In this episode of Motley Fool Answers, Alison Southwick and The Motley Fool's personal finance expert, Robert Brokamp, bring you the latest updates from the markets. Later, they are joined by The Ascent's Dann Albright to discuss the CARES Act and financial assistance for individuals and businesses hit by the pandemic. Discover some resources you can tap for assistance, what you can do if you wish to help others, and much more.

Finally, our hosts share some fun recommendations to keep you occupied while physical distancing.

To catch full episodes of all The Motley Fool's free podcasts, check out our podcast center. To get started investing, check out our quick-start guide to investing in stocks. A full transcript follows the video.

This video was recorded on April 20, 2020.

Alison Southwick: This is Motley Fool Answers. I'm Alison Southwick, and I'm joined as always by Robert Brokamp. He's a personal finance expert here at The Motley Fool. Hello, Robert, how are you?

Robert Brokamp: Just groovy. How are you?

Southwick: I'm good. In this week's episode, we're joined by The Ascent's Dann Albright, he's going to talk to us about sources of financial assistance, should you need it, and what you can do if you want to help others. All that and more on this week's episode of Motley Fool Answers. So, Bro, what's up?

Brokamp: Well, as we've taken to doing since this pandemic started; I don't know what we're calling it.

Southwick: I've heard pandemic a couple of times. I guess you could go with that.

Brokamp: Yeah, OK. Well, I ask that because I'm going to bring up some stats from the Financial Times later on, and they're calling this "The Great Lockdown." And I was thinking, at some point in the future, we're going to have some term for this period, and I was thinking a couple of ideas, maybe "the virus crisis" or "the corona crash." I don't know. But at some point, though, some term will emerge as the common term we use. Anyways.

Southwick: But only just for what's going on in the markets or do you feel what's going on in this full --

Brokamp: No, historically, like the way we use the term Great Depression, dot-com bubble, at some point there will be some term that we all use to talk about this when we talk about it in the future. I don't think that term has emerged yet. I actually looked into when the "Great Depression" first was used. It was actually Herbert Hoover who came up with the idea, who was president in the beginning stages, because he thought "depression" wasn't so bad as "crash," but nowadays I don't think anyone feels that way.

Anyways, here we are, let's summarize what has happened. So the economy still starts going down and the markets still keep going up. Last week, the S&P 500 gained 3%, the Nasdaq gained 6.1%. It's quite astonishing. I should add, by the way, we are doing this on Monday, April 20. So by the time you listen to this, things may have changed.

Southwick: Or maybe they'll be the same, because every week we come back [laughs], and we keep saying, everything is lousy out there, but the market is up.

Brokamp: That's right. Looking at year-to-date returns, and this is as of noon today on April 20, the S&P 500 is down just 11.4%. But to give you an idea of how much it is being propped up by the largest companies, if you look at the Invesco Equal Weight S&P 500 ETF, which weighs all the companies equally, that's actually down 20%. So it's really the biggest companies within the S&P 500 that's keeping it up.

And some of those companies are tech companies, and you can see that when you look at the Nasdaq. The Nasdaq is only down 3.4% for the year to date, which is just remarkable. The Russell 2000 Index of small cap stocks is down 26%, so they're still struggling, as are international stocks; the Vanguard Total International Stock ETF Index is down 20%.

Bonds, on the other hand, Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF up 5% to 6%, depending on if you had to throw in the interest that you received. As for interest rates, still incredibly low: 10-year Treasury, 0.6%; 30-year Treasury, 1.2%. It's amazing.

But just to show that the stock market is not the economy, last week, we again had another announcement of millions of people filing for unemployment insurance, 5.2 million to be exact. That brings the last four weeks' total claims, 22 million people. And this comes from that Financial Times thing that I was referencing earlier. It looked back to the last 50 years, looked at the worst peak jobless claims over four weeks over previous downturns going back to the 70s. The worst four-weeks were generally around 2 million. The worst being in 1982, 2.7 million. So what we're experiencing now is almost 10 times worse than anything we have seen in the last 50 years.

Southwick: It's funny, I was reading an article on the, was it New York Times? They were quoting a guy named Eddie Perkin over at Eaton Vance. And he said, you could almost argue that we're in a bull market and a bear market at the same time. [laughs] These are crazy times we're living in.

