Mar 31, 2020 - Health

Paying rent in a pandemic

Houses made out of money

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

For many people who've lost jobs or income because of the coronavirus pandemic, tomorrow presents a stressful decision: Do you pay your rent or mortgage?

Why it matters: The new CARES Act that was signed by President Trump on Friday protects homeowners and renters who are suffering from the response to the coronavirus pandemic — but it's not “a one-size-fits-all policy rulebook,” a congressional aide tells Axios.

  • The bill prohibits foreclosures and evictions on all federally supported mortgage loans (including those owned by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) for a 60-day period that began on March 18.
  • Landlords are prohibited from evicting tenants and charging late fees and penalties for those in federally backed housing for 120 days.

The big picture: For those laid off, furloughed, or whose incomes have plummeted because of the response to the coronavirus outbreak, we've put together a guide.

  • Check with your landlord, bank or mortgage company to see if they’ve adopted leniency policies. 
  • See if your city or state is among those that have suspended eviction proceedings — your payment obligations don’t go away, but you will have a measure of protection.

Between the lines: Personal finance experts recommend looking at your entire financial picture and cash flow situation before deciding whether to skip a rent or mortgage payment.

  • Prioritize your immediate necessities: food, medicine, utilities, health insurance.
  • Piled-up rent or mortgage bills aren’t going to go away, so consider tapping emergency savings to cover them.

Under the CARES Act, adults will receive payments of up to $1,200 in as little as three weeks, and most children will get $500.

  • The new law makes it easier to tap retirement accounts like IRAs and 401(k)s for up to $100,000 in cash: Early withdrawal penalties for IRAs are temporarily waived, as are tax penalties for borrowing against a 401(k) or similar plan.
  • Using your retirement money as a piggy bank isn’t always the best option, since you’re selling when the market is at a low point and you'll miss out on possible future gains. Alternatives include a personal loan, a home equity loan or a home equity line of credit. 

Go deeper: Advice from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Go deeper