Tagcoronavirus

Unemployment Benefits Explained: Terms, Definitions and More

Since the start of the pandemic, mass unemployment has rocked the nation. To help mitigate the damage, two economic stimulus packages allotted unprecedented sums of money to create new benefits programs that assist people who are out of work.

Millions of newly eligible folks now have access to benefits. But the new programs put state unemployment agencies in a tricky position. They are receiving record-breaking surges in applications at the same time that they are tasked with creating and paying out brand new benefits. The result: overburdened websites, unclear instructions and lots of jargon.

Take, for example, this update to applicants on Arkansas’ unemployment website after the second stimulus package passed:

“Some extensions and changes to federal UI programs will include the reinstatement of the FPUC program, extension of PUA program and PEUC program for those who qualify,” the notice states.

After reading that sentence, you may have a couple choice acronyms yourself. Maybe, “OMG — WTH does that mean?”

“Understanding the difference with all these programs and acronyms is going to be confusing,” said Michele Evermore, an unemployment benefits policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project.

Our plain English guide will help you make sense of it all. Consider bookmarking this page and referencing it as you trudge through the process of getting your benefits.

The 2 Unemployment Programs You Definitely Need to Know

The overwhelming majority of people relying on unemployment benefits are receiving aid from two key programs. According to figures from the Department of Labor, more than 13 million people are collecting Unemployment Insurance and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits.

These two foundational programs provide the bulk of unemployment aid through weekly payments. Once you understand the difference between them, a lot of the other programs will start to make sense.

Unemployment Insurance (UI)

Also referred to as Unemployment Compensation, UI is the longstanding benefits program run by each individual state. It’s for people who are out of work at no fault of their own. To qualify for UI, you have to have made a certain amount of money in the recent past  — typically from a W-2 job with an employer that paid into the unemployment system through payroll taxes. Specifics like previous employment duration or earnings vary.

Depending on your state, average UI payments are between $180 and $490 per week, according to the latest data from the Department of Labor. The duration of UI programs also depends on your state. They last between 12 and 30 weeks (without any extensions). The most common duration is 26 weeks.

Additionally, to collect UI, you have to be able to work, available to work and actively seeking work. Some states have waived the “actively seeking work” requirement during the pandemic.

Pro Tip

Use this tool from the Department of Labor to find your state’s unemployment website and start a UI claim.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is a new federal unemployment program. It’s up and running in all 50 states. The first stimulus package created PUA in March 2020. Throughout the pandemic, PUA has been a lifeline for tens of millions of jobless people who don’t qualify for regular UI benefits.

For the first time nationally, gig workers and freelancers, who are considered 1099 independent contractors, have been able to receive unemployment benefits through PUA.

Beyond helping those who were laid off, PUA offers benefits to people who can’t go to work or lost income due to a variety of coronavirus-related reasons. Some examples include contracting COVID-19, caregiving for someone who has COVID-19 or staying home to take care of your kids whose school closed due to COVID-19 lockdown rules.

Because PUA is a federal program, all states must offer it for a maximum of 50 weeks. The minimum weekly payments vary by state, however, because they’re calculated as half your state’s average UI payment. With average state UI payments between $180 and $490, you can expect minimum weekly PUA payments between $90 and $245 depending on your state.

Our guide to filing for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance includes an interactive map to help you find your state’s application rules.
A woman holds hands with her infant while looking for something on her laptop.

7 Quick Definitions to Important Unemployment Terms and Programs

Now that you have a better understanding of the two major unemployment benefits programs, let’s look at extensions, payment enhancements and other important programs that you may be eligible for.

Here’s a primer on seven key terms that you’re sure to come across as you apply for benefits.

CARES Act: The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act was the first coronavirus relief package passed in March 2020. It expanded unemployment assistance, authorized $1,200 stimulus checks and provided relief for small businesses, among several other things. Under this law, those who are partially or fully unemployed as a direct result of the coronavirus may receive up to 39 weeks of federal unemployment benefits.

CAA: The Continued Assistance Act, aka Continued Assistance for Unemployed Workers, is part of the $900 billion stimulus package that became law on Dec. 27, 2020. It extends many of the unemployment programs created by the CARES Act.

DOL: The federal Department of Labor oversees all states’ unemployment systems. Your state may have its own agency named the Department of Labor that administers its unemployment benefits. Generally speaking, DOL refers to the federal agency.

DUA: Disaster Unemployment Assistance is not Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. You may come across this long-standing natural disaster assistance program on your state’s unemployment website. Do not apply. Despite their similar names, they are very different.

EB: Extended Benefits are available in every state except South Dakota. EB is a state-level benefit that extends Unemployment Insurance by six to 20 weeks — depending on your state and your local unemployment rate. To qualify during the pandemic, you may have to exhaust a federal unemployment extension first. (See PEUC below.)

FPUC: Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation boosts unemployment benefits by $300 a week for up to 11 weeks between Dec. 27, 2020, and March 14, 2021. Anyone who is approved for at least $1 of unemployment benefits will automatically receive this bonus. No separate application or action is needed. This program previously paid out $600 per week under the CARES Act, but that version expired in July 2020.

PEUC: Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation extends the length of Unemployment Insurance aid for a maximum of 24 weeks. The first stimulus deal extended UI benefits for 13 weeks, and the second stimulus package added an additional 11 weeks. New applicants (after Dec. 27, 2020) are only eligible for the 11-week extension. This program does not extend Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.

Adam Hardy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. He covers the gig economy, remote work and other unique ways to make money. Read his ​latest articles here, or say hi on Twitter @hardyjournalism.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

How to Protect Your Credit Score During COVID-19

A young Black woman sits outside on her laptop, drinking a coffee and looking up how to protect her credit score from COVID.