Brokamp: It's true. And as you could expect, the job losses are not shared equally across the economy. It depends on where you live and your education level. So according to an NBC News analysis, the five states have had 19% of their labor force file for unemployment, Hawaii, Michigan, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Nevada. Then NBC teamed up with Wall Street Journal to do a poll, basically asking people to categorize themselves as poor working class, middle class, or upper-class well-to-do. And obviously, as you might expect, the people who are struggling the most are in the poor working class: 14% have experienced job losses, just 10% of the middle class, and 5% of the upper class and well-to-do.

The other big news today is the drop in oil prices. Now, it actually gets a little tricky when you talk about oil prices, because you can be talking about different types of oil, you can talk about the current price of oil versus futures contracts. The thing that is getting the most attention today is the futures contracts for West Texas crude delivery in May of 2020: down 50% today, down to $9 a barrel. Consider that, it started out this year at $63 a barrel.

And when you look at other futures contracts, it's expected for it to rebound in the future, so the oil market generally is expecting that in the second half of the year, people will get back in their cars, people will be flying a little bit, oil will go back up. But still, it's just amazing that it is pricing in $9 for a barrel of oil.

And then the last item I just thought we'd talk about is just home prices, because that's sort of the other big thing on most people's balance sheets. It was interesting that Fannie Mae came out with a report, said they are projecting home sales to decline by 15% this year, but that's just the number of sales. They're actually projecting home prices to go up this year and next year. So the current price of a used home goes for sale $272,000, they think it's going to go up to $275,000. New homes will increase from $321,000 to $326,000.

How can it be that sales go down yet prices go up? Well, it's all about supply and demand. So on the demand side, there are fewer people looking to buy a home right now, right? In the middle of a recession/semidepression, people don't want to go out and buy homes. But the same thing is happening on the supply side: People are taking their homes off the market. The new-home market has declined significantly, people are not building homes. You put that together with low interest rates, mortgage rates now are at 3.3%, you have some sort of equaling of forces there that says that despite what's going on, home prices will go up.

There are some analyses that came out since Fannie Mae issued its report saying that's the way that's going to happen. Redfin, for example, has noted that people who have their house listed have already started reducing their prices. But regardless, history does show that for the most part, home prices do hold up during bear markets in stocks, so it'll be interesting to see if that happens during this time as well.

Southwick: Well, if you're all still interested, our neighbor's house is still on the market, so you can come be my neighbor. Unfortunately, they put it on the market maybe six, seven weeks ago. And so come be my neighbor, come buy a house.

Brokamp: Do you know if they've reduced their price at all? Have you been checking to see?

Southwick: Last I checked, they had not reduced their price, so.

Brokamp: Still banking on Amazon moving into the neighborhood?

Southwick: Yeah, probably, I don't know. I guess they're just in a position where they can sit tight for a while, but we'll see. I'll keep you guys posted, the real estate update for my neighborhood. But right now, new neighbors moved in across the street, they're renting, and then we got "for sale" next door. Come to my hood.

Brokamp: And that, Alison, is what's up.

Southwick: So we thought we would bring on someone from The Ascent, that's a sister company here at The Motley Fool, although I don't think I'm legally required to say a sister company in this case. The Ascent is our friends who do a lot of great personal finance content, and they've actually created a whole site where they're aggregating information about where you can get help, support. And so we thought we would bring Dann Albright on, from The Ascent, to talk about this. Hi, Dann.

Dann Albright: Hi, Alison; hi, Bro, Rick. How are you guys doing?

Southwick: So good. Don't talk to Rick. Guests don't talk to Rick. [laughs] Because I think that is, like, seriously the first time a guest has acknowledged Rick, so.

Albright: That is hilarious.

Rick Engdahl: I'm going to make you sound so good. I'm going to make you sound really smart. I'm going to put in jokes that you didn't even say to make you sound even better.

Southwick: Yeah, way to go. Dann knows how to butter up the right people here. So, Dann, thank you for joining us. Can you talk a little bit about what you guys have been doing over at The Ascent and some of the resources you've been providing for people?

