The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented event, unlike anything most Americans have experienced in their lifetimes. Unfortunately, it's both a public health crisis and an economic disaster as millions upon millions of Americans are left without work and with no ability to look for another job.

If you're one of the many people affected by this crisis, you may be worried about paying your bills. The good news is, there is lots of help out there, and lots of protections have been put in place to limit your potential financial loss.

To make sure you're taking advantage of the assistance provided, here are three steps you should take if you can't pay your bills. 

A young woman sitting in front of her laptop looking worried

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Talk to creditors

Most people you owe money to understand that coronavirus has affected household incomes. Financial institutions and utility companies are thus making provisions to allow you to put accounts into forbearance, which means temporarily pausing payments. 

While you may accrue ongoing interest costs if you wait to pay bills, most companies are also waiving late fees and other penalties for not paying on time. And the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act protects your credit by requiring creditors to report payments as current if you've worked out a forbearance arrangement with them. 

You do need to contact your creditors to take advantage of flexible payment options, though, so call ASAP and let them know COVID-19 has prevented you from being able to fulfill your obligations. 

2. Look into expanded government benefits

The CARES Act also provided for most Americans to receive stimulus checks valued at up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per child, depending on household income. And it expanded unemployment benefits to more workers while also providing for an additional $600 per week in unemployment benefits. 

Most people shouldn't have to do anything to get their stimulus checks, but you can get yours faster by ensuring the IRS has your bank information. If you haven't filed a tax return in 2018 or 2019, though, you'll need to submit some basic information to the IRS to get paid unless you receive Social Security retirement, disability, survivor benefits, or railroad retirement benefits. 

If you want to claim your expanded unemployment, you'll have to apply -- and the process can take some time, so you should get started ASAP. Don't assume you won't qualify for unemployment just because you don't have a traditional job, either. The CARES Act expanded benefits to many gig workers, self-employed workers, and people who were going to start a new job before the pandemic. 

3. Know your rights

The CARES Act does more than just provide extra funds to help those who have lost their incomes.

It also:

  • Puts a moratorium on evictions if your landlord has a government-backed mortgage or accepts government payments such as housing vouchers.
  • Stops foreclosures for people with government-guaranteed mortgages. Those with federally backed mortgages can request up to 360 days of forbearance total (but can only request 180 days at a time).

Because of these protections, you don't have to worry about being evicted or foreclosed on during this crisis.

Don't let coronavirus hurt your financial future

By reacting swiftly when paying the bills becomes difficult, you can protect your economic security and maximize your chances of coming through the coronavirus unscathed. Call your creditors, and look into your benefits ASAP when you worry about not being able to pay your bills so you can put a plan in place to get through these tough times.