Tag: coronavirus

Getting Your Finances Back on Track Post-COVID

A young man writes in his notebook in front of an open laptop.

It’s safe to say 2020 was a pretty hard year for everyone financially.

Even if your wallet hasn’t taken a hit in the last few months it’s likely either your employer or someone in your family has found themselves stretched financially by the effects of COVID.

No point dwelling on the past, though. We may not be able to go back in time and stop COVID happening and ruining our 2020, but we can ensure we’re at least in a better position financially in 2021, avoiding bad credit scores and getting our savings back on track.

There’s no better time than now to start planning for post-COVID life, so here are our essential financial tips.

Tips for Getting Your Finances Back on Track

  • Draw Up a Budget That Fits Your Lifestyle
  • Secure All the Incomings You Can
  • Have a Plan for Deferred Payments
  • Start Saving Now
  • Tips for Businessowners

Draw Up a Budget That Fits Your Lifestyle

Throughout the pandemic, your monthly budget probably changed quite dramatically.

You probably saved on fuel, travel, and evenings out with so many offices and restaurants closed—but no doubt spent a whole lot more on your utility bills.

As the economy reopens and some sense of normality resumes, you need to restructure your budget to a post-COVID world.

Now, this doesn’t mean penny-pinching. COVID may have been kind to you, and reassessing your budget is simply a matter of moving funds that you would have spent on your home into your socializing budget. However, if you’re one of the many people no longer getting some kind of financial support on top of your diminished wage, you need to figure out how you’re going to pay rent, buy food, and cover all the other essentials.

The end of remote working, catching up on vacations, covering childcare—these are all real-world requirements your budget will need to be able to answer for.

Secure All the Incomings You Can

A huge part of getting your finances back on track properly is about making sure you’re making the most of every incoming payment available to you.

With so many people across the world struggling with a lack of work caused by the pandemic, it’s important to be aware of any possible financial aid available to you.

Most importantly, you should check if there are systems unique to your personal circumstances or line of work. There are businesses and charities with systems in place to provide or acquire support for everyone from professional actors unable to perform throughout the pandemic (such as Actors Fund) to retired veterans who have returned from tours with physical or invisible injuries and conditions (such as Vet Comp & Pen). Whatever line of work you are or were in, there will likely be some level of support available for you.

Likewise, you should start to consider how your talents could be put to good use to make that budget stretch a little further.

Side hustles such as running an Etsy store or becoming an online tutor become massively popular alternative revenue streams for out of work professionals during the height of lockdown. This is still a highly viable way of rebuilding your finances post-COVID. If you have a little bit of cash to invest, it can go a long way.

Have a Plan for Deferred Payments

Pandemic solutions have seen governments, banks, and landlords offering mortgage, loan, and rent deferrals to people who cannot pay them.

As things return to normal, people are going to need a plan to pay off these debts.

First, start by referring to the deferment terms so you know exactly what payment will be expected and if it can be broken up into installments. This will massively affect the overall structure of your budget.

These are perhaps the most important payments you’ll be making, as they concern your home, so make sure they’re priority number one post-COVID.

Start Saving Now

After all, any savings are good savings.

No one can be sure where we’ll be in six months or even a year. If we see another major spike across the world it could mean your finances take another hit and you need to dip into those rainy day funds to stay ahead.

Find the right savings account for you

Start working out a savings plan that works for you now. Don’t plan to give up everything you love for a year to get some extra cash, but, much like a budget, notice where you can cut back.

 Online banks and apps like Monzo and Chime are a great way to save within even realizing it. These apps allow you to set a monthly budget on different types of purchases, sending you alerts when you’re about to break them. So much of budgeting is about self-control and being across your financial situation, so why not take responsibility out of your hands?

Tips for Businessowners

Before we go, here are a few tips for small businessowners who may be worried about how they can secure their enterprise’s financial security as well as their personal one.

  • Find alternative revenue streams for your business. Is there a second service your business could offer to bring in some extra cash, such as gift wrapping for a small online store during the holiday period?
  • Make sure you’re not overspending on digital tools. They may have stepped up and helped us host meetings, manage teams, and schedule inspirational social content remotely, but are you paying a subscription fee for an app that doesn’t actually boost your business all that much?
  • Use freelancers rather than employing new staff. The freelance sector could really use a hand up right now, and freelancers present a cheaper, less permanent way for you to pick up lucrative contracts and projects without investing in hiring and training staff on permanent contracts.

It’s important to be realistic when financially planning for the end of COVID. We don’t know when that will be, and you can’t expect yourself to come out of this in better financial shape than you’ve ever been. That’s an unrealistic pressure.

Follow these tips and make sure you’re making the most of this period of reflection to ensure a healthy financial future for you and your loved ones.

Rodney Laws is an ecommerce consultant with EcommercePlatform.io. He has more than a decade of experience providing marketing advice to online entrepreneurs and businesses. He’s set up and marketed his own businesses and consulted on crafting campaigns for established companies.

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The post Getting Your Finances Back on Track Post-COVID appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

Bundle Up! Winter’s Home-Buying Game Has Changed. Here’s How To Win

How to buy a house this winterViktoriia Hnatiuk / Getty Images

Savvy home buyers know that winter is typically a good time to embark on a house hunt, since much of their competition stays holed up at home until spring. But this winter, buyers might notice that despite the cold and the holidays, they’ve got company.

Lots of it, in fact.

“Normally winter is a good time for buyers,” says realtor.com® chief economist Danielle Hale. However, since the coronavirus kept buyers on lockdown for much of spring, many are making up for lost time by home shopping hard right now.

“This year’s unusual seasonal pattern means that buyers aren’t getting the usual break from the market frenzy that they typically do in the cooler weather,” Hale explains.

As a result, this winter is shaping up to be a seller’s market, with low real estate inventory, high prices, and bidding wars that could give buyers a major run for their money.

This doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel—just that you’ll have to hone your house hunt in new ways to suit the times. Here are some tactics that will keep you ahead of the pack so you’ll be sitting in a new home by the new year.

Secure your financing as soon as possible

Getting pre-approved for a mortgage and securing financing are an essential first step when buying a home. It gives you a clear picture of how much house you can afford, and lets you make an offer as soon as you find your dream home.

Matt van Winkle, a real estate broker and owner at Re/Max Northwest Realtors in Seattle, says this process is more important now than ever.

“Getting pre-approved for a loan is obviously important, but is there anything else they can do to put themselves in a good position?” he says. “Buyers need to be ready to buy a house before they start looking.”

Too often, buyers don’t line up their financing until they find a home they want to buy, van Winkle says. In the current competitive market, waiting to get pre-approval means you could lose out on purchasing a home you love.

“That creates a mad dash and stress to get everything lined up under pressure,” he says. “Get all your financing secured and ready before you look, that way when you find the right home you’re 100% ready.”