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has affected everyone all around the world. Extended isolation and sudden job losses have everyone thinking about their futures. Lots of people are concerned about losing a reliable income source during this time of crisis. Some have even been forced to shut their businesses. The global pandemic has turned many people’s financial lives upside down.

As you work on keeping your bills in good standing and your finances going strong, you should also pay attention to your credit score. Even if you’re delaying some major purchases like buying a car or a home or going on a trip, you still need to maintain good credit. You’ll eventually start spending again, and you’ll need a good credit score.

But how can you protect your credit score during COVID-19? Keep in mind that your credit scores and reports play a crucial role in your future financial opportunities. The following steps will be your handy guide in managing and protecting your credit score during this global pandemic.

Stay on Top of Your Credit
Reports

Even on good days, make sure you regularly review your credit reports from the three credit bureaus. You can get free annual credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com. Through April 2021, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion are allowing consumers to access their credit reports for free weekly. Take advantage of this offer to make sure that any accommodations you request from lenders are appropriately reported and that your identity is safe and secure.

You can also sign up for the free Credit Report Card from Credit.com. With our report card, you’ll see your VantageScore 3.0 from Experian, as well as personalized information on what is affecting your credit score and how you can improve. If you want to dive deeper, sign up for ExtraCredit to see 28 of your FICO scores from all three credit bureaus.

Get ExtraCredit

Keep Up with Your Payments

Late payments can affect your credit history and credit reports for up to seven years. Prioritize paying your bills on time when you can, even during financially difficult times. You can do this by setting up reminders to alert you of payment deadlines. Also, you should make it a habit to make at least the minimum payment each month. Doing so will help you in keeping a good payment history record and prevents you from paying late fees.

Contact your lender whenever you can’t
make payments on time. Lots of lenders have announced proactive measures to aid
their borrowers affected by the global pandemic. Some are willing to provide
loan extensions, interest rates reduction, forbearance, or repayment
flexibilities. The best thing to do is to get in touch with your lender and
explain your current situation. Don’t forget to ask for written confirmation if
any agreements were made. 

Be Aware of Your Protections

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) has protections to help your credit score remain unaffected during the pandemic. This Act puts special requirements on some agencies and companies reporting your payment information to the credit reporting companies. The requirements are applicable if you’re affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and specifically covered by the Act.

If you request an accommodation under the CARES Act, your creditors will report your account to the credit reporting agencies based on the current standing of your credit when the agreement is made. The requirements set by the CARES Act are only applicable to agreements made between 31st of January 2020 and 120 days after the COVID-19 national emergency officially ends.

Get to Know What Impacts Your
Score

If you’re currently unemployed and wondering if it will affect your credit score, the answer is no. Unemployment itself will not impact your score. Making late payments and missing payments are the things that most significantly affect your credit score. This is why we recommend getting in touch with your lender as soon as you suspect you may not be able to make a payment in full on time. Inform them of your current situation. This can also help you cope with your anxiety.

Hard inquiries, account mix, and credit age also impact your credit score, but to a lesser degree. Your major concern should be keeping your credit utilization low and paying bills on time.

Keep Yourself and Your
identity Protected

Securing your personal information and identity is also crucial in protecting your credit score. Identity theft and scams are rampant during this coronavirus pandemic. Your personal information can unlock different financial resources. Hackers and cybercriminals can utilize all your personal information to impersonate you and open credit card accounts, make purchases, transfer funds, and borrow money. If left undetected, this activity can significantly damage your credit score.

Though the damage is reversible, the entire process will be costly. That’s precisely why prevention is always the best option. ExtraCredit from Credit.com, for example, offers $1 million in identity theft protection and dark web monitoring, among other features.

Make Budgeting and Planning a Habit

During this crisis, budgeting is essential for keeping your credit card debt low and your credit score high. Pay attention to how much money you make and the amount of money you spend. Identify expenses where you can cut the usual costs, at least temporarily.

Reworking your budget is necessary, especially if you’re currently unemployed or earning less money. You can consider the following money-saving ideas to maximize your savings:

  • Put nonessential purchases such as online shopping and clothes on hold
  • Temporarily suspend nonessential services such as cleaning and lawn care
  • Cancel subscriptions on cable, music streaming, video streaming, etc.
  • Search for affordable meal planning solutions
  • Cancel fitness and gym memberships
  • Cut back child-related extracurriculars such as tutoring, lessons, and sports
  • Spend less on takeout

Although reducing costs is not fun, the
result will reduce your financial stress and will allow you to better protect
your credit.

You Can Protect Your Credit Score from COVID-19

All the things mentioned above have one thing in common: All require taking a proactive approach to your finances and credit. Follow the six credit-protection strategies mentioned above to maintain and protect your good credit even if you are facing a financial crisis.

About the Author

Lidia S. Hovhan is a part of Content and Marketing team at OmnicoreAgency. She contributes articles about how to integrate digital marketing strategy with traditional marketing to help business owners to meet their online goals. You can find really professional insights in her writings.


The post How to Protect Your Credit Score During COVID-19 appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

How to Prepare for the End of Your Unemployment Benefits

Before the coronavirus reached the U.S., unemployment was low and few could have anticipated a global pandemic. However, as the pandemic and ensuing recession took hold, a record-breaking number of people filed for unemployment benefits to stay financially afloat.

“COVID-19 led to an incredible number of American workers being without work,” says Julia Simon-Mishel, an unemployment compensation attorney. “And it’s caused a huge need for individuals to file for unemployment insurance.”

Unemployment insurance, or unemployment benefits, can offer an essential lifeline. But if you’ve never accessed these benefits before, you may have questions about how they work. You might also be asking: What do I do when my unemployment benefits run out and I’m still unemployed?