Albright: Sure. So we've been gathering all the information we can on how people can get assistance during the pandemic or the great virus crash, or whatever we're going to decide to call this in the future, and trying to keep a running list of everything we can find, so people know where they can get help as well as providing advice from our personal finance experts to help people figure out what they should do with their money right now.

Southwick: Great. So we brought you on to, kind of, give us some of the CliffsNotes. So let's start by checking in on the CARES Act. Bro covered it a couple of weeks ago or maybe it was a month ago; I don't know, time has lost all meaning, I don't even know. We're taping the show on a Monday. That never happens. What is going on? But, Dann, why don't you share with us what is the latest when it comes to the CARES Act? Because I think money is supposed to be flowing now, right?

Albright: Yeah. There are two big updates on the CARES Act, and that is one of them, is that individual checks have started going out. So a lot of people have seen money hitting their bank account or the check arriving in the mail. I assume some people have checks arriving in the mail; I think most people are getting them into their bank accounts. So that's really exciting. We ran a survey, we published it last week. And almost 40% of people said they'd be using those checks to pay bills, which is great. So people are using this money to stay afloat during tough financial times. But we also saw about a quarter of people said that they'd put it into savings, which is not going to help kick-start the economy but is a good financial decision. So we were happy to see that. Not very many people said they were going to spend it on going out to eat or ordering in.

So the other big update is that the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses has already completely exhausted its budget. A lot of small businesses didn't even have a chance to apply, so that's putting a lot of small businesses in a tough spot. But I just saw this morning that Shake Shack is returning $10 million to the fund. They decided they actually didn't need it as much as most of the other businesses out there, so they're sending it back. I have no idea how you return $10 million, but they found a way to do it, and so that should help.

Southwick: Yeah, do you think other companies are also going to follow that lead or --

Albright: I don't know --

Southwick: ... I assume it's an outlier.

Albright: ... Yeah. From what I understand, some pretty large businesses have taken checks from this fund that's intended for small businesses. So I hope to see more of this, but I don't know if it's likely; that would be great.

Brokamp: I think there will be a point where once the dust settles on this and people look back who took the money, who didn't need the money or deserve the money, I think there's going to be a lot of bad press. So I don't know if Shake Shack is trying to get ahead of that or they're just doing it because it's the right thing, but I think it's possible you will see other companies decide. But when they look at the fact that they got money whereas all these other small businesses didn't, who really needed it, they don't want to be put in that kind of light.

And the other thing I'll add, by the way, is that the IRS has been updating its tools on its website, so if you haven't gotten your rebate yet, go ahead, it's IRS.gov/Coronavirus. There's a couple of tools, one to check on your payment and one to update your information, your mailing information or your bank account information, so you can have that directly deposited if you get it in in time. Some people are still trying to use those tools and not finding their information. The IRS is furiously trying to update the site and process everything. It only does it once every 24 hours, so no need to check it more than once a day.

Southwick: All right, Dann, how about city- and state-level help? I imagine there's a lot going on at the community level. So what are some examples that you're seeing?

Albright: Yeah, a lot of states and cities have started running programs to help people in need. So here in Colorado, for example, the Mile High United Way is dispensing funds on behalf of the governor's office. We're seeing that happen a lot, is that, state and local governments are partnering with a charity because it's hard to donate directly to a state or local government, so they're working with charities to take funds and disperse them. So here, businesses can get grants of up to $25,000. And then first responders and healthcare workers can also get help finding child care. So there's a lot of different ways that states and cities are helping people. It's not just with cash payments.

If you're looking for help in your local area, you would want to go online and see what your state and local governments are offering, because they're offering a wide variety of benefits. So Washington state, for example, is helping people who can't pay their mortgages by, sort of, coaching them on how they can get in touch with their lender and ask for payment deferral, which is kind of a cool benefit.

Brokamp: Even during normal times, many local governments, states, counties, cities will offer support to certain demographics, like, older people or single parents or things like that. So visiting the website of your local governments will help. They'll probably be highlighting what's available just due to this recent crisis. But if you dig deeper, based on maybe some of your demographic information, you might find that there's some other aid that's available.