Starting early could also help you lock in an ultralow interest rate, which could affect your monthly mortgage payment and mean you could afford a more expensive home. As of Oct. 22, Freddie Mac listed rates at 2.8% for a 30-year fixed-rate loan.

Know what you want before you house hunt

COVID-19 has changed how we live and work. We’re spending much more time at home, and people are looking for different features in their living spaces.

Make a list of your must-haves before you start house shopping—and share your needs with your real estate agent.

Simon Isaacs, broker and owner of Simon Isaacs Real Estate in Palm Beach, FL, says it helps cut down on the number of homes you’ll have to view before finding the right one.

“I would suggest buyers not look at 25 homes,” he says. “If the agent is showing them that many houses, the agent doesn’t know what they want.”

In such a competitive landscape, knowing exactly what you want enables you to act fast when you want to make an offer.

Tour homes virtually first

More real estate agents are embracing virtual tours and remote showings to ease coronavirus safety concerns. In some cases, they’re even limiting in-person showings to the most serious buyers—those with financing already secured, for example.

“Real estate agents in our local market are adjusting to the client’s needs by continuing to provide in-person showings with precautions and also assisting buyers virtually with their home purchases,” says Matt Curtis, owner of Matt Curtis Real Estate in Huntsville, AL.

Virtual home tours, using Zoom or FaceTime, let you view the home from anywhere, and depending on the setup, you might be able to ask questions in real time. So you can narrow down the homes you’re most interested in and physically visit only the ones that best meet your needs.

Don’t dawdle if you want to make an offer

In September, there were nearly 40% fewer homes on the market than during the same month last year, according to a realtor.com report. At the same time, buyer demand has increased, creating an incredibly competitive marketplace. Homes were on the market for an average of 54 days in September, 12 fewer days than last year.

Tracy Jones, a real estate agent with Re/Max Platinum Realty in Sarasota, FL, says the buyers she’s worked with lately have had just a few homes to consider. And, with all the other buyers in a location also looking at those same houses, you’ll need to act fast if you’re interested.

The challenge, she says, is potential buyers have little time to mull things over, and they are pitted against one another.

Isaacs is seeing a similar situation. Wait too long to submit an offer, and another buyer is likely to swoop in with an offer of their own.

“I would say don’t deliberate on buying,” he says. “I’ve had too many clients who were [saying], ‘Should we, shouldn’t we.’ I would say if it’s something that you want to do, do it.”

Make your offer stand out

Since inventory is so low, sellers are getting multiple offers on their homes these days. To make sure yours gets accepted, you’ll need to make it stand out.

Cash offers and inspection waivers are some ways to make your offer more appealing, Curtis says.

A cash offer, if you can afford it, is attractive to sellers because it eliminates dealing with a mortgage lender and often speeds up closings. An inspection waiver comes with lots of risks, since you’re essentially agreeing to purchase a home as is, but the waiver removes any repair negotiations and helps you close faster.

For competitive markets, where you know you’ll be competing directly with many buyers, Jones suggests talking to your agent about escalation clauses. This is a contract addendum where you agree to pay more than other offers (up to a maximum you set).

Bottom line: “Find a strategy to help make your offer stand out amongst the 10, 20, or more offers that may come in on your dream home,” Curtis says.

The post Bundle Up! Winter’s Home-Buying Game Has Changed. Here’s How To Win appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

Is Your Mortgage Forbearance Ending Soon? What To Do Next

mortgage forbearanceSEAN GLADWELL / Getty Images

Millions of Americans struggling to make their monthly mortgage payments because of COVID-19 have received relief through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

But mortgage forbearance is only temporary, and set to expire soon, leaving many homeowners who are still struggling perplexed on what to do next.

Enacted in March, the CARES Act initially granted a 180-day forbearance, or pause in payments, to homeowners with mortgages backed by the federal government or a government-sponsored enterprise such as Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Furthermore, some private lenders also granted mortgage forbearance of 90 days or more to financially distressed homeowners.

According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, 8.39% of loans were in forbearance as of June 28, representing an estimated 4.2 million homeowners nationwide.

So what are affected homeowners to do when the forbearance goes away? You have options, so it’s well worth contacting your lender to explore what’s best for you.

“If you know you’re going to be unable to meet the terms of your forbearance agreement at its maturity, you should call your loan servicer immediately and see what options they may be able to offer to you,” says Abel Carrasco, mortgage loan originator at Motto Mortgage Advisors in St. Petersburg, FL.

Exactly what’s available depends on the fine print in the terms of your mortgage forbearance agreement. Here’s an overview of some possible avenues to explore if you still can’t pay your mortgage after the forbearance period ends.

Extend your mortgage forbearance

One simple option is to contact your lender to request an extension.

Homeowners granted forbearance under the CARES Act can request a 180-day extension, giving them a total of 360 days of forbearance, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The key is to contact your lender well before your forbearance expires. If you let it expire without an extension, your lender could impose penalties.

“If you just stop making regular, scheduled payments, you could have a late mortgage payment on your credit,” warns Carrasco. “That could severely impact refinancing or purchasing another property in the immediate future and potentially subject you to foreclosure.”

Keep in mind, though, a forbearance simply delays payments, meaning they’ll still need to be made in the future. It doesn’t mean payments are forgiven.

Refinance to lower your mortgage payment

Mortgage interest rates are at all-time lows, hovering around 3%. So if you can swing it, this may be a great time to refinance your home, says Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist at LendingTree.

Refinancing could come with some hefty fees, however, ranging from 2% to 6% of your loan amount. But it could be worth it.

A lower interest rate will likely lower your monthly payment and save you thousands over the life of your mortgage. Dropping your interest rate from 4.125% to 3% could save more than $40,000 over 30 years, for example, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

“Lenders have tightened standards, though, so you will need to show that you are a good candidate for refinancing,” Kapfidze says. You’ll need a good credit score of 620 or higher.

As long as you’ve kept up your end of the forbearance terms, having a mortgage forbearance shouldn’t affect your credit score, or your ability to refinance or qualify for another mortgage.

Ask for a loan modification

Many lenders are offering an assortment of programs to help homeowners under hardship because of the pandemic, says Christopher Sailus, vice president and mortgage product manager at WaFd Bank.

“Lenders quickly recognized the severity of the economic situation due to the pandemic, and put programs into place to defer payments or help reduce them,” he says.

A loan modification is one such option. This enables homeowners at risk of default to change the terms of their original mortgage—such as payment amount, interest rate, or length of the loan—to reduce monthly payments and clear up any delinquencies.

Loan modifications may affect your credit score, but not as much as a foreclosure. Some lenders charge fees for loan modifications, but others, like WaFd, provide them at no cost.

