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When you can barely get out of bed, completing essential financial tasks can fall to the wayside. Common ailments such as the flu and broken bones can disrupt your life for weeks. So can severe cases of COVID-19, according to John Hopkins Medicine, and post-COVID symptoms can linger for months.
If sickness carries on too long, credit accounts can fall delinquent and debt can accumulate. Then, after you recover, you have to deal with the negative consequences. Don’t let illness get you financially down. Here’s how to manage your credit and money when you’re feeling terrible.
Prioritize pressing bills
It can be tough to prioritize when you’re feverish or in pain. Either everything or nothing can seem important. Some tasks do require attention, however, so try to summon your energy and focus on the following:
- Credit cards. If you don’t pay your credit card bills by the due date, issuers will usually impose an initial late fee of between $25 and $37. Getting your payment in on time is especially important if you have a 0 percent APR credit card, because that special rate may be revoked if you pay late. You will not be marked as late on your credit report unless an entire billing cycle has passed.
- Rent. Although many landlords do not impose a late fee until you are significantly behind, you will want to maintain a positive relationship with that person or company. That means having a history of on-time, in-full payments. Many do give a grace period of a few days, though, so you may have a little wiggle room.
- Car loans. According to the Federal Trade Commission, your lender can repossess your car as soon as you default on your loan. Therefore, it’s critical that you get these payments in by the due date.
- Accounts nearing collections. If you know some accounts are already so delinquent they may end up in a collection agency, make every attempt to pay them. This will protect your credit from serious damage.
- Mortgage. Of course, you will want to keep your mortgage in good standing. But if you have to wait a few days, you probably won’t be hit with any repercussions. You typically have a 15-day grace period before a late fee is imposed. When that time is up, though, the lender will usually charge you a fee of between 4 percent and 5 percent of your monthly payment.
Your household expenses are important too, but utilities don’t report to the credit bureaus unless they’ve gone into collections, which can happen if you miss several payments. The power company won’t disconnect your service if you miss one bill. Cellphone and cable companies may charge a fee for paying late, too, but the delinquency won’t impact your credit unless the debt has gone into default and the account has been passed to collections.
Contact creditors if you can’t pay
If you can’t meet your lender’s payments because your health has prevented you from working and earning as normal, make the effort to contact them. Staying on the phone and going through all the prompts can be overly taxing when you’re very sick. So if you can, write an email or use the company’s online chat function. Succinctly outline your circumstances.
Howard Dvorkin, personal finance expert and chairman of Debt.com, says creditors don’t necessarily care that you’re feeling bad, but they do want to know the basics of what happened and a general timeline for resolution.
“Never just run away,” says Dvorkin. “You can say, ‘I’ve been very seriously ill and can’t make my payments.’ ’They may be willing to work with you. If you have a doctor’s note, even better.”
Some creditors will let you skip a payment or two without notifying the credit reporting agencies that you’re late, thus protecting your credit scores. Make sure you get a written statement as proof, though, just in case something goes wrong. Document everything, including who you communicated with, on what date and time.
The bills you can safely set aside, at least for a while, are those you may have incurred for the very illness that has put you out of commission: medical bills.
“Medical bills are easy,” says Dvorkin. “They can wait. If you can’t make your payment for the first bill they sent out, just call them and explain your circumstances. They should be understanding.”
Ask a partner, relative or friend for help
Maybe you need to send a rent check but are out of stamps, or you just received an alert from your credit card company letting you know they just detected potential fraud. When you’re so sick that you really can’t get these pressing tasks accomplished by yourself, call on trustworthy friends or family members to help.
As long as you know that trusted person well and are sure they have your best interest in mind, they can help you mitigate problems. You can be present as they’re assisting, ready to supply answers and information.
Delay major money decisions
There are some financial decisions you should never make unless you’re fit and ready. Now is not the time to:
- Adjust your investment portfolio. You will want your full brain function available before switching mutual funds or buying stocks and bonds.
- Make expensive purchases. Need a new refrigerator or some other costly item? Wait until you have the capacity to conduct all the research to find the best one at the lowest price.
- Sell assets. Purging is great, and you certainly may need the money for certain expenses or to cover debt. Unless you’re certain you won’t need the property in the future, wait until you’re well before putting it up for sale.
- Open new credit cards. Never pursue a credit card account until you’re fully aware of what you are doing. Applying for the account will add a hard inquiry to your credit file, and you will want to be sure that it is the right card for you.
What you can do right now is plan your budget, and make non-binding changes. You may be stuck at home thinking about money and how you can put it to best use. Feel free to tweak the numbers on paper or in a spreadsheet. Then, when you’re back in good health, return to the spending plan you created. Some of your adjustments may stick, while others are not as feasible as you thought.
When you’re lying in bed feeling crummy, you will likely have a laptop or mobile device to keep you entertained. In addition to updating your social media accounts, online shopping can be a fun distraction. It can also lead to unintended debt.
It’s always important to weigh the pros and cons of purchases. Do you need it? Can You afford it? Will you have the money to pay for the entire bill when your credit card statement comes due — and those unexpected medical bills are paid?
If you find you’re turning to retail therapy too often, shut it down. Unless you absolutely must have those items right now, add them to the retailer’s “save for later” file. Return to the list when you’re better and can really consider whether or not they fit your budget and needs.
Deal with the fallout
Keeping your finances healthy while you’re sick isn’t always easy, but with the right approach, you can do it. Just try not to do more than you must, and delegate when necessary. When you’re back to normal, you can deal with any negative repercussions that you were unable to avoid, such as late fees. If you had a good record with your credit account before you fell ill, for example, many issuers will waive those fees. Just call and explain that you’ve been down for the count, then ask for a one-time reprieve. Odds are you’ll get the break.