How to manage your finances during the coronavirus outbreak

Learn how to get financial help and maintain your savings during the pandemic.

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We’ll continue updating this page with resources and information as new details emerge on how Canadian leaders and businesses are responding to COVID-19.

The coronavirus has led to market downturns and business closures, leaving a lot of Canadians feeling uncertain about the future. If you’re experiencing financial hardship or a loss of income, please know you’re not alone. A range of options are available to offer relief and help you weather the uncertainty.

4 ways to cover your bills

If you are experience financial hardship but are not at the point of needing assistance from the government, here are some ways to help you cover your bills. If you’re thinking of borrowing, these types of credit might make the most sense. Generally, you still need to be employed for most of these options — or have another source of steady income.

1. Emergency credit card

  • Best for covering groceries and other essentials with good credit

Many new credit cards come with a 0% promotional APR that can last from 6-10 months. This gives you time to rack up and pay off your balance before any interest starts accruing. But you’ll need good credit to qualify, and it won’t be as useful for costs you need to cover with cash. Plus, if you can’t pay off your balance before the introductory rate is up, you’ll be stuck with higher interest rates than you’ll usually get with a loan. Click here to learn more about emergency credit cards or browse the table below to and see which may be best for you.

Introductory APR credit cards
Name Product Purchase Interest Rate Cash Advance Rate Annual Fee Minimum Income Benefits with this card Description
BMO Preferred Rate Mastercard
12.99%
12.99%
$20
$15,000
Take advantage of an introductory balance transfer offer, annual fee waiver in the first year, and low purchase and cash advance interest rates.
Get a rate of 3.99% on balance transfers for 9 months with a 1% transfer fee. Plus, get the $20 annual fee waived in the first year.
Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card
1.95% intro APR for the first , 19.95% thereafter
19.95%
$0
$12,000
Earn 2% cash back in two categories of your choice (or three categories if you open a Tangerine Savings Account and directly deposit your cash back into the account), and 0.5% cash back on everything else.
Get a 1.95% interest rate on balance transfers for the first six months (valid within the first 30 days of account opening).
No-Fee Scotiabank Value Visa Card
16.99%
16.99%
$0
$12,000
Save with a low interest rate, no annual fee and a balance transfer offer.
Get a 3.99% introductory interest rate on balance transfers with a 0% balance transfer fee for the first 6 months. Apply by October 31, 2020.
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Compare up to 4 providers

2. Personal line of credit

  • Best for paying rent and other bills

A personal line of credit gives you access to cash that you can draw from as needed. There’s a cap on how much you can borrow, and you typically can make repayments in installments over a few years. In some cases, you can access your credit line as soon as the day after you’re approved. Some lender require minimum monthly repayments. Interest rates generally start around 6% and can go as high as 40%+ APR.

Lines of credit can be helpful if you think your work hours may get reduced or if you think you’ll be temporarily laid off. Generally, you need to have a steady source of income to qualify, and you’ll have the most options with good credit.

Compare the best personal lines of credit

3. Small personal loans

  • Best for borrowing less than $1,000 in cash

Some local banks and credit unions offer small-dollar loans to borrowers with bad credit or low income. These are designed as a more affordable alternative to payday loans, though rates are higher than what you’d find with a personal line of credit. It might take several days to get your funds, however, and these aren’t available at all local banks.

4. Short-term loan

  • Best as a last resort — while you still have job security

Short-term loans like payday or installment loans can help if you have bad credit, bills to pay and have exhausted all other options. You can usually borrow between $100 and $1,500 as soon as the same day you apply. Most short-term lenders only require you to live in the province they serve and have a steady source of income.
Beware that APRs easily top 400% and there’s a high risk of getting trapped in a cycle of debt. If you think you might lose your job, look at alternatives to payday loans. This option could potentially land you in a worse financial situation than when you started.

Consider your short-term loan options

Other financial assistance options

Here are some other options to consider to you help manage everything from your credit card payments, mortgage payments and student loans.