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Watch: 5 Things to Know About Selling a Home Amid the Pandemic

———

Put your home on the market

It may seem like a strange time to sell your home, with COVID-19 cases growing, unemployment rising, and the economy on shaky ground. But, it’s actually a great time to sell a house.

Pending home sales jumped 44.3% in May, according to the National Association of Realtors®’ Pending Home Sales Index, the largest month-over-month growth since the index began in 2001.

Home inventory remains low, and buyer demand is up with many hoping to jump on the low interest rates. Prices are up, too. The national median home price increased 7.7% in the first quarter of 2020, to $274,600, according to NAR.

So if you can no longer afford your home and have plenty of equity built up, listing your home may be a smart move. (Home equity is the market value of your home minus how much you still owe on your mortgage.)

Consider foreclosure as a last resort

Foreclosure may be the only option for many homeowners, especially if you fall too behind on your mortgage payments and can’t afford to sell or refinance. In May, more than 7% of mortgages were delinquent, a 20% increase from April, according to mortgage data and analytics firm Black Knight.

“When to begin a foreclosure process will vary from lender to lender and client to client,” Sailus says. “Current and future state and federal legislation, statutes, or regulations will impact the process, as will the individual homeowner’s situation and their ability to repay.”

Foreclosures won’t begin until after a forbearance period ends, he adds.

The CARES Act prohibited lenders from foreclosing on mortgages backed by the government or government-sponsored enterprise until at least Aug. 31. Several states, including California and Connecticut, also issued temporary foreclosure moratoriums and stays.

Once these grace periods (and forbearance timelines) end, and homeowners miss payments, they could face foreclosure, Carrasco says. When a loan is flagged as being in foreclosure, the balance is due and legal fees accumulate, requiring homeowners to pay off the loan (usually by selling) and vacating the property.

“Absent participation in an agreed-upon forbearance, deferment, repayment plan, or loan modification, loan servicers historically may begin the foreclosure process after as few as three months of missed mortgage payments,” he explains. “This is unfortunately often the point of no return.”

The post Is Your Mortgage Forbearance Ending Soon? What To Do Next appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

Why is a disputed collection account still on my credit report?

Reader Alesia writes, “I disputed a collection account from 2016 on my credit report with all three bureaus. Two of them deleted the account. However, Experian did not and the creditor has updated the date of collection to November 2020. Does this mean it will now stay on my report until 2027? And why did the two delete it and not the other? I still dispute the account. What can be done in these situations?”

When you don’t pay your credit card bill or loan payment on time, the creditor eventually declares it delinquent. And typically six months after the time you first stopped paying your dues, it will either write it off or send it to collections. If it’s the latter course of action, the delinquent account becomes a collection account.

Check out all the answers from our credit card experts.

Ask Poonkulali a question.

Each credit bureau has its own processes

Alesia, the three credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – are all independent of each other and have their own processes. That’s why you rightly disputed the collection account with all three of them individually.

Equifax, one of the three credit bureaus, advises in online commentary, “It’s important to remember that disputing information with one credit bureau may not impact information on credit reports from the other two bureaus. Also, dispute procedures may not be the same at all bureaus, so be sure to follow the procedure with the bureau where you’re filing a dispute.”

When you file a dispute with a credit bureau, the bureau will contact the creditor and ask it to look into the information and check its records. The creditor then has a 30-day time frame to respond to the credit bureau with accurate information. If the creditor does not respond by this deadline, the credit bureau can then act on any information the consumer has provided to update the account or remove it.

It may be that the creditor did not get back to Experian in time with the relevant information, and the credit bureau did not make any changes on your account. Or it may not have responded to all three of them in time, and each then acted on its own information (each has its own input on your credit history) and processes in dealing with the account. It could also be that the lender did not provide the same input to all three credit bureaus, for whatever reason.

Also note that the coronavirus pandemic has upset these dispute investigation timelines, and the CFPB has even said it will be lenient in allowing the stretching of this time frame somewhat for lenders and credit bureaus that are looking into disputes.

See related: A collection agency is pursuing me for an old debt I don’t recognize. What to do?

Date of first delinquency is what’s important

Alesia, you report that the creditor updated the date of collection on the account with Experian to November 2020, whereas this collection account goes back to 2016. One important date related to delinquent accounts and collection accounts is the date of first delinquency.

This is the date on which the debt first went delinquent. The debt will be reported on your credit report for seven years after this date. In the case of a collection account, it will be on your credit report for seven years after it went into collection, which is typically six months after the date of first delinquency.

This means it will show on your credit report for up to seven-and-a-half years following the date of first delinquency. The creditor’s updating of the date of collection to November 2020 would mean there is a change to the date of last activity on the account. It does not change the actual date of first delinquency. So the debt will be reported through 2023 and not 2027.

See related: What should I do if my debt’s date of first delinquency is incorrectly reported?

You could initiate another dispute

The Fair Credit Reporting Act allows you to initiate a dispute with the credit reporting agency or the creditor that furnished the information to an agency if you don’t agree with what’s in your credit report. Alesia, you have gone through this process with all the credit bureaus, but you don’t agree with the result provided by one credit bureau.

You should contact the collection agency that provided the input to Experian to find out how this happened and see if you can sort out the issue. If there is a mistake it agrees to rectify with the credit bureau, don’t forget to get written input about the resolution for your records.

If that doesn’t work, you have the option of filing another dispute with Experian, and also with the furnisher of the information. Make sure to provide any additional and relevant information that could boost your case, such as updated credit reports from the other two credit bureaus.

If you don’t agree with the dispute resolution, you could also have a statement added to your credit report providing your account of the dispute.

Another course of action is to file a complaint with the CFPB, using its consumer complaint database. In case you don’t get a desirable outcome after all this, you  could even talk to a lawyer specializing in FCRA matters to get more detailed assistance on your particular situation.

Alesia, I hope the matter is ultimately resolved to your satisfaction!

Source: creditcards.com

Employment Resources: Five Steps for Finding a New Job

A woman reads various employment resources and books at a large white desk in front of a window.

The Congressional Budget Office believes the unemployment rate will hit 16% during the summer of 2020 due to the impact of the coronavirus. With so many people on the hunt for a new job, landing an interview and getting hired is going to prove difficult for many. But the truth is that getting a new job isn’t always easy even in the best of times, which is why using all possible employment resources is important.

Follow these five steps to leverage employment resources to help make your job hunt success more likely.

1. Set Yourself Apart with New Skills

If you find yourself unemployed for any reason—especially during an economic downturn such as the one related to the COVID-19 pandemic—you might not be able to find a job right away. It’s a good idea to turn to unemployment benefits if you qualify to help you cover expenses while you hunt for a new job.

Then, consider finding ways to make yourself
more attractive to potential employers. During times when the unemployment
numbers are particularly high, you can bet that your resume is going to be
competing with many others. If you’re able to demonstrate a skill that others
don’t have, you can set yourself apart during the application process.

