue for other reasons such as violating the terms of the lease or damage to the property.

No additional fees, penalties, or other charges can be added beyond the rent payment.

It is important to remember the effect this is having on landlords as well. For most landlords rentals are their livelihood and they are concerned about the implications of the economic shutdown on their business and on their tenants.

In addition to the CARES Act provisions, many states have passed laws temporarily banning evictions. Columbia Law School and other lawyers have put together a database that outlines eviction orders in place in all 50 states.

How do you know if your landlord has a federally-baked mortgage? The only way to find out for sure is to ask them. If the landlord is not forthcoming about information or they illegally start the eviction process (officially or unofficially) you may need to talk with a lawyer.

If you are a landlord it is possible to qualify for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan through the Small Business Administration. As of April 20 the program was out of money, but there is talk in DC about Stimulus 3.5 which would appropriate more money to the program. When (or if) a deal is reached, this article will be updated.

Landlords may also qualify for mortgage forbearance (described below) under the CARES Act.

MORTGAGES/FORECLOSURE

If you can pay your mortgage, pay your mortgage. If you cannot pay your mortgage, reach out to your servicer as soon as possible.

Under the CARES Act there is a moratorium on foreclosures for federally-backed mortgages, which includes U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), USDA, FHA, VA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac loans.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac hold about half the mortgage loans in the US. You can ask your servicer who backs your loan.

Under the CARES Act lenders cannot begin or finalize a foreclosure for 60 days starting March 18.

If a borrower cannot make their payment there is a forbearance provision available, which will pause or reduce payments. The borrower does not need to provide any documentation other than a statement that they need to take advantage of the forbearance.

The initial forbearance lasts for 180 days, with a 180 day extension available if needed.

During the forbearance only scheduled interest can accrue, and the loan has to be reported as current to the credit bureaus.

To take advantage of this borrowers need to contact their loan servicer. They should also discuss a plan for making up the payments in the future. For most borrowers that will mean re-casting their payments to the end of the loan term. Borrowers should avoid sending in partial payments unless their lender agrees to apply those payments to the balance and not end the forbearance.

On either a rental or mortgage deal you should get all provisions of the deal in writing.

 

CARES Act: Stimulus Checks

NOTE: Updated April 16, 2020 as a result of new information available.

As a result of the CARES Act, which became law on March 27, 2020, most Americans will receive stimulus checks.

Single taxpayers will get $1,200; married taxpayers will get $2,400; and for each child under the age of 17 parents will get $500.

Of course, there are some stipulations.

  • College students who are claimed as dependents on their parents tax return will not get a check.
  • College students who live on their own and are NOT claimed as dependents will get a check.
  • Even though the checks are being sent now, they are treated like a tax refund for 2020. More on this provision below.
  • Money will be direct deposited based on most recent filing direct deposit number, or mailed to the most recent address the IRS has on file.
  • You must have a Social Security Number to qualify, not a Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN).
  • There are income phase-outs. More information below.

Direct deposit started to go out April 11, and checks will start near the end of April. It is estimated that the checks could take until September to all be sent.

If you are not required to file and you do not want to wait for a check, you can fill out a form on the IRS website to give them direct deposit information. You can also check on the status of your check on the IRS Get My Payment page.

Income-Phase Outs

Single filers who earn between $75,000 – $99,000 will get a reduced amount. For every $100 earned over $75,000 their check will be reduced by $5. Here are some numbers for :

YOUR INCOMEYOUR CHECK
$75,000$1,200
$80,000$950
$85,000$750
$90,000$450
$95,000$200
$99,000+$0
Married filers who earn between $150,000 – $198,000 will get a reduced amount. For every $100 earned over $150,000 their check will be reduced by $5. Here are numbers for married filers:

YOUR INCOMEYOUR CHECK
$150,000$2,400
$160,000$1,900
$170,000$1,400
$180,000$900
$190,000$400
$198,000+$0

Payments will be increased by $500 multiplied by the number of children in the home.

Examples:

  • A married couple earns $125,000 and has 4 children ages 18, 15, 7, and 4. This couple will get:
    • $2,400
    • $500 x 3 (one child does not qualify because they are too old): $1,500
    • Total: $3,900
    • NOTE: The 18-year old is most likely claimed as a dependent on the couple’s tax return, which means that neither the child nor the parents get a check.
  • A single filer earns $40,000 and has one child. He or she will get:
    • $1,200
    • $500
    • Total: $1,700

Tax Return for 2020

The money will be paid out based on 2019 taxes, or if 2019 taxes have not been filed yet, on 2018 taxes. This will have an adverse effect on taxpayers who earned high incomes in 2018 or 2019, but are no longer earning as much because they have been laid off or had hours reduced due to the Coronavirus shutdown. Let’s say that a single taxpayer earned $85,000 in 2019. They will get a check for $700 now. If they lost their job in 2020 and earned $40,000 in 2020, they will get the other $500 when they file their 2020 taxes (which will be due April of 2021).

