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5/20/20 - NEW Emergency Cash Flow Counseling & Online Booking

Introducing Emergency Cash Flow Counseling

OnTrack WNC is excited to start offering a new service to the community - Free Emergency Cash Flow counseling. This service is available to people in Western North Carolina who:

  • Have experienced a reduction in income because of COVID-19; or
  • Do not have enough income to cover their expenses.

We hope you will bookmark our screening form and share it with others!

Please bookmark our screening form so that you can easily access it when talking with someone who could benefit from our service or for you to have on hand in case this would help you. 

How is this different from OnTrack WNC’s services before COVID-19?

In the past, our education and counseling focused on helping people create monthly budgets accounting for each and every expense. The pandemic has dramatically changed many people’s income and expenses. We also realize that many who are working still don’t make enough money to afford their monthly bills. We created this service to help. Emergency Cash Flow Counseling will help people:

  • Create a two-month cash plan to make sure the most important expenses and bills are covered.
  • Figure out how to reduce expenses or increase income to make ends meet.
  • Take a look at a person’s debt, determine what to pay and how much, and evaluate other debt payment strategies available from creditors during COVID-19.
  • Make choices about how to make their plan work in real life and not just on paper.

But Wait! There’s More: Our New Online Screening and Zoom Counseling

Since our staff is working remotely because of COVID-19, things are a little different in our process.  Here is how it works:

Step 1: People can click www.ontrackwnc.org/screening-questions and fill out our quick online Screening Form. 

Step 2: Once we receive their Screening Form, our team will review it to determine the next best step with our services.

Step 3: For Emergency Cash Flow counseling, we will send the client a link to a secure online Counseling Form with more detailed financial questions. The answers to these questions will help the counselor to prepare before the session to make the best use of the appointment time.

Step 4: After we receive the completed Counseling Form, our team will send a link to the client to book an online Zoom appointment with us. Clients will be able to see all the available dates and times to pick the one that works best for their schedule.

Step 5: At the appointment time, the client will use the Zoom link we provide to connect with their counselor. This ability to connect face to face and share documents and screens will enhance the appointment as the counselor and client work collaboratively on their budget in real time during the session.

NOTE: We have the option of phone appointments for people who do not have adequate access to phone, tablet, or computer technology and internet to do a Zoom appointment.


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: 5/15/20 - Mortgage Help

Foreclosure and Eviction Moratorium Extended to Enterprise-backed Mortgages

As of 5/14/20 - Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac (the Enterprises) are extending their moratorium on foreclosures and evictions until at least June 30, 2020.  The foreclosure moratorium applies to Enterprise-backed, single-family mortgages only. The current moratorium was set to expire on May 17th. Read more here.

To understand the protections and assistance the government is offering people having trouble paying their mortgage, please visit the joint Department of Housing and Urban Development, FHFA, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau website here.


Update: 5/7/20 - Increased Food Benefits for Families with Children + Free Weekly Credit Reports

Increased North Carolina EBT Benefits for Families with Children

  • Families with children who are eligible for free and reduced lunches will now receive approximately $371 per child to help purchase food for children impacted by school closings. 
  • The money will be provided in two installments and will be issued in Mid-May and again in the beginning of June. Unused benefits will be rolled over month-to-month and must be used within 365 days. 
  • There is no need to apply for this benefit as those already receiving Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) will receive the additional benefit on current EBT card. If not already enrolled in FNS services, eligible families will receive a new EBT card in the next few weeks.
  • Read more here.

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: 5/5/20 - NC Unemployment Contacts

How can your Contact NC Department of Commerce for Unemployment?

The office is open 7 days a week, including Monday through Friday from 8 am to 8 pm, Saturday from 8 am to 5 pm, and Sunday from 12 pm to 5 pm. They can be reached by the following phone numbers:

  • General phone number: 888-737-0259
  • Pandemic assistance line: 866-847-7209
  • To file an appeal: 919-707-1060

For more information, click here


Update: 4/28/20

Stimulus Payment Alert for SSI and VA Recipients: Have a Child but Don’t File a Tax Return? Visit IRS.gov now.

Some VA and SSI recipients with eligible children need to act by May 5 to quickly add money to their automatic stimulus payment.