This article1 offers tips about what you need to know about filing an unemployment claim. It also addresses the following questions:

  • How do you prepare for the end of unemployment benefits?
  • Can your unemployment benefits be extended?
  • What can you do when unemployment runs out?
  • Can you refile for unemployment after it runs out?

A record number of people have filed for unemployment, and many are wondering what to do when unemployment runs out.

If you’re just getting ready to file or need a refresher on the basics of unemployment benefits, read on to have your questions answered.

If you’re already collecting benefits and want to know what happens once you reach the end of the benefit period, skip ahead to “Steps to take before your unemployment benefits run out.”

Common questions about unemployment benefits

Experiencing a job loss is challenging no matter what. Keep in mind that you’re not alone, and remember that unemployment benefits were created to help you.

As you consider how to prepare for the end of unemployment benefits, remember that you're not alone.

While they’re designed to provide financial relief, unemployment benefits are not always easy to navigate. Here’s what you need to know to understand how unemployment benefits work:

What are unemployment benefits?

Unemployment insurance provides people who have lost their job with temporary income while they search for and land another job. The amount provided and time period the benefits last may vary by state. Generally, most states offer up to half of a person’s previous wages in unemployment benefits for 26 weeks or until you land another full-time job, whichever comes first. Requirements and eligibility may vary, so be sure to check your state’s unemployment agency for guidance.

How do you apply for unemployment benefits?

Depending on where you live, claims may be filed in person, by phone or online. Check your state government’s website for details.

Who can file an unemployment claim?

This also may vary from state to state, but eligibility typically requires that you lost your job or were furloughed through no fault of your own, in addition to meeting work and wage requirements. During the coronavirus pandemic, the government loosened restrictions, extending unemployment benefits to gig workers and the self-employed.

When should you apply for unemployment benefits?

Short answer: As soon as possible after you lose your job. “If you are someone who has had steady W2 work, it’s important that you file for unemployment the moment you lose work,” Simon-Mishel says. The longer you wait to file, the longer you’re likely to wait to get paid.

When do you receive unemployment benefits?

Generally, if you are eligible, you can expect to receive your first benefit check two to three weeks after you file your claim. Of course, this may differ based on your state or if there’s a surge of people filing claims.

Can unemployment benefits be extended? Check your state’s unemployment insurance program page for updates.

2020 enhancements to unemployment benefits for freelance and contract workers

In early 2020, the U.S. government enacted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act. In addition to other benefits, the CARES Act created a new program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. This program provides unemployment benefits to independent contractors and other workers who were typically ineligible. That means that if you don’t have steady W2 income—for instance, freelance and contract workers, those who file 1099s, farmers and the self-employed—you still may qualify for unemployment benefits.

“That program is a retroactive payout,” Simon-Mishel says. “If you’re just finding out about that program several months after losing your job, you should be able to file and get benefits going back to when you lost work.”

Because legislation affecting unemployment benefits continues to evolve, it’s important that you keep an eye out for any additional stimulus programs that can extend unemployment benefits. Be sure to regularly check your state’s unemployment insurance program page for updates.

“It’s really important to keep on top of all the information out there right now and be aware of what benefits are available to you.”

– Julia Simon-Mishel, unemployment compensation attorney

Steps to take before your unemployment benefits run out

In a perfect world, your job leads would become offers long before you reached the end of your unemployment benefits. But in reality, that’s not always the case.

If you’re still unemployed but haven’t yet exhausted your benefits and extensions, you may want to prepare for the end of your unemployment benefits as early as possible so you don’t become financially overwhelmed. Here are four tips to help you get through this time:

Talk to service providers

Reaching out to your utility service providers like your gas, electric or water company is one of the first steps John Schmoll, creator of personal finance blog Frugal Rules, suggests taking if you’re preparing for the end of unemployment benefits.

“A lot of times, either out of shame or just not knowing, people don’t contact service providers and let them know what their situation is,” Schmoll says. “[Contact them to] see what programs they have in place to help you reduce your spending, and basically save as much of that as possible to help stretch your budget even further.”

Save what you can

To help prepare for the end of your unemployment benefits, a few months before your benefits end, Schmoll suggests cutting back spending as much as possible, focusing only on necessities.

“If you can try and save something out of the benefits that you’re receiving while you’re receiving them—it doesn’t matter if it’s $10 or $20—that’s going to help provide some cushion,” Schmoll says. Keep those funds in a separate account if you can, so you’re not tempted to spend them. That way you’re more prepared in case of an emergency.

If you hunkered down during your period of unemployment and were able to save, try to resist the urge to splurge on things that aren’t necessary.

“There might be temptation to overspend, but curtail that and focus on true necessities,” Schmoll says. “That way when [or if] you receive an extension on your benefits, you now have that extra money saved.”

Saving money can be a good way to prepare for the end of your unemployment benefits.

Saving money can be a good way to prepare for the end of your unemployment benefits.

Seek additional financial aid

If you find that your savings and benefits aren’t covering your expenses, and you’re reaching a point where you no longer qualify for benefits, look into other new benefit programs or features designed to help during times of crisis.

For example, there are programs across the country to assist people with rent or mortgages, Simon-Mishel says. Those programs are generally designed to keep those facing financial hardship from losing their home or apartment. You may need to show that you are within the programs’ income limits to qualify, or demonstrate that your rent is more than 30 percent of your income. These programs vary widely at the state and even city level, so check your local government website to see what might be available to you.

As you prepare for the end of your unemployment benefits, explore which government benefits or government agency may be best suited for your needs.

Keep up with the news

During economic downturns, government programs and funds often change to keep up with evolving demand.

