With record numbers of Americans filing for unemployment and many facing income loss, the financial impacts of COVID-19 are far-reaching.
“Times of financial crisis can be overwhelming,” says head of Wells Fargo & Company’s Innovation Group, Lisa Frazier, who learned this lesson at a young age when her family struggled to make ends meet on the farm. “But you don’t need to navigate these waters alone. Numerous resources are available, so don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
To get a handle on your finances, consider these tips and resources from Frazier and the experts at Wells Fargo:
1. Guard against fraud. The Federal Trade Commission and other agencies have warned consumers to watch out for scammers exploiting the crisis. Be suspicious of messages claiming to be from creditors, employers or charities you do not recognize. Don’t respond to these emails or phone calls directly. Only contact phone numbers or email addresses you know are accurate, like the contact information on a creditor’s or charity’s website.
2. Bank online. As banks and retailers adjust in-person services and hours, consider managing finances online or through mobile banking. With most digital tools, you can easily check account balances, pay bills and make transfers. Consider direct deposit of your tax refund this year, which is faster than a paper check. Digital banking may also allow you to more easily send money to family in need or to receive funds from people who may be in a position to ease your financial burden.
3. Know your credit score. Many banks and other services allow you to access your credit score online. Take advantage of this feature to ensure the information is accurate and look for areas where you can improve. A financial coach can help you understand which money decisions will impact your score and how to preserve it as best as possible.
4. Use credit wisely. If you need to carry balances or borrow more, make a list of your current credit sources, including current balances, credit limits and annual percentage rates (APRs). Note the end date of any zero percent introductory offers.
If your credit is good, consider requesting higher credit limits, which can soften the impact of higher-than-usual balances on your credit score and reinforce your safety net.
5. Seek free expert help. Feeling uncertain about which bills to pay first? Struggling to pay rent and other household needs? There is help available.
A financial coach can help you tap government benefits and other resources and get on track. This is why the Wells Fargo Foundation is supporting the following nonprofits that provide free, confidential financial coaching over the phone and online to anyone facing financial hardships:
• Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education: Sign up to meet with a certified-financial coach at yellowribbonnetwork.org/afcpecovid19.
• National Disability Institute: Visit the Financial Resilience Center at NationalDisabilityInstitute.org/financial-resilience-center for accessible financial health resources and to connect with a certified-financial coach with disability-related experience.
• National Foundation for Credit Counseling: Call 1-844-865-1971 or visit nfcc.org/locator to connect with a financial counselor for assistance with managing creditors or debt.
• Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund: Visit fecpublic.org/about for a list of locations in cities across the U.S. offering virtual financial counseling as a free public service.
As you take steps to protect your health, be sure to also take steps to protect your finances. (StatePoint)