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By: Oliver Ames

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2020-05-06

How to Manage Your Personal Finances during COVID-19

Credit and Debt | Saving and Budgeting | Identity and Fraud Protection | Lifestyle

COVID-19 has brought financial uncertainty to many, and even as we edge closer to recovery, the impacts of COVID-19 will be felt by many Vermonters for months to come. I sat down with Yvonne Garand, our senior vice president of marketing and business development, to talk about personal finance in the age of COVID-19.

Learn about our response to COVID-19. This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Oliver Ames: Hello, everybody! Welcome to today's livestream. We are super excited to have you here, tuning in live on Facebook. We're going to be talking today with Yvonne Garand, the senior vice president of marketing and business development. I'm Oliver Ames, the social media specialist here at VSECU.

Today we're going to be providing you with some helpful resources to navigate the financial world in this uncertain time. Of course, we've been doing many things internally at VSECU to make sure that we are prepared and that our staff are prepared. We've been putting all kinds of policies in place to keep people safe in our workplaces. We've sent as many people remotely as possible. But as we look to coming out of this in hopefully a few weeks, we are still conscious that the impacts from COVID-19 are going to remain for quite some time for our members.

What we thought we'd do today is sit down and provide you with information right from the financial world to your home. So, without further ado, I'm going to pass it over to Yvonne, and we're going to have a little conversation here. All righty Yvonne. Let's get into it! Welcome to the stream.

Yvonne Garand: Thank you, Oliver.


Oliver
: Today, we're going to talk about, as I mentioned, the impact payments; the economy; budgeting and spending; and how to navigate the world of personal finance right now. But let's start off with a simple question: what are some great financial habits or routines that people should get into?


Yvonne
: Hmmm, good question. First of all, thank you for coordinating this! This is new and different. Many of us, with the stay-at-home order, are having to adapt and work and communicate differently. So, I appreciate this opportunity to converse with you, and others who are watching, from the comforts of my home.


I think probably first and foremost, as we are all sheltering in place and getting to know our family members a little bit better, maybe getting to know ourselves a little bit better, this is a good time to get to know your money better. And what I mean by that is take advantage of this time to get a better understanding of your money.


Where is it? Where is it coming from? Where does it need to go in? What is it doing? So really maximize and leverage this opportunity to carve out time in your day and start thinking about your money in that way.


Oliver
: One of the things that I do personally, and I think we recommend people do this all the time, is to think through the things that are coming in and the things that are going out. One of the things that is so great about 2020, living in today's age of COVID aside, is that we have enormous numbers of tools at our fingertips. From tools like online and mobile banking, to phone services and apps. You could even use third-party tools that integrate with VSECU services like Mint or You Need A Budget. How do you think people can manage their expenses and their income more efficiently and effectively?


Yvonne
: Right. First of all, I want to address the technological advances that are going to come into play as a benefit right now. You mentioned some apps that people can download to help budget and monitor their expenses. So, the digital ecosystem that we live in today is a wonderful thing.


The only caveat to the digital technologies that so many of us have become reliant on is that we really don't know where we're spending our money. It's so easy to enroll in online banking, use your debit card, and the days of balancing a checking account are long gone. I would encourage people to take a piece of paper and a pen or pencil and try reconciling your account. What that will do for you is it will mentally and visually help you see where your money is being spent, how is it coming in and how is it going out. Once you have that understanding, then by all means, rely on those digital technologies. But it is so important not to become complacent, especially during these times. It's just so important for us to know what our capacity is!


I still am one of those old timers. I still reconcile my checking account every month. I have four adult children, and I know they don't. They don't because the digital economy has made it so easy for us. But I still think that reconciling your accounts is a good exercise to practice.


Help Vermonters in need.


Oliver: Not to mention, we live in a world with all kinds of subscription services. There's Netflix; there's Spotify. There are so many tools and applications that people can use out there.


Yvonne
: I know that even in my own home, I'm subscribing to services that I've never subscribed to before! To keep ourselves entertained, we're watching more Netflix, Hulu, and other video streaming services. I know many households are subscribing to other services like grocery delivery through Instacart. I don't know if this exists in Vermont, but I know that Uber Eats is a great delivery service. There are even meal preparation services from companies like Hello Fresh or Blue Apron! These services are all very meaningful and helpful during these times.