  • SSI and VA beneficiaries who did not file a tax return for 2018 or 2019 have until May 5 to make sure their dependents are accounted for in their Stimulus Payments.
  • In order to add the $500 per eligible child amount to these payments, the IRS needs the dependent information before the payments are issued. Otherwise, the additional $500 per eligible child amount will be paid in association with a return filing for tax year 2020.
  • Use this tool on IRS.gov by May 5 to make sure you get your full stimulus amount without having to wait until next year. 

Update: 4/24/20 - Health Insurance After Job Loss + Student Loan Relief for Federal & Private Loans

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

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.
  • Look into a consolidation of your FFEL loan into a Direct Loan Program to access the 0% interest and six-moth payment freeze. Cautions: If working towards loan forgiveness, this may not be a good option and consolidation takes 45 to 60 days to complete. Consolidation also takes 45-60 days to complete and your interest rate could end up higher with the new loan. Read more here.

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.  


Update: 4/21/20 - Tax Filing & Prep

Free and Safe Online Tax Prep – OnTrack WNC Program Closed for Duration of Tax Season

  • In response to COVID-19 and social distancing guidelines, we suspended our tax season on March 17. Since then, we have shifted our agency’s focus to providing emergency programming to support those experiencing financial hardship.
  • As this emergency programming requires all our capacity, we have made the difficult decision to cancel the rest of our tax season. We will not be opening again for the 2019 tax season.
  • For information on how to file your taxes online, find another free tax preparation program, or information about filing to receive your stimulus payment, visit our tax page here.
  • The good news: The IRS and North Carolina Department of Revenue (NCDOR) have extended their tax filing deadlines until July 15. More details on their announcements can be found here (IRS) and here (NCDOR).
  • IRS taxpayers have the option of suspending all payments on existing installment agreements and offers in compromise until July 15, 2020, though interest will continue to accrue.
  • The IRS is suspending most new collection activities and garnishments during this period.
  • Get updates on the IRS response to COVID-19, here.

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.

Update: 4/14/20 - Your Stimulus Payment - Make a Plan Before Spending

Stimulus Payments: Plan Out How to Use Them

Stimulus payments have started arriving for some. To take the greatest advantage of the money assistance, we recommend the following approach.

  • Write down your plan (if possible before you see the stimulus payment hit your account).  Writing down the plan will help you think through the different components more clearly. After you have it finalized, put it somewhere you are reminded of it regularly – like your refrigerator. This will help you hold yourself accountable to following through with it.
     
  • Focus on your basic needs before all else. These are strange times with most people staying at home for our safety and health, causing boredom and cabin fever to set in for some. Take that and combine it with an unexpected windfall of money and it could be tempting to spend on non-essentials; however, with financial uncertainty across our country, this is the time to buckle down and resist old habits of consumer spending. Make a money plan that ensures you have the money to meet your basic needs.

    Basic needs include: food, medicine, rent/mortgage and car payment. Apart from your basic needs, everything else can wait. 
     
  • Save when you wouldn’t normally save. If there is anything left over after paying for your basic needs, it may well be worth prioritizing savings ahead of paying things like credit cards, personal loans, federal student loans, or other unsecured debt. If you were making extra payments towards debt before the crisis, this may be a good time to consider paying just the minimums and saving more. While it may be tempting to use this lump sum to pay down debt or make a large one-time purchase, it is unclear how long the COVID-19 pandemic will last and whether more individuals will lose income moving forward. 

    Bottom line: save as much as possible to build a strong buffer for further economic uncertainty. If your income stays intact through the pandemic, then you can always use that savings to get ahead on other financial goals once this crisis has passed.
     
  • Don’t hoard. Get enough of what you need. Getting more than what you need can exacerbate the impact of this crisis for others, while also costing you more money. Spending less, by buying only what you need for the next two weeks, will allow you to save more. That savings—not a stockpile—will be your lifeline over the next few months.
     
  • Beware of scammers. DO NOT give out bank account information to people calling over the phone requesting it to send you stimulus check. They are scammers. 
     
