Atlantic Financial Services: Smart family finances during the COVID-19 crisis

By Burnie Staples

Protect your family and home first. Some call it The Four Walls.

The Four Walls are your priority, so pay for these things in this order before anything else:

  • Food
  • Utilities
  • Shelter
  • Transportation

Here’s how that looks:

Your priority is to be sure you have enough food/medicine for your family, before you spend cash on hand on anything else.

Utilities – It’s critical to keep your water and power on. If you can’t pay your utility bill on time, call the water or power company to make arrangements. Many states have ordered disconnection suspension, including North Carolina. But don’t rely on that. Call them if you can’t pay on time.

Whether you are renting or buying your home- if you can’t make your payment on time, call your landlord or mortgage company right away and explain your situation. You’ll find much more cooperation when you initiate the contact. Don’t make them call you.

Keep your family vehicle in good operating condition, and if you have a car payment, make car payments your next priority. If you can’t make your payments, contact the lender to make arrangements. Just like your mortgage or rent.

I’ve been in the lending business for many years and have worked through recessions, hurricane disasters, and many crisis situations. One thing that I’ve always experienced is that the financial institutions always recognize that we really are “all in this together.” And they want us to all succeed together. Because they can’t succeed if you don’t succeed. They don’t want your house, your car, or expensive legal costs to take you to court. So, when you can’t fulfill your obligation, contact them. It’s in their best interest to work with you.

Most banks, credit unions and finance companies will go the extra mile to work with customers, especially in the situation we are in now. Many are relaxing policies for payment extensions, refinances to catch up or lower payments, reducing fees, and making adjustments on late charges, especially when the customer doesn’t ignore the default and makes contact.

Remember, even if we aren’t working, most of us will have sources of income either through unemployment insurance, or assistance from the federal government that was recently funded. And almost all economists say that we should all be back at work in a matter of months.

If there’s any money left over after you take care of the Four Walls, make a list of what else you need to pay and tackle that in order of importance. It’s best to put your Four Walls budget down on paper. List them in priority order and see how far you can make your monthly income go. If you haven’t been on a monthly budget before, now is the perfect time to get that started! It’s the single smartest financial decision you can make. Maybe we can talk about that more, later.

— Burnie Staples is President of Atlantic Financial Services