“It’s really important to keep on top of all the information out there right now and be aware of what benefits are available to you,” says Simon-Mishel. “You should closely pay attention to the social media of your state unemployment agency and local news about other extension programs that might be added and that you might be eligible for.”

Pay attention to social media and local news as you prepare for the end of your unemployment benefits.

Options for extending your unemployment benefits

If you’re currently receiving benefits, but they’ll be ending soon, you’re likely wondering what to do when your unemployment runs out and asking if your unemployment benefits can be extended. Start by confirming when you first filed your claim because that will determine your benefit end date.

If you’re wondering, “Can you refile for unemployment after it runs out?” the answer is yes, but you’ll have to wait until your current “benefit year” expires. Note that a benefit year is 12 months from when you file a claim. If you filed at the beginning of June, for example, you generally can’t file again until the beginning of the following June.

You may get 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, depending on your state’s rules at the time. Most states extended the payout period to 39 weeks in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Check your state’s website for the particulars on what to do when your unemployment runs out.

If your claim is still active but you’ll be in need of additional financial relief after your unemployment benefits run out, here are your options:

File for an unemployment extension

During extraordinary economic times, such as the coronavirus pandemic, the federal government may use legislation like the CARES Act to offer people more benefits for a longer period of time, helping many people concerned about whether unemployment benefits can be extended.

Can you refile for unemployment after it runs out? It can vary by state, so reach out to your unemployment office.

For example, in 2020, for most workers who exhaust, or receive all of, their unemployment benefits, a 13-week extension should automatically kick in, Simon-Mishel says. This would bring you up to 39 weeks total. However, if more than a year has passed since you originally filed and you need the extension, you will likely need to file a short application provided by the government. Details vary by state.

As you’re determining what to do when your unemployment runs out, reach out to your unemployment office. It’s important to do this before your benefits expire so you can avoid a missed payment. You can also confirm you’re eligible and that you can refile for unemployment after it runs out.

Ask about the Extended Benefits program in your state

Can unemployment benefits be extended beyond that? In periods of high unemployment, you may qualify for a second extension, depending on your state.

“After those [first] 13 weeks, many states have added a new program called Extended Benefits that can provide another 13 to 20 weeks of unemployment when a state is experiencing high unemployment,” Simon-Mishel adds. This means you may be able to receive a total of up to 59 weeks of unemployment benefits, including extensions. The total number of weeks of unemployment you may receive varies based on your state and the economic climate.

It’s hard enough keeping up with everything as you prepare for the end of unemployment benefits, so don’t worry if you don’t have your state’s benefits program memorized. Visit your state’s unemployment insurance program page to learn more about what benefits are available to you.

For anyone considering what to do when unemployment runs out, it's important to take things one day at a time.

Beyond unemployment benefits

While life and your finances may seem rocky now, know that you’re not alone. Remember that there are resources available to help support you, and try to take things one day at a time, Schmoll says.

“Realize that at some point your current situation will improve.”

If you find that your benefits aren’t covering all of your expenses, now may be the time to dip into your cash reserve. Explore these tips to determine when it’s time to use your emergency fund.

1 This article is not legal advice and should not be construed as such. Eligibility for unemployment benefits may be impacted by variations in state programs, changes in programs, and your circumstances. If you have questions, you should consider consulting with your legal counsel, at your expense, or seek free assistance from your local legal aid organization.

Articles may contain information from third-parties. The inclusion of such information does not imply an affiliation with the bank or bank sponsorship, endorsement, or verification regarding the third-party or information.

The post How to Prepare for the End of Your Unemployment Benefits appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.

Source: discover.com

Don’t Panic! 3 Money-Saving, Last-Minute Tax Tips for Homeowners

last minute tax tips for home ownerskroach/iStock

It’s heeeere: tax time.

Granted, this year, the coronavirus pandemic prompted the Internal Revenue Service to extend the usual April 15 deadline to July 15. That might have seemed like plenty of time—and yet here we are, with a mere two weeks to go and a filing window that’s closing fast.

We get it. Maybe you’re a procrastinator. Or maybe you’re a homeowner who, rather than taking the easy-peasy standard deduction, generally tries to save a bundle by itemizing your deductions instead.

Whatever your reason, if you’ve put off filing your taxes until now, don’t panic! You still have options.

Here are three last-minute tax tips for homeowners that could save you plenty of money, headaches, and more.

Tip No. 1: Grab Form 1098

Form 1098, or the Mortgage Interest Statement, is sort of like your home’s W-2: a one-stop shop for your possibly two biggest tax breaks.

  • Mortgage interest: “The biggest real estate tax deduction for most people will be the interest on their home loan,” according to Patrick O’Connor of O’Connor and Associates. Single people can deduct the full interest up to $500,000; for married couples filing jointly, the limit is $1 million if you purchased a house before Dec. 15, 2017. If you bought a home after that date, you will be allowed to deduct the interest on no more than $750,000 of acquisition debt—that’s a loan used to buy, build, or improve a main or secondary home. (Here’s more on how your mortgage interest deduction can help you save on taxes.)
  • Property taxes: This is the second-biggest deduction for most homeowners. Just remember the total amount you can deduct is $10,000, even if you pay way more—and that includes state and local income tax, property tax, and sales tax. (Here’s how to calculate your property taxes.)

You might be eligible for other real estate–related deductions and tax credits, but these are the biggies for most people. If you’re down to the wire on filing, you might just deduct these two and call it a day.

Just remember to make it worth your while. These numbers need to add up to more than the current standard deduction, which jumped to $12,200 for individuals, $18,350 for heads of household, and $24,400 for married couples filing jointly.

Tip No. 2: File an extension

If you still need more time to get your taxes together, it’s totally simple and penalty-free to file for an extension until Oct. 15. But don’t get too excited; the IRS still requires you to pay your estimated tax bill by July 15, or else you’ll pay interest on what you owe down the road.