  • Have adequate income and savings and want to help others? Consider using your stimulus to support local businesses by doing things such as buying gift cards, paying your hair dresser even though you didn’t get a haircut, or continuing to pay for memberships even if you aren’t using them; get your needs met by making your purchases at local businesses instead of national corporations; or donate to a local non-profit serving the community.

Unsure How to Get a Stimulus Payment?

Review our article here about who will get stimulus payments, for how much, and how to ensure you get yours. We keep this article updated with the most up-to-date information from the IRS on how to get your stimulus payment.


Update: 4/8/20 - Unemployment Benefits for the Self-Employed + $600 Weekly Increase in Benefit + Getting Your Stimulus Payments

Expanded Eligibility and Increased Money Benefits for the Unemployed

Self-Employed or Were Seeking Part-Time Work? You Likely Now Qualify for Unemployment Insurance.

  • The federal government has expanded the Unemployment Insurance Program to include individuals who normally would be ineligible to receive unemployment benefits. This includes self-employed people, those seeking part-time employment, or those who wouldn’t normally qualify for unemployment benefits under state or federal law.
  • Applicants must show that they could work but are unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable to work to work because of COVID-19.
  • NC anticipates being able to accept claims for this assistance around April 25, 2020. Learn more here.

$600 Weekly Increase to State Unemployment Benefits During COVID-19

  • Those whose work has been impacted by COVID-19 and are eligible to receive unemployment benefits will receive an extra $600 weekly payment for up to 13 weeks. 
  • NC expects to start making these first payments by April 17, 2020. Learn more here.

Haven’t Applied for Unemployment Insurance Yet? 

  • Apply now even if you’re not sure if you are eligible. All applications during the COVID-19 crisis must be filed online here or by phone at 1-888-737-0259.
  • The NC online system is very slow right now; be persistent and patient to get your application submitted. We recommend keeping a log of any attempts to apply and all interactions with NC Unemployment Insurance.
  • Unemployment benefits are taxable and you can choose to have taxes withheld from your unemployment check. If you opt not to, know that you might have taxes due when you file your tax return and you might want to consider setting up a set-aside savings to have money available to pay those taxes when due.
  • Pisgah Legal Services recommends that if you apply and are denied, appeal the decision online regardless.

Stimulus Payments: The Basics + How to Ensure You Get Yours

Here’s How Much You Can Expect in Your Stimulus Payment

  • As part of the recently passed Cares Act, people will be soon receiving a stimulus payment. Payment amount is based on your 2019 tax return information or your 2018 tax return information if you have not filed yet for 2019. Individuals who earn less than $75,000 will receive $1,200. Married couples filling joint returns and earning less than $150,000 will receive $2,400. Households will receive an additional $500 per child aged 16 or under.
  • What if you earn more than that? Individuals who earn more than $75,000 but less than $99,000 will receive a reduced amount. Married couples filing jointly who earn more than $150,000 but less than $198,000 will receive a reduced amount. Those who earn above those amounts will not receive a stimulus payment.
  • Find out how much you are likely to receive using this calculator.
  • When will you get your payment? The IRS will start sending out money in mid-April to those for whom they have direct deposit information. For those without direct deposit or who haven’t filed at least their 2018 taxes, it will take longer. 
  • See more information on stimulus payments here.

Here’s Who Will Automatically Receive a Stimulus Payment

  • Recipients of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security Retirement and Railroad Retirement (as well as those with survivor benefits) will automatically receive these payments as a direct deposit or by paper check, just as they would normally receive their benefits.

    People in these groups who have qualifying children under age 17 can use this application to claim an additional $500 payment per child.

    For those with dependents who use Direct Express debit cards, additional information will be available soon regarding the steps to take when claiming children under 17.
  • Eligible taxpayers who filed tax returns for either 2018 or 2019 will automatically receive the payment.
  • You can use the portal on this website to update your bank account information for direct deposit. This is the fastest way to receive your stimulus payment. If the IRS doesn’t have your bank account information (for example, if you owed money or got your refund by check last year), use this website to update your information.

Here’s Who Needs to Take Additional Steps to Receive a Stimulus Payment

  • (This is complicated; read closely) If you were not required to file a tax return in 2018 or 2019 AND you did not receive Social Security benefits (SSDI, SSI, retirement, railroad retirement, or survivor), enter your payment information here to receive your stimulus payment.
  • If you were supposed to file this year or last, but have not yet, you can file a normal return to be eligible for the payment. You can file for free at this link.

