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Tips for preserving financial health during the coronavirus

Many local financial institutions, such as NuMark Credit Union in Joliet, are willing to work with their customers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many local financial institutions, such as NuMark Credit Union in Joliet, are willing to work with their customers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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All physical illness aside, COVID-19 may strike your wallet.

If schools close, parents might miss work days, as not all jobs can be performed remotely.

People may stock up on some supplies and short their budget elsewhere.

Slow businesses might lay off employees. Vulnerable employees might find public transportation options dwindling and not have reliable ways to get to work.

People who live paycheck to paycheck may not have the resources to create an emergency fund.

Not to mention it’s still flu season. People might miss work because of illness or taking care of a loved one. They may have more health care expenses due to medicine and doctor visits.

Now what?

What you can do now

Kari Endres, vice president of marketing for NuMark Credit Union, which has branches in Joliet, Crest Hill and New Lenox, said to look at income and expenses for the next few weeks and take stock.

“If you’re running short, especially with an auto loan and payment and you’re not quite sure if you can make that payment, call your financial institution immediately and say, ‘I’m having some difficulty. Is there anything you can do to help me?’” Endres said. “That communication when you’re struggling is just so important. Unfortunately, folks often – out of embarrassment or fear – will put off that phone call.”

What other financial institutions
are saying

Brad Butler, CEO of Merchants and Manufacturers Bank, with branches in Channahon, Joliet and Oak Brook, said M&M Bank has general pandemic procedures in place and that the bank will “bend over backward to help the customer in any way it can.”

In the meantime, to keep employees and customers safe, tellers have hand sanitzers at their stations, as well as gloves for tellers who wish to use them, Butler said.

Customers are encouraged to use plastic whenever possible, online banking services and to wash their hands after handling money, Butler said.

“If it escalates, ... we could go to branch appointments and, of course, use drive-thru for transactions,” Butler said. “It certainly won’t get to the point where the bank is shut down entirely. Shutting down banks is pretty serious.”

Brian Hanover, spokesperson for JPMorgan Chase, said Chase also works one-on-one with its customers when they need help, especially in situations like the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have a long history in the bank whenever an event like this occurs, whether it’s fires out in California or earthquakes or hurricanes,” Hanover said. “Whatever the situation, we have seen events like this in the past.”

In a follow-up email, Hanover also said the well-being of employees and support of clients is top priority and that precautionary measures is heightened at all offices.

Endre said NuMark’s financial recovery department works with members all the time and will continue to do so on a case-by-case basis.

“We treat our members like family and are looking to see where we can help them,” Endres said.

Beware of scammers

“Phishing” may be on the rise, too, Endres said, so people need to be extra cautious about the email they receive, especially if the email references problems with a person’s bank account.

Endres said people should not respond, click on links or provide any of their information, such as phone numbers or account numbers. They should call their financial institution directly by looking up the correct number online, not by calling the phone number in the email.

If an account is really in trouble, financial institutions typically call the phone number on the account or send a letter, she said.

“Unfortunately, when people are in a panic and people are fearful is the time when scammers prey on that,” Endres said. “They use that sense of urgency to make you click without thinking.”

The best solution is to stop, take a breath and realize “things will be OK,” she said.

But I already paid for that trip!

What about travel restrictions and the money that’s already spent on that upcoming dream vacation?

In such cases, people may vacillate between canceling out of fear or wondering, if they do cancel, if their travel insurance will cover them.

On Friday morning, representatives at several Joliet-area travel agencies were swamped with phone calls and unable to comment.

However, also as of Friday morning, many travel insurance companies had posted links on their home pages regarding COVID-19 coverage.

These companies includes Allianz Travel, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Seven Corners TinLeg and Travelix, Travel Guard, Travel Insured, USI Affinity Travel Insurance Services and World Nomads.

Below is additional information, along with tips and suggestions, WalletHub submitted in a news release.

Ask your bank for help

Jill Gonzalez, WalletHub analyst, said in a news release, a bank might help by being able to “skip a payment, having temporarily lower rates, getting fees waived or having a credit line increase.”

Focus on maximizing savings

“It’s a good idea to set aside as much money as you can from each paycheck in case coronavirus impacts your ability to work or causes you to have additional medical expenses,” Gonzalez said in the release. “Avoid panicking about stocks, too, and just remember that it’s only a matter of time until the virus runs its course.”

Take advantage of travel insurance but know the limits

“If your travel provider cancels a trip because of the coronavirus, a ‘trip cancellation or interruption’ policy might help you get your money back,” Gonzalez said in the release.

Some credit cards offer this benefit for free, though issuers have been cutting back in recent years. Keep in mind that if you cancel your own trip out of fear of the virus, your insurance policy probably won’t cover you unless you have coverage for canceling ‘for any reason’ or doctor’s orders to quarantine yourself.”

Use credit cards, not cash

“Though there’s not much evidence to show that touching cash spreads coronavirus, it’s theoretically possible, and the Federal Reserve has been quarantining bank notes from Asia. China also burned some of its currency that had been circulated through the Wuhan area,” Gonzalez said in the release.

“Using a credit card’s contactless capability may help give consumers more peace of mind. Plus, credit cards can be used for online purchases, allowing consumers to avoid shopping at crowded stores.

In addition, consumers that decide to stock up on essential items and spend more than usual in the coming months can recoup some of that expense, and get some extra time to pay, by using a rewards credit card.”

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