The IRS makes it easy to file for an extension, either online or by mail. On the form, just estimate how much tax you owe. If you’re filing an extension because you need more time to figure out your itemized deductions, one easy shortcut is to just take the standard deduction now—or the same amount you claimed last year. All in all, it’s better to overestimate what you owe, because then you won’t pay any interest. Once you file for real, anything you’ve overpaid will come back to you.

But what if you need an extension because you can’t pay your tax bill? It’s still better to file for an extension with fuzzy numbers than to not file at all.

The IRS has payment plans that can help if you are short on cash. Just file something—blowing the deadline entirely will open you up to penalties as well as interest on your bill. And maybe an audit, too.

Tip No. 3: Hire some help

If you make less than $69,000 a year, you qualify to use free tax prep software from the IRS. Even if you make more than that, there are lots of free or low-cost online tax prep options that should work for anyone with relatively straightforward taxes.

Of course, another option is to find yourself a good accountant.

If paying for a tax preparer sounds extravagant, keep in mind that, according to the U.S. Tax Center, the average cost of getting your taxes done is only $225. This, generally speaking, is money well-spent.

A good accountant can actually save you money by spotting deductions you might not have found on your own, and helping you plan to minimize the next year’s taxes. All in all, that may add up to the best few hundred bucks you’ve ever spent!

Another timesaver: Rather than snail-mailing your accountant your tax forms, snap pictures of them on your smartphone; some apps like CamScanner can do so with scanner-style quality. Accountants don’t need the originals to file.

For next year, remember to prepare

OK, so this year you waited too long and stressed yourself out. If you don’t want a repeat ordeal next year, now is also the time to mend your ways and start tax prep early. Nobody wants to be thinking about taxes all year, of course. But as a homeowner, you can do some things to be better prepared.

So before you do any home maintenance, upgrades, or renovations, research whether there are any tax deductions you could be eligible for.

Start now, and you’ll be sitting pretty to collect on all the various tax perks that come with owning a home rather than pulling out your hair at the last minute.

The post Don’t Panic! 3 Money-Saving, Last-Minute Tax Tips for Homeowners appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

Fed reports credit card balances continued to dip in November

Credit card balances slightly dipped in November, as the COVID pandemic fallouts continued, and with the government continuing to wrangle about a second round of fiscal stimulus measures.

Consumer revolving debt – which is mostly based on credit card balances – was down $700 million on a seasonally adjusted basis in November to $978.8 billion, according to the Fed’s G. 19 consumer credit report released Jan. 8.

In November, credit card balances were off 1% on an annualized basis, after October’s 6.7% drop, which came on the heels of September’s 3.2% annualized gain.

Total consumer debt outstanding – which includes student loans and auto loans, as well as revolving debt – continued to grow and rose $15.3 billion to $4.176 trillion in November, a 4.4% annualized gain.

Card balances had touched an all-time high in February 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic started impacting consumer spending and bank lending. They dipped below the $1 trillion mark in May, for the first time since September 2017.

The Fed also reports that interest rates on credit cards were at 14.65% in November, with the rates on cards that are assessed interest (since they carry a balance) at 16.28%.

See related: Paying with credit is getting more expensive in the pandemic

Consumers expect household spending to rise

Consumers expect their household spending at the median to grow 3.7% in the year ahead, the highest in more than four years – even though they don’t anticipate much growth in their income (2.1%) or earnings (2%) – according to the New York Fed’s survey of consumer expectations for November.

Moreover, they are less optimistic about their household financial situation in the year ahead, with more of them expecting it to decline, and fewer consumers expecting an improvement.

Even then, more respondents are optimistic about their ability to access credit in the coming year, expecting it will be easier. However, the mean probability of missing a minimum debt payment in the next three months rose by 1.6 percentage points to 10.9%. Even then, this is still below its 11.5% average for 2019.

Less cheer on labor market front

On the labor market front, more consumers expect that the U.S. unemployment rate will be higher in the year ahead, with the average probability of this outcome rising to 40.1% in November, from October’s 35.4%.

However, they were less pessimistic about the prospects of losing their jobs, with this probability down to 14.6% on average, from October’s 15.5% (but still above the 2019 average of 14.3%).  Those above the age of 60 and those without a college degree were more optimistic about holding on to their jobs.

The respondents were less likely to voluntarily leave their jobs, with the mean probability of this down 1.3 percentage points to 16.6% (a low for the survey). Those 60 and older were at the forefront of this decline. However, respondents on average were more optimistic about the prospects for landing a new job if they lost their current ones.

In the meantime, the government reported that the economy shed 140,000 jobs in December, and the unemployment rate remained at 6.7%. The jobs lost were mostly in the sectors hard hit from the pandemic, with closures impacting the leisure and hospitality sector, as well as private education jobs.

The retail sector added jobs to aid holiday shopping, mostly in warehouses (which benefit from e-commerce) and superstores.

Although average hourly earnings for private sector employees rose $0.23, this is mostly because of the loss of lower-paying jobs in the leisure and hospitality sector, which tilted the average wage for the employed workers to the upside.

In online commentary, Diane Swonk, chief economist at GrantThornton, noted, “The silver lining to a bad overall jobs report is that the losses were concentrated in sectors that are most sensitive to COVID. Many of those jobs will come back once we get to herd immunity. The challenge is getting there, given the slow rollout of vaccines and poor uptake in some areas.”

Given that it will take a while to more fully open the economy, she is in favor of “aid today and another tranche once the new administration takes office.”

