Money tight because of COVID-19? These relief programs can help
There’s a large list of government-sponsored and private relief programs to help U.S. households affected by COVID-19.
Below are financial aid programs currently available to U.S. homeowners, renters, and those who have recently become unemployed.
Note: The response to COVID-19 is constantly evolving. Programs listed here may change, expire, or be extended. This list is current as of June 24, 2021.
In this article (Skip to...)
- COVID stimulus programs overview
- How to request mortgage relief
- COVID mortgage relief programs
- COVID rent relief
- Unemployment assistance
- Look out for mortgage relief scams
- Resources for more information
COVID stimulus programs overview
Since March 2020, homeowners have had certain protections under the CARES Act.
Originally set to expire at the end of December 2020, these protections have been extended through the beginning of 2021 to continue supporting homeowners affected by the pandemic.
Current mortgage relief programs for conventional loans (backed by Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac) and government-backed loans (FHA, VA, and USDA) are as follows:
Currently, mortgage companies cannot start foreclosure proceedings against homeowners who are unable to make home loan payments.
- For conventional mortgages, lenders cannot start a foreclosure until at least July 31, 2021
- For FHA, VA, and USDA mortgages, lenders cannot start foreclosure proceedings until at least July 31, 2021
Mortgage loan forbearance
Homeowners who are unable to pay their mortgages due to COVID-related financial hardship can opt into a forbearance plan, which temporarily pauses mortgage payments.
- Homeowners with conventional loans can forbear their mortgages for up to one year. Homeowners who were in a CARES Act forbearance plan as of February 28, 2021, may ask for an additional 3 months of forbearance, for 15 months total
- Homeowners with FHA, VA, and USDA loans can forbear their mortgages for up to 18 months (6 months initially, with up to one 6-month extension and two 3-month extensions). Homeowners must request initial forbearance before June 30, 2021
Even for the loan types listed above, specific mortgage relief programs and requirements can vary by loan servicer.
Check with your own servicer (the company to which you make payments) to find out what type of loan relief you qualify for.
The American Rescue Plan
The newly-passed American Rescue Plan — a $1.9 trillion relief bill championed by the Biden Administration — includes measures to help homeowners as well as renters and the unemployed.
- Homeowners — $9.9 billion will be allocated to the Homeowners Assistance Fund to help homeowners in need pay overdue mortgage bills, taxes, insurance, and HOA dues. These funds will be distributed through state Housing Finance Agencies
- Renters — $25 billion in emergency rental assistance will be available through state and local governments. Check your state’s rental relief programs here
- Unemployed — $300 weekly federal unemployment checks will continue through September 6, 2021
- Direct payments — Stimulus checks of up to $1,400 will be paid to individuals earning up to $75,000 and couples earning up to $150,000, with additional funds for families with dependents
Read on to learn more about each of these programs and how to request relief if you’re experiencing financial hardship.
How to request mortgage relief
Help will be available only to those who ask for it. And the organization you need to ask — at least, at first — is your loan servicer. That’s the company to which you make your monthly mortgage payments.
Note: Your mortgage servicer is likely not the same company that set up your loan. To find out who your servicer is, check the company name and contact information on your most recent mortgage statement.
You should work with your loan servicer to discover programs that may help you.
Not all types of mortgages offer the same relief, and there may be state or local assistance you can tap.
But don’t rely solely on the knowledge of the agent to whom you speak. Do some research of your own online. You’ll find some links below. And Google is your friend.
Coronavirus mortgage relief programs
The type of mortgage relief you may be eligible for depends on your loan type and which bank or agency owns your mortgage.
Here are the relief programs currently available for the four major loan programs: conventional, FHA, VA, and USDA.
Mortgage relief for conventional loans (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac)
Many homeowners don’t realize their mortgages are owned by Fannie or Freddie. You may not have noticed that one of them bought your loan after you closed. But you can easily find out using the lookup tool that each of them provides:
Be sure to use both tools. Either agency could own your mortgage as they own the majority of U.S. home loans.
Providing you agree with your lender on an assistance package, you could be in line for:
- Mortgage forbearance (reduced or no payments) for up to 15 months
- Penalties and late fees waived on issues covered by your forbearance agreement
- No reporting to credit bureaus about late or ‘missing’ loan payments
- Loan modifications that could allow you the same or lower monthly payments when things return to normal
Under the CARES Act, homeowners do not have to prove they’re in financial distress in order to get mortgage relief. That means no extensive documentation.
Homeowners simply have to “claim” they’re going through financial hardship by sending in a hardship letter saying they’ve been affected by COVID-19.
These programs could offer serious help. Just be aware that there are both pros and cons to forbearance.
In particular, understand that any money you don’t pay now will have to be paid later.
You and your mortgage servicer should be absolutely clear about the timing and terms of repayment once your forbearance period ends.
Homeowners protected under the CARES Act are never required to pay back missed payments as a lump sum right when forbearance ends.
Instead, you can usually opt to make larger payments until the missed sum is repaid, or ‘defer’ repayment until your loan is fully paid off or you refinance or sell the home.
Mortgage relief for government-backed loans (FHA, VA, USDA)
Mortgages backed by the federal government are also eligible for loan forbearance. These include:
- FHA loans
- VA loans
- USDA loans
Homeowners with government-backed loans simply have to ask their lender for forbearance and send in a letter stating they’re going through financial hardship as a result of the pandemic. No proof of hardship is necessary.
