The impact of COVID-19 has swept the nation and seeped its way into every American household. It’s the ripple effect coming on like a tidal wave, that everyone wanted to swim away from. Unfortunately, we are all caught in the swimming pool, and the 40% of Americans who are self-employed are taking a hard hit, while many working for big corporations are now telecommuting. Everyone who runs a one-man-show, a small business with a few employees, freelances, is a contractor, drives for Uber, does gigs, journalism, is an independent accountant, realtor, hair stylist – you name it – they all fall into the category of self-employed and are anxiously awaiting the stimulus packages to be confirmed and kick in quickly. Sure, the big corporations are feeling the heat and the airlines and cruise lines are tanking, but let’s be real – if Americans go broke, rescuing the airlines or cruise lines will be pointless.
They are in the final stages of negotiating phase two of the stimulus bill, and intend on working on phase three quickly as well, with more to come, they say. They are discussing the possibility of sending checks out to all Americans, with exception of the higher income individuals. What does that mean? We haven’t been told, other than Mnuchin stating, “I think it’s clear we don’t need to send people who make a million dollars a year checks.” Some Democrats have proposed anywhere between $1000 and $2000 per individual, while tossing around ideas of sending additional payments out quarterly should health and economic emergencies continue. Most seem to agree that getting cash into people’s pockets quickly would be better than doing a payroll tax cut.
They have also extended the tax due date of April 15th to July 15th, but if you have money coming back, most certainly file by April 15th! They are ironing out details around paid sick leave, paid childcare leave, unemployment insurance, food stamps, small business loans, and other means of helping people at this time. I believe we will know much more by the end of this week, as they have said they intend to get phase two wrapped up quickly. So hang tight.
What Can You Do Right Now?
I Can’t Pay My Mortgage or Rent
Banks and landlords are fully aware of the situation, and many banks are stepping up to work with you. Contact your mortgage lender and discuss your options with them. I do not believe, that with the national emergency we are currently in, a lender is going to foreclose on you and boot you to the curb. In fact, some governors are requesting that foreclosures and evictions be halted at this time. That said, a discussion still needs to happen to see how you might defer payments and avoid any additional fees, so call them.
Many landlords are holding off on evictions if people can’t pay rent, because honestly – who in the heck are they going to rent to right now? Talk with your landlord about the situation, don’t just blow them off. Show a little respect – it will go a long way, and they will likely be sympathetic to your situation, especially with governors requesting landlords to work with tenants. Just remember, for the landlords who are smaller scale, they are taking a big hit right now as well, so be equally sympathetic to them. Maybe there is even something you can do to help them out with other tasks since you are unable to pay rent.
What About My Utilities?
The government has urged all water companies to keep services on, even if people are unable to pay. Of course, individual states and providers all need to get on board with this, but being as “wash your hands” has climbed to number on the greatest hits chart, and your toilet paper has been hoarded right out from under you, it would be outlandish for them to shut off your access. You may need to make a little noise, but I believe you will be safe in this department.
As far as I’m concerned, the same goes for electric and gas, especially when it comes to the elderly. I cannot imagine the government or governors will not step in if utility companies start cutting access when people can’t pay their bills due to loss of jobs over closures. If only they had just stuck with Tesla, instead of stashing away his brilliance, we would all have free energy right now anyway, right?
In all cases, contact your power companies and discuss your situation with them and work something out. Obviously, most power companies allow energy payment plans that might reduce the monthly bill, but if you simply cannot pay at all right now, see if they will defer payments without accruing fees. Be pleasant on the phone with them. I find that most people truly want to help others, and if you request their help, they are more likely to engage with you to find the best solution. I know stress levels are high, but being snappy will solve nothing.
Most everyone is staying home right now. If you are one of the lucky ones who can continue to work and maintain a stream of income, but your child’s school closed and you require childcare, see if a neighbor in need of funds could watch your child for a small fee, so you can help each other out. It’s tight for everyone right now.
Feeding My Family
The stimulus package they are negotiating does have some relief with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). I believe they are waiving the work requirements, and may have already done so, so check with your state’s SNAP office and see if you qualify. In fact, you may even be able to utilize SNAP to shop for online grocers. Here is a link to the main USDA website, but you need to contact your state because the requirement updates likely haven’t been made to this site since this is all moving so quickly. If you are in a situation where you need food immediately, check with your local food pantries. And finally, be sure to check if you have an elderly neighbor that could use your help with picking up groceries for them, or any other needs they may have.
What About My Cell Phone Bill?
I don’t believe cell phone companies are necessarily going to step up to the plate to defer payments for you. That said, there are some potential alternatives. For starters, most people are working from home, or lost their job and hanging out at home, being as most towns have temporarily become ghost towns, so you could consider hooking up a cheap landline in the interim. You can also get a free google voice phone number and talk with people right through your computer. Of course, email is always an option for communication as well. For those looking to connect with loved ones in other states, you could setup a free Zoom or Skype account and communicate with them through your computer, while enjoying getting to see them at the same time! They are both very easy to setup. I’m not sure about Skype, but Zoom allows you to communicate for up to 40 minutes at a time (for free) before having to begin a new session, which really isn’t such a big deal if you are just having conversations.