However, for those of us who have our mobile phones in our hand every day, we're being offered these trial subscriptions. And of course, many of us are signing up for them because what else are we going to do while we're sitting around at home! So, if you do take advantage of any of these subscription services, there a couple of things to remember. And when I say remember, I mean jot it down somewhere so that you know you won't forget.


Keep track of all of the services that you've subscribed to with those trial offers so that at the end of the 30 days, if you decide that the service is no longer valuable, you can terminate it. A lot of these subscription services say “free for the first 30 days,” but they actually capture your payment information, knowing that they'll have it so that if you don't terminate at the end of 30 days, they have your payment information and then they'll continue to bill you. One, two or three months later, you realize with your credit card statement that you're getting billed and then you have to call the company to cancel. So just keep track of those new subscription services.


Oliver
: Something that I like to do whenever I sign up for a new service, or I am trialing a new service, is I go ahead and I add the renewal date to my calendar. That way, I get a notification on my phone a few days before the subscription renews. Then, I can make a conscious decision if I want to continue my subscription.


I think what a lot of these companies rely on when it comes to subscription services is recurring revenue. It's hitting your account every month on a regular basis, and so it's actually beneficial for them if you forget about them. Those little charges, even though it may only be ten dollars a month or something like that, they really build up over time and make a big impact in your life.


I've got a list on paper of all the subscription services that I subscribe to. Every now and then I take a look at that, and I say, “You know what? Turns out I'm not really using that service a lot!” By the way, they will happily have you back if you ever want to re-subscribe.


Yvonne
: Yes, that is very, very true! The other thing that I wanted to address, Oliver, is I think for people to think about saving right now is difficult, because we know that so many people have lost their jobs, either permanently or they're out on furlough. We have a lot of small businesses in Vermont that have been required to close, so cash flow is not happening in many households. So, it's tough to think about how to save money when you don't have enough money coming in. Here a couple of other sensible tips.


Right now, the interest rate environment is low again. It might be a great time to find ways to maybe even refinance your mortgage. Anything you can do to decrease your monthly outflow right now is something that you should be paying attention to.


We’re all bombarded with credit card offers in the mail. Many of them promote a zero percent or very low interest rate. We've always said at VSECU, use your credit, but use your credit wisely. I'm not a big proponent of leveraging expenses through credit cards, but credit cards do serve a very important purpose. I think in our environment today, this is the time to use those tools, but use those tools wisely. Use your credit but use it wisely.


If you are taking advantage of those low introductory rates or zero percent rates, just like your subscription services, make sure you're reading the fine print and have an understanding of when that wonderful offer is going to disappear. Because if you don't pay attention to it, who knows, you may be charged a significant interest rate on your credit card. So, use those tools, but use those tools wisely.


Oliver
: Right. That's great advice! Can you tell us a little bit about the difference between a budget and a spending plan? I think that is an important distinction for people to know about.


Yvonne:
I think it's more psychological, Oliver, than a tactical practice. One of my colleagues actually wrote a blog about this. When we use the word budget, for many people it evokes the feeling of scarcity. “What I don't have.” “I must budget because I don't have enough.” Whereas spending is more about what you do have. I would encourage people to try to shift your mindset from what I don't have to what I do have.


This is why I said earlier that it is a great time to get to know your money. Understand where it resides. Know where it is coming from. What are the necessities that you need in your life for you and your family in your household? Think about what you have and manage how you're going to spend it versus budgeting.


There are a lot of people who are somewhat paralyzed with fear right now. Because lives have absolutely been disrupted, not just from the physical distancing that we're doing and the lack of social connection and human connection with people.


We all know that our financial capabilities and financial wellbeing have such a tremendous impact on our mental health first and foremost, and money can create incredible stress if we don't have the capacity to meet the obligations that we have. The reality is even though I'm talking about a psychological mindset shift, there are people out in Vermont and listening here that truly have lost a source of income. They truly are in a situation where they need to modify and rely on resources that are available to help get them through this time.


Oliver
: Just a personal anecdote here: I always struggled with figuring out how to effectively budget for just this reason. The idea of budgeting, without already having a budget, was such a difficult thing to wrap my mind around. Switching to thinking about what I was proud of having really made a big difference.


Speaking of resources in general, let’s talk about emergency savings and why it is so important to have some built up.


Yvonne
: The Great Recession of 2008 was a real eye opener for many people. That truly was a financial disaster. The Great Recession happened because of a financial pandemic, whereas today what we're dealing with is a health pandemic. But still, in both scenarios, it's so important to have a rainy-day fund.


