The COVID-19 virus has spread unease and fear in 2020, and not just from a health standpoint. With millions of Americans out of work and small businesses forced to close shop due to the pandemic, financial fears have pushed front and center over the past few months. This article will address a common financial fear as of late: How to ride out this storm while keeping your credit score as stable as possible.
Check Credit Score Regularly
You should already be regularly monitoring your credit report during the best of times, but it’s especially important to do so during this tumultuous season in order to spot possible mistakes before they have a chance to negatively affect your credit score. Contact the creditor immediately if you do catch a mistake. Recent mistakes can typically be rectified with minimal headache while ones that sit on your credit report longer can take longer to get resolved. With COVID scams happening and many Americans’ income in flux, it’s good practice for the time being to check your credit reports monthly. In fact, the three national credit reporting agencies—Equifax, Experian, and Transunion—are offering free weekly credit reports until April of next year. You can access your reports at AnnualCreditReport.com.
Make On-Time Payments or Contact the Creditor
When possible, continue to make on-time payments, even if it’s just the minimum amount due, through the pandemic. A positive payment history is a major step in ensuring that your credit score stays the course. However, if your income has been affected and emergency savings accounts have been drained, this might not be possible. If this is the case, the best course of action is to contact the lender or creditor as soon as possible as they may have workable payment options available to help you get through this time. Proactive and early communication is paramount. Be prepared to discuss how much you can afford to pay and when you expect to resume regular payments.
Consider a Balance Transfer
You may have found over the past few months that you’ve needed to rely more on credit cards while simultaneously being unable to pay them off each month. If so, now might be a good time to explore a balance transfer where your debt would be transferred to a card that offers a lower interest rate on that balance and may reduce your monthly payment. The low-interest rates are typically temporary, but the payment reduction from lower-interest rate cards can at least help to keep your credit card debt from escalating out of control until you can get back on your feet.
Budget and Make a Plan / Prioritize Payments / Revisit Budget
This crisis is affecting almost everyone, whether you’ve lost your job, you’ve experienced a reduction in work hours, or you’re anxious about the economic fallout of the pandemic, so there’s no better time to rework your budget following these steps:
- Assessing any take-home income.
- Examine your financial commitments and variable spending
- Determine where you can cut back, even temporarily
Taking steps to free up more money in your budget helps to decrease financial stress, which allows you to focus on the most necessary financial commitments while better positioning yourself to protect your credit. If needed, that money can be used for essential expenses, like food and bills, but if you’re in a better position, you can sock away some of it in an emergency savings account for future use.
Experiencing business growth is always exciting for an entrepreneur, but periods of growth aren’t always continuous given that every business has ups and downs. Implement growth strategies with the tips below to help your business become more sustainably profitable over time.
Define the Purpose of Your Business
A clear purpose propels growth, profit, and sustainable success, but business owners must regularly review their objectives to be sure that they’re still serving the company in an authentic way. Does your purpose still prompt strong engagement within the company as well as with clients? Does it still lend itself to focus, drive, and innovation? A genuine and straightforward vision helps both entrepreneurs and team members to create valuable and original products and services.
Maximize Operational Efficiency
Delegate, delegate, delegate. Transferring tasks and projects to qualified employees saves you time by removing the burden of smaller duties from your proverbial plate, which allows you to focus on larger aspects of running a business. Relinquishing some of this control also allows you to move into a business leadership and visionary position at a macro level rather than spinning your wheels at the micro level just to keep the business afloat.
Build Your Brand
Your business can grow by leaps and bounds when you develop a reputable and reliable brand. A well-considered brand will help you stand out among competitors and stay fresh in the minds of both new and potential customers. However much of your budget you can allot to marketing, make sure you pin point your target audience, connect with your audience in an authentic way, and keep your messaging concise, simple, and inspiring.
Cultivate Customer Loyalty
A vital factor of business growth and sustainability is your company’s ability to keep repeat customers. Not only does establishing client loyalty help to bolster sales, it also spurs word-of-mouth testimonies that will bring in more business. Be sure to implement expectations within your hiring, training, and review processes that will strengthen your company’s relationship with customers. Keeping in touch with clients and asking their opinions will also help to ensure repeat business.
Be Attentive to Budgeting
Maintaining a budget keeps unnecessary expenses at bay and necessary expenses within financial means. Additionally, acute awareness of your company’s funds means that you know how much can be spent on marketing, technology, new product, new hires, etc. in any quarter or season. Let your budget slip and you risk delving into debt, which will only slow the long-term growth of your business.
Businesses can grow under the guidance of flexible and adaptive leaders who are willing to embrace new methods and processes, new technology, new industry standards, etc. All businesses unavoidably experience seasons of growing pains, but how you as an entrepreneur approach those seasons makes all the difference. You can continue to do the things the way you’ve always done them and risk a stagnant business, or you can embrace change and move your business forward.
