Coronavirus how-to’s: Paying your taxes, and making student loan payments

As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to wreak havoc on our health and finances, U.S. PIRG Education Fund is putting out resources and tip guides to help Americans weather the storm. To help illustrate these issues, each week, we’ll be posting a round-up of short stories from across our network, from staff experiencing various COVID-related issues and their solutions.

Grace Brombach

Worried about taxes during the COVID-19 pandemic? Here’s something that can help.

By Claudia Deeg, CALPIRG Education Fund Associate

April 15 is a date better known as Tax Day: everyone’s least favorite holiday. It’s a source of annual stress and dread for many Americans, but this year, it doesn’t have to be.

Because the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has been wreaking havoc on the U.S. economy, the IRS has extended the tax filing deadline to July 15, 2020.

While this extension has provided some reprieve to those of us who have been hardest hit by hours cuts, job loss and other impacts of the outbreak, the deadline still looms in the not too distant future. Filing taxes is notoriously complicated, but there are alternatives to either going it alone or paying for tax software.

If you qualify for the COVID-19 stimulus check, you likely qualify for free tax software as well.

Only a tiny fraction of people take advantage of this benefit. In fact, the IRS estimates that 70 percent of taxpayers are eligible for free filing, but only about 3 percent actually use it.

Why, you may ask, do so few people use the free option, and why haven’t I heard of it?

That’s because many tax software companies have deliberately hidden their free versions from search engines. Last year, over 14 million people who qualified for free tax software ended up paying for it unnecessarily. This is unacceptable, especially now. Lower income Americans shouldn’t have to worry about a cost barrier to filing taxes.

There are several options to prepare your taxes for free, including the IRS Free File. The recent coronavirus response act also includes several new tax credits. If you’re owed a refund on your taxes, it may be better to file sooner rather than later so that you can use the refund to pay bills and other expenses in the meantime.

Remember, while preparing taxes is a daunting task, there is help out there to guide you through this process. As our dear founder Benjamin Franklin said, nothing is certain except death and taxes. Happy filing, friends!


Do I have to make my monthly student loan payments? Should I?

By Olivia Sullivan, CoPIRG Foundation Associate

“We are experiencing longer than average wait times. Remain on the line, and someone will be with you shortly.”

We have all heard those eye-roll-inducing words. And getting stuck on the phone for hours listening to hold music can be aggravating. During this pandemic, call wait times at banks, airlines and other businesses have been excessively long as people struggle to get the information they need.

People have lots of questions: Can I get a refund for my airfare? Will I be able to pay my bills?

Recently, the question on my mind has been: Will I be able to keep up with my student loan payments in addition to all my other expenses?

Thanks to the passage of the CARES Act, payment on all federally held student loans is  automatically paused, and no interest will accrue on loans until at least September 30th. Unfortunately, students who hold private loans are not covered. If you are not sure whether you are covered by the CARES Act, it is simple to check.

It took me almost 3 hours and a frustrating phone conversation to cancel and refund a flight, but it took me less than 10 minutes to jump online and check the status of my student loans.

For most people with federal student loans, you don’t have to call your loan servicer to confirm that you do not have any payments due. Logging into your account, you should be able to quickly check two things. First, just by visiting the homepage, you should be able to easily tell that your loans are in forbearance, and no payment is due for the next 7 months. If you had autopay set up, it should have automatically been turned off.

Second, by visiting your account details, you should be able to confirm that your loans are listed with a 0.000% interest rate.

If you can confirm this, you are all set. While you are not required to make payments, you can and should keep making your payments, even if they are smaller. Paying while your loans are in automatic forbearance will lower your principal, and is beneficial for those who qualify for public servant loan forgiveness.

If any part of your student loans is paid by your employer, you need to ask if they will continue to pay while your loans are in forbearance. If for some reason you are unable to confirm that your loans are in forbearance, or your interest rates are listed as something other than 0 percent, it’s time to find a comfy chair and some snacks to hunker down and call your loan servicer. They can provide you with more information about if you are eligible for the loan assistance available under the CARES Act.


Grace Brombach

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