After the Great Recession, many people recognized that perhaps they had not been disciplined and saving money in that rainy-day fund. So, let's talk a little bit about savings and emergency funds, because I actually see them as two separate types of saving.


First of all, saving is hard to do, right? I like to recommend that people try to find some sort of automated process or methodology to pay yourself first. I always recommend that people use direct deposit if you're getting a paycheck. Direct deposit that paycheck into your account or accounts, and make sure that you're taking a certain dollar amount or percentage, and deposit it into a savings account. If you don't see it, you're not going to be tempted to spend it.


Again, I'm going to talk about the psychological mindset! Instead of thinking about savings as money, think about savings as your personal goals. We all want to achieve our personal goals. So maybe you're saving because you're going to get married, you want to start a family, you want a down payment for a new vehicle, you want to go on vacation, you want to buy a new computer. What a great feeling as humans when we achieve our personal goals! that's the purpose of savings.


To your point, Oliver, emergency savings is a little different. Everybody should have that cookie jar full of savings for times like these. A good rule of thumb is that three to six months of your monthly living expenses should be tucked away in that cookie jar so that when we are faced with uncertainty or disruption in our lives like today, you will have access to cash flow so that you can continue to maintain your spending obligations.


I know right now you're thinking, “Oh great, but I don't have an emergency fund.” It's okay! It's never too late to start saving, and it's never too late to take just a little bit of that money and start putting it in the emergency fund.


Oliver
: Just a few dollars a day can make a big difference in the long run! I remember when I was first building my own emergency fund, I kept thinking to myself, “Oh, well. I'm going to start by just putting aside an expensive cup of coffee every day.” Instead of getting a latte, I'm going to put aside some a little bit of money and just build it up. That really helped me get the momentum to save even more and make some of those bigger life adjustments.


Yvonne
: I'm so glad that you use that as an example, Oliver, because that goes back to what I said at the beginning about getting to know your money and reconciling where you're spending your money.


It's so easy today for all of us to make our purchases using that little piece of plastic. If we are not aware of how many times we're swiping it or entering that number online, buying your coffee, your latte, that can really add up. I know it can sound like a mind-boggling exercise, but just take your last month’s spending activity. Look at it and identify how you're spending your money. I'm going to bet that that exercise will inform how you can change some of your purchasing behavior. This will help you put aside more money for savings.


Oliver
: This is a perfect segue into talking about some of the resources that are out there for people. Maybe you were in a great financial situation, and COVID-19 came in and made things quite difficult for you. Maybe you are seeing the end of your emergency goal that you had saved up for years—your buffer to make sure that you could withstand something like this.


Certainly, this advice is so important as we come out of this, but for some of us, the reality of unemployment, or simply putting food on the table, is difficult to deal with. A lot of Vermonters that didn't have trouble getting food on the table a few months ago are suddenly living in a new reality. Let’s talk a little bit about some resources for feeding your family.


Yvonne
: There is a great blog on our website written by the executive director of Hunger Free Vermont. In that blog, she lists the many resources that are available to Vermonters. What I learned when I read the blog myself was that in Vermont, the government has actually set up a 211 telephone line. Any Vermonter can just text or dial 211 to be placed into a system that keeps you updated on all of the different community and nonprofit resources around a variety of issues. Food is one of them. Childcare and healthcare information is also included.


I believe that all of the school districts, through some point in June, Oliver, are offering free breakfasts and lunches for students up to the age of 18. If you have a family and are faced with some sort of financial hardship, and you know food is such a basic essential need, take advantage of programs like these.


There is also the [Women Infant Children] (WIC) program that aids families who have small children, pregnant mothers, and new mothers, and the 3Squares Vermont program, which I think nationally is better known as the SNAP program.


It is hard sometimes to put yourself out there and ask for help. I'll share that I personally have had to do that twice in my life. It was short term, but these services exist for a reason. It's really tough sometimes to take your pride and just park it for a second. I encourage you to look into these resources.


Not to mention, the largest food distributor in our state to help eradicate hunger is the Vermont Food Bank. The Vermont Foodbank works with many local food shelves and other nonprofits. So look to see what is available in your community, and take advantage of those services.