Consider using your time during unemployment to learn skills that complement your existing ones—especially if other people with similar education and experience backgrounds might not have those skills. One way you can do this is to sign up for online courses through a service like Coursera. You can add skills such as data analytics, coding languages, spreadsheet use, or business analytics to your resume.

Learn New Skills with Coursera

2. Add Your Skills to a Well-Rounded, Engaging Resume

Once you have those new skills, you need to find the best way to work them into your resume. If you’re looking for a job at the same time everyone else is, your resume must be high-quality and engaging to capture the attention of hiring managers. But it also has to have all the right words and phrases to get past applicant screening software. That’s technology many employers use to filters out resumes that don’t meet the job qualifications.

Balancing all of that within a short document that must also convey your education, experience and passion for the job can be daunting. Many people turn to online templates to help them create a resume. But that tactic can leave your document looking exactly like everyone else’s. Instead, you might consider using a resume service such as Monster.com to ensure your resume is as powerful as possible.

Improve Your Resume with Monster

3. Upload Your Resume to a Job Site

Armed with new skills and a killer resume, you next need to put yourself out into the job market in effective ways. Consider uploading your resume to a site such as ZipRecruiter. ZipRecruiter lets you search for job openings by region, niche or keyword. You can apply directly for open positions, but you can also upload your professionally written resume so recruiters and headhunters can find you.

Find a New Job on ZipRecruiter

4. Use Networking Resources

Letting people know that you’re looking for a job is a critical step in finding out about as many options as possible. Uploading your resume on ZipRecruiter is a great step, but don’t forget to let friends and family know you’re looking. Sign up for LinkedIn and post on your other social networks that you’re on the job hunt. You never know when someone in your circle will know about a job that hasn’t been posted yet.

5. Don’t Give Up

Getting a new job can be hard, especially if you really want to hold out for something that you’re passionate about or works with your lifestyle. If you’re looking for a job during the COVID-19 pandemic, consider some ways to make money while you’re waiting for the right position to open up. And even in good economic times, don’t expect a job to fall into your lap the second you put your resume out there. Modern hiring processes are complex, and it can take time even if a company is interested in your resume.

Find Your Next Job

Whether you’re a new grad just entering the job market, a seasoned vet looking to make a change, or someone who has lost their job due to economic issues, hunting for work can be stressful. Make sure that you’re using all the employment resources available to you as you work to find a new job.

And if you’re dealing with financial struggles related to COVID-19, check out our coronavirus resources to learn more about assistance options that might be available to you while you’re looking for employment.

The post Employment Resources: Five Steps for Finding a New Job appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

How to Qualify for the Coronavirus Economic Relief Package

The coronavirus economic relief package for workers and small businesses can be confusing. Who qualifies for what programs? How do you apply successfully?

If you’ve been laid off or had your work hours cut due to the pandemic, you're eligible for both state and federal unemployment compensation. That’s a pretty straightforward situation.

If you run a business that’s been hurt by the economic downturn and you have employees, you qualify for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). It’s a loan backed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) that offers relief if you want to continue paying your employees, even if they can’t do their jobs during the health crisis. If you use PPP funds for approved business expenses, such as payroll, rent, and utilities, you don’t have to repay the loan.

Additionally, there are other types of loans you can get through the SBA, such as the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL). It comes with potentially higher loan amounts than the PPP but must be repaid. You may also qualify for an Economic Injury Disaster Grant (EIDG), which pays businesses $1,000 per employee, up to a $10,000 maximum, and doesn’t have to be repaid.

Whether you call yourself a full or part-time freelancer, gig worker, or an independent contractor, you’re still a small business. If you’ve suffered financially due to the pandemic, you have several options to get relief.

But what’s been unclear are the options for the self-employed who have no employees except themselves. Whether you call yourself a full or part-time freelancer, gig worker, or an independent contractor, you’re still a small business. If you’ve suffered financially due to the pandemic, you have several options to get relief.

I interviewed Gerri Detweiler, a nationally recognized financing and credit expert with more than 20 years of experience. She’s the Education Director for Nav, a trusted financing partner for more than 1.2 million businesses. Gerri gives Nav’s customers certainty in an uncertain world through expertise and actionable advice. 

On the Money Girl podcast, Gerri and I cut through the confusion to help businesses of any size, including solopreneurs, understand how to get economic relief during the coronavirus crisis. We cover a variety of topics, including:

  • Understanding the coronavirus relief options for businesses, the self-employed, and the unemployed
  • Whether a solopreneur should file for unemployment or the PPP
  • Documents you need to prepare before applying for an SBA-backed loan
  • How business credit is different from consumer credit
  • Common mistakes that keep businesses and the self-employed from qualifying for economic relief
  • Tips to make sure a PPP loan you receive will be forgiven
  • How consumers who are struggling to pay bills can protect themselves from debt collectors

Listen to the interview using the embedded audio player or on Apple PodcastsSoundCloudStitcher, and Spotify.

If you’re a struggling entrepreneur, check out these resources to understand your options:

11 Options If Your Small Business Can’t Pay Its Bills Due to Coronavirus

Applying for a Business Loan Is Changing Due to COVID-19: Here’s What It Means

How to Apply for a Payroll Protection Program (PPP) Loan

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

Student Loans vs. Financial Aid

A young woman stands outside in front of a green tree, holding her books and wearing a backpack, smiling off into the distance.

As of early 2020, student loan debt in the nation had reached more than $1.5 trillion. More than 44 million individuals have student loan debt, and the average person with student loans owes a bit over $32,000—which is more than half of the average household income in the United States. As a new school year approaches, more individuals are searching for ways to fund their education without going into debt for years. Luckily, student loans aren’t the only way to get help paying for college.

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Learn more about student loans vs. financial aid below,
and get some information about various ways to help fund your education.

Student Loans vs. Financial Aid: What’s the Difference?

Both student loans and financial aid can come from the federal government or the private sector. The main difference between student loans and financial aid is whether or not you need to pay back the money you are given. Student loans generally require that you pay back the loan with interest, while financial aid packages like scholarships and grants typically do not need to be paid back.

That distinction can make a big difference. “Every dollar you receive in scholarship or grant form is a dollar you don’t have to pay interest on,” says Zina Kumok, an editor at Dollar Sprout. And saving that money opens up possibilities after graduation, too. “Students who don’t have to take out as many loans will have more career options and afford to start their own businesses, work in lower-paying fields, or even take time off to travel abroad.”

But as with any financial agreement, make sure you
understand the terms upfront before signing anything. Not all financial aid
comes without strings.

How to Apply for Financial Aid

To qualify for federal loans and other types of federal financial aid, you’ll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You might need to complete the FAFSA with some of your parents’ income information if you are still a dependent.