Talk to your credit issuer

This applies to credit cards, lines or credit and personal loans. Many issuers are emphasizing the hardship and assistance programs available to customer, while others are evaluating requests case by case. The type of relief varies among issuers but might include due date extensions, new lines of credit, interest waivers on your balance, lower fees or APRs and delayed payments.

A late payment can affect your credit, so try to contact your lenders and servicers as soon as possible. When you contact your lender, explain your financial situation, and be upfront about how much you can afford to pay, and when you can make your regular payments again.

If the pandemic is affecting your ability to make your credit card repayments, contact these credit card companies for relief.

Mortgage relief

Federal mortgage assistance programs are available for homeowners who are worried about making their mortgage repayments as a result of the outbreak. Plus, most private lenders support mortgage assistance programs for those who are struggling with their repayments.

The assistance available to you depends on the type of loan you have.

Loan type and holderMortgage assistance
Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC)The CMHC supports a suite of assistance options designed to help distressed borrowers stay in their homes, including those affected by the coronavirus. Options include: payment deferral, loan re-amortization, capitalization of outstanding interest arrears and other eligible expenses, and special payment arrangements. The CMHC will permit lenders to allow payment deferral beginning immediately.
Canadian banks and conventional lendersBanks will work with customers on a case-by-case basis and will take into account situations such as pay disruption, childcare disruption, or illness. Support form the largest banks include up to a 6-month payment deferral for mortgages, and the opportunity for relief on other credit products

Student loan help

A $9 billion plan has been enacted by the government to help relieve students and recent graduates of the financial burden caused by COVID-19. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has stated that over 45,000 jobs are now available for students on jobbank.gc.ca. The rest of the government’s plan includes:

  • Canada Emergency Student Benefit. Students who make $1,000 or less per month can get monthly payments of $1,250 from May-August (or $1,750 if you have a disability or are taking care of someone). Recipients must be current post-secondary students, planning on attending school in September 2020 or must have graduated as of December 2019.
  • Canada Student Loan and Canada Apprentice Loan repayment suspension. From March 30 – September 30, 2020, interest will not accrue on these loans, nor will students be required to make payments (pre-authorized debits will stop). See the NSLSC website for details.
  • Canada Student Service Grant. Students volunteering to fight against COVID may be eligible to receive up to $5,000.
  • Work restrictions lifted for international students. Until August 31, 2020, international students will be allowed to work more than 20 hours per week while classes are in session, so long as they work in a position that qualifies as an “essential service or function” including health care, critical infrastructure or supplying food or other critical goods.
  • Enhanced Canada Summer Jobs program. Private and public employers will now be 100% subsidized for the cost of hiring students. The job placement time frame has also been extended to the winter.
  • More scholarship, fellowship and grant money. The government has doubled student grants for the 2020-2021 school year. Scholarships, fellowships and grants for student researchers and graduate students will be extended by 3-4 months. Extra funding is being given to Quebec, the Northwest Territories and Nunuvut to increase student financial aid.
  • Mitacs student internships extended to undergrads and professional program students. The government has worked with the national nonprofit research organization, Mitacs, to allow internships to be extended to a wider range of students, not just Master’s and PhD research students. Learn more on mitacs.ca.

You can learn more by visiting the Government of Canada website.

Unfortunately, government aid doesn’t apply to private student loans borrowed from banks, credit unions or online lenders. If you’re struggling to make repayments, you can go down these routes:

  • Contact your lender. Many lenders offer economic hardship forbearance, which means you could pause your repayments if COVID-19 has hurt your finances. Interest continues to accrue on your balance during that time, unless it’s waived.
  • Look into refinancing. The Bank of Canada has lowered the prime interest rate several times to help stave off economic downturn as a result of coronavirus. Refinancing rates are fairly low. Just remember that getting your lender’s lowest advertised rate usually requires a high credit score — or a cosigner with excellent credit.
  • Defer your loan. If you meet eligibility criteria, you can typically defer repayments until 6 months after you graduate or drop below half-time. The maximum time you can defer your loan varies between lenders, but is usually between 12 and 36 months.