There are also going to be many children that will be born during 2020, but the parents will not get the $500 until they will their 2020 taxes.

What about the taxpayer who qualifies now for a larger check, but they have a child that turns 17 in 2020, or they get divorced, or they are earning more in 2020? They will get to keep the extra amount and not have to pay it back when they file their 2020 taxes.

Here’s an example:

Martha has one child, Missy, who turned 17 on January 1, 2020. Martha will get a check for $1,200 for herself and $500 for Missy, for a total of $1,700. Technically she should only get $1,200 since Missy turned 17 on January 1. Martha will not have to pay the $500 back when she files her 2020 taxes.

Debt Collection Issues

If you owe back taxes or student loans you will still get a check. If you owe back child support you will not get a check.

A big concern is for the 1/3 of Americans that are in collections for credit card, medical, or private student loan debts. The law does not shield the payments from private debt collectors. While I am strongly in favor of paying off your debts, this is not the time to be taking the stimulus money from those who are most in need of it. 25 state attorneys general have sent a letter to Secretary Mnuchin asking for the money to be protected from seizure, but no action has been taken by the Treasury department yet. Individual states can also protect the checks, but only a few have taken that step so far.

The National Consumer Law Center has recommended the checks be protected, and are recommending those who are at risk to move the money out of the account as soon as it arrives, or create a new account at a small bank or credit union, or wait to get a paper check and cash it. If you are at risk of having your check seized, read the National Consumer Law Center article.

Do you have any questions about the stimulus checks? If so, post them below.

This post will be updated as more information becomes available.

What to do if you lost your job or income

NOTE: This article will be updated as new guidelines or laws are passed about economic support during the Coronavirus pandemic.

NOTE: Updated 3/27/2020 due to the passage of the CARES Act.

I had to pick up some things at my office recently and as I walked the halls, generally full of students heading to classes, studying, eating, and just hanging out, I was struck by the quietness. I walked by the empty food court and locked computer labs. This is a familiar scene all over the world right now – businesses closed and many people working from home. Unfortunately, this is not the case for many workers. If their workplace is closed, they are not working from home. They are simply not getting paid.

If you are facing the loss of income because of the Coronavirus you are not alone. CNN reported that half of American workers are at risk of layoffs, furloughs, fewer hours or wage cuts, with about 20% of all jobs in America at high-risk.

Employees in the transportation, travel and tourism, hospitality, temporary help, and restaurant workers are going to be the hardest hit. While many employees are able to work from home, workers in these industries generally do not have that option. After all, if no one is getting their hair cut, or staying in hotels, or flying, or eating in restaurants, these service workers don’t have a job.

What should you do if you find yourself in a situation where your paycheck is affected?

Emotional support

If you are in this situation you are likely feeling a lot of emotions. Overwhelmed, panic, anger, sadness, and hopeless are the terms I most often hear. Allow yourself to feel those emotions, but if they start to become overwhelming reach out to someone for help. Don’t go through this alone – talk to a therapist, a religious leader, or a friend. If you or a loved one is having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Assess where you are now

Take some time and start to make a list of resources that you have available, including food, medicine, and other supplies. Do you have friends or family that you could stay with if needed? Do you know how to make low-cost meals? What about intangible resources such as a skill you could use to make some additional money?

The list below will have many additional resources that you may be able to utilize.

File for unemployment

The CARES Act expands unemployment insurance for four months and increases the benefit amount by $600 per week. It also eliminates the one-week waiting period, and it includes many workers who typically may not qualify, such as furloughed employees, freelancers, and gig economy workers.

It can take some time to work through the unemployment process, so if you are in this situation get your request in right away. You can find information about unemployment benefits here with a list of state offices here.

Temporary work

While many employers have had to lay off employees, others are hiring part and full-time workers, including Amazon, Costco, CVS, pizza chains, Dollar General, Walmart and more. USA Today has an article that links to many of the employer’s websites who are hiring.

Tax return

While the deadline to file taxes has been moved to July 15, if you are expecting a refund get your taxes filed right away. If you owe money you may want to consider waiting to file. If you need help filing your tax return, there are some Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites open (they are all practicing social distancing and limiting the number of people that can come in) or you can use IRS Free File. Information about both resources can be found here.

