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What to Do if You Can't Afford Your Bills Due to the Coronavirus Crisis

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Over the course of the past eight months, COVID-19 has had a staggering effect on the U.S. economy. Not only have stock values flip-flopped, but countless small businesses have closed their doors or laid off employees as operating restrictions have threatened their cash flow.

If your income has taken a major hit -- or, worse yet, has gone away completely -- you may be wondering how on earth you're going to cover your upcoming expenses. This especially holds true if your savings account is practically empty.

The first thing you should do in this situation is see if you're eligible to file for unemployment. The criteria for doing so can vary from state to state, and you'll need to file through the state you worked in. Once that's done, you may find relief in the following areas.

1. Utilities

Many utility companies are giving a break to customers who can't pay right now. If you're worried about keeping the lights on, reach out to your utility provider and see what options you have for payment leniency. You can also see if you qualify for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Each state sets its own rules, so be sure to check the program guidelines to get more information.

2. Telecom companies

At a time like this, nobody can afford to be out of the loop. If you can't pay your cable, phone, or internet bill, give your servicer a call and see if there's a relief program in place. You can also see if you qualify for Lifeline, a Federal Communications Commission program. It gives low-income households discounted landline or cellphone service, and some households may qualify for a free phone.

3. Car payments

Many automakers are stepping up to keep Americans on the road even when their incomes take a hit. It's worthwhile to reach out to your auto loan servicer if you can't make your car payments in the coming weeks. You may be eligible to defer payments, or at the very least lower them.

4. Credit card bills

Covering your credit card payments is hard enough when things aren't going haywire nationwide. If your income has been hurt due to COVID-19, you should know that many credit card issuers are willing to help by waiving late fees and offering more flexible payment terms. Call your credit card issuer to see what remedies are available to you.

5. Mortgage assistance

If you can't make your monthly mortgage payment, you can reach out to your lender and ask to put your home loan into forbearance. Borrowers are entitled to up to 360 days of forbearance during the pandemic, during which time no payments are due on a mortgage (though those payments do need to be caught up later).

Right now, things aren't easy for the millions of Americans whose wages have been impacted by COVID-19. And unfortunately, it could take a while before the situation changes for the better. If you're worried about keeping up with your bills, reach out to your providers or issuers, explain your circumstances, and ask for help. During times of crisis, there's often relief to be found.

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