There comes a point in your mandatory two-week quarantine from covid-19 when you realize that working from home isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. To spare myself the indignity of befriending a volleyball and naming it Wilson, I’ve taken up keeping the Bond & Botes Blog updated with issues related to the COVID–19 pandemic as they relate to our clients, and others facing financial challenges. If you’re a Mississippi client, then you probably already know who I am. If not, let me introduce myself. My name is Nathan Rester and I’m the newest associate at Bond & Botes. After graduating from Mississippi State University, I attended law school at the University of Mississippi and officially became a licensed lawyer in September of 2019.

I had been working for Bond & Botes in their Jackson office until about a week ago. Now I’m working from home. If you’re in the same boat, then you’ve probably kept a muted TV on at all times, watching and waiting for any signs that this nightmare is going to end soon.

But, to my surprise, it turns out that watching cable news can be a little dispiriting. The sky is falling. All hope is lost. Everyone’s out of toilet paper. The future seems uncertain, and uncertainty is terrifying. But even when the endless, grinding wheel of the news cycle threatens to overwhelm, it’s important to take a deep breath and remember that we’re not alone. Fred Rogers once stated, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis and the threat of a looming economic downturn, there are two fundamental nuggets of wisdom to excavate from the madness that square fully with Mr. Rogers’ message of hope in times of emergency.

The first is that Americans’ capacity to come together in the midst of disaster remains intact – from top scientists to healthcare workers working tirelessly on the front lines of this epidemic, everyone is pitching in to make sure that we come out on the other end of this catastrophe with our dignity and infrastructure intact.

The second thing we’ve learned is that everyone, and we mean everyone, who has ever gotten ahold of our email address has something to say about COVID-19. Our inboxes are swarmed with emails titled “Kirkland’s Guide to Social Distancing” and “The Distinction Between Viral and Bacterial Infections: A Handbook by Target”, all of them vying for our attention.

So, you’re probably wondering: what makes this article different from the other six-thousand sitting in your inbox right now, waiting to be read? Well, if you’re already a client at Bond & Botes or are thinking of using our services in the future, you’ll definitely want to stay tuned to our blog designed to keep our clients safe and well informed. We’ve uploaded two within the last week – this one, a personal message from one of our partners, Bradford Botes, and the second one on how we’re meeting the needs of our clients despite the COVID-19 crisis.

But if you’ve stumbled upon this article by happenstance, there is an abundance of new information and procedures that you might not be privy to.

Key Communications from Financial Institutions

For example, on March 20, the federal government formally announced that no foreclosures will proceed in the next sixty (60) days. In fact, depending on your situation, you could be eligible to have your mortgage payments reduced or suspended for up to twelve (12) months. Note that this only applies to loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration and loans owned by Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae. If none of that sounds familiar to you, don’t panic – most people have no idea who owns or insures their loan, only the collector or servicer.

But even if you believe that your loan is owned by any of the parties we just named, that doesn’t mean you’re in the clear; over the last few years, those parties have sold hundreds of thousands of loans to third parties. So if you’re not one-hundred percent positive who currently owns your loan and you are worried about foreclosure, do not hesitate to contact our office – we will look into the matter and find out for sure so you know whether or not you fall under the exemption.

While this is good news for anyone worried about foreclosure, this does not mean that loan borrowers are completely relieved of their debts or that mortgage companies will suddenly stop reporting on missed payments.

“They need to contact their servicer – that is the lender that they send the check to every month,” says Mark Calabria, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. “That lender will work with them to be able to work out a payment plan. Obviously, we hope to get them back on their feet as soon as possible.”

According to Calabria, people in financial distress because of COVID-19 can just verbally testify the state of their hardship. Documenting comes later. “You’re not going to have to send 20 pieces of paper at the front of this,” he says. “We want to do it quickly.” This is good news for you – it means that if you are impacted by COVID-19, your word is all that is required.

However, none of these moves do much to help renters. Many municipalities are halting evictions for people who can’t pay rent, and housing advocates hope the federal government comes up with a program soon to offer financial assistance to renters who. in most cases, have fewer financial resources than homeowners. But so far, no such program has been announced. If you are a renter who has been impacted by COVID-19, please contact your landlord to see if you are eligible for relief under local programs or assistance packages.

If you are with Bank of America, then you already have a plethora of options available. Bank of America announced on March 19 that it will offer additional support for consumer and small business clients who have been impacted by COVID-19: “Our clients rely on us every day and for every aspect of their financial lives,” said Dean Athanasia, president of Consumer and Small Business at Bank of America. “We’re going to continue to provide convenient access to the important services they count on, and the additional assistance and support they need during this difficult period. Our priorities are taking care of our team and each other, and continuing to fulfill our fundamental role serving our clients.”

While these assistance initiatives are implemented on a case-by-case basis, Bank of America has rolled out a number of new policies designed to help those impacted by the health and economic crises. These include:
Consumer and Small Business deposit accounts: clients can request refunds including overdraft fees, non-sufficient funds fees, and monthly maintenance fees.
Consumer and Small Business credit cards: clients can request to defer payments, refunds on late fees.
Small business loans: clients can request to defer payments, refunds on late fees.
Auto loans: clients can request to defer payments, with payments added to the end of the loan.
Mortgages and home equity: clients can request to defer payments, with payments added to the end of the loan.

In all of these instances, there will be no negative credit bureau reporting for up-to-date clients. They have also paused foreclosure sales, evictions and repossessions. All Bank of America teammates who work with clients are trained to identify and assist impacted clients and provide the right support to address their unique needs. Clients facing financial hardships related to the coronavirus are encouraged to visit the company’s Client Resources website and contact the client services team for assistance.

In addition to the steps taken by Bank of America, several banks have announced that customers may request to defer payments on mortgages, Home Equity Loans and Lines of Credit that are owned by the banks. Customers must contact their bank to determine eligibility to defer payments.

And if your loan is with the USDA, then you may be in luck. The United States Department of Agriculture is encouraging SFHGLP (Single Family Housing Guaranteed Loan Program) loan servicers to extend forbearance alternatives to borrowers whose health or employment has been impacted as a result of COVID-19. USDA’s Rural Development division has also list of eviction protections enacted in the wake of COVID-19.

And while it’s always a good idea to stay optimistic and keep your blood pressure low, we suspect that more measures will follow as COVID-19 testing ramps up and more Americans are exposed. Until then, we will be updating this blog on a regular basis with new information as it becomes available.

However, it is our genuine hope that there is more of the nightmare behind us than ahead of us. But even after COVID-19 has been successfully terminated, the U.S. economy faces months – if not years – of economic recession. But numerous safeguards are already being put in place to soften the blows to come, and sensible, rational action will always be paramount, a strong alternative to panic and despair. Check back regularly for more info and tips as the situation unfolds. We’ll be rolling out more blog posts in the days, weeks, and months to come as this situation evolves and (hopefully) begins to wind down.

So take a deep breath, buy a sensible amount of toilet paper, and look for the helpers.

Nathan Rester
Written by Nathan Rester

Nathan Rester is an Associate Attorney at the Bond & Botes Law Offices location in Jackson, Mississippi. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from Mississippi State University, and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Mississippi School of Law. He prides himself in his work assisting his bankruptcy clients to achieve financial stability for themselves. Read his full bio here.

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