Student loan payments

Student loan payments are automatically suspended until September 30, 2020, and no interest will accrue during that time. Only certain loan qualify. More information about student loans can be found in my article Changes to Student Loans During the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Mortgage or rent payment

The CARES Act allows borrowers with loans owned by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA, VA, and RHS to suspend payments for 180 days, with a second 180 day extension available. During that time only regularly scheduled interest can accrue.

The CARES Act places a moratorium on certain eviction as well.

More information to follow about this topic.

Refinance

If your credit is good and your mortgage rate is at about 3.75% or above, contact several mortgage lenders to see if you can qualify for a lower rate with minimal out-of-pocket costs. If you have some equity in your home you may even be able to take some cash out to pay off some debt. Rates vary from day-to-day (or in some cases, hour-to-hour), but it is likely worth your time to contact some lenders. In addition, if you do refinance, you generally skip a payment in the process.

Utilities

While there are no specific federal guidelines regarding payment or shut-off of utilities, many states and companies have agreed to a moratorium on phone and utility terminations. Companies include Ameren, Dominion Energy, PG&E, Xcel Energy and many others. Contact your service providers if you are having trouble making your payments.

Food Stamps or SNAP

If you need help with food, file for Food Stamps, or SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) right away. The CARES Act provided additional money to the SNAP program to ensure the program can provide for those who need Food Stamps. You can find information here.

Government checks

Under the CARES Act many individuals and families will be getting checks. Individuals will receive $1,200 checks, married couples will receive $2,400, and families will receive $500 checks for each child under the age of 17. These amounts are phased-out for individuals who earn between $75,000 – $99,000, while married couples will be phased-out for those who earn between $150,000 – $198,000.

As an example, a family with a married couple and two children who earn $75,000 per year will get $3,400.

Income phase-outs will be determined by 2019 tax returns if they are filed, and 2018 taxes if not. If you do not file taxes there will be alternate methods to determine how to get checks.

While these checks will be helpful for many in making some payments or stimulating the economy, the IRS is saying it will likely take until at least May to get checks out.

I would urge consumers to consider using these checks to 1. get caught up on bills; 2. pay off debt; 3. establish an emergency fund; and 4. build up your food supply.

Plan for the future

As this pandemic passes and the economy starts to return to normal I would encourage you to start to make preparations for the future. We may or may not face something like this again, but many of us will face periods of economic uncertainty.

It makes sense for everyone to do a few things to prepare:

  • Get high interest debt paid off.
  • Build up an emergency fund with 3-6 months worth of expenses.
  • Build up a supply of food and other supplies you will actually use (dry beans, canned goods, etc.). Don’t panic buy – but build this up over time.

Conclusion

Hopefully this article has given you some resources/support that you can utilize to help you or a loved one get through this crisis.

If you have questions or comments, let’s start a conversation in the comments below.

I will update this article as more updates are released.

The Stock Market Rollercoaster

These graphs show the S&P 500 and DOW Jones averages since the beginning of 2020 through the close of the market on March 20, 2020:

Some “experts” are predicting it could go down another 20% before this is over. Maybe they are right. Maybe they are wrong. Maybe it will start going back up tomorrow, maybe it will drop another 30% or more. No one knows for sure. My crystal ball is out of order, so I certainly don’t know.

Investors are panicking and pulling money out of the market. I hear people use words like “stressful” “scared” and “worried” with only the occasional investor using the word “opportunity.”

Let’s address the stressed, scared, worried, panicking investors first.

If you have a financial advisor, this would be the time to call them. Actually, if they are a good financial advisor, they should have contacted you already. If they are avoiding you, it’s time to find a new advisor.

I could give you all the statistics about not missing the up days in the market, or not buying high and selling low, but stress and worry and being scared are emotions, not logic. Our brains have been wired to “fight, flee, faint, or freeze” when we deal with stressful situations, including stressful financial situations. Getting out of the market is our way of fleeing as we see our balances going down.

I would encourage you to pause. What are you investing for? Most people would say retirement or college or some other goal. What values are those goals based on?

Our behavior should be framed by our goals, which should be framed by our values. If your financial planner hasn’t done this with you, or if you don’t have a financial planner, here is an important question for you:

  • Why is money important to me?

Write down whatever answer comes to mind first. Let’s say you thought “security.” Write down security then ask:

  • Why is security important to me?

Keep this process going until you dig down to the deepest reason money is important to you. Don’t dismiss this as simplistic and unimportant! Pause the panic and do this exercise.

