Figuring Out Money Together

At The Wall Street Journal, our reporters deliver thorough and accurate information about all aspects of money and finance daily. Now, we’re here to tackle your questions about money amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Here you’ll find the latest information you need to manage your finances during this crisis. No question is too simple. So ask us.

Stimulus Money

  • What are the stimulus checks?

    This year’s stimulus check is a one-time payment from the U.S. government.
    The payments started going out the week of April 13.

    All U.S. residents, including those with no income, qualify for a one-time $1,200 payment for each adult and $500 for each child under 17. The payments start to phase out for individuals making above $75,000 a year and couples making more than $150,000 a year.

    You must have a Social Security number to get a payment. If you are a dependent on someone else’s tax return and you aren’t a child, you don’t get a payment.

  • How can I sign up for the payment?

    If you filed 2018 or 2019 tax returns, you’re already in the system and don’t need to sign up. If you’re eligible, the government will be sending you money either via direct deposit or checks.

  • How can I receive the payment if I don’t file taxes?

    The IRS and tax-preparation companies have created a basic online form for those who have no income or too little income to file a tax return in most years to register for payments. The new option for low-income households is available as part of Free Fillable Forms at IRS.gov. After setting up an account with an email address and password, the non-filer must provide only relevant names, address, Social Security number or numbers and information on eligible dependents.

  • Do I have to sign up if I receive Social Security benefits?

    Those who don’t file tax returns but receive Social Security, Social Security disability payments, Supplemental Security income or veterans benefits should receive their payments automatically.

  • What if I don’t have a bank account?

    The payments will be sent by mail as a paper check to those without bank accounts. You must have a Social Security number to get a payment.

  • What are the options I should consider before spending my stimulus check?

    Think about your individual situation. While the payment might not make up for a lost paycheck, those who face economic uncertainty can put the money toward the expenses of their daily lives. Saving some of the payment might make individual sense, too.

    If you don’t need to spend the money immediately, experts say you should keep it accessible in case you need it later. So consider putting the money in a checking account or savings account, instead of locking it up in a certificate of deposit or in the stock market, where the money can lose value.

  • Do stimulus checks have to be repaid?

    No. The money does not have to be repaid. The last time economic stimulus payments went out to Americans was during the onset of the 2008 financial crisis. Then as now, the payments are funded by the federal government, with no strings attached.

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Student Loans

  • What is the temporary suspension on student loan repayments?

    If you have federal student loans that are owned by the Education Department, you are eligible for the six-month payment suspension and interest freeze. This includes Stafford, Grad PLUS, and Parent Plus loans. It applies to borrowers using income-driven repayment plans and loan-forgiveness programs. Some federal loans issued prior to 2011 are owned by entities aside from the Education Department and don’t qualify. Contact your loan servicer if you are unsure whether your loans qualify.

  • What must I do to get my repayments suspended?

    Nothing. Your loan servicer is required to automatically suspend the payments due between March 13 and Sept. 30 and change the interest rate on your account to zero.

  • I made a payment after March 13. Can I get the money back?

    While the suspension of monthly payments is retroactive to March 13, loan servicers were given until April 10 to implement the change. As a result, some borrowers may have had automated payments taken from their accounts after March 13. In that situation, ask your loan servicer for a refund if you want one.

  • Can I suspend private loans?

    Many private lenders and servicers are offering some flexibility to borrowers who ask to suspend their payments. Unlike with federal loans, though, the interest will continue to accrue and the lender may deny your request. Call your lender to find out whether they offer any flexibility.

  • I am in a loan forgiveness program. Will my payments be suspended?

    Yes. Even better, the paused payments will count toward your loan forgiveness. If, for example, you are enrolled in the federal government’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, the six suspended payments can be applied to the 120 you must make before the balance can be forgiven.

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Mortgages

  • What if I can’t make my mortgage payment this month?

    You can apply for forbearance. This means you can suspend monthly payments temporarily. Borrowers can request up to 180 days of forbearance. (Most servicers are offering 90 days, but some are offering six months.) The payments aren’t forgiven, and usually you’ll have to make them up relatively soon—not at the end of your loan.