Update: 4/2/20 - Money Assistance for Essential Life Needs and Restaurant Workers + Local Small Business Loans

Buncombe County Starts One Buncombe Fund:
Supporting Buncombe County Residents & Businesses Affected by COVID-19

  • Local government, civic and business partners, and individual donors in Buncombe County have joined forces to start the One Buncombe Fund to provide direct assistance to individuals and small businesses affected by COVID-19 while they wait for federal and state resources.
  • As of March 29, the fund has a running total of $500,000 and is actively seeking donations. Learn more here.

Direct Financial Assistance for Individuals with Essential Life Needs

  • Provides direct financial assistance (as a grant, meaning it will not have to be paid back) to individuals who have lost employment due to COVID-19.
  • Funds can be used for essential life needs and are paid directly to the service provider, not individuals. Essential life needs include things such as food, certain utilities, housing, and overnight lodging.
  • Need financial assistance for an essential life need? Start your application now by completing the form on this website

$10,000 Loans for Small Businesses

  • Provides for-profit, small businesses with loans up to $10,000 intended to provide low-cost bridge funding to help businesses stay open until they qualify for longer term disaster funding.
  • Loan details: Six months of no payments while interest accrues at 4%, followed by 36 months of principal and interest payments at 5.5% interest.
  • Money can be used for accounts payable, fixed debts, or other bills the business is unable to pay.
  • For more eligibility details and to apply, visit this website. For questions not answered by the website, contact Mountain BizWorks at (828)-253-2834 ext. 14.

Money Assistance for Restaurant Employees

$500 Grants from the Restaurant Employee Relief Fund

  • One-time $500 grants paid directly to individuals who have had a reduction in income as a result of COVID-19.
  • Money is available for restaurant workers who have worked part- or full-time basis for at least 90 days in the last year & who have had a primary source of income in the industry for the last year.
  • Apply now while funds last. Application period opens on 4/2/20.

$350 Grants from New Belgium

  • One-time $350 grants for food or beverage employees who have been furloughed or laid off in Asheville due to COVID 19.
  • Applicants must have worked in a restaurant, bar, nightclub, music hall, or stadium for at least 20 hours per week in the past month.
  • Apply now while funds last. Applications will only be accepted through midnight on April 5.

Update: 3/31/20 - Tax Filing & Prep + Utility Assistance

Free and Safe Online Tax Prep – OnTrack WNC Program Temporarily Closed

  • Due to the risk of COVID-19, we are temporarily closing our tax program.
  • You can use this link to find a free or low-cost option to file your taxes 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.
  • The good news: The IRS and North Carolina Department of Revenue (NCDOR) have extended their tax filing deadlines until July 15. More details on their announcements can be found here (IRS) here (NCDOR).
  • IRS taxpayers have the option of suspending all payments on existing installment agreements and offers in compromise until July 15, 2020, though interest will continue to accrue.
  • The IRS is suspending most new collection activities and garnishments during this period.
  • Get updates on the IRS response to COVID-19, here.

Utility Assistance and Help During COVID-19

Find Local Resources through 2-1-1

  • United Way hosts a free information and referral service through their 2-1-1 program. If you need financial assistance to pay utilities, they can direct you to the best local agency to help. If you have an (828) area code, simply dial 211 on your phone to be connected to a representative that can assist you or visit the 211 website here

Governor Cooper Signs Executive Order Mandating Rules for Utility Companies

  • Effective, March 31, 2020 electric, gas, water, and wastewater services are prohibited from disconnecting utilities for non-payment for the next 60 days.
  • This order directs utility companies to give residential customers 6 months to pay outstanding bills and prohibits the companies from charging collection fees, penalties, or interest for late payments.
  • Read more about it here

Duke and PSNC/Dominion Energy

  • Duke is suspending disconnections and waiving late fees for their customers.
  • PSNC/Dominion Energy will not be shutting off your power or gas for nonpayment and they are currently reconnecting residential customers whose services were shut off.
  • Even though utilities are not being disconnected, this does not mean providers are forgiving the bill. Pay what you are able, when you are able, to avoid building up a large bill that is difficult to pay off after the crisis passes.