To apply for private loans and financial aid, you must
research the program in question and complete the appropriate application
process. For example, academic or extracurricular scholarships are often
offered by various colleges and universities. You’ll have to look on those
university websites or contact financial aid departments at various schools to
find out about how to apply to these programs. Scholarships offered by private
organizations will have their own processes as well.

Student Loans

Student loans provide credit extended to you or your parents for the purpose of paying for college. Student loans do have to be repaid, but typically not until you’re out of school. In some cases, such as if you’re going to work in certain public sectors, you might be able to apply for a student loan forgiveness program.

Subsidized and Unsubsidized Federal
Loans

When you apply with the FAFSA, you may find out you qualify for federal loans. Subsidized federal loans tend to have slightly better terms than unsubsidized loans. Another benefit of a subsidized loan is that the interest on it is covered by the Department of Education as long as you meet enrollment requirements. The amount you can borrow is limited, and interest rates range from 2.75 to 4.3%.

Learn more about federal student loans and economic protections from COVID-19: What You Need to Know about CARES, HEROES, and HEALS.

Private Student Loans

If you don’t qualify for federal student loans or want another option, you can apply for private student loans from commercial lenders. Whether you can get approved for these loans or get favorable terms and rates might depend on your credit score.

Don’t know your credit score? Sign up for ExtraCredit to find out.

Sign Up for ExtraCredit

Financial Aid

Financial aid
takes many forms, and most often does not need to be paid back after you
graduate. These types of aid can be offered by your school, other private
institutions, or the government. They are most often divided into needs-based
aid and merit-based aid.

When applying for
any type of financial aid, you will need to research the deadlines,
requirements, and payment specifics carefully.

Be wary of scholarship and other aid programs that charge fees. “Fees are a dead giveaway of scholarship scams,” says Doug Whiteman, editor-in-chief at MoneyWise.com. “Be very careful about handing over a credit card number or other personal information.”

Scholarships

Scholarships are awarded for need or merit, and they’re offered by a wide range of organizations. Schools, private businesses, local and national associations, religious organizations, and charities are all potential sources for scholarships. Most scholarships do not require you to pay them back.

“Students should be more aggressive about applying for scholarships,” says Kumok. Whiteman agrees, citing a recent New York Times article that estimates there are 44,000 private scholarship programs. “The typical student probably has no idea that there’s so much money available,” he says. “Too often students and their families have seen student loans as an easy fallback, before they’ve fully explored scholarship and other financial aid possibilities.”

Grants

Grants are a type of financial aid that you typically don’t have to pay back. Federal and state governments offer grants, as do private and nonprofit organizations. Make sure to do ample research to ensure you get your application right, and pay attention to the grant terms. While many grants don’t have to be repaid, some do.

Be careful not to depend fully on grants, though. “Grants might not be available for the length of your degree program,” advises Anna Serio, a staff writer at Finder.com. “Some only cover the first year, while others are only available during the second, third, or fourth year of school. Even if a grant program covers all four years, you might have to reapply every year to be considered.”

Work-Study Jobs

Work-study jobs help you pay your way through school or
cover expenses. Some work-study jobs are paid internships, where you practice
skills and knowledge you’re learning in school or for your future career.
Others might simply be on-campus jobs in dining halls, fitness centers,
tutoring or writing centers, or other areas.

“Work-study
programs are best for students who want to build up their resume,” says Serio. “Work-study
makes it easier to land a job without experience or in a new field if you’re in
graduate school. Sometimes, work-study jobs can turn into a regular part-time
or even full-time position.”

Tax Credits

If you pay qualifying expenses for school, you may be able to claim a certain amount as a tax credit to reduce your tax burden or even get a refund. The American Opportunity Credit, for example, allows up to $2,500 credit per eligible student, while the Lifetime Learning Credit allows qualified individuals to claim up to $2,000 for qualified education expenses per tax year.

State Aid Programs

Almost every state offers grants or other financial aid opportunities for college students. The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators provides a detailed list of state financial aid opportunities.

Institutional Assistance

Schools may offer many of their own programs, but they
aren’t always well published. When you’re in the process of considering and
visiting schools, during the application process or even after you’ve been
accepted, make it a point to visit the financial aid office. School financial
aid officers can help ensure you’ve applied for all applicable financial aid.

Employer Education Assistance

If you’re already working, your employ might offer
funding for education. Some employers have programs that cover all or part of
the cost of degree programs if you agree to work for them for a certain amount
of time. Others pay for training seminars, workshops, and one-off classes that
are likely to make you a more valuable employee. Talk to your supervisor or human
resources department to find out if your employer offers such benefits.

Other Programs

Leave no stone unturned when seeking financial aid for
college. Numerous programs exist to help fund education for people in specific
situations.

For example, the Educational and Training Vouchers Program provides assistance to those who are or were in foster care. The National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program helps pay for student loans for those who work at Indian Health Services facilities. Be creative! The Tall Clubs International Foundation has a scholarship program for college women who are 5’10” tall and men who are at least 6’2”. Consider what makes you unique and look for scholarship opportunities that may reward you for it.

Tuition-Free Schools

Did you know that there are also some tuition-free schools around the United States? Residents of certain states may qualify for free tuition programs. Be sure to do your research into these schools, as you would with any other. “The programs in the US often require you to work in exchange for your degree,” says Serio. “This can help you develop valuable skills and gives you a leg up entering the job market after you graduate.”

Get the Financial Aid You Need

If you need help paying for schooling, there are plenty of financial aid options available to you. Reach out to your school’s financial aid office for assistance and direction. If you’re interested in learning more about student loan options, you can look through our resource center for more information.

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The post Student Loans vs. Financial Aid appeared first on Credit.com.

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Should You Make Payments During Coronavirus Student Loan Deferment?

As Americans grappled with the financial consequences of the pandemic in March of this year, the federal government took several actions to help cash-strapped consumers. For starters, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in late March of 2020, which included a temporary suspension of payments and interest for government-owned student loans through the end of September 2020.

Beyond just suspending payments and interest, the act also halted all collections activities on federal student loans. Americans pursuing Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) would see these non-payment months counted toward the 120 months of payments needed to have their loans forgiven. 

You can continue making payments on your federal student loans during the deferment period if you want to. Whether you should, depends on your goals and your situation.

This announcement was a huge relief for Americans with student debt since it meant they could pause federal student loan payments without accruing interest or facing penalties for several months. And recently, this assistance was extended for the remainder of 2020.

About the Student Loan Deferment Order

According to a memorandum from the White House, this extension intends to “provide such deferments to borrowers as necessary to continue the temporary cessation of payments and the waiver of all interest on student loans held by the Department of Education until December 31, 2020.”

What does this mean for borrowers? The extension of this order means that those with federally owned student loans (not private student loans) can continue skipping payments for the duration of 2020. Interest won’t accrue on federal student loans during this time, and penalties won’t come into effect for those who choose to defer loan payments.

