For the most up-to-date information about resources to help you and your family through this challenging time, please register for our enews.
Update: 9/23/20 - How to Vote Information
Take Action and Make Your Voice Heard
Information on How to Vote in the Upcoming Election
- The COVID pandemic reminds us how important consumer protections (such as loan assistance options) and resources (such as food stamps and stimulus checks) are! Local, state, and federal elections help determine what supports are available.
- Get registered by Friday, October 9th.
- Choose a voting option that works for you.
- See the candidates up for election in your area. Go to the right side of the page and click on "Find What's On Your Ballot". After entering your address, choose your language, and click "go to my races". Here you will see all of the races you are able to vote for and read more about the candidates by clicking on their names.
- Buncombe County Election Services published a flyer in Spanish and English with easy to read instructions on registering to vote, educating yourself on the candidates, and choosing which voting method to use.
Update: 7/22/20 - How to File Taxes Online
The tax filing deadline was on July 15, 2020. If you missed this deadline and still need to file, you can use this link to find a free or low-cost option to file online. Be sure to use the link, as you’ll likely be directed to a site that charges a fee if you do an online search.
Some people feel understandably nervous about filing their own taxes online. If you are interested in this option but feel hesitant, know that you can prepare a return without any obligation to file it. You can complete the return to the best of your ability, and then see if the refund or amount-owed aligns with your expectations. If it does, go ahead and file. If the result of the return doesn’t match your expectations, double check your work, and consider going to a tax prep site if it still doesn’t add up.
Update: 6/3/20 - Student Loan Relief for Federal & Private Loans
Student Loan Payments Suspended for Government Backed Loans and Options for Private Student Loans
Federal Student Loan Payment Suspension and Interest Set to 0%
- The CARES Act passed on March 30th has put an automatic suspension on all federally backed student loans and set the interest rate to 0% from March 13, 2020 to September 30, 2020. This means that people with those loans do not have to make payments and no interest will be accruing on the loan during that time.
- Auto-debit payments will be suspended during this time. If your loan qualifies and your servicer does not suspend your payment, contact them. Additionally, you can be reimbursed for any payments auto-deducted during this time period.
- This does not apply to all student loans. Some FFEL loans are backed by private lenders and some Perkins Loans are owned by the college attended and may not be included in the CARES Act. If you are unsure if your Perkins or FFEL Program Loans qualify, go to your student loan account online to check.
- Read more here.
Assistance for Some FFEL & Perkins Loans and Other Private Student Loans
If your FFEL Program Loans are not eligible for the concessions of the CARES Act, we recommend you:
- Ask your servicer if a forbearance is an option. Your interest will still accrue, but this is an easy option to sign up for by talking with your servicer and will give you time to get in a more stable financial position.
- Ask for an unemployment deferment if your work hours have been cut to below 30 hours a week or you’ve lost your job due to COVID-19. For some loans, interest will not accrue in that program.
For other private loans, we suggest you follow up with the servicer to see what options they are giving for the COVID-19 pandemic. Several private student loan servicers are offering options. Read more here.
Relief for Student Loans in Default
- The Department of Education has stopped the collection of defaulted federal student loans, including garnishment of wages and the offset of tax refunds and Social Security benefits.
- The CARES Act also suspends interest for federally owned loans that are in default, through September 30, 2020.
- There is no additional action required from you, if collection activities on your federally owned loans have already been suspended. If collection activities on your defaulted federal loans continue, contact your loan holder to find out about your options.
- If you are rehabilitating a defaulted student loan, any missed payments due to the coronavirus pandemic will not be considered a missed payment against your rehabilitation.
- Visit the Department of Education’s website to learn more about rehabilitating a defaulted federal student loan.
If you have additional questions about your student loans being impacted by COVID-19, visit this FAQ page from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
Update: 5/20/20 - Free Legal Hotline May 21 from 8 am to 2 pm
Get Answers to Your COVID-19-Related Legal Questions
Pisgah Legal Services, Legal Aid of NC, the NC Bar Foundation and the Buncombe County Bar Association are teaming up to provide a free legal guidance hotline to businesses, nonprofits, and individuals that have been impacted by the pandemic.