For me, money is important because it represents security, freedom, time, and the ability to support and spend time with my family. Money is simply a tool to help me live these values, and I invest in the market to help it grow. That is true in up markets, and honestly it is even more true in down markets.

For the average 40-year old they have years until they will need the money invested in the market, and years in retirement.

What about someone who is 60 and planning to retire in the next few years? First of all, you should probably be moving towards a more conservative portfolio if you don’t have time to weather the ups and downs of  the market. If that describes you, it is time to talk to a financial planner. Remember, however, that you likely have 20 or more years in retirement. Don’t panic and sell now or you lock in the losses that are just on paper now.

Many people can’t understand how some investors see this as an opportunity. How is it an opportunity? The stock market is on sale! You can buy additional shares of stock or mutual funds right now at a steep discount. America and the world will recover from this, and the market will go back up. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not next month, and maybe not this year, but it will recover.

Let’s say the stock of a company was trading at $30 a share and it is down to $15 right now. Instead of buying one share at $30 you can now buy two shares for that same $30. When the market recovers to $30 you now have two shares worth a total of $60. You can make much more money during a down market because of the discounts.

Can I share a few good investing principles with you to think about during the down times?

  • Only look at your balance once a quarter, at the most. How is my portfolio doing? I have no idea. I haven’t looked at it. Not because I am worried or scared, but because I don’t care. I’m not investing for the short term.
  • If you can put any extra money in the market right now, go for it!
  • If your financial advisor is avoiding you or not dealing with the emotions of investing, it is time to start looking for a new advisor. Ask any potential advisor lots of questions and make sure you feel comfortable with them.

If you have questions or want to talk more, let’s have a conversation. Contact me or leave a comment below.

Fires and Floods and Hurricanes, Oh My!

The government has ordered an evacuation of your city due to an impending weather event. You have 30 minutes to get out. Quick – what financial documents do you grab, and where are they?

This isn’t a difficult situation for any of us to imagine – evacuations are being ordered for fires, floods, hurricanes and other similar events happening all over the country. The important thing to remember, of course, is that human life, followed by memories, such as photo albums, are the most important. All your financial documents can be replaced. However, if you can grab them quickly and put them in your vehicle, it will make things so much easier as you deal with the consequences of the disaster, including the very real possibility that you won’t have a home to return to.

Unfortunately, for many people, their financial files look something like this:

 

I have a simple system for you to organize your documents so you can grab them quickly if you need to evacuate. Here are the tools you need:

  • Document safe
  • Hanging file folders
  • Cash
  • HomeFile Financial Planning Organizer Kit

Document Safe

You need either a fire resistant file safe or a fire and water resistant file safe. If you are in a flood prone area opt for the more expensive fire and water resistant safe. SentrySafe makes a good safe that you can find on Amazon:

Wal-mart and most other retailers will carry these safes as well.

 

Hanging File Folders

You need approximately 30 hanging file folders. You can find those on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/AmazonBasics-Hanging-File-Folders-Letter/dp/B00V5DG6IQ/

Place all the folders in the document safe. You may want some regular folders as well – for example, I have one folder for each person in my family where important documents for that family member are kept.

 

Cash

If you have to evacuate you may not have time to stop at an ATM, and even if you can they will not work if the power is down. I suggest keeping about $100 in cash in one of the folders in your safe. This will help you pay for some gas and food if needed.

 

HomeFile Financial Planning Organizer Kit

This is the key to the whole system. The HomeFile Organizer kit will help you keep track of and organize all of your documents. The system comes with 22 file divider cards with labels such as autos, bank accounts, retirement savings, real estate, taxes, and wills and trusts. Each folder tells you what to file there, what to not file there and when you can remove it. I have used this system for years, and I can you that it works. I can file my paperwork quickly and find what I need quickly.

Each of the divider cards goes in a green hanging folder, then documents are placed behind it.

If you have to evacuate, you can grab the box knowing that all of your financial documents are safe and in order.

 

ACTION STEPS:

  1. Buy a safe and hanging file folders.

  2. Buy the HomeFile Financial Planning Organizer Kit:
    With shipping, these cost $36.60 on the HomeFile Organizer website: http://www.homefileorganizer.com/. I have several extras and will sell one to you at more than 20% off (your cost through me is $28 and that includes shipping in the United States). If you are interested in buying one through me, let me know on my Contact Me page and I will send you a PayPal link. I only have a handful at this price, so they will go to whomever contacts me first.

  3. Organize all your financial documents in the safe.

If you found this information helpful, please share it with a friend and subscribe to my blog through the link to the right of this post.