credit & debt

Reaching for a Lifeline

The theme of this issue is what to do about your money in the time of the coronavirus and a distressed economy.

Like many of you, I have discovered video chat as a way to stay connected with work colleagues as well as family and friends while we’re spending our days at home.

Among my handful of weekly personal calls is a Zoom check-in with three high school friends (and sometimes their spouses) every Sunday. Each of my friends has a job that has been reshaped by the coronavirus. One is the global medical director at a large investment firm, who has been advising its employees worldwide about best practices for working safely during the pandemic. Another is vice president of a major domestic airline who is in charge of the airline’s thousands of flight attendants. He has had to manage a particularly vulnerable and anxious workforce. Both of their jobs lately have been grueling, and our video chats have been fascinating.

But the pandemic has touched my third friend, Robert, even more deeply. Robert is a dentist in Baltimore County (you can look him up at DrMinch.com). Since mid March, when President Trump declared a state of emergency, Robert hasn’t seen a single patient. The only money coming in is from collections for work he did before he had to shut down. And when that money dries up, there will be no revenue at all.

Financial rescue. The theme of this issue is what to do about your money in the time of the coronavirus and a distressed economy. In Earn Up to 9% on Your Money, we tell you where to earn more income—and the good news is that yields are unusually high on some investments following the rush by investors to sell assets and raise cash. How to Protect Your Portfolio is for retirees who need income but don’t want to tap depressed nest eggs.

We also have help for readers hit hard by a furlough or job loss, who may be having trouble paying their bills right now. We run down major provisions of the $2.2 trillion stimulus package related to your personal finances. And we explain the new rules for getting a break on your mortgage, credit card or auto loan payments in Get Help With Your Bills.

The soaring ranks of the jobless include a disproportionate number of self-employed and small-business workers. Many small businesses simply don’t have the resources to keep paying their employees when there’s no money coming in. My friend Robert plans to continue paying the salaries of his five employees as long as he can. He has even been contributing the employer match to their 401(k) plans, although he has put his own contribution on hold. “I made a commitment to my employees,” he says. “They have bills to pay, too.”

He has a surplus fund with enough money to last four months. So his anxiety about when he’ll be able to see patients again is running sky-high. He applied for a lifeline from the Payroll Protection Plan, the emergency loan fund administered by the Small Business Administration. After striking out at the bank where he has done business for 25 years, he was approved for a loan at a community bank in mid April—about the time the program was running out of money and Washington was still squabbling over details of more emergency funding.

When his practice resumes, Robert expects that he will have to schedule fewer patients so that they can maintain social distance in the waiting room. He will probably have to buy expensive new equipment that suctions particles in the air while he’s working on patients. While all four of us high school friends have been talking about retiring in a few years, Robert thinks this financial setback will delay his retirement another five years. “That’s not such a big deal,” he says. “I love what I do.”

Stay safe and stay well.

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