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No money for rent? You can have coverage

BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) – With so many out of work right now and unemployment benefits tied up in an overwhelmed system, many people are worried about being able to pay their bills. Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch has good news about rent and mortgage payments, utility bills, student loans and those much-anticipated stimulus checks.

Rent and mortgage payments

The CARES Act, often referred to as the coronavirus stimulus package, included a nationwide temporary eviction moratorium for tenants whose landlords have mortgages secured or owned by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac or other federal entities. The moratorium is in place for 120 days from the date of passage, which was March 27. These landlords also cannot charge fees or penalties for non-payment of rent.

To help landlords, the Federal Housing Finance Agency announced on March 23 that, among other things, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will offer mortgage forbearance to landlords of multi-family buildings who will suspend evictions for tenants unable to pay rent due to this crisis.

The stimulus package also prohibits lenders from foreclosing single-family mortgages backed by Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae for 60 days. Borrowers with federally guaranteed mortgages can also request forbearance on their payments for up to 6 months for a single-family home or 90 days for a multi-family property. They will be asked to demonstrate financial difficulties directly or indirectly related to the Coronavirus. Interest may accrue, but there will be no additional charges, penalties or additional interest.

Ginnie Mae, which guarantees mortgages to 12 million homeowners, is also helping mortgage companies with a Pass-Through Assistance Program (PTAP). The PTAP will help secure up to $100 billion in liquidity to cover shortfalls due to missed mortgage payments.

“I also want to thank the Mississippi Apartment Association and the Mississippi Association of Affordable Housing Providers for encouraging apartment managers and landlords to work with tenants who are unable to pay their rent on time during this crisis. It is encouraging to see this kind of compassion and citizenship,” said AG Fitch.

Dunning checks

The CARES Act provided direct payments to citizens to help alleviate the cash flow and financial problems caused by this crisis. Checks will be based on 2019 income taxes, or 2018 if you haven’t filed this year yet. Most adults will receive $1,200, or $2,400 for a married couple. Those with an adjusted gross income of $75,000 ($150,000 for married couples) or less will receive the full amount. The amount is phased out as incomes increase to $99,000 for individuals or $198,000 for couples. Taxpayers filing as heads of households will receive the full payment if they earn $112,500 or less.

An adult declared as a dependent cannot obtain payment on their own. For families with children, payments will include an additional $500 for each eligible child age 16 or younger.

To see what your adjusted gross income is, look at line 8b on your 1040. You don’t have to do anything to get this check, which is technically a tax credit advance to your 2020 federal taxes. IRS has your bank information for direct deposit, it will be filed. Otherwise, it will be mailed to your deposits address.

It is important to note that the IRS will NOT contact you to request your social security number, bank account, or other personal information. If you are contacted by someone claiming to be from the IRS and asks for this information as a condition of receiving your check, you should not share it.

Unemployment benefits

With stores and restaurants closing or reducing their hours in the wake of this pandemic, many hard-working Mississippians are suddenly out of work. To help, unemployment insurance benefits have been expanded to include the self-employed, independent contractors, part-time workers and even those who are only partially unemployed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Eligibility determinations will be made on a case-by-case basis.

Mississippi benefits can generally be collected for up to 26 weeks. Under the CARES Act, benefits can be extended for an additional 13 weeks. Governor Reeves waived some regular program guidelines, including job search requirements and the one-week waiting period. Claims are generally effective the Sunday of the week you file your initial claim.

Mississippi’s maximum benefit is usually $235 per week. But eligible workers will receive an additional $600 a week on top of state benefits. This additional payment will last for up to four months, covering weeks of unemployment ending July 31, 2020. The additional $600 is considered income when determining eligibility for certain means-tested programs, but not for Medicaid and the state children’s health insurance program. .

The Mississippi Department of Employment Services (MDES) has set up a call center to help people apply at 1-888-844-3577 and it’s available seven days a week. You can also apply by line on www.mdes.ms.gov. MDES has also set up an email address to help answer questions: [email protected]

Utility payments

The Mississippi Public Service Commission (PSC) has interruption of utility disconnections for 60 days. The PSC reminded customers that they are still responsible for paying open and overdue invoices, even during this period. Entergy Mississippi, Mississippi Power Company, Atmos Energy, CenterPoint Energy and Spire Gas are also working with the PSC to suspend fees for online convenience payments.

The stimulus package also included an additional $900 million for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

Student loans

Until September 30, 2020, there is an automatic suspension of payments for any student loans held by the federal government. Interest is also frozen for this period. However, borrowers should verify that their managers have reset their billing systems. An estimated 95% of borrowers have federal loans.

The U.S. Department of Education will stop all requests to the U.S. Treasury to garnish tax refunds, paychecks, or Social Security benefits on defaulted federal student loans. It also won’t transfer new accounts to its private debt collectors until September 30. And the Department of Education is returning $1.8 billion to more than 830,000 defaulting borrowers whose money was withheld on or after March 13, the day President Trump declared a national emergency.

Several private lenders also offer assistance. For example, Discover Financial allows certain borrowers to extend their payments or defer them without accruing interest for 2 months. Citizens Bank is waiving late fees and offering a 3 month forbearance. Sallie Mae offers a 3 month payment suspension. And Wells Fargo offers a 90-day payment deferral.

401(k) and retirement funds

For calendar year 2020, there are no required minimum distributions of IRAs or Workplace Retirement Savings Plans. You can also borrow twice the usual amount from your 401(k) or other workplace savings plan. So for 180 days you can take out a loan up to $100,000, and the restriction against taking out more than half of your balance is suspended. You can also withdraw up to $100,000 this year without incurring the 10% penalty.

You will have to demonstrate that your hardship is linked to the Coronavirus pandemic. You may be eligible if you, your spouse or a dependent have tested positive or suffered a negative economic consequence as a result of this emergency.

Read more: A guide to financially surviving when bills come due

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