Are you concerned about your rent or mortgage? A banking executive offers advice on what you should do.

Summary:

  • With many of the CARES Act’s relief programs and rent moratoriums about to expire, we sat down with Lisa Levy, a former banking executive, to get her personal advice on dealing with rent or mortgage payments.
  • Lisa offers advice on everything from bill prioritization to creative solutions, such as bartering, to help you save money on rent.
    With many of the CARES Act’s relief programs and rent moratoriums set to expire soon, many consumers may be concerned about how they will pay their bills and avoid eviction or foreclosure.

We sat down with Lisa Levy, a former banking executive, to get her personal advice on how to deal with rent or mortgage payments, as well as some creative solutions, such as setting up a bartering system, to help make ends meet. Check out the Q&A section below.

With the additional $600 in unemployment benefits expiring this month and rent and mortgage moratoriums being lifted, what advice can you give tenants and homeowners who are unable to pay their rent or mortgage?

The general rule is to have at least six months of emergency savings, but most people are unable to do so. In the case of rentals, the best approach is to present your situation to management or the owner. This is not a local issue; it is a national issue, and everyone is aware of it. Because this is a national issue, I hope landlords and financial institutions will be more lenient.

Mortgages are different; you must consult with the financial institution or lender. People can try to refinance, but doing so requires paying a fee, which can be costly unless the financial institution is willing to ‘forgive’ it.

Because interest rates are so low right now, the banks may be willing to work something out. Some mayors and governors are advising landlords to take the one-month security deposit and apply it to one monthly payment, but that is only one payment and must be repaid. That doesn’t help anyone who is in desperate need. And you’re unlikely to qualify for a bank loan unless you have some kind of collateral. However, while it is an option, you should not use your home as collateral for a home equity loan because you could lose your home.

Another option is to sell your home and use the proceeds to move into a rental, but this is a last resort.

 

Is it possible for a tenant or homeowner to renegotiate their rent or mortgage, especially since an unoccupied apartment or foreclosed home costs the landlord and bank money?

I’m not sure what the banks will do. Savings account interest rates are one percent or less. Perhaps a landlord would lower the rent for a limited time. It is determined by the number of units owned and the amount invested in the property.

Some people may wish to discontinue use of their credit card for the time being, or to find a card with no percentage for six months to a year. They might be able to get a cash advance, but it depends on the institution. Smaller banks may be more open to it.

 

Are there any safeguards that tenants and homeowners should be aware of but aren’t? Are there any other local, state, or federal programs?

To learn about other relief programs, I recommend visiting the websites of your local and state governments, as well as the Federal government.

 

What should someone do if they need an attorney but cannot afford one?

Local legal aid is always the first port of call. There are many attorneys who do pro bono work, and they will assign you someone based on your income, situation, and location. The American Bar Association in your city or state is the next option.

 

What are your thoughts on mortgage or rent forgiveness? How long should it continue?

I don’t think a bank would ever forgive a few mortgage payments, but I can’t speak for all banks. A landlord would not forgive any months because they still have to pay taxes, water, sewer, employees, and other expenses.

 

What bills should a tenant or homeowner prioritize? Should rent/mortgage be the first bill paid every month?

I would say that food is the most important priority, but since there are numerous food banks to which you can turn if necessary, rent or mortgage payments are the most important. People must, however, examine their spending habits and, if necessary, temporarily discontinue use of their credit cards. Perhaps they can reduce their cable costs, or perhaps they don’t require a landline and a cell phone. Any way you can reduce your monthly expenses—whether it’s $40, $80, or $100—that saved money adds up when you’re not making any money and don’t know when you will.

 

Do you have any other tips or advice for tenants and homeowners?

If a landlord is forced to lay off or furlough some employees and a tenant possesses a specific skill, they may be able to set up a barter system. If someone is a painter, carpenter, or handyman (or woman), they might be able to work by the hour and get a credit that would lower their monthly rent. It may be a problem if they are not members of the union, so that must be addressed first.

People can use their IRAs and 401Ks to borrow against if necessary. The CARES Act permits you to withdraw up to $100,000 without penalty. However, if you are in your 50s or older, you are taking a huge risk because you want this money to supplement your social security when you retire, and time is not on your side to replenish that money. If they are in their twenties or thirties, they may be able to make up the difference when things improve.

 

Do you have any other general thoughts on resources that consumers should look into or financial knowledge that they should have?

I would approach their current financial institutions and try to negotiate a payment plan and/or some type of temporary reduction, as well as their landlord if they are renting. If they have a mortgage and their bank will not work with them, there is no harm in going to a smaller bank and asking if they would assume the mortgage and assist them in some way.

This situation affects millions of people, and some institutions must be scrambling right now to find better solutions for those affected. I’m not sure how a major bank would handle 10,000 people walking in tomorrow asking for a solution.