Compare student loan refinancing offers

Talk to a credit counselor

Credit counselors typically work for nonprofit organizations, and they can help you to manage your debt and negotiate with creditors. If you’re experiencing financial hardship and would like to speak to someone for free financial counselling, you can call Credit Counselling Canada on 1-800-007-007. It’s open from 8:00am to 5pm, Monday to Friday

Access government assistance

If you’re past the point of being able to personally handle your finances because of how you’ve been affected by the virus, learn about these emergency relief measures from the Canadian government designed to help you weather the storm.

How to financially prepare if you’re in a high-risk group

The COVID-19 has brought up more questions than answers, but we know it’s a good time to take stock and put financial measures in place to protect yourself and your family.

Now that you’re at home, use the time you would have spent on your commute or other duties to get your financial affairs in order. These tasks will offer peace of mind should something happen to you:

  • Create a living will. Also called an advance directive, this is a legal document that specifies the medical treatment you want — and don’t want — to receive if you become incapacitated and can’t express those wishes yourself. A “do not resuscitate” order is just one of many instructions you can leave. You can hire a lawyer to prepare a living will for you or download a form online.
  • Review your will. While you’re at it, read over your will and ensure it clearly explains what you want to happen to your property, assets and minor children if the worst happens to you. If you need to make changes or draft a will, you can enlist a lawyer’s help, fill out a premade form or use online software.
  • Update your life insurance beneficiaries. It’s always a good idea to evaluate your beneficiaries whenever your circumstances change — like when you get married or have children. Since you’re in admin mode, assess your list of nominated beneficiaries and update it if necessary. With most insurers, you can make any changes online or over the phone.

Will my life insurance policy cover the coronavirus?

How to maintain the money you’ve saved

It’s natural to feel anxious about all the changes happening with the market. But try not to let fear get in the way of your financial decisions during this time. Instead, focus on saving and stretching the money you have.

Here are a few ways you can make your money work harder:

  • Look at high-yield savings accounts. Online banks tend to offer the highest available savings rates, even when federal rate cuts drive APYs down. Plus, they have less overhead than brick-and-mortar banks, so you’ll likely save on annual and maintenance fees.
  • Open a fixed-rate GIC. To lock in a high interest rate before the Federal Reserve makes further cuts, consider opening a fixed-rate GIC. Just keep in mind that you’ll pay a penalty if you need to withdraw the funds before your CD ends.
  • Keep some of your cash liquid. For easy access to your money, be sure to keep some of your money in a savings or checking account.
  • Maintain an emergency fund. If you can, continue contributing to your rainy-day fund — an account you can access if you’re running low on cash or experiencing a change in income.
  • Stick to your budget. When you’re holed up at home, it’s tempting to hoard household supplies, shop online and order food every night. But try not to spend more than you need to. The outbreak will pass, and you’ll be in a better financial position when it does if you stick to a budget.
  • Cut back on expenses. While it may be tempting to order in food every night or spend your time browsing Amazon, watch how much you spend. You can easily cut into your savings by not carefully paying attention to where your money is going.

How to avoid coronavirus scams

Scammers target vulnerable people, and scams tend to spike during emergencies and natural disasters.

To avoid falling victim to a scam, stick to legitimate news sources, like the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and don’t give out your personal identifying information — like your Social Insurance Number — over the phone or email.

Here are some tips specific to the coronavirus:

  • Don’t click on links from sources you don’t know.
  • Watch out for emails claiming to be from the CDC or other experts claiming information about the virus.
  • Ignore online offers for vaccinations.
  • Don’t let anyone push you into making a donation, whether to a charity or crowdfunding site.
  • Be wary of “investment opportunities”

7 common scams to watch out for

Bottom line

The coronavirus has affected all our lives on some level, and we’re unsure how long its impact will last. But various options can offer relief and help you financially weather the outbreak. To stay on top of your finances, take action as soon as you think you might miss a payment — and be sure to keep up-to-date with the latest information on the coronavirus.

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