I also want to pivot just a little bit right here, Oliver, because we're talking about people who are in need and the difficulty of really putting yourself out there and asking for help. For those people who are NOT in pinch and who aren't currently having the stress of not putting food on the table, this is also a time to give. If you have the capacity to give right now, if you have not been impacted financially, now's a great time to give to organizations like the Vermont Foodbank.


I know it's going to sound like a little bit of a plug, but at VSECU we have a statewide event called The Point to Point. It is a day-long bike ride with different mileage bike rides where people, as individuals or as teams, get to do something they love, which is riding their bike in the beautiful mountains of Vermont, as part of their fundraising. This year, The Point to Point is scheduled for the beginning of August. If you're interested in donating money to the Vermont Foodbank, I invite you to visit www.thepointtopoint.org.


One modification we have made with this program is that any donations that are coming in now as a result of fundraising we are now earmarking, processing that and immediately giving it to the Vermont Foodbank, rather than waiting for this large lump sum of money that is transferred over in August.


Oliver
: I believe that is correct! Let’s talk a little bit about emergency impact payments. This is part of the CARES act, the $2.2 trillion spending bill passed by Congress. A lot of our members have already seen their payments arrive in their accounts. We have had a number of blog posts talking both about the impact payments themselves but also some of the myths that are surrounding them. There’s a lot of misinformation out there online, especially on social networks like the one they're on right now, so we have been kind of going around trying to correct that misinformation and make sure people really know all the details.


How do people find out if they are eligible for the stimulus payment? How do they get their payment, and how they find out where it is, especially if they have not gotten it already?


Yvonne
: I would recommend everyone go to the IRS webpage at irs.gov/eip. When you get to that page, you are going to be faced with two choices, I believe. There will be a button that says, “track my payment,” something like that. If you click on that button, it will guide you through the process to see whether or not you're eligible and if your payment is on its way or has been delivered.


When the stimulus payment first came out there was a little bit of chaos and a little bit of misunderstanding. Here’s what we know: if you have filed your 2018 or your 2019 tax returns and are eligible, you are automatically going to receive that stimulus payment. When you filed those tax returns, if you included a bank account number and a routing number, your stimulus check is going to automatically be deposited into that account.


If you filed your taxes and you did not provide that information, I believe there's two things that could happen. One, if you go to that website you can enter your bank information now and then the deposit will be made. The stimulus payment will get to you a lot faster than if you waited for an actual check to be mailed to you through the Postal Service.


There was also some confusion at the beginning around if people who receive Social Security benefits or other governmental benefits would have to file a return in order to be eligible. This is false. If you do receive Social Security benefits or any other supplemental governmental benefits, you are eligible and you will receive a stimulus payment. The IRS has your information and they'll send you your payment.


I still would encourage you to go to that website, however, and track your payment. If you want the payment as fast as possible, the IRS just needs to know where to automatically direct deposit that money.


A couple of myths: I know that you wrote a blog about this, Oliver, so feel free to chime in if I've missed anything. First and foremost, the stimulus is not taxable. This money is for your use. This money is not taxable and you don't have to pay it back.

 

I think that there was also some confusion around if someone received a check in an amount that was more than what they had anticipated based on the methodology or calculation. Some people were asking questions about if the IRS inadvertently pays me more than what I was supposed to receive, am I going to have to pay it back? No, you're not going to have to pay it back. The IRS is not going to ask you to pay back any amount of money that they may have accidentally over overpaid you.


And then the last question is, you know, is there still time? And the answer is yes. If you haven't received your check yet, please go to that website. The government wants to make sure that every eligible person in our country receives this stimulus payment.


Oliver
: Yes, that's fantastic! The FTC has been very vocal talking about how if somebody calls you saying that they're from the IRS and asking you to pay back some of the money that you got, this is a known scam. Most of us are good people. So, if a check comes in and we think it might be wrong and somebody calls us, people are good people and will hand over their information. That’s where people can get taken advantage of.


I think you covered most of the myths Yvonne, but remember with a lot of these things, there's still information coming out. You would be surprised how even today new information comes out about the stimulus payments.


For example, we have a lot of people that write to us every day and say, “Well, why haven't I received my payment yet when I hear other people have received the payment!” That’s just because they're rolling it out in waves. You may not have been in the first batch, but maybe you'll be in the second or third batch, or so on and so forth.


There's also been a lot of information about when the physical checks are coming, if you don't have direct deposit. The initial timeline that they gave was quite long, but they have worked as hard as they can to start accelerating that process. But again, of course, the fastest way to get it is going to be to use direct deposit and get that right into your accounts.


