If the pandemic has you wondering about the stability of your financial house, protect it first by shoring up the foundation. By adopting some simple best practices, anyone can create a spending plan that keeps the bills paid and the retirement accounts funded.
Once you’ve done your calculations, you’ll have to grapple with a banking system that has been turned on its head. Considering the reduced customer service at retail banks, I’ve come up with some more best practices — or as I call them, “random things that are good to know but don’t fit in other lists.”
1. Know your options. If you are having trouble paying your mortgage or credit cards, reach out to your loan servicer and let them know of your circumstances. If your loan is owned by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the Enterprises) and your ability to pay your mortgage is affected, you may be eligible to delay making your monthly mortgage payments temporarily. It is a good idea to contact your lender to explain your specific situation. Banks are encouraged by the OCC to work with customers who have been adversely affected by COVID-19. This might include allowing you to defer or skip payments without consequences, extend your loan terms, or restructure the loan.
2. Pay people with Venmo, PayPal, or Zelle. Housekeepers, nannies, or even friends bringing you groceries can be reimbursed with Venmo, PayPal, or Zelle instead of potentially contagious cash. You can always have your bank make a wire transfer, but you will need the account number, routing number, and SWIFT code of the recipient, as well as the address of the bank.
3. Know your banker. With some bank branches closed to customers, what can you do if you can’t go in person? This is a perfect example of why it’s a great idea to have a personal banker — or a relationship with a small, local bank where you will get personal attention.
4. Beware of scammers. Scammers are rampant now and are trying to use the fear of the pandemic to get your personal information to gain access to your accounts. Never give your account numbers or Social Security number to anyone who calls or emails you stating that they have important information to help during this time. Remember that no government agency will ever contact you by email, phone, or text to ask for your Social Security number, bank account number, credit card number, or any other personal information. If you are unsure of the legitimacy of any email that comes from what you think is a trusted institution, call the number on the bank web site, a statement, or the back of your credit card.
5. It’s a great time to go paperless. Shred credit card statements, EOBs from your insurance companies, investment statements, trade confirmations, or anything that the IRS does not want you to save. Set up ebills on your bank web site, and as many reminder emails as you need for utilities, mortgages, rent and/or HOA fees. Additionally, most country clubs, landscape companies, and other maintenance companies are happy to email bills to eliminate paper.
When things started to “go south,” I wasn’t sure what my role would be. Now I’m realizing that I’m a great repository of information. And that’s good because the legislation coming out of Congress very well may be more voluminous than the tax code. It’s important to choose financial professionals who are connected throughout the community — with other financial professionals as well as lawyers and mental health professionals. One way to determine that is to see if they have a blog. Do they have guest bloggers from other fields? Do they seem knowledgeable of current events?
In the meantime, I would love to hear from readers about things they have learned.