How Does This Help Student Loan Borrowers?

Although unemployment numbers have improved since the summer, the initial pause on federal student loan payments was of massive help for borrowers struggling with job loss or a loss in pay. After all, getting a break from student loan payments made room for funds to go toward other household needs and bills. Keep in mind that the average student loan payment is approximately $393 for all borrowers, but that many with advanced degrees pay significantly more than that every month.

When the Presidential action was released, it was unclear whether borrowers pursuing PSLF will still receive credit for non-payment months. However, a U.S. Department of Education press release clarified that PSLF borrowers would, in fact, receive credit toward loan forgiveness as if they’d made on-time payments.

Just keep in mind that this order does not apply to consumers with private student loans. Only federal student loans qualify for this protection, although some private student loan companies are offering their own separate deferment options to consumers who can show financial hardship.

Pros and Cons of Making Payments During Automatic Deferment

One interesting detail from this order is buried in the fine print:

“All persons who wish to continue making student loan payments shall be allowed to do so, notwithstanding the deferments provided pursuant to subsection (a) of this section.”

In summary, you can continue making payments on your federal student loans during the deferment period if you want to. Whether you should, depends on your goals and your situation.

Benefits of Making Loan Payments 

If you haven’t faced a loss in income, then you might be tempted to continue making payments on your student loans. The benefits of doing so include:

  • Paying down your student loan debt faster. The Department of Education says that, through the end of 2020, “the full amount of your payments will be applied to principal once all the interest that accrued prior to March 13 is paid.” This means that every cent thrown toward your loans right now applies to your loan balance, quickly reducing your student debt on a dollar-for-dollar basis.
  • Saving money on interest. Because of the way interest accrues on student loans and other debts, reducing your balance will automatically save you money on interest over the long haul. The more you pay toward your student loans now, the more money you save.

Disadvantages of Making Loan Payments

There are a few potential downsides to making student loan payments when they’re not required. Plus, borrowers with certain types of student loans should not be making payments right now. 

Here are a few considerations to keep in mind.

  • You may need the money later on. Even if your income is fine right now, the financial fallout from the pandemic is far from over. If you choose to make student loan payments through the end of the year and lose your job in a few months, you might wish you had saved that extra cash instead. 
  • Those pursuing PSLF shouldn’t make payments. If you’re pursuing PSLF, then this deferment period is counted toward the 120 on-time payments you need for loan forgiveness. If you continued making payments through the end of the year, you would be throwing money down the drain.
  • Most borrowers on income-driven repayment plans have little incentive to make payments. If you’re on an income-driven repayment plan like Pay As You Earn (PAYE) or Income Based Repayment (IBR), then your loan payment is only a percentage of your discretionary income, and your loans will be forgiven after 20-25 years of on-time payments. Borrowers who aim to have their loans forgiven after 20-25 years anyway should skip payments through the end of the year and set aside their cash for a rainy day instead.

The Bottom Line

Individuals who want to pay off their loans quickly would be smart to pay as much as they can, but only if they can afford it. It also makes sense to be cautious about any extra income you have for the time being. After all, more economic pain may be on the way, and it’s possible you could face a loss in income later in the year.

Without any interest accruing on federally owned student loans during this historic forbearance, however, you could always put your student loan payments into a high-yield savings account until the end of the year. At that point, you can assess your financial situation and make a large, lump sum payment toward your loans if you want.

This strategy creates a greater safety net for the remainder of 2020 while also paying down debt faster with a large payment before the end of December. Run the numbers and make sure you have a plan (and a back-up plan) in place.

The post Should You Make Payments During Coronavirus Student Loan Deferment? appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com

Airline, hotel loyalty programs extending perks for members through coronavirus

While COVID-19 has affected all parts of daily life, the travel industry has certainly been put on hold as people have had to cancel plans and stay at home. Since most travelers plan many months in advance, this also leaves many holding tickets they can no longer use. Frequent flyers and hotel loyalty members are left wondering what recourse they have, if any, when it comes to their member status and points or miles.

We researched the major players in the hotel and airline industry to find out how these companies plan to accommodate their valued members – by extending points, status levels and more – in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Coronavirus relief measures by loyalty or travel program

  • Hilton Honors
  • Marriott Bonvoy
  • IHG Rewards Club
  • World of Hyatt
  • Wyndham Rewards
  • Choice Privileges
  • United MileagePlus
  • Delta SkyMiles
  • American Airlines AAdvantage
  • JetBlue TrueBlue
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • British Airways
  • CLEAR
  • TSA Precheck
  • Global Entry

Hilton Honors

In addition to donating up to one million rooms to medical professionals, Hilton has promised to compensate its Hilton Honors loyalty program members in a number of ways.

Lower status requirements

Hilton has cut status qualification requirements by half.

Elite status Previous status requirements New status requirements
Silver status 4 stays, 10 nights or 25,000 base points 2 stays, 5 nights or 12,500 base points
Gold status 20 stays, 40 nights or 75,000 base points 10 stays, 30 nights or 37,500 base points
Diamond status 30 stays, 60 nights or 120,000 base points 15 stays, 30 nights or 60,000 base points

Status extension

For any Silver, Gold or Diamond members that were due to downgrade in 2020 or 2021, statuses will be extended through March 31, 2022.

Cardholder benefits

Weekend night rewards on eligible Hilton credit cards that were not expired by May 1, 2020, will now be valid through August 31, 2021, and certificates issued from May 1 through Dec. 31, 2020, are valid for 24 months from the date of issuance. All free weekend night certificates issued in 2021 can be used any night of the week and expiration is extended until Dec. 31, 2022.

Additionally, bonus points will continue to count as base points on eligible purchases through Dec. 31, 2021, and toward elite status tier qualification, including Lifetime Diamond Status.

Other rewards

All 2020 elite qualifying nights will be rolled over to the 2021 status year. This applies to all nights members have already completed or will complete this calendar year.

On top of that, Hilton has lowered the requirements to earn Milestone Bonuses for 2021. Previously, you could earn 10,000 bonus points every 10 nights after completing 40 nights in a calendar year. Starting in January, that requirement has been changed to 20 nights stayed to align with the new Gold qualification level. However, 60 nights will still earn you 30,000 points.

Diamond members will be able to gift Gold status for staying 30 nights in 2021 instead of 60 nights which was the previous requirement. The requirement to gift Diamond status is lowered to 60 nights instead of 100.

To ensure member safety, Hilton is providing flexible cancellations and full points refunds for all Hilton Honors experiences booked through May 31, 2021.

You can follow further updates for Hilton Honors members on the loyalty program website.

Marriott Bonvoy

Marriott plans to compensate its Marriott Bonvoy members, although benefits may vary depending on members’ location.