In this way, government-backed loan holders can get forbearance for up to 18 months (180 days, plus one extension of 180 days and up to two extensions of 90 days).
Remember, you have to ask for forbearance. It will NOT be automatically applied to any loans. Again, you need to call your mortgage servicer.
Private mortgage relief programs
Even if your mortgage is not government-backed, you may have access to mortgage relief.
Many private mortgage lenders, big and small, have announced help for customers who are financially affected by COVID-19.
The American Bankers Association maintains a list of banks that have announced help for their customers over the pandemic.
Don’t worry if yours isn’t on that list. It may have just neglected to tell the ABA. Call and ask.
When you call or go online, remember the lending industry’s new unofficial slogan: “When people need help, just give them help.”
If your loan is owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, you are protected from foreclosure until at least July 31, 2021.
If your loan is backed by the FHA, VA, or USDA, you’re also protected until at least July 31, 2021.
Until that date, the law prohibits lenders and servicers from beginning a judicial or non-judicial foreclosure against you.
What happens after these deadlines? There’s no guarantee. But it seems likely consumer protections will continue under the Biden Administration while COVID is still a major concern.
Meanwhile, some states have also introduced their own moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures. And they may outlast federal protections.
Relief programs for renters
Renters have protections during COVID, too, although they’re less robust than the relief programs offered to homeowners.
- Some renters cannot be evicted until at least June 30, 2021, if they are behind on payments due to COVID-related financial hardship
- $25 billion in emergency rental assistance will be available through state and local governments to help renters who can’t make payments
To qualify for rent relief, landlords or tenants will have to meet certain conditions, including:
- The household can’t make more than 80% of their area’s median income
- Renters must be experiencing financial hardship related to the pandemic
- The renter must be at risk of losing their housing
Since funds will be distributed locally, tenants and landlords hoping to qualify for rent relief will need to check for programs operating in their area.
For starters, check this spreadsheet of local housing programs, compiled by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, to find rental assistance programs currently operating in your state or county.
The American Rescue Plan also includes an additional $5 billion in emergency Section 8 housing vouchers for “people experiencing homelessness, survivors of domestic violence, and victims of human trafficking,” according to NPR.
Individuals in these categories should reach out to their local public housing agency (PHA) to learn whether they qualify for assistance. You can find your local PHA here.
What to do if you’re behind on rent
The National Low Income Housing Coalition has a lookup tool that can help renters find state and local assistance. But you must still keep in touch with your landlord if you’re having trouble paying your rent.
Call your landlord ASAP if coronavirus-related issues mean you’re unable to pay rent.
Remember: If you forestall payments, they’ll likely be due as soon as coronavirus troubles pass. So make sure you and your landlord are clear on two things:
- How to handle missed or late rent payments during the COVID-19 pandemic
- How repayment for missed rent will be handled once the pandemic ends
Get the agreement in writing if possible.
Also, research measures your state has enacted to protect renters and make sure your landlord is aware of those.
State and Federal unemployment assistance
Laid-off workers may be eligible for unemployment income. The amount of unemployment income you’re eligible to receive varies by state.
Visit your state government’s website to see what unemployment assistance is available where you are. You can find contact information for your state government and agencies here.
In addition, the recently-passed American Rescue Plan renews federal unemployment assistance (which was originally set to expire on March 14).
Those who collect state unemployment assistance may also be eligible for an additional $300 per week in federal unemployment income, thanks to the new stimulus bill. This will be available until September 6, 2021.
The American Rescue Plan also includes direct payments of up to $1,400 for individuals with an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $75,000 or less and couples with an AGI of $150,000 or less.
Families will receive an additional stimulus check of up to $1,400 for each qualified dependent.
Mortgage modification scams
Unfortunately, some con merchants see this national emergency as an opportunity rather than a tragedy.
Already, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is having to warn Americans about mortgage modification scams. It says scammers might:
- Ask you to pay fees upfront to receive services
- Promise to get you a loan modification
- Ask you to sign over the title to your property
- Ask you to sign papers that you do not understand
- Say you should start making payments to someone other than your servicer or lender
- Tell you to stop making mortgage loan payments altogether
If anyone has made any of these requests or claims, you can report that company by submitting a complaint with the CFPB online or by calling (855) 411-CFPB (2372).
And the Federal Trade Commission reminds us: “The government will not call to ask for your Social Security number, bank account, or credit card number. Anyone who does is a scammer.”
It warns equally against those asking for any form of upfront payment or promising to get you stimulus money quicker than normal. Again, those are scams.
Trustworthy resources for COVID-19 information
The federal government’s website has a portal to numerous sources of information on COVID-19. Better to rely on them than social media or even some media outlets.
Among other things, these resources include:
- CDC COVID-19 information
- Information for seniors and people with disabilities
- Information for Medicare recipients
- Information for veterans
- Guidance for air travel
- Info about the government’s response to COVID-19
Your state’s website likely has a similar page for local services.
Times are likely to remain hard for many of us. But knowing where we truly stand can make dealing with those easier.
So whether you need mortgage relief or reassurance about health matters, be sure to choose trustworthy sources — and to ask for help as soon as you think you’re going to need it.