City of Asheville Water and Trash

  • City of Asheville is suspending all water account disconnections. This is not a cancellation of bills; so pay what you are able when you are able or call 828-251-1122 to set up a payment plan.
  • If you buy water from your landlord and your landlord disconnects your water, contact Pisgah Legal Services or call 1-800-489-6144 for help.

Cell Phone and Internet Providers

  • Many phone and internet providers are waiving late fees and suspending disconnections during COVID-19. To find out what your provider is offering, Google: The name of your provider and COVID (such as Verizon and COVID).

Find Internet in Your Area

The North Carolina Department of Information Technology has compiled a list of new and existing free or affordable service offerings statewide here. To find out what service providers are available in your area and a list of their services, use their Interactive Map:

  • Enter your home street address in the address field and click the magnifying glass.
  • After clicking search, directly under the search box, a list of providers in your area will appear. You can contact these companies to get internet set up if you don’t have it.
  • To see what free or low-cost services are provided by those companies, scroll through the list of company names at the bottom of the page until you find the company that services your area.   

Update: 3/26/20 - New Rules for Unemployment + Student Loan & Mortgage Help

Unemployment Help

NC Unemployment Rules Have Changed to Respond to COVID-19

  • No one week waiting time;
  • Workers won’t have to demonstrate they’re actively looking for a job;
  • Assistance is also available for those who have lost hours;
  • Employers are not required to pay for benefits for those seeking unemployment;
  • Want to Apply? All applications during the COVID-19 crisis must be filed online here or by phone at 1-888-737-0259 and;
  • Learn more here.

Having Difficulty Applying?

  • The NC online system is very slow right now; be persistent and patient to get your application submitted. We recommend keeping a log of any attempts to apply and all interactions with NC Unemployment Insurance.
  • Pisgah Legal Services recommends that if you apply and are denied, appeal the decision online regardless.

Pisgah Legal Services Can Help

  • Facing difficulty applying or with other employment matters related to COVID 19?
    Pisgah Legal has attorneys available to provide advice by phone to anyone who needs this help. Connect with them online or call 800-489-6144.
  • Review their all-you-need-to-know resource page about unemployment during COVID-19.

More Benefits Expansion on the Horizon

  • The Federal stimulus package contains additional support for gig workers and the self-employed as well as more robust benefits for all.  The package still has to be approved by the House of Representatives.  More information will follow in the Digest once the bill is finalized.

Your Student Loans and COVID-19

Here are important changes from the Department of Education that affect federal student loans as a result of COVID-19:

  • All borrowers with federally held student loans will automatically have their interest rates set to 0% for at least 60 days.
  • Each borrower has the option to suspend their payments (this is called administrative forbearance) for at least 60 days.  
  • Want to request an administrative forbearance? Contact your servicer online or by phone.
  • Learn more here.

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  • The Department of Education has stopped all wage garnishment and withholdings from federal income tax refunds, Social Security payments, or other federal payments for default borrowers as of March 13th and for a period of at least 60 days.
  • Next Step: If you are having your wages garnished for federal student loan default, it is the responsibility of your employer to stop the garnishment.  Follow-up with them directly.
  • Read the full March 25th press release here.

If you have had a reduction in income, you may want to consider an income-driven repayment plan. 

  • Need a more affordable payment? Contact your servicer to see if there is a payment plan with an affordable payment plan with your new income. 

Mortgage Support During COVID-19

  • Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and HUD (which backs the majority of mortgages in our country and includes reverse mortgages) have announced that all foreclosures are on a moratorium for 60 days. Additionally, they are providing forbearances to borrowers impacted by the coronavirus. Forbearance could allow for a mortgage payment to be suspended for up to 12 months. Here’s more info.
  • In Buncombe County, foreclosure hearings are being automatically continued for 30 days and another continuance will likely take place.
  • Worried about your mortgage payment? First, go to your mortgage servicer’s website to see what programs are currently available and their response to COVID-19. If you don’t see what you need, call your servicer’s phone number located on your monthly loan statement.
  • Check out this handout we created called: Forebearance: What to Know and What to Ask Your Lender.
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