Answers to common money and debt questions arising from the coronavirus pandemic.
“This pandemic has made everything come to a stop. Except for my bills of course. And money is tight now. With groceries, cleaning supplies, rent, and so many other pressures, it’s hard for me to prioritize what to pay first."
– Morgan, Vancouver
I’ve heard it’s possible to defer some bills?
Yes, in fact BC Hydro has gone a step further and is offering a COVID-19 relief fund for its customers. If you or your partner have lost your job or are unable to work due to COVID-19, you may be eligible for free credit on your hydro bill. Or you can ask to defer payments or access grants to help pay your hydro bills.
Fortis BC is offering flexible payment options and waiving late payment fees for gas and electricity bills. And they won’t cut off anyone during the crisis.
ICBC customers can ask to defer monthly payments for up to 90 days with no penalty.
I may have to withdraw money on my credit card. What do I need to know?
Borrowing money from your credit card comes with fees and steep interest rates, upwards of 20% per year. Consider borrowing money from a friend or relative, or from a credit union or bank that offers lower interest rates. One option to consider is opening up a line of credit. We have resources on borrowing money and dealing with debt that might help as you consider your options.
What about supports for students, and what about student loans?
The federal government has introduced an emergency student benefit. It provides between $1,250 and $2,000 every four weeks to those post-secondary students and recent graduates who can’t find work or are making less than $1,000 per month due to coronavirus. The benefit is available from May to August 2020. Students can also be eligible for benefits if they volunteer.
The federal government has also placed a six-month interest-free freeze on all Canada student loans, effective March 30. No payment will be required and interest won’t add up during this time. Students don’t need to apply for the repayment pause. The province similarly froze all BC student loan payments for six months, also effective March 30.
The government is also raising maximum amounts for student grants and loans.
As well, post-secondary students can access non-repayable emergency funds for living expenses. You can also access laptops to help you study remotely. Contact your school’s financial aid office to apply and find out how much money you can qualify for.
Is there relief to help low-income people?
New emergency measures are in place to help people on income or disability assistance and low-income seniors. Those on provincial assistance programs and not receiving employment insurance (EI) or the new Canada emergency response benefit will get extra money from the province. They’ll automatically receive a $300 supplement on their cheques in April, May and June.
As well, during the pandemic, the province will stop deducting employment insurance benefits from welfare payments.
As long as BC Transit and TransLink are waiving transit fares, the $52 bus pass supplement will be converted into a cash supplement. The amount will be automatically added to disability assistance cheques.
A one-time enhancement to the climate action tax credit will be paid in July 2020 for moderate to low-income families. An adult will receive up to $218, and a child up to $64. (This is five times more than the three other payments in 2020 under this tax credit.)
I can’t meet with my accountant or access my records, and I know I have to file my taxes soon. What can I do?
The federal government announced flexibility measures for taxpayers. This means you can file your taxes as late as June 1, and can pay any balance owing to the Canada Revenue Agency, without penalty, by August 31.
You should still consider filing your taxes as early as you can if you expect a refund or want to make sure child benefits or other credits get properly calculated and applied. SimpleTax is an easy-to-use software for personal filers — no accountant needed!