Guest Columnist

Health crisis spawns personal finance concerns

(Stock photo)
(Stock photo)

“Millions of Americans are just one paycheck away from financial disaster.” What was once a common news headline is now reality for millions of Americans. How do we cope with the economic crisis?

The CARES act provided temporary relief for millions of Americans. The additional stimulus check coupled with expanded unemployment benefits, will keep some Americans afloat for another month. However, the real economic impacts of this crisis are just beginning. Horizons and many other community partners are working to mitigate the financial impact that will be felt by local residents.

Truly addressing this economic crisis will require continued, expansive government action, but in the interim there are steps you and your family can take.

First, you should prioritize. Prioritizing your needs during a crisis looks different for every person, but there are some commonalities. We recommend every person prioritize food and medical supplies. This can be done using your monetary resources, but whenever needed and possible, use community resources, such as HACAP and SNAP, to supplement your food needs. The next priority should be housing. Housing during this pandemic is protected through a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures. This protection ensures that you cannot be evicted or foreclosed upon, due to inability to pay. However, all rent or mortgage payments must be paid back after the moratorium. Thus, if you can continue payments it is imperative that you do so. Other priorities will vary person to person, but should be determined based on your needs.

Second, this is an opportune time to organize. Organize the bills you have due and/or the ones you cannot pay by order of priority. This will give you a semblance of order in a very disorderly time. This also will help you catch up when you are able to resume payments.

Third, you must communicate. If you cannot pay a bill, now is the time to reach out and communicate your situation. This will allow you the opportunity to receive a payment plan, decrease interest, or simply delay a payment date. This can eliminate late charges and fees and provide those you owe money the opportunity to assist you in this time.

Finally, you must protect yourself and your finances. Unfortunately, a global health crisis is time for fraudulent activity to skyrocket. Ensure that you never provide your personal information to a source you have not confirmed. You can identify government program communication on the official .gov website and you should be wary of any emails, texts, or calls claiming to be the IRS. Your social media can also put your personal information at risk. Seemingly innocent posts that ask you to provide information such as car make and model, mother’s maiden names, and others can provide answers to your security questions and put you at risk.

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The actions you take are important, but they won’t fully protect every person’s financial stability. If you feel that your financial situation is out of control and you need help, you can receive financial advice and assistance by calling Horizons at 319-398-3943 or emailing financialhealth@horizonsfamily.org. You can also reach Iowa Concern Helpline at 1-800-447-1985. If you need legal assistance you can contact Iowa Legal Aid at 1-800-332-0419. These are truly unprecedented times, but this is also a time that I feel fortunate to live in Eastern Iowa. We have seen truly remarkable work in response to the pandemic and I know that work will continue. Be safe, be secure, and most importantly know that you are not bearing these burdens alone.

Kelzye Bedwell is director of financial stability at Horizons, A Family Service Alliance.

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