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People struggling financially because of COVID-19 should do one thing ASAP

Hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians are trying to figure out where their next paycheck is coming from. A banking expert explains how you can stay in the green.

People whose lives have been flipped upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic should be doing one thing right now when it comes to finances: pick up the phone.

"Call your lender and let them know that you're struggling. Tell them that you've lost your job, tell them you've had a big drop in income, tell them that you may be suffering medically. Whatever your story is, tell your lender," said Matt Schulz, Chief Credit Analyst for Lending Tree.

That includes calling your mortgage, credit card, or auto lender today.

Don't wait until a payment is due.

Shulz says lenders have programs in place to help you right now so you don't end up in the red financially.

"Some of the credit card issuers are offering things like short term reduced interest rates, waiving fees, raising credit limits, reducing your minimum payments or deferring minimum payments altogether."

While the help is there, a lot of banks are not just going to automatically enroll you in these programs.

"You need to pick up the phone, call the 800 number of the back of your card and ask for these things," said Shulz.

State attorney General Josh Shaprio is launching the "PA Care Package."

It's a statewide initiative for financial institutions to offer some relief for affected customers.

They would have to offer 90-day grace periods on auto loans and mortgage payments, as well as late fees and overdraft charges.

The banks must also have an expansion of small and medium business loans available.

"They're not gonna report any of these late fees or missed payments to reporting agencies, where you're going to get a ding on your credit," said Shapiro.

Just make sure, no matter what, you get the terms of these new agreements in writing. 

"The old saying goes 'Trust, but verify' so make sure that whatever terms that the bank offers to you, you have that in writing or through snail mail," said Shulz.

If you're really struggling, that expert says you can get a credit card that has zero interest for at least a year.

However, use that as a last resort.

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