All right, let's talk about spending that money. I will add that there is a real spectrum of people here, from people who have not been financially impacted to those that have been financially impacted. So, we may want to talk about those two things separately, but I'll hand it over to you.


Yvonne
: Well, certainly how you spend that stimulus payment is going to vary based on your individual needs and how you have been impacted financially by COVID. I think the best way to give an answer for everyone here is to think about your spending as a pyramid, or an upside-down funnel if you will, and think about the base layer of that pyramid being your foundation.


At the foundation we all have basic needs like food, heat, and shelter. If you need to use any of that stimulus payment to meet those basic human essential needs, then that's where I would recommend that you spend it.


Next, if you start to go up that pyramid, or down in the funnel, the next tier is debt. We know that most of us have debt. We have monthly payments like a mortgage payment, a car payment, and a credit card payment. Under normal circumstances I would recommend that you pay off all of your debt as quickly as possible. Because that, in a way, is an automatic savings plan. But if you are experiencing financial hardship and your incoming monies is not as much as you need, again, use your credit but use it wisely. I now am recommending, during these times, that you make the minimum payment due on all of your loans to shore up the excess of that $1,200 or whatever amount you've received.


Next, I would park it and save it. Whatever you have left. Save it.


After savings, if you are in a situation where you haven't negatively been impacted by COVID-19, the next level is investing. Invest the money.


Lastly, if you have the capacity, maybe you want to use this money to give. I talked about the Vermont Foodbank before, or give to a family member, your church, or some other non-profit.


All of the circumstances are going to be different for each individual so hopefully that’s helpful.


Oliver
: I think that is super helpful! There is a whole blog about this as well. There are some graphics in there such as the pyramid you were describing.


Looks like we are getting close to the end of our stream here! We are going to talk about the economy in a minute, both the local economy and some other things, but before we do that though, let's touch on fraud. I think our fraud department would be unhappy if I didn't mention fraud!


Yvonne
: Right. Those sneaky little fraudsters! Scams are so effective right now because fraudsters take advantage of vulnerable people, fearful people, especially in situations like we're in today with COVID.


A couple of things to remember. The whole purpose of a scam is to try to extract from you your personal information, your non-public information. They want your social security number. They want your account number. And they are very, very tricky.


For example, you might receive a phone call at home and hear someone say, "Hi, I'm calling from the Social Security Administration office. If you want your stimulus check, we need to update your records. Could I please have your social security number?" Don't give them your social security number!


In this digital ecosystem, we are seeing most of the fraud happen through email phishing. You'll receive an email that looks completely legitimate, but it isn’t. I'll give you an example. Here in Vermont we know that all of our hair salons, beauty salons, are closed. I know of one case where someone received an email. It looked completely legitimate, and it said, "COVID relief for hair salon owners. Click here to apply for your $500 grant." It sounds incredibly tempting, right? Never click on anything in an email that you've received if you haven't asked for someone to communicate with you.


I can tell you that at VSECU we will never make an outbound phone call and ask for your account number, ask for your social security number. Do not ever give out those two pieces of information to anybody unless you're the one who has initiated the primary contact and it's with an organization that you're already doing business with.


Oliver
: We actually have, as I mentioned just a moment ago, a fraud department that is working on behalf of our membership to protect people. If you're not with VSECU, chances are your credit union or bank also has a fraud department and is working diligently on your behalf.


Now more than ever is a really good time to make sure that the numbers that are calling you are the ones that you expect and that you're not giving out private information unless you are the one that initiates that request for information. The IRS isn't going to call you about your stimulus payment.


The worst thing is that these fraudsters and these scammers are, unfortunately, really creative. Because so much of our lives is experienced in the public, online, it's very easy for them to get just a little bit of information about you. Even knowing where you work can be a leaping off point to take advantage of you. As always, make sure you know who you're sharing with. Know that the internet, even if it says it's private, isn't necessarily private. Be more mindful than ever before.


We have taken many steps here at the credit union to prepare ourselves for this. We have made some changes in our internal policies that have made us even more secure than we were before. We’ve really put a lot of time and effort into making sure that we're protecting your information. We also want to help by giving you the tools that you need to do the same thing.


Let’s wrap up our show today and talk about the economy. What do you have to say about the economy, Yvonne?


