IMPORTANT NOTE: Because there are a lot of new laws being passed as a result of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), there may be new benefits available in addition to those explained in our free guide.
We aim to give you helpful information and answer questions you might have about the Coronavirus and the CARES Act that was signed into law on March 27, 2020.
The Coronavirus (COVID-19) has affected hundreds of thousands of people across the world. Now more than ever, it is important to learn how to protect yourself and stop the spread. You can learn about the signs of the virus, screening tools and how to stay safe below.
Recently, the U.S. government has signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES). Find out more about what the government is doing to give financial assistance to Americans in this guide.
Table of Contents:
- Coronavirus overview
- Learn about the CARES Act
- Find out about the Stimulus Checks
- Learn about the extra Unemployment Benefits
- Learn how CARES helps with Housing
- Find out how CARES helps with Student Loans
- Learn how CARES helps people with Retirement Accounts
- Find out about CARES and your Credit Report
The Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is a new version of a type of virus that already existed. This is why it is called the “novel” or “new” coronavirus. COVID-19 was first found in Wuhan, China. The Coronavirus is a respiratory disease. It can spread from one person to another when virus droplets are breathed in or come in contact with a person’s eyes, nose or mouth.
The situation with COVID-19 is continuing to evolve. Check the CDC website for current information about the pandemic and more here.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
According to the CDC, the main signs that someone has the Coronavirus include:
- Having a fever.
You might notice the signs between 2 and 14 days after you get the virus. Some people will have more serious symptoms like:
- Not being able to breathe well.
- Feeling pain or pressure in your chest for a long time.
- Feeling confused.
- Having your lips or face turn blue.
If you are noticing the more serious side effects of the virus, get medical attention as soon as possible.
The symptoms to look out for may change over time as more cases are confirmed. Find out more about symptoms on the official CDC page here.
Who is most at risk if they get the Coronavirus?
According to the CDC, some people are more likely to get the serious side effects of the virus. These groups of people are:
- Seniors 65 or older.
- People who live in nursing homes.
- People who already have serious medical problems like lung disease, asthma, heart disease, diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease or obesity.
People who are getting treatment for cancer, an organ transplant or who already have immune system problems might also be at more risk for the serious side effects.
Not sure about your symptoms? Check out approved screening tools.
If you or someone who know feels sick or is showing symptoms, you can use an online screening tool. The U.S. government and some private companies have made online screening tools. By answering the questions on these screening tools, you can see if your symptoms match the signs of COVID-19. Then you can make a decision about getting medical help. These online screening websites also give you information about how you can get tested.
Online Screening Tools:
Your state’s health department might have a screening tool on its website, too.
How can I protect myself from the Coronavirus?
There are some steps that the CDC recommends to protect yourself from COVID-19. You should:
- Wash your hands regularly. You should wash your hands for 20 seconds after you touch surfaces in public. Make sure to clean between all your fingers, the back of your hand and to wash up to your wrists. You should wash your hands after you blow your nose, cough or sneeze, too.
- Use hand sanitizer. Your sanitizer should be made up of at least 60-percent alcohol. Make sure you cover every part of your hands.
- Do not touch your face. You should not touch your eyes, mouth or nose unless you just washed your hands. Avoid touching your face as much as possible.
- Clean surfaces that you use a lot. Disinfect your doorknobs, cellphone, desk, kitchen counter, sinks and other surfaces that you use everyday to make sure they are clean for the next time you use them.
- Follow the “social distancing” guideline. Stand and walk at least 6 feet away from other people when you are in public. Also, do not get close to people who you know are sick.
According to research from the CDC, the Coronavirus spreads from person to person. If someone coughs or sneezes near you, you might accidentally breathe in the virus. COVID-19 can also spread if you touch something that the virus was living on and then touch your face. It is not yet known exactly how long the virus can live on surfaces.
Guidelines may change as the situation evolves. Find out more about the current CDC guidelines for prevention here.
I’m sick. What do I do?
If you have mild side effects of the virus, the CDC recommends that you:
- Stay at home. You should only leave your house if you have to get medical help.
- Keep in touch with your doctor. Let them know about your symptoms. They might be able to give you the care or help you need by phone or telemedicine. If you have an emergency and need medical help, call your doctor first so they can prepare for your visit.
- Do not go near other people. Keep away from other people to stop the spread of the virus. This includes staying in one room of your house if you live with other people. It includes not using ride-hailing or ride-sharing apps, too.
- Wear a mask and cover your coughs. You should do both of these to keep other people from getting the virus.
- Watch your symptoms. If your symptoms are mild at first but then get more serious, ask for medical help as soon as you notice this.
It is also important to follow the cleaning and social distancing guidelines. Clean surfaces that you touch. Wash your hands often. Do not get close to other people.
Guidelines may change as the situation evolves. Find out more about the current CDC guidelines if you are sick here.
Is there a COVID-19 vaccine?