As Congress begins working on a new coronavirus relief bill, the White House looks to target aid more specifically and cap the overall expense of the package at $1 trillion. Here’s what else we know about a second stimulus package.
Direct Stimulus Payment
Another round of stimulus checks could be coming to American households, but the amount is yet to be determined. While early talks of a second stimulus package were largely jobs focused, recent nationwide spikes of confirmed coronavirus cases have some states rolling back their reopening plans. The effect could be further layoffs for American workers and economic hardship for families, which increase the urgency for additional cash payments. However, the amounts and income thresholds could differ from the first round of stimulus checks, which were approved for individuals whose income was no greater than $75,000 and for married couples whose combined income was no greater than $150,000. Payments were phased out for incomes above those thresholds. It remains unclear at this point how Congress will move forward with this.
Changes to Unemployment Benefits
The CARES Act approved a weekly $600 bonus unemployment benefit to workers who’ve been laid off or furloughed as a result of COVID-19. This is in addition to state-provided unemployment benefits. However, this $600 weekly bonus is set to expire at the end of the month. Some lawmakers would like to see it extended while others would like unemployment benefits to be capped at no more than 100% of a worker’s compensation when employed. Though the additional unemployment benefit has proven to be a financial lifeline to workers who were suddenly laid off or furloughed, the risk is that it potentially incentivizes citizens to stay unemployed.
Back to Work Bonuses
Some lawmakers have put forth proposals for return-to-work bonuses. Such legislation could be an alternative to extending the enhanced unemployment bonus. So far talks of this bonus indicate a weekly $450 bonus for a limited time targeted at unemployed workers who return to work.
More Relief for Businesses
The CARES Act introduced the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provided businesses that have been impacted by COVID-19 with forgivable loans. The second stimulus package could include an extension of the PPP, but some lawmakers would like to repurpose its unused funds for other kinds of assistance, which would be more clearly targeted at businesses that need the help. The White House also continues to advocate for tax breaks to promote new hires.
Liability Protection for Employers
The second stimulus package could see liability protections for employers who could possibly face lawsuits related to COVID-19, but any bill that permits sweeping immunity for employers will likely receive pushback from some lawmakers.
State and local aid, infrastructure spending, payroll tax cuts, and a tax credit for domestic travel are further probable points of discussion when Congress returns from recess.
More people are working remotely now more than ever, and the change from office to home might have proven to be a surprising adjustment. The flexibility that comes with working from a home office is a definite advantage, but staying focused, motivated, and disciplined might be challenging. Throw into the mix a significant other who’s also working from home and kids and pets, and your day can quickly veer off track. Below are some tips to help your days be more productive.
Designate a Workspace
Designate a specific area in your home to get work done. If you don’t have a home office, take over a spare bedroom or another space that can offer some privacy—even a closet can be converted into a workspace. Having this space dedicated to your workday will help you stay mentally focused. Make sure this space is equipped with the equipment and tools you’ll need on hand during the day, such as a computer, high-speed Internet connection, any office supplies, and sufficient light. If you find your designated space wholly uninspiring, spruce it up with some artwork, potted plants, a rug, etc.
Set Structure and Boundaries
With all household members in close quarters, it’s crucial to set boundaries. Set up and maintain working signs and cues (i.e. close the door when on a phone call and use timers for the kids to set designated not-to-be-disturbed work time). Also be sure to set a consistent working schedule so you’re not tempted to be pulled away throughout the day by non-work related chores and requests. To keep your workflow moving, create a to-do list each day with specific and achievable tasks and deadlines, with the most important at the top. Whatever you don’t get done, put at the top of your list for the next day. Finally, treat your weekdays just as you did before. This includes waking up at the same time every day and getting dressed in the morning. Don’t roll out of bed and lug your laptop onto the couch and expect to have a productive day.
Stick to Schedules with Children
Some schools are getting back in session as early as later this month, and many parents are opting for digital learning or homeschooling. If you have school aged children, staying organized during this time is crucial. Attempt to replicate the schedule of a typical school day, with designated breaks for lunch and “recess”. If you have younger kids, the bulk of your work may need to get done during naps or quiet time. If your partner is also working from home, try splitting the day between the two of you, so one is “on shift” with the kids in the morning and the other in the afternoon. It might take some trial and error to find what works for your family, but once you find a good fit, be sure to stick to it.
Communication is more critical when working remotely, and needs to happen more frequently. Be sure to consistently reach out to managers and colleagues, and know what’s expected of you. Being proactive on this front will help you define weekly goals and build more sustainable relationships with coworkers. If you’re managing a team, be sure to bring everyone in on conversations so no one feels out of the loop, and everyone knows about assignments, deadlines, and various moving parts. If you do this regularly, it can be handled more as a casual check-in rather than a big formal meeting.