See related: Second stimulus deal provides $600 per individual

Application rates for credit cards plunged on pandemic impact

The New York Fed also reported in its credit access survey, which is conducted every four months as part of its survey of consumer expectations, that most credit applications and acceptance rates fell sharply after last February. Mortgage credit was the exception to this.

For credit cards, the application rate was off a steep 10.6 percentage points since February to touch a survey low of 15.7%. This decline impacted all age groups and credit score categories. Applications for credit card limit increases dropped 6.6 percentage points to 7.1% between February and October, another series low since the survey began in October 2013. The decline was spread across all ages and credit score categories.

Consumers applying for credit cards were also subject to steep rejection rates, with this rate rising 11.6 percentage points from February to touch 21.3% in October. Those looking for higher credit limits also were rejected about 37% of the time, from about 25% of the time in February.

No wonder consumers said they were less likely to apply for a credit card or credit limit increase in the next 12 months, with these figures falling 36% and 34% on average since February 2020. Those with credit scores above 680 led this decline.

Source: creditcards.com

UI Extension: How to Get 11 More Weeks of Jobless Benefits

“Taken together, the expanded benefits have had a massive effect on the economy,” Evermore said. “Initial unemployment claims are still coming in at unprecedented levels — but this could have been a lot worse without all these federal benefits.”
Data from the Department of Labor proves that. More than 4 million Americans have exhausted their state UI benefits and are relying on the federal extension.
“Understanding the difference with all these programs and acronyms is going to be confusing,” Evermore said. “Just follow the instructions from your state agency. The agency is required to give you information on how to apply [for extensions].”
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.
The catch: You can only apply for this extension once you have run out of your state’s unemployment benefits. You can’t pre-register. The Department of Labor directed states to alert you by email or letter if you are potentially eligible for the extension, but made it clear to states to not automatically enroll people.
Most states offer Unemployment Insurance for 26 weeks. If your benefits are about to expire, and you’re still out of work, a low-grade panic may be setting in.

How Unemployment Insurance Extensions Work

In March, the .2 trillion CARES Act authorized federal aid to supplement state-level Unemployment Insurance programs, a provision dubbed Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation or PEUC. The second stimulus package passed in December revived PEUC, extending UI benefits for 11 more weeks.
Another source of uncertainty is the number of weeks PEUC will extend your unemployment benefits in total. The first stimulus package authorized 13 additional weeks of benefits. The second package authorized 11 more. But it’s more complicated than adding those two figures together and getting 24 extra weeks.
For example, Florida has the shortest duration of unemployment benefits, at 12 weeks. The state’s Extended Benefits program is also one of the shortest, at six weeks. The order of operations for all possible extensions in Florida would look like this: 12 weeks of UI, 24 (max) weeks of PEUC, six weeks of EB. The total so far is 42 weeks, meaning Florida residents can potentially use Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for 8 weeks to reach the maximum of 50 weeks of aid.
In times of high unemployment rates, 49 states (all except South Dakota) have an Extended Benefits or EB system that adds up to 20 weeks of benefits, according to data compiled by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Provided that local unemployment rates are still high when you exhaust PEUC, you may qualify for more benefits.
Source: thepennyhoarder.com
By design, this may cause an interruption in weekly payments.

Pro Tip
Michele Evermore, senior researcher and policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project, told The Penny Hoarder that the PEUC extension will become “incredibly crucial” as state benefits expire.

Here are two important things you need to know: One, unemployment extensions are available. But, two, they’re not automatic.

But Wait. There’s More.

Based on guidance from the Labor department, the order of unemployment programs for typical jobless workers goes like this:
The PEUC application is based on your state-level unemployment claims. While you must opt in to receive the additional weeks of benefits, you won’t have to completely reapply.
New York residents who exhaust their state’s program, in contrast, would not be eligible for PUA because the total length of their state benefits plus all available extensions exceeds 50 weeks. By quite a bit, too. Including all sources of assistance, New Yorkers are eligible for up to 70 weeks of unemployment benefits.
Here’s our 50-state guide to filing for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. (We include an interactive map with specific state-by-state instructions.)

  1. State UI programs (which vary from 12 to 30 weeks)
  2. Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (as many as 24 weeks)
  3. State Extended Benefits or EB (six to 20 weeks)
  4. The final failsafe if all other programs are exhausted: Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.

“The password reset process, in many states, is really difficult,” Evermore said. “You have to call and talk to a password reset person, and then that person will mail you — in the mail — a new password.”

If you are unable to find work after exhausting your state’s program and all additional weeks of PEUC, you may be eligible for a separate extension from your state.
As an Unemployment Insurance recipient, you are likely eligible for PEUC, the new extension program from the federal government.
“There’s an order of operations here,” Evermore said.

FROM THE MAKE MONEY FORUM

Under PEUC, your weekly benefits will be the same as your state benefits, the check will just be coming from the federal government.
Whatever you do, don’t lose your password to your online unemployment profile.
Adam Hardy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. He covers the gig economy, entrepreneurship and unique ways to make money. Read his ​latest articles here, or say hi on Twitter @hardyjournalism.
But even if you didn’t get that first extension, you could still get the 11 additional weeks approved in the second stimulus bill.
Note: This article has been updated with new information from the Continued Assistance Act (the second stimulus package).
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is a federal program that’s available for a maximum of 50 weeks, including the weeks of all previous programs you may have been on.
The unemployment provisions laid out in the first stimulus package expired in December 2020. So the 13 extra weeks provided by the CARES Act are no longer available to new applicants.
For jobless applicants, though, taking all this in can be overwhelming. But benefits are there if you can trudge through the paperwork and arcane websites.

How COVID-19 is Affecting Auto Loans

COVID-19 is having a massive impact on the global economy and very few industries have been untouched by it. If your business relies on employees working in a physical space and profits only when people are willing to shop and spend, there’s no escaping it. 