There is no vaccine for COVID-19 as of now. The U.S. government and health organizations are working on a solution.
How is COVID-19 being treated?
Treatments for COVID-19 patients are based on how serious their symptoms are. People with mild side effects can follow this general treatment plan from the World Health Organization (WHO):
- Stay warm.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Drink a lot of liquid.
- Take hot showers or get a humidifier to help with your cough and throat pain.
For those who have serious side effects, hospitals are trying to manage symptoms through supportive care. This is because there aren’t any FDA-approved drugs available to treat COVID-19 as of now. Hospitals are trying to control infections. Drugs and other treatment options are being tested for future patients.
The situation with COVID-19 is continuing to evolve. You can find current information on the CDC website here.
Learn About the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act
President Trump signed the CARES Act into law on March 27, 2020. This law gives Americans the chance to get stimulus checks from the government. It gives groups of Americans special benefits during the upcoming months, too. Learn more in the sections below.
Understanding the CARES Tax Credit Stimulus Checks
The government is sending up to $1,200 to individuals and up to $2,400 to married couples. For now, this is only a one-time payment.
The amount you will get depends on your reported income on your 2019 taxes. If you have not filed your 2019 taxes, the government will look at your 2018 tax return along with any of your Social Security statements from 2019.
Who qualifies to get payments from the government?
Not everyone is eligible to get this payment. You will not receive a payment if:
- You are a single person who earns $99,000 or more per year.
- You are married and together earn $198,000 or more per year.
- The head of your household earns $136,500 or more per year.
If you make less than these amounts, you may be eligible to get a payment.
You also need to have a Social Security Number to qualify for the payment. You will not get a payment if you are considered a dependent.
How much stimulus money can I get?
Full $1,200 payment: If you are a single person who earns $75,000 or less, you will get $1,200. If you filed taxes as the head of household and earn $112,500 or less, you will also get the full $1,200 payment. If you are married and make $150,000 or less, you and your spouse will get a combined total of $2,400.
Reduced payments: If you a single person who makes $75,000 or more but still earns less than $99,000, you will get a reduced payment. Your payment will be less than the full $1,200 amount. This also goes for married couples who earn $150,000 or more but still have an income below $198,000.
For every $100 that you earned above the limit to get the full amount, the government will subtract $5 from your final amount.
You can also get an additional $500 payment for each child who is 16 or younger.
How will I get the payment?
You do not have to apply for the payment. The government will send it to you automatically if you are eligible.
Did you get your last tax return by direct deposit? If you did, then your stimulus payment will go right into the same account.
If you got your tax return by check, you get a check in the mail.
When will I get the payment?
You should get the payment by the middle of April.
The IRS will send you a notice in the mail after they mail or deposit your payment. It will give details about where the payment went. You should contact the IRS if you see that the payment went to the wrong address or bank account.
How the CARES Act Gives Extra Unemployment Benefits
The government is also giving extra unemployment payments to people who qualify. If you lost your job on January 27 or any time after in 2020, you can get these special benefits.
The government is making it easier to qualify for unemployment, too.
Who qualifies for unemployment benefits?
Here are examples of some people who can get unemployment benefits right now:
- Unemployed self-employed workers
- Unemployed independent contractors
- Unemployed part-time workers
- Unemployed full-time workers
You can also get unemployment if COVID-19 directly affected your ability to work. You can get benefits if you lost your job, cannot work or have reduced hours because of one of these reasons:
- You have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
- You have COVID-19 symptoms and you are trying to get tested.
- You are taking care of a family member with COVID-19.
Here are other types of situations where you can get unemployment benefits:
- If you need to care for a child or elderly person in your home because their school or care facility has shut down.
- If you cannot work because there is a quarantine in your area.
- If your employer shut down your workplace because of COVID-19.
- If the breadwinner in your home died from COVID-19.
You cannot get unemployment if you are working from home. You cannot get unemployment while you are using paid sick leave.
How much unemployment will I get?
This will depend on your state. Each state sets up its own rules for how much unemployment money people can get.
But you will get an extra $600 in benefits every week if you qualify for unemployment benefits. You will get whatever your state pays for unemployment plus $600 each week from the federal government.
How long can I get unemployment for?
This will depend on your state. Most states allow you to get 26 weeks of payments. But if your unemployment benefits period is up, you can apply to get 13 extra weeks of benefits. You have this option until December 31, 2020.
You can only get the extra $600 from the federal government until July 31, 2020.
You cannot have more than 39 total weeks of unemployment.
How will I get unemployment benefits?
You will have to apply through your state’s unemployment office. Most states let you apply online on their official unemployment office website.
You will get unemployment money every week. You may get your state benefits and federal benefits in the same deposit or check. Or, you may get them as separate deposits or checks.
What if I already have unemployment benefits?
You can still get these extra benefits. You will be eligible for the 13 extra weeks and the $600 federal payments. If your benefits ran out recently, you can reapply to get 13 extra weeks and the $600 federal payments.