See related: Marriott data breach involves 5.2 million hotel guests

Status extension

Bonvoy members who earned elite status for 2020 can now enjoy their benefits through February 2022.

Points extension

Points set to expire by February 2021 will be paused, and no points will expire until after that time period. 

Other rewards

Active free night awards (as part of Marriott credit cards or packages) set to expire beginning March 1, 2020, will be extended through Aug. 1, 2021. Additionally, more recent certificates set to expire before July 31, 2021, will be extended through that date as well. Suite night awards set to expire by Dec. 31, 2020, will be extended another year through Dec. 31, 2021.

Additionally, Marriott will deposit Elite Night Credits into Bonvoy elite members’ accounts in the amount of 50% of the nights required for the status they earned in 2019. This can make it easier for the members to reach the next tier.

Elite Night Credits deposit breakdown

Elite status Annual tier requirements Extra elite night credits
Ambassador Elite 100 Qualifying Nights and $20,000 stay spend 50 Elite Night Credits
Titanium Elite 75 Qualifying Nights 38 Elite Night Credits
Platinum Elite 50 Qualifying Nights 25 Elite Night Credits
Gold Elite 25 Qualifying Nights 13 Elite Night Credits
Silver Elite 10 Qualifying Nights 5 Elite Night Credits

Stay up to date on relief measures for Bonvoy members on the company’s COVID-19 page.

Coronavirus: What to do if you’re unemployed and have credit card debt

Credit card issuers offer cardholders relief amid coronavirus fears

How to manage your credit cards during the coronavirus outbreak

IHG Rewards Club

Due to travel constraints and shortened travel periods, IHG has lowered its requirements for elite status membership by 25% or more, as well as extended statuses and points for all members (since elite members’ points never expire). 

Lower status requirements

Status Previous qualification requirements New qualification requirements
Gold
  • 10,000 qualifying points in a calendar year or
  • 10 qualifying nights in a calendar year
  • 7,000 qualifying points in a calendar year or
  • 7 qualifying nights in a calendar year
Platinum
  • 40,000 qualifying points in a calendar year or
  • 40 qualifying nights in a calendar year
  • 30,000 qualifying points in a calendar year or
  • 30 qualifying nights in a calendar year
Spire
  • 75,000 qualifying points in a calendar year or
  • 75 qualifying nights in a calendar year
  • 55,000 qualifying points in a calendar year or
  • 55 qualifying nights in a calendar year

See related: The benefits of IHG Rewards Club elite status

Status extension

Program statuses will be extended through January 2022 for all members. Spire elite members will also retain their Choice benefit of 25,000 bonus points or gifting of Platinum Elite status to someone each year.

Award certificates 

Anniversary night certificates (U.S. and U.K. only) set to expire before March 1, 2020, will be extended through the end of the year. All 2020 certificates will be redeemable for 18 months, instead of the usual 12. Some members have also reported that free night certificates expiring before Dec. 31, 2020, will be extended until August 2021.

Follow updates to IHG Rewards Club benefits on the program’s travel advisory page.

World of Hyatt

The World of Hyatt loyalty program will extend all statuses and rewards to compensate valued members.

Status extension

All active elite statuses, as of March 31, 2020, will be extended through Feb. 28, 2022. 

Points extension

Forfeiting points due to inactivity will be suspended through June 30, 2021. No points will expire until that date.

Other rewards

Any earned rewards, such as free nights or upgrades, set to expire between March 1 and Dec. 31, 2020, will be extended through Dec. 31, 2021.

Check the updates to Hyatt relief measures on the program’s COVID-19 page.

online.

Keep an eye on Wyndham’s COVID-19 statement page for updates.

Choice Privileges

It took Choice some time to follow suit and join other hotel chains in extending elite statuses and offering other promotions amid the outbreak. On May 21, 2020, the company announced a series of offers to expand the benefits of its Choice Privileges loyalty program.

“Even during this crisis, our members found a number of ways to engage with us and make a difference,” said Jamie Russo, vice president, loyalty programs and customer engagement, Choice Hotels. “Some of them are essential and frontline workers who chose to stay in our small-business hotels, and others showed their generosity by donating their Choice Privileges points to aid recovery efforts. Our latest loyalty program changes tell our members that we appreciate their continued support and our hotels are here to welcome them whenever they feel safe traveling again.”

Status extension

All members’ current elite statuses will be extended through Dec. 31, 2021.

Lower status requirements

Choice is also easing requirements to qualify for elite status in 2021.

Elite status Previous status requirements 2021 status requirements
Gold status 10 nights 7 nights
Platinum status 20 nights 15 nights
Diamond status 40 nights 25 nights

Additionally, Choice is giving current elite members a limited-time upgrade to the next tier. Gold members will be upgraded to Platinum status and Platinum members will be upgraded to Diamond. Additionally, members who stayed at least five nights by Dec. 31, 2020, will be able to keep their upgraded tier through 2021.

United MileagePlus

United has said it would compensate their MileagePlus members by extending all annual memberships, subscriptions and checked bag benefits for six months. United also plans to make status membership requirements easier and will release information later in 2020.

Status extension

All MileagePlus Premier members will get to retain their 2020 status through Jan. 31, 2022.

Lower status requirements

MileagePlus Premier membership now has easier requirements, reduced 50% for each status level.

2021 status Premier qualifying flights and PQP … or PQP
Silver 6 2,000 2,500
Gold 12 4,000 5,000
Platinum 18 6,000 7,500
1K 26 9,000 12,000

Other rewards

All valid travel certificates issued on or after April 1, 2020, will be extended to be valid for two years for booking, as well as up to an additional 11 months to travel. All redeposit fees for flights booked through May 31, 2020, will be waived, as well as all fees for members who cancel within at least 30 days of departure.

Follow more updates to United MileagePlus on the program’s travel notice page.

Delta SkyMiles

Delta has stepped up to say they will compensate their Medallion members by extending their Member status.

Status extension

2020 Medallion Member status will be extended through Jan. 31, 2022, and this change should be reflected on the member’s SkyMiles account by Feb. 1, 2021. Additionally, all 2020 Medallion Qualification Miles will roll over into 2021.

Follow updates to the Delta SkyMiles program on the coronavirus travel update page.

American Airlines AAdvantage

As AAdvantage members experience reduced travel opportunities due to the coronavirus, American Airlines is offering elite status extension, lowering elite status requirements and allowing eligible cardholders to earn miles toward Million Miler status with credit card spend.

Status extension

Members whose elite status expires on Jan. 31, 2021, will automatically get an extension until Jan. 31, 2022.

Lower status requirements

Members will be able to qualify for a higher elite status in 2021 with lower requirements, including Elite Qualifying Dollar (EQD), Elite Qualifying Mile (EQM) and Elite Qualifying Segment (EQS).