Tip: The wifi in your cellphone will work if you do not pay your cell phone bill. The only thing that will not work is being able to call or text. However, if you setup google voice and google hangouts on your phone, via apps, you can utilize those to send and receive voice calls and messages. Note: your phone will not draw from your cell service tower that you cancelled, so you will need to link it to your home wifi in your settings. This means that while driving you will not have access to wifi, but when at someone’s home or business location, you can tap into their wifi. You have now converted your phone into a fully operational communication device, and dumped your cell phone bill entirely. Poof, like magic!
I Need My Internet and Cable!
Yes indeed. During these times, most people are going to want to stay connected and have access to news and updates. If you are struggling with money, I highly recommend dumping cable and sticking with internet only. Now days, you can stream nearly everything to your television. You don’t even need to buy one of the many “sticks” available to do so. You just need an HDMI cord and can run it straight from your computer to your tv. Of course, if you are looking to stream Netflix or Amazon Prime, those are paid programs, but the fees are far less than what cable runs. If it’s just news you are after, head to your favorite journalists, reporters, and show hosts websites, because mainstream news will spin you like a top with misleading stories. All White House press conferences can be viewed on their periscope online, so no cable is required.
Another option would be to keep your cell phone bill and dump your internet and cable, then utilize your cell phone as a hotspot for your computer to get internet access. Be sure to check with your cell phone service provider to see if you have unlimited bandwidth and hotspot capability. Most plans generally provide both. Figure out the best way to consolidate your bills, while still being able to have full access.
Also, be sure to check with your local cable and internet providers because they may be running special discounts due to our current situation. Always try to negotiate.
I Can’t Pay My Credit Card Bills
Contact your credit card companies immediately and start negotiating deferred payments with no interest. Believe it or not, you may just be able to get them to reduce what you owe. I would imagine that most credit card companies are going to find themselves in this predicament and would be happy that you are calling them to come up with a plan. That said, before contacting them, be sure to review what your interest rate is and look into other credit cards offering lower interest rates, such as 0% APR, because I suspect we may see more of those popping up right now.
Do You Have Business Insurance?
If you have business insurance, contact your provider and see if you are covered for business interruption which protects against lost income. Due to the fact that we are under a national state of emergency, you may be covered. If you don’t have business insurance, you might want to consider getting an Employer Identification Number (EIN) whether your business is a sole proprietor, LLC or corporation, so you can obtain business insurance in the future. You can apply for your EIN number online for free and get the number immediately. Review the information and see if an EIN is a right fit for you or not.
File for Unemployment
If you are completely out of work due to all of the closures, and are in a position to file for unemployment, I suggest doing so. I’m sure the phone lines will be overloaded right now, but conveniently, you have the extra time to deal with it. Check your state’s employment department to see what options are available to you right now.
Other Helpful Tips
• If you attend church, see if they can assist you with some of your needs. They oftentimes assist with financial situations.
• Get with a few neighbors and discuss all of your needs. Maybe one home has internet, while another home has cell phones, and you can share services. Maybe one person still has work but needs help with childcare and can pay you a little bit or provide you with some groceries while you watch their children. Work together to meet everyone’s needs. Helping one another out and the good old barter system is a great way to move through tough times.
• It may sound crazy, but it doesn’t hurt to scour job sites and craigslist to see if there are any telecommute positions available. Beware of scammers. Just at a quick glance, craigslist has telecommute jobs for online tutors, writers, technical support, telephone surveyors, etc. Tip: go to the jobs section in your area and in the left-hand search bar type in the word “telecommute” to narrow the results, while leaving all categories open.
• Take this time to focus on fine tuning your business, organizing, and planning ahead to branch out or expand on it in the future, once we get past the bumps in the road. You may even decide to change direction or start a new venture entirely. Take advantage of the downtime to brainstorm, and make it an enjoyable creative process. You may just find that you’ve been wanting to shift into other areas, and now’s your time to prep for that.
We Will All Get Through This Together By Being Selfless
It’s already been a bit of a wild, stressful ride, hasn’t it? Who ever thought we would live to see a shortage of toilet paper across the entire country? It’s so incredibly insane, that we have to laugh about it, right? I’ve never seen so many hilarious memes in my life! It is so very important to keep laughter in our lives right now, and even more important to maintain compassion and a sense of calm. Yes, the unknown is scary, but the unknown is where faith is found, and I know that millions of Americans have a strong faith that will carry them through this.
I encourage everyone to see this time as a time of positive change – a challenge to yourself – to move through fear knowing you will be ok, to move through the unknowing with the power of faith, and to move through these obstacles in a positive light filled with creativity, community, and compassion for all of those around you that are in the same boat. As we move through these changes, embrace your family, your friends, your neighbors, and amplify love. No matter what changes lie ahead, we are stronger together, and together, we will get through this. While they continue to push the phrase “social distancing” to get inside your mind, the reality is – we are all becoming one – because the power that holds us all together, is the complete oneness that we all feel by going through the same experience together, at the same time. If everyone were to pray at 11:11 am every day, in their own time zone, stretching the entire globe, covering every hour of the day, imagine – just imagine, the power we can all bring.
I say – bring it!
I, like many of you, are part of the 40% of Americans who are self-employed. Godspeed.