Take Breaks and Make Time for Creative, Physical, and Mental Health
This is a stressful time for everyone, so it’s even more critical to take care of your creative, physical, and mental health. Anyone who’s worked at home for a while will tell you that it’s possible for hours can go by without even realizing it when you’re lost in the work. Aside from the fact that sitting for excessively long periods of time can lead to back and neck pain, it also isn’t healthy for your mind. Be sure to take breaks, go for walks, exercise, and get into a creative project or hobby.
Failure is a very real possibility for small businesses. It’s a reality that will test your resolve as a business owner as well as the durability of your business strategy. When giving up feels like the only option, here are some tips to turn a sinking ship around.
Connect with other business owners, influential people in your industry, and even professional business consultants. The chances are highly likely that you’re not the first business owner to be going through this phase. Be willing to ask questions and be open to new ideas.
Execute A Strategy
Do you have a clear vision of your overall strategy and the bigger picture for your business? If not, consider working with a professional marketing agency or consultant to help develop an effective plan to nurture client relationships and keep customers engaged in the long game, which will translate to consistent sales.
Invest in Employee Trust and Motivation
You wouldn’t have made it this far without significant contribution from your team, but be sure all employees are on the same page. Do they understand your business model and long-term goals? Are their contributions and talents valued? A dedicated and active team will build company morale and translate to better sales, better products, and better output.
Know Your Client Base
Business survival is dependent upon fulfilling customer needs and expectations, so it’s important to always be in tune to the pulse of industry current events, news, products, advertising trends, and overall awareness. Likewise, it’s crucial to keep your ears open to customer engagement, feedback, and satisfaction. Partake in market surveys, meet the customers you’re serving, have one-on-one meetings with clients, and invest in low-cost advertising methods.
Realize the Potential of Your Assets
If you find your business in dire circumstances, relief may come in the form of your company’s assets, which are meant to supply capital for your business. Trading assets might just prove to be the lifeline you need to keep from going under. For example, you can lease out buildings, office space, or machinery for a generous stipend. If at all possible, negotiate a rental or leasing arrangement rather than sell completely. However, if you’re convinced that selling is the right move for you, strive to maintain some proprietary rights in the property.
Go Back to the Drawing Board
Try to determine where things went awry in your business. If you collect data and monitor negative feedback, the trends will give you a clue. Start asking difficult questions about salaries, the amount of staff you’re employing, and compensation packages. What additional cost-cutting actions can you take?
Congress passed the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act (PPPFA) on June 5, 2020, amending several provisions in the original PPP loan program. Along with granting business owners more flexibility and time to spend the PPP loan proceeds, the Act permits funds to be used on a wider-ranging variety of expenses while still allowing for loan forgiveness. Here is how this will affect businesses moving forward with a PPP loan.
Extended Covered Period
Originally, borrowers had 8 weeks from the receipt of loan proceeds to spend funds on forgivable expenditures. Now the covered period specifies 24 weeks after the origination of the loan, or December 31, 2020, whichever is sooner. To qualify for forgiveness, however, borrowers must maintain payroll levels for the full 24-week period. Borrowers do have the option to stick with the 8-week deadline, and they must likewise maintain payroll levels through the full 8 weeks to qualify for the full loan forgiveness amount.
Additional extensions include the timeline for eliminating reductions in workforce and wages, as well as restoring workforce levels and wages to pre-pandemic levels required for loan forgiveness (both extended to December 31, 2020).
Changes to Percentage of Payroll Costs
The PPPFA reduced the payroll expense requirement from 75% to 60%, which means that 40% of the PPP loan funds may now be put towards forgivable non-payroll expenses such as mortgage interest, rent, and utilities. Note that the expenses originally designated as forgivable have not changed.
Changes to Repayment Period
For borrowers whose loans are not forgiven, the PPPFA increases the repayment timeline from two years to five years. The 1% interest rate remains the same.
Changes to Rehiring Requirements
The PPPFA also extends the rehire date to December 31, 2020 and allows for a reduced headcount. Rather than basing loan forgiveness on a borrower’s ability to rehire the same number of employees on payroll as was used to calculate the loan, the PPPFA allows for loan forgiveness amount to be determined by documentation showing that the borrower was (1) not able to rehire former employees and unable to hire similarly qualified employees, or (2) not able to return to pre-pandemic levels of business activity in response to federal guidelines related to COVID-19.
Changes to Payroll Tax Deferment
The CARES Act originally prevented borrowers who received PPP loan funding from deferring additional payroll tax once the lender decided to forgive the loan, but the PPPFA eliminates this restriction, and borrowers can now defer the payroll tax for the period from March 27 to December 31, 2020.
Overall, the PPPFA will ease the burdens of businesses that received PPP loans, but it doesn’t fix everything or answer all the questions, so expect more regulations and changes to the PPP program in the near future.