It’s no surprise, therefore, that the auto industry has been so negatively affected. In a recent guide, we looked at the many auto loan relief options that manufacturers offering in light of the coronavirus. In this guide, we’ll highlight the ways this industry has been stung by the pandemic and look at what it means for the future of the US automobile and car financing sectors.

How is the Coronavirus Affecting Car Sales?

The automobile manufacturing industry experienced a minor surge at the beginning of 2020 but COVID-19 began to impact sales heavily in March. Many companies, Fiat Chrysler and General Motors included, began the year with strong momentum behind them, but March hit them hard and negated all the gains made during the first two months.

Both of these companies recorded losses for the first quarter of 2020, with Fiat Chrysler losing 10% in total.

Toyota, one of America’s biggest manufacturers, also recorded massive losses for March, with daily sales dropping by nearly a third during this month.

All of this is to be expected. The US has yet to announce the sort of national lockdowns we have seen in countries like the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, and Greece, but many citizens are in self-isolation, countless businesses have shut their doors, and there are fewer cars on the road as a result.

Combine this with the fact that people are losing their jobs and worrying about their futures, and it’s easy to see why car sales have been affected so severely. 

What are Manufacturers Doing About It?

Automobile manufacturers have moved quickly to stem the rising tide of financial devastation caused by COVID-19. Fiat Chrysler, for instance, is offering improved auto loan conditions to convince consumers to make sizeable purchases and keep the wheels turning. It has also made it easier to purchase a car for those in self-isolation or lockdown.

You can now buy a Fiat Chrysler online, with options for trade-ins, auto loans, and pretty much everything else you would get when buying in person.

They’re making it easier for you to buy because they need you to make that commitment. At the same time, the production of many new vehicles has been halted.

While some plants and showrooms are still open in the United States, Europe has experienced an almost continent-wide shutdown, leading to a decreased demand. 

Manufacturers are also anticipating that things will get worse, as many experts predict that the USA will experience a spread similar to that of Spain and Italy.

How Has COVID-19 Hurt the Automobile Industry?

We have already touched upon some of the ways that COVID-19 has impacted the automobile industry, but the problem goes far beyond people not being able to make it to their local showrooms. Furthermore, if events in Europe are anything to go by, the problems will only get worse and it could be several years before the automobile sector recovers.

Here are a few reasons the industry has been hit hard:

Uncertainty

There is a genuine fear that the COVID-19 pandemic will remain for all of 2020 and even beyond that. It seems unlikely that it will last for that long, but if the country doesn’t go into lockdown and a vaccine isn’t produced, it’s possible. 

With this in mind, many consumers are putting off buying new cars out of fear that they simply won’t need them. New cars depreciate rapidly and can lose 20% in the first year. What’s the point of spending $30,000 on a new car if it will be worth $24,000 by the time you actually get behind the wheel?

Struggling Stock Markets

The stock market doesn’t just impact big companies and investors. It also affects average American families who have their money tied into savings accounts, stocks, and pensions. Savers have lost a lot of money and are worried that they’ll lose even more in the near future, making buying a $30,000+ vehicle incredibly reckless. 

Price of Gas

One of the few things that the automobile industry has on its side is the price of fuel, which has plummeted in the past few weeks. The problem is, no one cares about the price of fuel when they’re stuck inside the house worrying about their health and their jobs.

Closed Plants

Automotive plants can’t simply shut down for a few weeks and then start up again when everything has cleared up. Many plants were already struggling to keep things together and once production stops and their profits disappear, they may close down entirely, taking hundreds, if not thousands of jobs with them. 

Bottom Line: Car Sales After COVID-19

It’s highly likely that the hard times will continue for the manufacturing industry. As the coronavirus continues to spread across the country, manufacturing plants will struggle to retain employees, showrooms will shut, and fewer Americans will be willing to pay the $30,000+ required for a new vehicle.

Whether this impacts the future price and availability of automobiles remains to be seen, but it’s highly likely that we’ll see some massive changes in this industry. America’s best-loved manufacturers will lose millions and could be sent to the brink of financial destruction, while many salespersons and mechanics will likely lose their jobs as demand drops and garages/showrooms close down. 

 

How COVID-19 is Affecting Auto Loans is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

Things To Do While You’re Stuck In Your Apartment

Creating An Inspiring Home Office Space

Guest Post

Things To Do While Stuck In Your Apartment During the Coronavirus Pandemic

By now, almost everyone in the country is under some kind of shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders from government agencies due to the coronavirus pandemic. Authorities stress that this is the main way to try to flatten the curve of new infections.

OK, so what can you do while cooped up in your apartment. The options aren’t quite unlimited, but they are numerous. Take advantage of the space you have and undertake any activity that will be good for your mental or physical well-being. Here’s a look at some of the most popular:

1. Do a jigsaw puzzle

This has become quite popular around the country, with people finishing a jigsaw puzzle and then posting a picture of it on social media. The more pieces, the better, say, 1,000 or more. How long you’ll be able to do this to remain occupied depends on how many puzzles you have on hand, or how many times you’re willing to do the same puzzle over again.

If you don’t have jigsaw puzzles, maybe you have a Rubik’s Cube or a book of crossword puzzles. You can also find crossword puzzles online and in your daily newspaper, if you still subscribe.

2. Exercise!

If you have a set of weights in your apartment, use them. Or maybe you’re a packrat and still have exercise routines on VHS tapes or DVDs. If not, there are plenty of routines you can find for free online. 

If you can leave your apartment, go for a walk or a jog, as long as you observe the social distancing rules that are now the new normal. If you don’t want to go outside, walk up and down a stairwell or walk up and down your hallway. Again, give others their personal space.