Yvonne
: Well, I wish I had a crystal ball!


Oliver
: Not to drop you on the spot or anything like that!


Yvonne
: That’s a great question! Well, a couple of things. One, we've been here before. This isn't the first time that there's been some catastrophic event that has negatively impacted the economy.


I hear a lot of people worry that the market, what we know as Wall Street, is the economy. I think it's important to remember those two things are very different. The market is not the economy. The market typically has a very forward-thinking attitude. The market doesn't like uncertainty. The market has already built into the cost of buying and selling different companies how COVID is going to impact the economy. The overall economy is more about output. The economy is about consumer consumption, supply and demand, and employment. So, try to keep those two things separate.


What I can share with you is I believe that the market has factored in today (or actually factored in a while ago) the impact of COVID. I believe that the market has already factored in that we are either in a recession or we are about to head into a recession. I'm hopeful that as local and state governments allow businesses to thoughtfully reopen, we will start to see some kind of recovery. There's been a lot of talk about it being, you know, this sharp V shaped recovery, but it could also be U shaped or L shaped. I don't know what shape of recovery it's going to be, but I am confident that we will have a recovery.


We went through World War Two, the Great Depression, the 70s, oil embargos, Y2K, Black Monday, the Great Recession. What history has taught us is that resiliency exists in the fabric of our society. We will get through this. There will be a recovery. I know that there's a lot of pain, and I'm not in any way diminishing that, but we will get through this.


Oliver
: Yes! I think one thing that's important to realize is that COVID-19 is different from some other economic slides that we've seen in the past. Can you talk to that?


Yvonne
: Absolutely! We intentionally shut down the economy to protect the health and wellbeing of people. Other recessions, other negative economic environments, have really been the result of either a financial crisis or some other catastrophe. Think about 9/11, if you will.


What's unique about this particular environment that we're in is that we consciously and intentionally made the decision to pause the economy. Prior to COVID this economy was working very, very, very well. We had the lowest unemployment. People were earning, you know, the most money that they've earned in years.


I think it's important to be mindful that this was a conscientious step that all of us are taking collectively together to protect the health and wellbeing of people. Once we get through this, and we will, there is going to be some pent-up demand, and the economy will start rolling again. It may look different, but I'm confident that... I don't know... If I had a crystal ball... Oliver, I don't know if it's six months, twelve months, eighteen months, but we will get through this.


I want to have the opportunity to make this statement before you ask any other question. It's really difficult in times like this to practice gratitude, especially if you are financially hurting, or worse yet, if you have physically been impacted by COVID. I just want to leave with everyone that when we practice gratitude in times of good and bad, it can create such energy in humanity. I believe that humans are resilient. I believe in community. I believe it can take a village. I also believe in humility. That if you have to ask for help, whether to a family member or friend or community outlet, you have permission to do that.


Oliver
: Right! That local aspect of it is a great segue to my last few questions here. We've already talked about this a little bit, but if you can spend money, if you haven't been impacted financially, what's a way that you can support our local economy?


Yvonne
: Great question! So many local businesses, who cannot be open to the public right now, have been very creative and innovative with curbside service and offering gift certificates. So, please do support your local main street businesses. I know in our family we're trying once a week to make sure that we order a meal from a local restaurant. We'll pick it up with a curbside service.


You can pay in advance for some type of personal services. I know that there are some hair salons that are accepting pre-payment for future haircuts which helps the cash flow of these businesses. Buying gift certificates I think is another big one, so that when businesses open, the recipients of those gift cards can transact with these businesses.


Oliver
: Yeah, that's a fantastic thing. I live in Montpelier, and there's a local burger place. We ordered burgers from them very early on, and they were doing curbside service. They were really happy that I had come in part because typically the way that you and I, and most people, discover businesses is we drive down the street, we see what's open, we might look at a menu and look at what's good. That type of interaction is not something that we're doing right now. So, the discovery of businesses is hard.


There's a couple of things that you can do as both a business owner, but also as a consumer, to help this problem. If you have bought food at a place or gone and had something delivered—I think my brother just had a book delivered from a local bookstore—tell your friends about it, tell your family about it, tell people who can also use those services about it, and post it on social media. Spread the resources that are available.