- The event is on May 21, from 8 am to 2 pm.
- Call the hotline at (828) 560-3700.
- 100 lawyers will be answering questions on topics including eviction, bankruptcy, foreclosure, accessing unemployment and other public benefits, and other legal issues related to meeting one’s basic needs.
- Attorneys will also be available to take calls from small business owners and nonprofit leaders facing challenges due to COVID-19.
- Those who need more long-term assistance may receive continued support from Pisgah Legal Services and Legal Aid.
- This is open to residents of any of the 18 counties in WNC.
Update: 5/7/20 - Free Weekly Credit Reports
Protecting Your Credit During COVID-19
With fraud and identity theft on the rise as a result of COVID-19, now it is more important than ever to pay attention to your credit report.
Pull Your Credit Report Weekly FOR FREE through April 2021
- Experian, Transunion, and Equifax are now offering free weekly online credit reports, continuing through April 2021.
- Your weekly reports can be pulled through the only truly free website, www.annualcreditreport.com.
- You might wonder why this doesn’t include a free score. Scores are used by lenders to determine your credit worthiness for getting a loan. When reviewing your credit report for any potential fraud or errors, there is no need to see your score.
Check Your Credit Report Carefully for Fraud
After pulling your reports, check them to make sure:
- You recognize every account and your identifying information is correct.
- Any credit inquiries were approved by you.
- Any account in forbearance or deferment is being reported as current, as required by the CARES Act, if it was in good standing before any pandemic-related concessions were made.
Dispute Errors and Report Fraud
- If you see errors on your credit report, you can dispute them. Here’s how.
- If an error suggests identity theft — such as addresses you don’t recognize or accounts you don’t recognize — report it here.
Update: 4/24/20 - Health Insurance After Job Loss
Health Insurance After You Lose Your Job
If you have lost your health insurance as a result of job loss, there are different options to help you stay insured.
Keep Your Employer’s Coverage Through COBRA or NC State Continuation Coverage
- COBRA allows you to keep health insurance for up to 18 months after you lose your job.
- You can stay with your current provider but will have to pay the full premium.
- Talk to your employer about options for this.
Get Coverage Through the Affordable Care Act Health Insurance Marketplace
- You may be able to apply if you qualify for a “special enrollment period” due to losing your coverage through work.
- You have 60 days after losing employer coverage to apply.
- Pisgah Legal Services offers free local help to understand your options with the Affordable Care Act Health Insurance Marketplace. Learn more here.
Apply for Medicaid
- Families with dependent children may qualify if income has decreased significantly such that it falls under program limits. Other individuals may qualify under specific circumstances.
- You can apply online to see if you’re eligible here.
If Married, Try to Get Coverage Through Your Spouse’s Employer
- Contact your spouse's employer to see if you are eligible to join their plan. Make sure to check the cost of the extra coverage and compare it with other options.
If You’re 65 or Older, Sign up for Medicare (or add Part B)
- Council on Aging offers free local help to understand your options with Medicare. Learn more here.
- Alternatively, you can sign up through the Social Security website even if you're not ready to take Social Security.
- To add Part B, you must apply within 8 months after you leave your job and lose employer coverage to apply.
Read More Here
- AARP Article
- CNN Article
- Even better, check out the Federal Health Insurance Marketplace’s Coronavirus page.
Update: 4/20/20 - Crisis Times are Breeding Grounds for Scams. What to Watch Out For.
Defend Yourself Against Scams
The Best Defense Is to Not Give Any Information. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says that the best defense against scammers is to say NO if anyone contacts you and asks for personal information.
- Don’t provide your Social Security number, bank account number, credit card information, Medicare ID number, driver’s license number or any other personally identifiable information when solicited by phone, text, social media, email, or in person.
- If the person contacting you identifies as someone from a company where you conduct financial business, contact that business directly (by calling a phone number you know is legitimate; not the number the person contacting you provided) and ask if the request for information is legitimate.