Short of that, you can go old-school and do crunches, sit-ups and push-ups on your floor. You can also do isometric exercises using a rolled-up bath towel. For a refresher on the techniques, check out these workouts you can do in your apartment and then get to work. 

Whatever you chose, mix it up and keep it fresh as you stay in shape. 

3. Binge-watch

OK, the first two suggestions will put your mind and body to work. At some point you’ll feel like being a couch potato, so why not catch up on a series you’ve been meaning to watch on Netflix, Disney Plus or one of the many streaming services available? You’ve never had a better excuse than now. 

“Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness” has become all the rage on Netflix. It was released in mid-March and has given people something to do in the age of coronavirus. It is a true-crime documentary television series about the life of former zoo operator Joseph Maldonado-Passage.

If that’s not your thing, there are favorites such as “Narcos: Mexico” and “Stranger Things” on Netflix. If you’ve already seen them, what’s the harm in starting over? On Disney Plus you can watch “The Mandalorian,” “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” and “The Simpsons.”

4. Spring cleaning

It’s spring, and you have a lot of unexpected time on your hands. Now’s a great time to get in some spring cleaning of your apartment. Cut through the clutter and organize your closet and dresser. Most importantly, regularly clean and disinfect important areas such as kitchen surfaces and appliances that are used often. You should also keep your bathroom clean. 

5. Other stuff

There are plenty of other things you can be doing, such as catching up on your reading, playing a musical instrument, writing emails to friends and family and getting plenty of rest.

Read Things To Do While You’re Stuck In Your Apartment on Apartminty.

Source: blog.apartminty.com

17 ways to use the Amex Platinum’s monthly $30 PayPal credit

As 2020 came to a close, cardholders mourned the end of several temporary perks implemented during the coronavirus pandemic. For example, cardmembers of The Platinum Card® from American Express were disappointed when temporary streaming and mobile statement credits ended as scheduled on Dec. 31, 2020. But, at the start of January 2021, American Express quietly …

Source: thepointsguy.com

Using Credit Cards During COVID-19

Since we’re in the middle of a pandemic, we’re all trying to figure out the new normal. Whether you’re working from home, have a houseful of kids to keep busy or find yourself facing financial uncertainty, everyone has at least a little adjusting to do. While you’re taking stock of your life and what you need to adjust, it’s probably a good idea to take a look at your finances and credit card use, too.

Wondering how you should use your credit card? We’ve got some ideas for you on how you can use your credit card in the middle of a global emergency. 

How to Use Your Credit Card During a Pandemic

But before we get started, remember to take a hard look at your personal finances before following any financial information. Everyone’s situation is different—so what might work for you might not work for someone else, and vice versa.

1. Keep Online Shopping to a Minimum

If you’re working from home, the temptation to online shop can be all too real. But when you’re in the middle of a pandemic, you might need to put your money towards unexpected expenses. 

David Lord, General Manager of Credit.com, has some advice on preventing frivolous spending. “Try browsing, putting things in your cart and leaving them for the day,” Lord suggests. “If you take a look at your cart the next day, you’ll most likely find that 90% of the time you won’t remember the things you placed in your cart in the first place.”

If the temptation to online shop is too strong, Lord suggests buying something that’ll keep you occupied for a while, like a puzzle, a paint set or a yoga mat. That way, you’ll be too distracted to buy something else.

2. Try to Keep Your Credit in Good Shape

During a global emergency, it feels like everything’s up in the air. Because of that, it’s important to stay as on top of things as you can and prepare for the worst-case scenario. Having good credit is important in the best of times, but it can be even more so in the worst. 

Let’s say you find yourself with a bill that you can’t pay on your hands. If you need to take out a loan, you’d probably want a loan with the best interest rates possible. In order to qualify for those types of loans, you’ll need a good credit score. 

If you’re in a position to do so, try to keep your credit score healthy. Here’s some quick things you can do today:

  • Keep an eye on your credit score and credit report
  • Pay your bills on time—at least the minimum payment
  • Keep your credit utilization ratio at 30%

But if you find yourself in a financial situation where you can’t keep up with everything, you can prioritize. For example, going above 30% of your credit utilization ratio won’t impact your score as much as missing a payment. That’s because credit utilization makes up 30% of your credit score, while your payment history makes up 35% of your score. 

3. Utilize Cashback Rewards

Do you have a great rewards credit card on your hands? Now’s a great time to use them. While some credit cards might not be handy right now, like travel rewards cards, there are others that could be useful. If your card offers cashback on categories such as groceries, gas and everyday purchases, take advantage. You could use those rewards to help you cover essential purchases. 

4. Use Your Balance Transfer Credit Cards

If you already have significant debt or if you’ve recently taken on new debt, you might want to consider using a balance transfer credit card. A balance transfer credit card allows you to move your debt from one card to your balance transfer card, which typically has a lower promotional interest rate. These promotional interest rates can last from six to 18 months, and sometimes longer.

These are great options if you’re faced with new debt. If you’re struggling to pay the rent, groceries or medical bills, and your stimulus check can’t cover it all, you can use your balance transfer credit card. Just make sure to be careful. You still have to pay off your debt, so make sure to do so before the promotional balance transfer offer ends. If you can, try to make regular payments on your card, so you’re not faced with an overwhelming amount of debt when the promotional offer ends.

Be Mindful of Your Situation

Above all else, be mindful of your situation. What urgent bills do you have to pay? Do you have a loved one in the hospital? Have you or your significant other lost their job? Make goals based off of your situation, and use your credit card accordingly.

Go to Guide
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If you’re looking for more information on coronavirus and your finances, check out our COVID-19 Financial Resource Guide. We update it frequently, to make the most up-to-date and useful information available to you. 

The post Using Credit Cards During COVID-19 appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com