Southwick: All right. Let's move on and talk about employers, because some employers, actually, are increasing what they're doing to look out for their own employees.

Albright: Yeah, there's a lot of government assistance for small businesses so that those businesses can provide sick leave for their employees, which is awesome, because these are the companies that are struggling right now. A lot of them don't have the funds to pay sick leave for their employees, and so they're getting help to offer that. They can also offer tax-favored disaster payments so that employees can buy medications and pay for healthcare, set up their home offices and all the other things that people need right now when they're working remotely or out of work. So that helps a lot for small businesses who don't have the funds to help their employees out.

Another big thing that we've been seeing a lot of is freelance- and contract-focused employers, like, Instacart and Lyft and Uber, Postmates, companies like that, are paying employees who can't work. So if you've been doing a certain amount of work for a certain amount of time, you can get all or a part of your average wages paid back while you're not working, which is a huge benefit for freelancers, because they don't have sick leave or many other benefits at all. So that's a really important one that we've seen.

And then we're seeing lots of other organizations providing benefits to their employees. So, for example, Walmart is providing grants through the Walmart Associates in Critical Need Trust. So that is just cash that can help people who have either contracted the disease or are having trouble working; you know, they have to take care of family members. The Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society is providing no-interest loans and grants to active and retired sailors and marines.

And then, bigger companies that you're more familiar with, Starbucks, Target, Major League Baseball, they all have programs to help employees who can't work or are working reduced hours. There are a lot of other organizations, both companies and guilds and foundations, that are offering different types of assistance.

And we're keeping that big running list over on The Ascent, so be sure to check it out and see, if you need assistance, which companies and organizations can help you out.

Southwick: All right. Let's move on, and let's talk about what companies are offering assistance to their customers and consumers who are maybe having a hard time paying their bills. So let's start off with maybe what some financial services companies are doing.

Albright: Sure. So lots of financial service companies are offering assistance to their customers. So for example, a lot of credit card issuers are waiving interest as well as account fees and minimum payments, so we just ran a study and found that Americans with the average credit card balance, paying the average interest rate, would save $88 a month if interest is waived. So I mean, it may not sound like much on a regular day, but a lot of people are struggling right now, and that can make a big difference.

And if they get to skip a minimum payment, just for a single month, that adds up to over $200 that they just don't have to pay back to the credit card company until they're back on their feet. So that's a big benefit.

Most credit card issuers are asking that people get in touch; they aren't doing any of these things automatically. So be sure to contact your bank or whoever issued your credit card to find out more about that.

Ally Bank is letting home and auto borrowers defer payment up to 120 days. HSBC is waiving monthly fees and overdraft fees and ATM fees. So financial services companies of all types are helping people out if they need it.

Southwick: All right. Let's move on to some other ones, like, I would really like for Comcast to not charge me so much for my internet. Do I have a chance?

Albright: [laughs] If you haven't contracted the disease, I don't think you probably have much of a chance. But people in financial trouble can get in touch with Comcast. They've suspended late fees and disconnects if you get in touch and say that you can't pay. They're also offering some paid services for free and waving data caps, so you can watch all of Tiger King from your phone without worrying about running into your data cap. [laughs]

Other cell service providers are also suspending disconnects. We're seeing that from a lot of utilities as well. So if you can't pay your electric bill, you may be off the hook for a while. Airlines, as we've seen for a while now, are waiving cancellation and change fees. So companies that provide services are helping out people in need.

Southwick: Awesome. Bro, is there anything you want to add?

Brokamp: No, it covers a lot of it. I mean, basically, many people are trying to help. The stories out there of people being complete jerks are luckily few and far between. Most people are trying to work with people who need the help. So just reach out to anyone to whom you owe money, anyone you have regular payments to, and see what they can do to help you out.

Southwick: Right, it doesn't hurt if you got time on your hands. Might as well ask.

Brokamp: Absolutely.

Southwick: All right. Remind us again where everyone can go to get The Ascent's resources and the long running list of help that's available.

Albright: Yeah. So we put all of that together in a single page, and you can find it at mot.ly/covidhelp. So that's mot.ly/covidhelp.

