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4 Money Mistakes to Avoid During the COVID-19 Crisis

By Maurie Backman – Apr 22, 2020 at 7:22AM

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Steer clear of these so you don't make an already difficult situation even worse.

COVID-19 has been battering the U.S. economy for well over a month, and unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be on its way out anytime soon. If you've been impacted by COVID-19, the financial moves you make in the coming weeks could spell the difference between staying afloat or struggling more than you have to. Here are a few key mistakes you'll want to avoid at all costs as the pandemic plays out.

1. Waiting to sign up for unemployment benefits

If you've lost your job through no fault of your own, you may be entitled to unemployment benefits. The amount you'll qualify for varies by state and hinges on your pre-layoff earnings, but thanks to the COVID-19 relief package passed in late March, workers collecting benefits are now entitled to an additional $600 per week on top of the benefit they'd normally get. But don't wait to sign up for unemployment. Though it may be a frustrating process, what with many states' online filing systems crashing repeatedly, the sooner you get that claim in, the sooner your money will start flowing in. And that could help you avoid falling behind on bills or racking up expensive debt.

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2. Delaying your tax filing if you're due a refund

The IRS pushed the regular April 15 tax-filing deadline back by three months so that taxes now aren't due until July 15. If you owe the IRS money from 2019, that gives you an extra three months to pay that bill. But if you typically receive a refund when you file your taxes, and you have no reason to believe this year will be an exception, then it pays to get your taxes wrapped up as quickly as possible. That way, you'll get your refund sooner, which come in handy for paying your bills.

3. Withholding payments without reaching out to your lenders or service providers

Many people are unable to cover their bills right now. If you can't make certain payments, you'll probably get some reprieve -- but you'll need to reach out to your lenders and service providers and ask for help. If you do, you may get the option to pause your mortgage payments or defer utility bills. But if you don't communicate that need, your late or absent payments will be recorded as a black mark on your credit record. Once that happens, your credit score is apt to drop, which will make it harder for you to borrow affordably during the COVID-19 crisis or once it comes to an end.

4. Raiding your retirement plan to pay bills

Normally, you'd face major penalties for tapping an IRA or 401(k) plan prior to age 59 1/2. But thanks to the aforementioned relief package, if you've been hurt financially by COVID-19, you can now withdraw up to $100,000 from your retirement savings without incurring a penalty. That may seem like a tempting option, but if you go that route, you'll risk falling short financially once your career ends and you're more reliant on your savings. Therefore, make sure you've exhausted all other options before taking an IRA or 401(k) withdrawal. Remember, you may have a $1,200 stimulus payment coming your way, and once you start collecting unemployment, you may be able to stay afloat for a while. Granted, that may not end up being the case, and if you really have to take a retirement plan withdrawal, go for it -- but only after you've explored other alternatives, including reaching out to your lenders and service providers for relaxed payment terms.

Managing your money during a crisis is difficult but important. Avoid these mistakes so you don't make an already tough situation even harder on yourself.

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