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What to do right now if you can’t pay your bills

A money expert lays out a list of financial relief options available to you

coronavirus and money what to do if you can't pay bills

Right now, we're all facing financial uncertainty that we've likely never navigated before. If your family is rethinking your strategy for spending and saving money, or if you're suddenly facing debt or financial hardship you didn't anticipate, you're not alone.

We do know people are looking for a plan forward for their finances. And as bills begin to pile up and as people begin to dip into their savings, families are looking for ways to avoid financial distress.

Here are some steps you can take to get yourself back on track if you find yourself unable to pay your bills.

1. Audit yourself to see where you stand

As a first step, and in order to get the full picture of your finances, take an inventory of all your expenses, like groceries or utilities, and any money you currently owe, like credit card bills.

Identify any unnecessary expenses that you can cut back on for the time being, such as any subscriptions being paid automatically.

Knowing everything you owe, plus your projected expenses for the coming months will help you see where you stand, and will allow you to make a realistic plan for yourself.

2. Make a budget and prioritize only what is necessary

Now more than ever, Americans need to be extremely diligent with their money, prioritizing what matters most, like rent and other necessities. Every family's financial situation is different so it's important to make a realistic plan for your money.

To help you get back on track, create a budget for your family that you're willing to stick to. This should only include necessary expenses at this point, like rent and groceries. In order to help stabilize your finances over the long term, map out your projected expenses over the next three, six and nine months, since there's uncertainty around how long the effects of the global pandemic will be felt.

Planning for the worst is the way to stay ahead of financial problems.

3. Know every relief option available to you

Be proactive about understanding your options and take action when possible. Depending on your family's situation and expenses, there may be forms of relief available to you, so it's worth doing a bit of research to understand how you can get your debts under control. Here are some debt and financial hardship relief options to know about:

  • Your bank or credit union may be offering consumer protections and relief, including fee waivers, deferred payments for credit cards, auto loans and mortgages, loan modifications, low-rate and zero-rate loans and other accommodations. See what your bank is offering by checking this list or your bank's website, or consult this list of credit unions offering consumer financial support.
  • Call your credit card issuer. Numerous credit card companies are offering some kind of debt relief, such as waived fees or deferred payments.
  • If you're a homeowner and you're worried about making a payment, reach out to your mortgage lender. Many offer programs like mortgage forbearances that allow you to either temporarily stop making payments or temporarily lower your payments. (Again, always be sure to read the fine print so you know what you're getting yourself into, as there may be penalties to some options down the line.) Under the CARES Act, your family may be eligible for mortgage forbearance options for coronavirus related financial hardship. And because mortgage rates are low right now, refinancing might free up some financial flexibility, although the process takes time.
  • If you're a renter, speak to your landlord about your options. If your landlord's mortgage is from a federal lender, you cannot be evicted for nonpayment due to coronavirus-related hardship. This eviction forbearance, part of the CARES Act, is currently in effect through July.
  • Under the CARES Act, all federal student loans are in a state of administrative forbearance, which means you can temporarily stop making payments through the end of September, with no accrued interest. Sallie Mae, Navient and Wells Fargo are also offering temporary loan forbearance for student loans—contact your lender.
  • A number of internet companies have "pledged" not to terminate service for customers due to nonpayment caused by coronavirus-related financial hardship. Check to see if your utility companies are on this list, which includes AT&T, Comcast, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular and Verizon.
  • Utility companies in some areas have also announced that they will temporarily suspend service terminations for nonpayment—check your utility providers' websites or call them.
  • Unemployment insurance is available at higher rates for a longer period, and more people qualify under the CARES act, including part-time workers, freelancers, people on furlough and people who were recently laid off. If you are unable to work because your child's daycare or school was closed, for example, you are eligible for unemployment under the new provisions. And if you have been forced to accept reduced hours, you're eligible, too.

4. Keep your credit accounts current, if possible

On-time payments are one of the key pieces factored into a credit score so I'd encourage you to avoid letting bills go unpaid entirely, if you can. Instead, do some research and find out what the minimum payment is for each of your bills, and pay that, if possible. If you're unable to pay at all, call to see if there's a way to defer payments temporarily.Paying the minimum payments on your monthly bills will help you keep your credit accounts current.

5. Avoid payday loans or maxing out credit cards

Payday lenders tend to prey on those in desperate circumstances, and these loans can be the beginning of a long cycle of debt with high fees and interest rates.

Likewise, you can quickly rack up interest and fees with credit cards if you're putting more money on them that you can pay back.

Instead, if necessary, look into other options available to you such as an emergency or personal loan, which often have lower interest rates. Always read the fine print before signing anything so you understand the terms and implications.

Overall, navigating your finances during this time of uncertainty can seem daunting and overwhelming. But it isn't impossible. The key is to take the first step. Now is the time to advocate for yourself and finances.

Without camps and back-to-school plans still TBD, the cries of "I'm bored!" seem to be ringing louder than ever this summer. And if you're anything like me, by August, I'm fresh out of boxes to check on my "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys.

With that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite wooden toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

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Why do all of my good parenting or baby-focused inventions come after they've already been invented by someone else? Sigh.

Like the Puj hug hooded baby towel, aka the handiest, softest cotton towel ever created.

Safely removing a wet, slippery baby from the bath can be totally nerve-wracking, and trying to hold onto a towel at the same time without soaking it in the process seems to require an extra arm altogether. It's no wonder so much water ends up on the floor, the countertops, or you(!) after bathing your little one. Their splashing and kicking in the water is beyond adorable, of course, but the clean up after? Not as much.

It sounds simple: Wash your child, sing them a song or two, let them play with some toys, then take them out, place a towel around them, and dry them off. Should be easy, peasy, lemon squeezy, right?

But it hasn't been. It's been more—as one of my favorite memes says—difficult, difficult, lemon difficult. Because until this towel hit the bathtime scene, there was no easy-peasy way to pick up your squirming wet baby without drenching yourself and/or everything around you.

Plus, there is nothing cuter than a baby in a plush hooded towel, right? Well, except when it's paired with a dry, mess-free floor, maybe.

Check out our favorites to make bathtime so much easier:

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I wasn’t sure if I wanted to have kids—so here’s what I did

We asked our three most pessimistic friends who have kids whether it's worth it or not

As told to Liz Tenety.

Around the time my husband and I were turning 30, we had a genuine conversation about whether or not we wanted kids. I was the hesitant one because I was like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Let's just hold on. Okay, let's talk about this. Because we love our life. We like traveling. Is this what we want?"

My husband said, "Let's ask our three most pessimistic, crabby friends who have kids whether or not it's worth it."

And every single one of them was like, "Oh, it's unmissable on planet earth."

So when I got pregnant, I was—and I'm not ashamed to say this and I don't think you should be—I was as connected with the baby in my belly as if it were a water bottle. I was like, I don't know you. I don't know what you are, but you can be some gas pain sometimes, but other than that, we're going to have to meet each other and suss this relationship out.

But all the cliches are true that you just know what to do when the baby comes out. Some of the times are hard, some of them are easier, but you just gotta use your gut.

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