Gold oneworld Ruby Platinum oneworld Sapphire Platinum Pro oneworld Sapphire Executive Platinum oneworld Emerald
  • $2,000 EQDs and 20,000 EQMs or
  • $2,000 EQDs and 20 EQSs
  • $4,500 EQDs and 40,000 EQMs or
  • $4,500 EQDs and 45 EQSs
  • $7,000 EQDs and 60,000 EQMs or
  • $7,000 EQDs and 70 EQSs
  • $12,000 EQDs and 80,000 EQMs or
  • $12,000 EQDs and 95 EQSs

Cardholder benefits

The CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard® cardholders who hold a companion certificate expiring Dec. 31, 2020, will receive a six-month extension as well, bringing the expiration date to June 30, 2021.

Learn more about AAdvantage program updates on aa.com.

JetBlue TrueBlue

JetBlue took a bit longer to join other airlines in taking measures to support loyal customers. On May 14, 2020, JetBlue announced it’s extending Mosaic elite statuses, as well as making it easier to earn one.

Status extension

All currently valid Mosaic elite statuses will be extended through Dec. 31, 2021.

Lower status requirements

JetBlue is reducing the qualifying thresholds for Mosaic status by 50% for 2021. To earn the status this year, you’ll need to earn 7,500 qualifying TrueBlue base points or 6,000 qualifying TrueBlue base points and 15 flight segments.

Alternatively, you can get the elite status by spending $50,000 in annual net purchases on the JetBlue Plus card – this spending requirement hasn’t changed for 2020.

Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic has also made it easier for customers to earn and maintain elite status amid the pandemic.

Status extension

In March 2020, Virgin Atlantic extended status for Gold and Silver members, allowing them an additional six months to meet the requirements.

On Aug. 20, 2020, the airline added another six months to the extension, making it one year in total.

Other rewards

Starting Sept. 1, 2020, the Flying Club program members will be able to earn tier points on award flights, meaning they’ll be able to earn elite-qualifying points on flights where they used Flying Club miles to redeem for travel.

On top of that, Virgin Atlantic makes it easier for members to earn and redeem Companion Vouchers, Upgrade Vouchers and Clubhouse Vouchers.

Members can now use Companion Vouchers with any ticket in any booking class, regardless of status. Gold and Silver members can book their companion into any cabin for zero miles, and Red members can book their companion into Economy and Premium for zero miles or upper class at a 50% discount.

Upgrade Vouchers can also be used with any ticket in any booking class, excluding Economy Light, for a one-cabin upgrade on a return flight.

Clubhouse Vouchers can be used for one entry to any clubhouse when booked on a Virgin flight or with Air France, Delta or KLM when flying internationally. Gold members will continue to receive two vouchers.

Southwest Rapid Rewards

On April 16, Southwest announced a status extension for A-List and A-List Preferred members and companion passes. The company is also giving a points “boost” to all Rapid Rewards members.

“As we continue to navigate our way through this unprecedented time and deal with extraordinary challenges, we are committed to keeping you informed and updated on the steps we are taking to manage through the COVID-19 pandemic,” Southwest said in a message to Rapid Rewards members.

Status extension

Companion Pass Members who received an extension of their earned Companion Pass benefits through June 30, 2021, will have their benefits extended for another six months. Members will be able to keep their status through Dec. 31, 2021.

Other rewards

Southwest is giving all Rapid Rewards members with an account opened by Dec. 31, 2020, a “boost” of 25,000 Companion Pass qualifying points and 25 flight credits toward Companion Pass status, as well as 15,000 tier qualifying points and 10 qualifying flight credits toward A-List and A-List Preferred.

Southwest cardholders can also spend their way all the way to A-List status, with no cap on tier qualifying points (TQPs) earned through card spend. Previously, cardholders could only earn up to 15,000 TQPs per year via card spend.

Additionally, travel funds created or expiring between March 1, 2020, and Sep. 7, 2020, will now expire on Sep. 7, 2022. Alternatively, Rapid Rewards members can convert those funds into Rapid Rewards points. According to Southwest, the conversion ratio is “the same rate you would be able to purchase a ticket with points today.”

British Airways

On June 11, British Airways finally joined other airlines in extending the elite status for its members. Additionally, the carrier is reducing the number of tier points needed to reach a higher membership tier.

Status extension

British Airways is extending tier status by 12 months for members who have a tier point collection end date of July 2020, through to June 2021.

Lower status requirements

The carrier has also reduced the number of points needed to retain and upgrade a membership status by 25%.

Here are the new tier qualification thresholds:

  • Bronze: 225 Tier Points or 18 eligible flights
  • Silver: 450 Tier Points or 37 eligible flights
  • Gold: 1125 Tier Points

Cardholder benefits

Members who have earned heir Gold Upgrade Vouchers, Companion Vouchers and Travel Together Tickets with a British Airways credit card will get a 6-month expiration extension to any current vouchers.

CLEAR

CLEAR is a program that makes it quicker for travelers to get through airport security lanes by using biometrics for ID verification. Since many people are currently avoiding traveling due to the coronavirus outbreak, a CLEAR membership might not be useful at the moment.

Originally, CLEAR offered customers to pause their membership for three months. Now CLEAR is allowing members to request a three-month extension to their membership, which can be done by contacting the company directly. With customer service channels such as phone lines overloaded by requests, the fastest way to do so is via CLEAR’s online chat. However, some users have reported experiencing difficulties finding the chat box on the website. Alternatively, you can reach CLEAR by text, email or phone.

TSA Precheck

TSA Precheck is a five-year membership that provides expedited security checks at select domestic airports in the U.S. At this time, TSA is planning to keep enrollment centers open while working to determine if any temporary closures are required. Some centers have been closed or changed hours.

If you’re planning to visit an enrollment center, it’s recommended that you schedule an appointment – as walk-ins may be deferred.

Visit TSA’s enrollment questions page for more information.

Global Entry

Global Entry, a program run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection that allows travelers to get expedited clearance through automatic kiosks when arriving in the U.S, has reopened its enrollment centers on Sept. 8, 2020. After a six-month hiatus, the program will finally allow conditionally approved Global Entry applicants to complete in-person interviews at most Trusted Traveler Programs enrollment centers in the U.S. The interviews must be scheduled in advance online, and their availability will vary by location.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak has also affected processing times for Global Entry renewals, CPB has increased the renewal grace period to 18 months. This means that if you apply for your Global Entry renewal before its expiration date, you’ll be able to use Global Entry for another 18 months.

As the coronavirus situation is unprecedented and changing rapidly every day, hotels and airlines continue to make updates to their travel policies, including their loyalty programs. Travelers should continue to check airline and hotel websites as the situation evolves. If they cannot find the information they need online, they should contact their hotel, airline or travel agency’s customer service number.

Source: creditcards.com