Find Out How CARES Helps With Housing
The stimulus package helps some people with housing costs. It doesn’t give you money to pay your rent or mortgage. But it can help you avoid eviction or foreclosure for a few months if you cannot pay your rent or mortgage right now.
Do I still have to pay my mortgage?
Some people are eligible for a mortgage suspension. This means you won’t have to pay your mortgage for 180 days starting on March 18. You will still have to pay these costs at a later time.
You can only get the 180-day suspension if you have a mortgage backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae or another government-sponsored company.
Will my house get foreclosed?
Some people will have extra protection to avoid foreclosure for a few months. Your house cannot be foreclosed from now until mid-May. But this is only if your mortgage is backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae or another government-sponsored company.
Can I still get evicted from my rental unit?
The stimulus package helps some people avoid eviction. From now until July, you cannot get evicted if your landlord’s mortgage is backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae or another government-sponsored company.
Understanding Student Loan Assistance
The CARES Act makes things easier for people with student loans. These new student loan rules will not apply to all types of student loans, but they will end up helping a lot of people.
Do I still have to pay my federal student loans every month?
With the CARES Act, you do not have to pay your federal student loan payments until September 30. This includes principal and interest.
About 90 percent of loans will not need to be paid during this time. This includes direct loans from the government. But some loans will not be part of it. The loans that will still need to be paid during this time are:
- Perkins loans.
- State agency loans.
- Private company loans (like Sallie Mae).
If you have a direct loan, check your student loan website to make sure it says you do not have any payments due. If your account says payments are still due, call your loan provider. You should also get mail with information about this change.
I was behind on my student loan and was having my earnings and tax refund taken away. How do these changes to student loan payments affect me?
Tax refunds and wages will not be taken from you (“garnished”) during the next six months even if you were behind on your loan payments. This is not the case if you are behind on child support.
The company I work for was paying for my student loans. What happens now?
If your employer helps pay for your student loans between the dates of March 27 of this year and January 1 of next year, you will get a break on your taxes. You can exclude up to $5,250 from your earnings and put yourself in a lower tax bracket. This gives you a chance to get a tax refund.
How CARES Helps With Retirement Accounts
Many people are turning to their retirement accounts for financial help during the pandemic. To help, the CARES Act loosens the normal restrictions on retirement accounts.
Do I still have to take out a certain amount of money from my retirement account in 2020?
No, you do not. With the new bill, you do not have to take out a minimum amount from your retirement account this year. This new rule applies if you have a 401(k) or another retirement account with your employer. It applies if you have an IRA, too. So, you have the chance to let your investments get better with time.
I have to take out money early from my retirement because of COVID-19. Will I get any break from the government?
Yes, you will get a few breaks from the U.S. government because of COVID-19. These include:
- No 10-percent fee. You can take out as much as $100,000 in 2020 and avoid the typical penalty fee of 10 percent.
- 3 years to pay income taxes. While you would normally have to pay income taxes sooner when you take out money, with CARES you can pay off these taxes over three years. You can even put your money back into your retirement account without worrying about contribution limits or paying income taxes on that money since you put it back.
To get these benefits, you will have to show that you meet the requirements. Either you, your wife/husband or your dependents need to have tested positive for COVID-19. If not, you have to prove that you had other problems related to the Coronavirus.
Am I still able to borrow money from a retirement account?
Yes, you are. You can take out a loan. You no longer have to take out a loan that is less than half of your total balance. You can take out a loan that is two times the size of your old limit, too. These rules will be in effect for 180 days following the CARES Act. You also get an extra year to pay back your loan if it was supposed to be fully repaid by the end of this year.
Keep in mind that you have to prove that you were affected by the pandemic to get these benefits.
Also, these rules for borrowing money from retirement accounts are plan-specific. Check with your plan provider to find out more.
About Government Assistance & Credit Reports
The COVID-19 crisis has made it more difficult for people to pay their debts. Normally, this can affect your credit score. The CARES Act tries to help by temporarily changing credit reporting rules. Also, some individual lenders may change their repayment guidelines during the crisis.
Will getting financial help from the government hurt my credit?
Your credit score and credit report should not be affected by the stimulus package. This includes if you get help in any of the following ways:
- You get a stimulus check.
- You do not have to pay your student loan for six months.
- You borrow from your retirement account.
- You get help with your rent or mortgage.
The CARES Act has made it so that from January 31, 2020 all the way until 120 days after the national emergency declaration is taken away, your credit will not be affected. But that does not mean any old issues will be taken away. If you had a lower credit score because of something that happened in the past, it will still be on your credit report.
Do I need to keep paying my debts?
Your credit card company or bank might waive payment requirements for the next 120 days (from March 27). They might decide that they want you to only pay part of your payments. This depends on your lender.
What if something happens that affects my credit in a bad way?
Lenders have to give you the chance to fix any problem on your credit report. They have to report good news about your credit to the credit bureaus, too.