COVID-19: Managing financial health in challenging times
Getting through a financial emergency
Financial emergencies can happen to anyone and come at any time. They can be the result of family illness, job loss, urgent home repairs, or a weather event like a major flood. Some events could even shut down your community for an extended period.
You may be worried about the impact of the current COVID-19 pandemic on your finances. Whatever the source, financial emergencies can be stressful and cause considerable hardships for you and your family.
When sudden events occur, it may not always be immediately noticeable that you are heading towards financial hardship. A long-term assessment of your capacity to maintain your current lifestyle is important. Consider any impacts on your income, grocery bills, housing, utilities and other necessities that still need to be paid.
Emotional situations can lead to poor financial decisions. Be sure to get the help you need with financial decisions during an emergency. Take the time to get advice and information on what you would like to do.
The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) has many educational resources on budgeting, credit, savings, debt management and more. Interactive tools and calculators can also help you maintain good financial health during these challenging times.
Be prepared. If you think the current pandemic may put you in financial hardship, here are some steps you can take.
What is the Government of Canada doing to help
The Government of Canada is taking action to help Canadians manage their finances during this exceptional period. Learn more about new measures in the Economic Response Plan.
The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) deferred the filing and payment due dates for the 2019 income taxes of individuals. This will provide flexibility to Canadians who may be experiencing hardships during the COVID-19.
The new Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) provides a taxable amount of $2,000 a month for up to 4 months for those facing unemployment due to COVID-19.
The new Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) provides support to students and new graduates who are not eligible for the CERB or Employment Insurance (EI) and are unable to find work due to COVID-19.
Many employees are unemployed due to shortage of work because of closed or decreased operations due to COVID-19. If that is your case and you qualify for Employment Insurance benefits (EI), you can apply for EI.
If you are sick, quarantined or have been directed to self-isolate, you can apply for EI sickness benefits. The Government has waived the one-week waiting period. You won’t have to provide a medical certificate to access the benefits.
Your family benefits
The Canada Child Benefit has been increased to an extra $300 per child. This benefit will be delivered as part of the scheduled payment in May. Those who already receive the benefit don't need to re-apply.
Your student loan
Effective March 30, 2020, all student loan borrowers will automatically have their repayments suspended until September 30, 2020. During this time, you won’t have to make any payments and interest will not accrue. You do not need to apply for the pause on repayment.
Receiving money from the Government
The fastest way to receive benefits and tax refunds from the Government of Canada is to create an account with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and sign up for direct deposit. Some financial institutions allow you to set up direct deposit through their online banking services and mobile application. Direct deposit is fast, convenient and secure and allows consumers to immediately access the full amount deposited.
Cashing your CERB or CESB cheque
The Government of Canada has temporarily increased the cheque-cashing limit to $2,000 for emergency benefits-related cheques to individuals.
If you’re still receiving benefits by Government of Canada cheque, you may cash your cheque for free. Usually, you can cash a cheque that is $1,500 or less, at any bank even if you’re not a customer. However, the Government has temporarily increased the limit to $2,000 for emergency benefits-related cheques to individuals, such as CERB. You must simply show acceptable identification to the teller such as a passport or driver’s license.
You can also deposit your cheque in person at any bank branch, using an ATM or by mobile device. However, the bank will put a hold on the money. Depending on the amount, you may have to wait between 5 and 8 business days before accessing the money.
If you're thinking about using a payday loan company or cheque-cashing outlet, this will cost you money. These companies usually charge a percentage of the amount that is being deposited plus a flat fee. For example, if you cash a $1,000 cheque, you could be charged 2.99% of the value of the cheque, plus $2.99 for each item you cash. This means that after fees, you'd only get about $967 instead of the full $1,000.
What to do if you’re facing financial hardship
You may be facing financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
If you're having trouble paying for your ongoing expenses or foresee challenges in keeping up with your regular payments, visit your bank’s website. Be proactive and look at the options that your bank is proposing.
Banks in Canada are closely monitoring developments related to COVID-19. If you’re facing short-term financial issues, your bank might be able to help. Some banks have announced measures that include the opportunity for relief on certain credit products. Other banks might be open to waive certain fees or delay payments.
Note that some banks have additional measures in place to support seniors and people with disabilities. These measures may include flexible hours of operation, prioritization in the queue and assistance with certain transactions
Your mortgage payments
If you’re having problems making your mortgage payments because of the COVID-19 situation, you might be eligible for a mortgage deferral.
A mortgage deferral allows you to skip payments for a defined period of time. Interest will continue to be charged on the amount you owe and will be added to your balance.
When the deferral period ends, you’ll have to pay your deferred payments and added interest into your monthly payments. This could be either when your payments resume at the end of your deferral or upon renewal at the end of your mortgage’s term. If you have emergency savings, you may want to consider using them before considering a mortgage deferral.
