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Consumer Reports: How to stretch that stimulus check

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker has announced he is suspending laws that permit the service of a garnishment summons, wage deduction summons, or a citation to discover assets as part of consumer debt collection proceedings. (MGN)
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker has announced he is suspending laws that permit the service of a garnishment summons, wage deduction summons, or a citation to discover assets as part of consumer debt collection proceedings. (MGN)(KWQC)
Published: May. 11, 2020 at 12:11 PM MDT
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Some 90 percent of Americans are receiving a stimulus check from the government. But for many, it won't be enough to get them through the pandemic and they'll still have to prioritize which bills get paid and which don't.

Consumer Reports has some advice on how to make that money last a little longer.

Manuela Martinez was recently laid off and plans to file for unemployment. She'll join the 26 million other Americans who filed for unemployment in the last five weeks.

"What went through my mind when I got laid off was like, how am I supposed to pay my electricity bill, how am I supposed to pay my rent. while also thinking about how am I gonna set food on the table," Martinez explained.

But Martinez is taking steps that can help.

"So I reached out to some of my credit card companies and requested them to stop interest rates. They actually took ownership to say listen you don't have to pay anything for the next three months, some of them two months," Martinez said.

It's important to get a handle on how much cash you have coming in and how much needs to go out.

"Normally, you might focus on paying down your highest-interest rate debts first, but these aren't normal times. You may have to focus instead on essentials, such as rent, utilities, and pharmacy bills," Consumer Reports editor Scott Medintz said.

For people who've suffered a financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic, many banks are deferring credit card payments like Manuela's and waiving fees for a period of time.

"If you get a 'hardship accommodation,' make sure that your payments are reported as 'current' on your credit report, rather than delinquent, so it won't impact your FICO score," Medintz said.

You may have heard that the CARES act may offer relief from mortgage payments, but the law's passage doesn't mean you can simply ignore your mortgage bill.

"The law doesn't kick in automatically—you have to contact your servicer" Medintz said. "And it doesn't say how you'll be asked to pay up afterwards. Your servicer should contact you about a month before the time is up to offer you a realistic repayment plan."

The law applies only to federally backed mortgages. You can find out if this is an option for you by speaking to your mortgage servicers.

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