    If the loan is federally backed—and about 70% of mortgages in the U.S. are backed or insured by a federal agency—then the company that collects your payments is supposed to grant the suspension, according to the federal government’s stimulus law.

  • Is anyone allowed to apply for forbearance?

    Forbearances are usually granted after personal hardship such as death, divorce or a natural disaster. Currently, you can also apply if you are experiencing financial hardship caused directly or indirectly by the Covid-19 emergency.

  • How can I apply for forbearance?

    Get in touch with your lender before your monthly payment date. There is a grace period, typically two weeks, if you’re unable to reach your lender before your payment date. But if you want to suspend payments, you must get in touch before the grace period ends.

    Many mortgage companies have posted options available to customers who have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. If you can’t find the information you’re looking for there, try calling your company directly. But be warned: You likely won’t be the only one trying to get through.

  • Should I do it?

    Forbearances are expected to be used widely as millions of Americans lose their jobs and struggle to cover living costs in the economic fallout from the virus. If you can afford to make your regular payments, experts advise that you do so. If you suspend your payments, all the missed payments, plus interest, are often due when the forbearance period ends. It might also affect your credit score.

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Unemployment

  • Who is eligible for unemployment insurance?

    You’re eligible if you are laid off or furloughed from your job. Currently, you’re also eligible if you’re self-employed or an independent contractor and seeking part-time employment.

    People who are diagnosed with Covid-19, have a household member with the illness or are unable to go to work because of quarantines are also eligible, as are individuals who had to quit their jobs or are laid off because of the coronavirus.

    Some states expanded eligibility to include workers who don’t have access to paid leave or who might not meet certain work requirements, such as those who are quarantined.

  • How do I apply?

    Apply on your state’s website or over the phone. States are recommending people apply for benefits online given the high volume of calls.

    Once an application is submitted, processed and approved, weekly unemployment payments then arrive through a mailed debit card or direct deposit.

  • How much will my unemployment check be?

    It varies by state. The new stimulus law increases unemployment assistance in every state by $600 a week for up to four months. In New York, for example, the state’s maximum weekly benefit check is about $500. That would increase to $1,100 a week.

  • How long do the benefits last?

    The duration of benefits varies by state, with the standard time to receive benefits in many states totaling 26 weeks. Some states offer 12 weeks. The stimulus law would lengthen benefits by 13 weeks across states.

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Taxes

  • What are the changes to the tax-filing deadlines for individuals?

    The Internal Revenue Service has extended the April 15 tax filing and payment deadline until July 15, 2020. You don’t have to be affected by the coronavirus to get this extension, and you don’t need to file any special forms.

  • What does the tax extension deadline to July 15, 2020 mean for my refund?

    The IRS doesn’t anticipate refund delays, at least for e-filed returns. But as with other years, you won’t get a refund until you file a tax return or returns.

  • If my first-quarter estimated tax payment due on April 15 is now due on July 15, what about the second-quarter payment, due June 15?

    Both first-quarter and second-quarter estimated tax payments for 2020 are now due on July 15, the same day that 2019 taxes are due.

  • Are state-tax deadlines also delayed?

    Most states have extended individual income-tax deadlines, typically until July 15. For the latest information, check this chart from
    American Institute of CPAs.

  • I realized I haven’t yet claimed my tax refund for 2016, but the deadline to file for it was supposed to be April 15, 2020. Is that also delayed to July 15?

    Yes, the deadline has been extended to July 15, 2020.

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  • Credits: Andrea Pappas, Kristen Cabrera, Amber Burton
  • Reporting: Julia Carpenter, Sarah Chaney, Orla McCaffrey, Josh Mitchell, Richard Rubin, Laura Saunders, Anne Tergesen, Patrick Thomas
  • Editors: Ebony Reed, Bourree Lam, Ed Hyatt

Updated April 25, 2020 11:44 a.m. ET

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