Note that mortgage payment deferrals focus solely on your mortgage. It won’t affect other payments regularly withdrawn, like property taxes.
How to apply for a mortgage deferral
Visit your bank’s website for the latest information on mortgage deferrals. If you decide to use this option, ask your bank about the costs and terms and whether this can impact your credit report.
Note that Covid-19-related mortgage deferral is available for an indefinite period. This means that you do not face a deadline for having to seek relief. You can approach your bank as the need arises.
If your mortgage is insured with the CMHC, you can contact a mortgage professional for assistance. They can determine what options you have and help you find a solution for your specific situation.
Lowering credit card interest rates
Many Canadian banks are offering consumers who are experiencing financial hardship as a result of COVID-19 the possibility of temporarily reducing the interest rate on their credit cards. Many also offer defer payments for a period of up to six months.
Terms and interest rates may vary depending on the bank. Contact your financial institution by using its online portal, telephone banking service or by booking an appointment to determine if you are eligible. Otherwise, your monthly payments and interest rates will remain the same.
Avoiding more debt
During this uncertain period, try to avoid borrowing additional money as much as possible. Research shows those who often use credit to pay for daily expenses because they have run short of money have lower levels of financial well-being.
If you must borrow money, make sure you understand the cost of different credit products before you make a decision, and borrow only what you need.
Certain credit products are more expensive than others due to their high interest rates and fees. For example, a payday loan should be your absolute last resort, as they often carry very high fees.
A home equity line of credit (HELOC), on the other hand, could potentially be a good replacement for emergency savings, under certain circumstances.
Make sure you compare all borrowing options and their fees, interest rates and repayment terms before choosing a credit product. Otherwise, contracting new expensive credit now could create more financial problems for you in the future.
If you are having trouble making ends meet, seek advice from reputable sources to explore the financial options that are available to you. You can contact a financial professional, such as a licensed financial advisor or an accredited credit counsellor, to discuss a plan. If you choose a financial advisor, make sure they are licensed.
Be cautious when searching for the right professional who can help you. Some companies offering to help to pay off debt or repair credit are misleading consumers.
Budgeting in times of uncertainty
Having a budget is key, especially when an emergency occurs. In order to manage your budget, you will need to identify your income and your expenses. It’s also important to identify your needs versus your wants during a specific period.
The Budget Planner is an interactive tool that provides you with tips, suggestions, guidelines and alerts. It can help you determine whether you will have the funds to meet your ongoing financial commitments and where you could cut expenses.
Having and maintaining an emergency fund
An emergency fund is money you set aside to pay for unexpected expenses. In general, it’s recommended that you save the equivalent of 3 to 6 months of your regular expenses.
If you don’t currently have an emergency fund, consider putting some money aside right now if you can afford it. Depending on how the situation evolves, you may need to rely on an emergency fund sooner than expected.
If you’re already experiencing financial hardship and can’t afford to start or maintain an emergency fund, contact your bank. They could recommend specific products or services, like a HELOC, a debt management plan or accessing funds in your registered retirement savings plan (RRSP), to help you get through these difficult times.
Where to ask questions or voice concerns
If you have questions or concerns about the impact of these difficult times on your bank account, your savings or your credit products, contact your financial institution. Make sure you have the contact information to get in touch with your bank.
FCAC welcomes your inquiries. You can communicate with us by email, mail or telephone. You can also contact us if you have a complaint about a federally regulated financial institution.
What to do if your branch closes
Your financial institution might have to close branches temporarily. Online, mobile, ATM or telephone banking may become necessary for making financial transactions. Make sure you have your login information and passwords or bank’s phone number handy.
You might notice that some consumers and businesses have stopped using cash to limit potential exposure to COVID-19. However, the Bank of Canada strongly advocates that retailers continue to accept cash. This will ensure that all consumers have access to the goods and services they need.
Protect yourself from financial fraud
You should always protect yourself from financial fraud, especially during a period of uncertainty. Unfortunately, fraudsters will prey on consumers' fears and misinformation over the COVID-19 pandemic. You may get phone calls, emails and texts regarding the COVID-19. Be very cautious when receiving them.
Here are a few things to consider in order to protect yourself from financial fraud:
- never click on links or attachments in unsolicited or suspicious emails
- never give out your personal or financial information by email or text
- note that financial institutions will never ask you to provide personal, login or account information by text or email
- when banking online, enter your financial institution’s website address in your browser yourself
- beware of questionable offers related to cures, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is
- if you have concerns about your insurance coverage, contact your insurance company directly
- if you need information on the COVID-19, refer to a trusted source such as the Government of Canada’s COVID-19 page
Remember that if you didn’t initiate contact with a person or a business, you don’t know who you are dealing with.
The Canadian Anti-fraud Centre has more information on scams and tips related to COVID-19 to help protect yourself from fraud.
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