- Report scams with the Federal Trade Commission here, by calling -877-5-NO-SCAM, or with the NC Department of Justice here.
How Scammers are Trying to Contact You
- Email. Do not open emails that look suspicious. And do not trust emails asking you to take an action such as to click a link, open an attachment, call a provider, or send personal information. If you think it is from a provider you trust, search for the institution online and find a contact number to call and ask for verification that the communication is valid. Before opening an attachment or clicking on a link in an email, ask yourself: Do you know who sent it? and Were you expecting it from them? If not, don’t click the link or open the document.
- Robocalls and Phone calls. If you receive an automated robocall (a call that sounds like a computer-generated voice) or a call from a person you don’t know or weren’t expecting to hear from, hang up. Don’t say anything or engage, just hang up.
- Text. If you receive a text from someone you don’t know or someone soliciting you for business or money, do not respond to the text.
- In person and via social media. If someone you don’t know contacts you to sell you something or asks for personal information, do not provide payment or any personally identifiable information as they may use it to scam you.
Common Scams to Watch Out For
Stimulus Check Scams
Stimulus check scams are happening in different ways. Know the following and steer clear of a scam:
- The U.S. government won’t be calling, texting, or emailing people individually to ask them to verify their bank account details or other personal information.
- There is no processing or setup fee necessary to receive this payment.
- Do not sign over your stimulus check to anyone promising you something better.
- It is not possible to receive a tax refund or stimulus check any faster by paying a person or service to help you. If someone says they can do that, they are a scammer.
- If you receive a paper check, all you need to do is deposit it in your bank account. If you receive information otherwise (such as guidance to call a number or verify information online in order to cash it) that is a scam.
Social Security Fraud
Fraudulent letters are being sent that threaten suspension of Social Security benefits due to COVID-19 or coronavirus-related office closures. The letters tell the recipient to call to get the money reinstated and then scammers steal personal information or money.
- The Social Security Administration (SSA) will not suspend or discontinue benefits because their offices are closed. Any communication you receive that says SSA will do this is a scam.
- Report Social Security scams here.
Fake COVID-19 Charity Scams
- A charity scam is when a thief poses as a real charity or makes up the name of a charity that sounds real to get money from you.
- Be careful about any charity calling you asking for donations. If you want to make a donation to a specific charity, reach out to them to make that donation.
Person in Need or Imposter Scams
- Some scammers are using the circumstances of COVID-19 to pose as a grandchild, relative, or friend who claims to be ill, stranded in another state or foreign country, or otherwise in trouble and asks you to send money.
- If you receive such a call, hang up and call your grandchild, relative or friend’s phone number to see if the story checks out.
Be Aware About Price Gouging. You are Protected.
- North Carolina’s price gouging law is in effect, which makes it illegal to charge too much during a crisis for items.
- If you think there is a case of price gouging, contact NC Department of Justice at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM, or by clicking here.
Stay Up-to-Date on the Latest Frauds
AARP’s Fraud Watch Network.
Sign up here for the latest information on frauds and scams to keep you and your loved ones safe.
NC Attorney General’s Office.
Sign up here for alerts about new scams.
Want More Information
Helpful links and articles
- NC Department of Justice Consumer coronavirus update.
- Attorney General Josh Stein’s coronavirus scam guide.
- Consumer Finance Protection Bureau blog and article about scams.
Helping to manage someone’s money and need guidance?
- Check in by phone or video chat. Stay in touch to know how they’re handling things and so they know you’re thinking about them.
- Ask questions. If your loved one mentions concerns about money or has spotted unusual activity in their accounts, ask for details. Older adults and their family members can learn about common types of scams, as well as how to avoid and report them by checking out the Pass it On and Money Smart for Older Adults programs.
- Financial caregivers: learn more about your responsibilities. The CFPB’s Managing Someone Else’s Money guides can help you understand your role as a fiduciary. Each guide explains your responsibilities, and how to spot financial exploitation and avoid scams.