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How to pay your bills during the government shutdown

What to do if your employer was forced to close due to COVID-19.

Updated

Fact checked

If you live in one of the many states that have forced businesses like gyms, bars and movie theaters, as well as public schools to shut down due to the coronavirus outbreak, it may be hard to keep up with your mortgage, prescriptions, utilities and other essentials without a paycheck.

But knowing your rights and opportunities for help can keep your worry — and creditors — at bay.

What bills should I pay first?

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Your financial priorities will depend on your lifestyle, health and household needs. But most people need at least four key elements to stay comfortable and safe.

Shelter

If you can’t afford to pay your mortgage, rent and insurance, call your creditors or landlord to ask about a reduced payment plan until your state government allows businesses to reopen.

Many banks, credit unions and insurers are willing to work with employees who’ve been laid off or gone weeks without getting paid.

Medical

If you rely on prescription medications, talk with your pharmacist to explain your situation. Your pharmacy may offer an emergency supply of necessary medicine if you can’t continue payments.

For hospital or doctor bills, call your provider to ask about payment plans or discounts available to those affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

Food

If you’re worried about providing everyday essentials for you or your family, consider local food banks and other emergency food assistance available to help you bridge the gap.

Gas and electricity

If you need assistance with your bills, call your utility companies to ask about flexible payment options or other assistance available for employees affected by the coronavirus.

Many of the nation’s largest providers are advertising assistance programs for those affected by businesses being shut down. For example, the State of Washington has called on all utility companies to suspend shutoffs, waive late fees and offer financial assistance to those impacted by COVID-19.

Know too that in many states, you’re protected by regulations that prevent utility companies from turning off your service if you have a disability, are older than 65, the temperature is below freezing or you’re not able to pay your bills due to an unexpected financial emergency.

Mobile bills

AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon are just a few providers that have waived fees, added data and offered other perks to those affected by the coronavirus.

What if I can’t meet my loan obligations?

Many credit unions and banks are extending assistance programs that can allow you to bypass fees and defer payments on credit cards, mortgages and loans during the coronavirus pandemic.

You might also qualify for a personal loan with low or no interest and waived penalties on early CD withdrawals.

When was the last government shutdown?

The most recent federal government shutdown lasted 35 days and occurred from Dec. 22, 2018 to Jan. 25, 2019, becoming the longest shutdown in United States history. Nearly 800,000 workers were forced into unpaid leave or work, in federal departments such as Treasury, Agriculture and Homeland Security. One of the biggest causes of the shutdown was deadlock over President Donald Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion in federal funds for a U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Bottom line

Most creditors, utilities and medical facilities know that the efforts to flatten the curve of the coronavirus pandemic like forcing businesses to shut down are not your fault. If you’re not sure that your budget can stretch across your financial obligations, ask about your options for delaying or deferring your payments until the shutdown is lifted.

However, it is always a good idea to proactively save a small percentage of your paycheck each month just in case an emergency such as this occurs. It’s generally better to use your savings to pay off your mortgage or rent (as well as loans that include collateral, such as your home), rather than delay or miss payments.

And to make things a little easier for yourself in the future should another pandemic occur, consider consolidating your debt. Finally, if you feel like you’re underwater thanks to COVID-19, it may be worth it to take a look at our page on budgeting, to better help you manage your finances.

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