The other thing is you can call a lot of places. Just call them on the phone. You can find their phone number, usually on Google or other tools like that, and just see what they're doing. A lot of the businesses that may not have big web presences or huge social network followings are having trouble getting the word out. But everyone's answering the phone. Right now, if you're craving human connection, call up a local business, ask them what they need, figure out how you can help get the word around, maybe order some food, order a book, or do something like that.


One more thing here, speaking of small businesses, let's talk a little bit about some of the support that is available for small businesses.


Yvonne
: Right. Are you referring to the Paycheck Protection Program?


Oliver
: That's right, you bet I am!


Yvonne Garand
: Okay, the PPP! This is really relevant to small business owners. The PPP, or Paycheck Protection Program, was part of the CARES stimulus package that the government created to try and uplift small businesses. The whole purpose of the PPP was to provide a potentially forgiven loan to small businesses. If a certain amount of those loan proceeds is used to keep employees on payroll or bring people back on payroll, then a certain portion of that loan is forgiven and the small business doesn't have to repay that loan.


The stimulus package came out a month or so ago with $349 billion dollars, and it dried up quickly. I want to share with everyone that we are a certified SBA lender, which means if you own a small business, or you know someone who owns a small business, and you're looking for cash flow or looking for an opportunity to keep your employees on payroll, please contact us and learn more about this potentially forgiven loan program.


You may have seen in the media that the program was beat up a little bit because the intent of the program was really to help the small businesses in our nation. We know in Vermont, small businesses are really the fabric, the backbone, of our economy. A couple of companies have gotten beaten up over this because larger corporations took advantage of these loans through big banks.


I will publicly commit to everyone listening here: We are 100% committed to helping small mom and pop shops, small businesses in Vermont. If you need help, please contact us. And contact us quickly, because just like in the first phase, we know that the money dries up pretty quickly. The government, luckily, got back together and refunded the program. So, the dollars are available. Please contact us, and let's see if we can help you and your small business.


Oliver
: Yeah, that's a great thing. Thanks for sharing that, Yvonne. I know we've been working hard on getting those out to everybody. It's great to spread the news a little bit wider.


As we conclude today, I wanted to just to share a little bit about unemployment. Of course, you can still file for unemployment. If you are feeling like you don’t want to file for unemployment because it reflects badly on you to ask for help, it doesn’t. It doesn't reflect on you at all. It's okay to ask for help. You can file for unemployment with the Vermont Department of Labor. They're filling claims as fast as they can. That's labor.vermont.gov. Because of COVID, some of the rules and regulations, some of the conditions that you had to already meet to apply, have been loosened.


We also have our very own and unique Member Emergency Loan. This is a 24-month loan for up to $2,000. It has a very, very unique interest rate of zero percent. And there's all kinds of things that are going into providing that interest rate to you, including work by the Vermont Community Foundation, the VSECU giving committee, and some other really important partners that are helping us out with bringing that interest rate down.


One of the things that people may not know is that if you are a child education worker, a younger childhood education worker, and you have been affected, there's some additional benefits that Let’s Grow Kids is providing you through this Member Emergency Loan. So, get in touch with us. You can actually head to our COVID-19 landing page www.vsecu.com/covid-19 that has all kinds of resources about that for you. And I'm going to share one other...


We had this design that we made a couple of weeks ago of a physical distancing cow, a guide for all Vermonters. You can now buy it as a sticker, and 100% of the proceeds of all the money that you spend on those stickers goes to supporting that zero percent interest rate and actually helping members like you and other people in the community.


Help Vermonters in need.


Yvonne: This is the foundation of credit unions. We are all about people helping people. What a great way of mobilizing our own members, or non-members, to purchase the sticker. If it continues to grow in popularity, maybe we'll start making t-shirts or other swag. 100% of the monies that come in are going right back into that Member Emergency Loan that Oliver talked about.


Oliver
: Lots of cool stuff out there right now. So, thank you so much, Yvonne. This was a lot of fun! Of course if you have any questions for us out there in the public, feel free to give us a call. You can also send us an email at info@vsecu.com. If you want to get right in touch with a couple of us, you can go to our Facebook page, send us a message on Facebook. Let us know what's going on. Let us know how we can help you, and we'll do everything that we can in our power.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of VSECU.

About Oliver Ames

Oliver is VSECU's social media strategist and spends most of his day engaging with members through our Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram profiles. He has a background in science education, non-profit fundraising, business communication, media production, and membership-based organizations. When not at work, Oliver spends much of his time with his wife and their little dog Butterscotch at their home in Montpelier.

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