Southwick: Awesome. All right. So that was a lot, and I know that you have a lot on the website also for people to go through and find out where they can get help. Now, let's switch gears a little bit and talk about, if you are one of those lucky people, like I am, frankly, who has not lost their job, who is minorly inconvenienced by all of this and is able to help other people, let's talk about how I can do that.

So one thing I thought was interesting: The New York Times opinion page did a poll, and they found that this pandemic has increased Americans' feelings of solidarity with each other. Meaning that we feel like it's more important for us to help each other and come together. And I just thought that was awesome, because you see these stories everywhere, and we're suddenly all much more aware of how much we depend on each other. Even like a trip to the supermarket in the past maybe would have been just a transaction that you want to go through, but now you're like, wow! Thank you so much for coming in to work and restocking these shelves and putting your life at risk.

So all right, Dann, what are some ways that people can help if they're able to help others?

Albright: There are a lot of organizations that are helping people in need right now and that are accepting donations. So local and state charities, national charities, state governments, they're all accepting funds if you want to donate money. So to figure out who is doing it in your area, you can just run a search online. I'm sure you'll find lots of resources. We have a few of them up on The Ascent's hub as well.

And if you want to do more than just giving money, you can look at food banks and homeless shelters in your area. They all need a lot of help right now, so get in touch and ask them what they need. They'll tell you, and they will happily accept whatever help you can give.

A big one that I really like is the CDC Foundation, so you can donate directly to them, and they use those donations to fund medical supplies and deploy emergency staff, provide support to vulnerable communities. And they've taken in almost $50 million, I saw this morning, which is absolutely incredible.

Southwick: Wow! Okay. Yeah, it's kind of fascinating how there's a lot you can do to help, and I think you kind of need to narrow your focus and find maybe the one or two things that really matter to you. And then chances are there is some way to help, right. Like, if you want to go give blood, you can go figure out a way to give blood. If you want to support -- I mean, it's kind of ridiculous, but like, supporting your local restaurant suddenly makes you a hero, because you are financially trying to help your community. I've been buying all these random fundraising things so that I can tell myself I'm somehow helping the world.

And so if you want to help people in any different way, helping buy meals for nurses and doctors, if you want to help teachers, you can help teachers and help them buy supplies and help them teach remotely. It's really amazing how many organizations and people are coming together to help different niches of society that need help.

Albright: Absolutely. And like you said before, I mean, it might not seem like a whole lot, but just thank the people who are still working. I mean, public safety workers and healthcare workers and the people who work at food banks and shops and animal shelters, and these people are really helping to keep the world running right now. So just tell them thanks, and they will really appreciate it.

Southwick: Yeah.

Brokamp: To Dann's point, I did come across a good article by Morgan Simon at Forbes, and she just highlighted all these, basically, niche organizations that are helping certain segments of the population. So the National Domestic Workers Alliance has created a coronavirus care fund, so that's people like nannies, house cleaners, those types of folks who are all out of a job. The Restaurant Workers' Community Foundation. There's an organization called Pizza Versus Pandemic where you can order food for people working at hospitals, from local pizzerias, so you're supporting the local pizzerias but also giving food to people in the healthcare industry. So there are lots of ways --

Southwick: Dann's face really lit up when you said that. [laughs]

Brokamp: [laughs] Pizza Versus Pandemic.

Southwick: [laughs] I can eat pizza and fight the pandemic?

Albright: That's amazing.

Southwick: That's amazing.

Brokamp: [laughs] Anyway. So really, there are lots of things going on, probably, just in your community that you can help out with. And it is a reminder of the CARES Act, it is you can now get a deduction if you do not itemize and you donate up to $300 in cash to a qualified charity and you can go to the IRS website [...] charity, you can deduct that. If you do itemize, you can deduct 100% of your adjusted gross income. So the government is trying to provide a little bit of an incentive for people to donate.

Southwick: All right. Well, Dann, this has been super helpful. So we have one last thing that we want to hear from you about, and that is, what is your recommendation this week for our listeners to help keep them from watching eight hours of Netflix a day? Or maybe contribute to that, I don't know. Maximize that Netflix time.

