Jean Chatzky Answers Four Of Your Biggest Money Questions
Here's how to navigate this whole new world of stimulus checks, unemployment benefits, and so much more.
In my 30 years of helping women navigate money issues, there are some questions I hear over and over again. So, today I’m answering four questions so many of you are asking.
Q: My credit card company cut the limit on my credit card. Can they do this?
A: Not only can they, they are — about one in four cardholders has experienced a reduction on at least one of their cards (if not an outright card closure), according to a new survey from CompareCards.com, a division of Lending Tree. (CompareCards was so surprised that the number was so high — it extrapolates out to 50 million cardholders — they actually ran the same survey twice to confirm the result.) This is happening, sadly, at a time when three in 10 of cardholders say they’re using their plastic more than ever.
So, what are the best strategies for card users to employ right now? Play offense, suggests Lending Tree Analyst Matt Schultz. That means spreading out your spending over all the important cards in your wallet so that none seem dormant (dormant ones are the most likely to be closed). If you have one you never use, consider putting a monthly subscription on it, then paying that amount automatically. Also, as long as you are comfortably able to manage your bills, consider asking for a credit limit increase on the card you use most — that will help your credit score and utilization rate.
Q: My employer is lowering my weekly salary due to my receiving a stimulus check. His logic is that I am still breaking even. Is this even legal?
A: There are a lot of pay cuts happening right now as employers try to keep more people on the payroll overall. And in many cases it is legal. A couple of ground rules: You have to be paid for work you’ve already done, you have to be told it’s happening (and you have the right to quit). What it can’t do is drop your salary below the minimum wage. It also can’t be discriminatory (cutting the salary of men but not women and vice versa) and if you have a contract (including with a union) there will be a negotiation.
Q: I heard about the Payroll Protection Plan (PPP) for small businesses, and I was wondering how this would affect employees currently receiving unemployment wages, if our employer gets PPP money? Do you have a choice between PPP and unemployment wages, or are you allowed to receive both? What happens if the PPP amount is less than the unemployment wages?
A: I’m hearing from a lot of employees in this situation. Because of the extra $600 weekly unemployment payment from the Federal Government, many employees are receiving more from unemployment than they would from their jobs.
Here’s the deal — it is your choice, as the employee, how to proceed. But it is a choice. Either you can go back to work and your employer can pay you with the PPP funds, or you can continue to stay out of the workforce and receive unemployment. You can’t do both. And it’s important to note that there are risks to both. The additional $600 in weekly payments runs out at the end of July at which point your unemployment checks will likely fall to substantially less than you earned at work. (Unemployment typically covers 40 percent to 60 percent of wages.) If you go back to work, the PPP funds are designed to help employers keep paying you — but just for eight weeks. At that point, if the business is not able to pay you, they may have to lay you off again.
So, consider the risks and then make the best choice for you. And just a note for employers: If you have employees who don’t want to come back, you can hire others with your PPP funds. It’s money for payroll, not payroll for specific employees.
Q: I’m a self-employed gig worker. I’ve already gone through the system and been deemed ineligible for unemployment, so what happens now?
A: In a number of states, the unemployment system was not set up to handle the self-employed, gig workers, independent contractors and part-timers who were deemed eligible for benefits under the CARES Act. The result was that a lot of people were told they were ineligible though it should have been the other way around. (In Florida, for instance, about 40 percent of claims fell into this category.) But the states have started to get their acts together. Some have launched new portals specifically for these submissions. Others are simply asking applicants to give it another go. My suggestion is that you do just that. I know it’s frustrating. Applying for unemployment these days (or tracking down your stimulus payment) feels like a full-time job. Approach it like it is one, knowing that when you do get your benefits you will likely receive them retroactively to the date of your first claim. And if it turns out that you are ineligible for state benefits, you can likely still receive the weekly $600 PUA or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance available from the federal government through July 31.
AARP Financial Ambassador Jean Chatzky is an award-winning financial editor and CEO of HerMoney.com.
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