Checks will soon be distributed1 to millions of Americans who qualify for the $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill. Now is the time for recipients to consider their whole financial picture before cashing in.
How To Use Your Stimulus Check
- Greg McBride, chief financial analyst for Bankrate.com
Review Your Budget
The first step in understanding where your household stands financially is to take a look at your budget. Factor in any financial upsets like a loss of income and account for additional necessary spending—like groceries while your children are at home full time. If you haven’t made one yet, you can download UMassFive’s budgeting workbook here.
Prioritize the Essentials
While it may be tempting to use your tax return or stimulus check for a little retail therapy—keeping your family fed, the lights on, and your housing secure should be your immediate priority.
“Many in our community have already been laid off or had their income reduced, and others fear that for themselves in the near future. Our advice to those facing these challenges is to use your [stimulus] money for maintaining the basics—like your rent or mortgage, groceries, prescriptions, and utilities.”
- Lauren E. Duffy, Executive VP / Chief Operating Officer,UMassFive College Federal Credit Union
With this in mind, make sure you’re also buying yourself some time. Impulse shopping and unnecessary stockpiling now can leave your budget strained if closure of the economy continues. It’s important that consumers plan to leave themselves a cushion for what lies ahead.
If you can’t set aside a cushion, or if what you have doesn’t feel like enough, now might be a good time to identify local food banks, or investigate how to apply for government benefits like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
Press Pause if You Need to
Many utility companies and lending institutions are offering emergency relief right now, including deferring payments on loans for those impacted by COVID-19. Taking advantage of one of these programs can press pause on one bill, and help you free up funds for other essential items like food. Check with your lender to determine if your loan will continue to accrue interest while deferred, or you may find yourself with a higher balance than before the deferment, with the same number of payments ahead.
File for Unemployment
When facing job loss, it's important to use the resources available to you like unemployment benefits. The sooner you file, the sooner you can get your budget back on track while accounting for this temporary supplement. Furthermore, the same act that facilitated the stimulus relief has also outlined improvements to unemployment benefits, including creating a longer claim period, and extending benefits to many who may not have previously qualified2.
This means more people will be taking advantage of these benefits—and in order to receive your checks without delay—it is recommended that you set up a direct deposit into your bank account rather than waiting to be issued a paper check in the mail.
Whether you’re impacted by loss of income, or count yourself among the fortunate who have transitioned to working from home, the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the importance of planning for the unexpected, and maintaining an emergency savings fund. It remains unclear how soon businesses will be able to re-open, and as deficits in supply chains continue to put stress on ongoing operations, more job losses are likely. This means that it’s in your best interest to put your stimulus money in a safe place; like your local federally insured Credit Union.
Applying for a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) is another option for homeowners who might want an additional security net. Like a mortgage, a HELOC requires a lien against your home, which may not be ideal for your situation. If you do have the equity available, however, you will find that HELOCs typically offer much lower interest rates than traditional credit cards.
Want To Help Out?
If you’re not feeling the economic strain personally, and already feel comfortable with your household’s emergency fund, there are a lot of small local businesses out there that would love your (distanced) patronage, and charitable organizations that are operating overtime to help those in need during this crisis. Consider supporting a local restaurant by ordering online and picking up dinner one evening, donating your time and materials sewing masks for healthcare workers, or donating funds to a local charity.
If you have a UMassFive debit card and are enrolled in Buzz Points, we’ve arranged so you can even use your earned rewards to donate directly to a few of our local Survival Centers and Food Banks. The economy will eventually re-open, and new jobs will be posted. Until then, it’s important to remember that as a community, we’re all in this together.
You will not receive any emails or phone calls from the IRS (or any other institution) regarding the payment status for your Stimulus Check.
- In fact, if you filed your taxes, you do not need to take any action to receive your funds: Your stimulus payment will either be direct deposited, or mailed to you, based on how you elected to receive your last tax return.
- If you have not yet filed your 2019 taxes, the Federal Government will refer to how you elected to receive your 2018 return.
- If you have closed the account that your direct deposit was directed to, don't worry. The direct deposit will automatically be returned, and a paper check mailed.
- In order to check on the status of your check, you may refer to the IRS website. (The link to check your payment status will not be live until April 17)