Albright: [laughs] I have a board game recommendation this week. So my family and I just played Flamme Rouge, which is a board game about racing bikes and it's easy and it's fun, and it's just a great game for right now. And I just checked and it's still in stock on Amazon for about $40, and it is absolutely worth the investment.

Southwick: Cool. Bro, do you want to go next?

Brokamp: Well, these are good days for the Weird Al fans. So Slate did a great podcast about him in February, The New York Times magazine just did an outstanding profile of him, it was written by Sam Anderson. And if you don't want to read it, you can just go to The New York Times daily podcast, they have it in podcast form.

Plus, a book just came out, Weird Al: Seriously by Lily Hirsch. Lily Hirsch got her PhD in musicology from Duke, so it's not only a profile of Weird Al, but also it's a serious look at his music and appreciation for him as a musician. The dude is wicked smart, he skipped two grades, graduated from high school at age 16 and was still the class valedictorian. Smart, smart dude. Never swears. His wife tries to get him to swear. He won't do it. Family man. Surprisingly shy and introverted, but the one time, my one brush with Weird Al, I saw him at Kings Dominion, I went up to one of his bodyguards, and I whispered, "Does Weird Al sign autographs?" Al heard me, he turned around, like, "Sure!" And he signed my stuff for me, so ...

And, of course, his Twitter feed is awesome because he always has videos up there. Like many musicians, he does a little concert on his deck with his accordion. So good days to be a Weird Al fan.

Southwick: [laughs] All right, Rick, how about you?

Engdahl: Well, so I have a friend who is, like the rest of us, hanging out at home. He's got two teenage kids, they're sitting around the house all the time, they're bored, they need a little love in their life, what better time to adopt a puppy? They just brought a puppy into [laughs] their house, which is a little bit insane.

Southwick: [laughs] Everyone is doing it.

Engdahl: But it does make sense, because puppies are hard to train, especially if you're away at work. So if you're around the house all the time anyway, it's a great time to train a puppy. And if you need that in your life, think about it. We're thinking about it.

Southwick: You know what I was thinking, though, is that after the corona crash -- whatever we're calling it, again -- I worry that there's going to be a lot of dogs getting taken back to the pound or a lot of dogs that are not going to be taken care of and so I worry about, after all this is over, maybe that might be the better time to adopt a dog, because they're really going to need it. There might be a glut of sad, abandoned animals.

Engdahl: Well, if you do bring a puppy into the house and train it right now, just don't be that guy.

Southwick: Oh, well, yeah, obviously, don't be that person. [laughs] Obviously.

Albright: Also, I will say, having an adult dog with separation anxiety, if you're training a puppy right now, make sure to leave them alone, even though you aren't going anywhere. It will save you a lot of time in the future.

Southwick: Ah! Okay. Good advice. All right. Well, my advice is -- you're all going to push back on this, but I'm just going to do it, because I feel like I'm one of maybe 10 Gen X people who are saying this. But TikTok is amazing, and everyone should be on TikTok. You don't have to post content, but you just, like, if you go on TikTok and you just let the videos flow over you, and you heart the ones that you like, they'll give you more of those, and it's just such an amazing way to see how talented people are in the world and to watch funny videos.

So I know, TikTok, it's awful, you're all going to hate this recommendation, but that's what it is. You'll thank me for it. Give it, like, 15 minutes of your life. You'll be addicted and then you'll thank me for it.

And I'm going to start sending you guys random TikTok videos until I get you on.

Brokamp: [laughs] Sounds good.

Southwick: Yeah. All right. Well, I guess that's a show, huh! It is edited, potty-training-ly, wait! Is that what you call it, when you potty-train a dog? No, that's a kid, what do you call it?

Albright: Housebreak.

Brokamp: Housebreak.

Southwick: [laughs] It's just edited by Rick Engdahl. Our email is Answers@Fool.com. Dann, thank you so much for joining us,. Please come back in the future. We'd really appreciate it. Do you want to remind people, one last time, where they can go to get all of these great resources at The Ascent?

Albright: Yes, it's at mot.ly/covidhelp.

Southwick: Awesome. All right. For Robert Brokamp and Dann Albright, I'm Alison Southwick. Stay Foolish, everybody.