Coronavirus (COVID-19) getting financial help in Australia
Here’s how you can get financial help during the coronavirus pandemic.
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The COVID-19 crisis is having a big impact across the country as job uncertainty increases in Australia. If you've lost your job or you're worried about your finances, it can help to know that there are ways to find financial relief. Many organisations are stepping up to help Aussies get through the crisis and it's always worth making a call to see what your options are.
This page is a guide to finding help and financial relief during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. To help keep the Australian community informed and up-to-date, we'll continue to publish relevant content as events unfold.
Banks and credit unions
Below is a summary of the actions being taken by major banks in Australia to support individuals. For business options, you can check out this guide.
Each bank has its own options for helping customers, and we have included key details as well as contact information. We recommend getting in touch with your bank to get specific information regarding your personal situation. As most banks have reported a high volume of phone calls at this time, we have included links to online support request forms when possible.
|Bank||Support options||Contact information||Where to find more info|
|Bendigo Bank||Learn more|
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Dealing with credit card debt
If you're worried about paying off your credit cards in these uncertain times, you could move your debt to a balance transfer credit card. These cards charge 0% interest for an introductory period that can last up to 26 months. By paying no interest, you could save and pay off your debt faster.
If you have more than one debt, you can also move multiple debts under one new account with a balance transfer. At the end of the 0% promotional period, any remaining balance will start attracting interest. So it's wise to pay off your debt before interest applies to get the most value out of a balance transfer.
Some balance transfer credit cards charge annual fees and balance transfer fees (which are usually around 1.5%-2% of your transfer amount). You should also check that you have a good credit score and meet the card's eligibility criteria before you apply. If you want to learn more, check out our guide on managing your credit card during the coronavirus pandemic.
Consolidating your debt to ease your finances
During COVID-19 your budget may be stretched, and this can make it difficult if you have debt to repay. If you have unsecured debt that you're looking to consolidate, you have a few options available to you. One option is an unsecured personal loan. This is an option to consider if you have multiple lines of credit that you want to combine to reduce what you're paying in interest and fees. It can also make your repayments more manageable.
Unsecured personal loans can be used to consolidate personal loans, lines of credit and even credit cards. To decide if this is the right option for you, calculate what you're paying across all of your debts each month and then check what you'd pay if you consolidated your debt into a new debt consolidation personal loan. If the new amount is lower, it might be an option you want to consider.
Something else to keep in mind before applying for an unsecured personal loan to consolidate debt is your credit score. Whenever you apply for something like a personal loan it's recorded on your credit report and affects your score. Only apply for a loan once you've decided on the right loan for you and don't make too many applications in a short space of time.
Many of Australia's insurers offer financial hardship support to customers when they are in need. This includes options for health insurance, life insurance, car insurance and home insurance. The type of support varies but could include:
- Freezing your premiums
- Temporarily suspending your cover
- Reducing costs in other ways e.g. switching insurers
Some of the insurance providers offering premium freezes as a result of financial hardship include:
Below are some of the energy companies doing their bit for customers and businesses impacted by the virus.
Responding to the Federal Government's call for big businesses to help during this crisis, AGL will accelerate payments to small business suppliers for the next six months, with invoices to be paid within 14 days. This is down from 30 days.
CEO Brett Redman issued a statement, which said: "For any small supplier who isn't getting paid within the 14 days, we urge you to get in touch."
Below is a summary of all the actions Origin Energy put in place to support customers:
- Encouraging customers, where possible, to use Origin's website or mobile app to manage their enquiries due to longer than usual wait times on phone lines.
- Prioritising assistance for the most vulnerable customers, including those with life support needs, and those who need their energy supply reconnected.
- Customers who are experiencing difficulty paying their bills can request a payment extension online.
- Origin's hardship program will continue to provide support to customers who are experiencing payment difficulty through services like tailored payment plans.
- They have also temporarily suspended disconnections for customers for non-payment.
Internet and mobile providers
Due to the increase in people working from home, a handful of Internet providers have announced made financial help more available to those impacted by COVID-19.
Vodafone encouraged those who have been financially impacted both directly or indirectly by COVID-19 to get into contact to discuss flexible options that are available. This includes arranging payment plans, payment extensions and possibly waiving late payment or collection fees. You can fill out their financial hardship application online or give Vodafone a call on 1300 650 405 between 8am-8pm from Monday to Friday.
Aussie Broadband offers financial hardship assistance to customers, which could include payment plans and more tailored individual solutions for customers who are experiencing financial difficulties. It has also temporarily offered unmetered data usage between 6am and 6pm for eligible customers. You can contact the team on 1300 880 905 or via the MyAussie app.
Telstra waived late fees and disconnections for small businesses and consumers who were unable to pay bills between 19 March to 30 June 2020. It also offered extra data to eligible Internet and mobile customers, and discounts to eligible people on JobSeeker payments. Call 13 22 00 (Monday to Friday, 8am – 5pm) and say "financial hardship" to discuss your options with a Telstra representative. You can also fill in a payment extension request form here. You can also get help through their Support centre or via the My Telstra or Telstra 24x7 app.
All Telstra's personal and small business post-paid mobile and mobile broadband customers can register for an extra 25GB of data at no extra charge by 19 April 2020. You can register via the My Telstra apps until 19 April 2020. The data will be made available within 48 hours. From Thursday 19 March until 30 April 2020, they are also providing unlimited data for personal and small business customers with home broadband plans (ADSL, nbn and cable). The data will be provided to you automatically at no extra charge.
Optus is offering financial assistance to affected customers, with possible solutions including changing plans, waiving late fees or granting a temporary hold on bill payments. To discuss your options, call 1800 120 698 or send a message through the My Optus App. Optus has also offered unlimited broadband data for eligible customers, effective between April and June 2020.
Other Internet and mobile providers also have programs in place to help you if you're going through a rough patch, so it's worth contacting your provider or checking its website for more details.
In times of extreme financial hardship it is possible to access between $1,000-$10,000 of your superannuation. On 22 March 2020, the federal government announced that those affected by the coronavirus and experiencing financial difficulty, could access their super and withdraw up to $10,000. Unlike previous financial hardship withdrawals from super, this will not be taxed. However, accessing your super early comes with a number of risks and is not a decision that should be taken lightly. Read our guide on this legislation to see if you're eligible to access your super early and what to consider before doing so.
National stimulus packages
In order to soften the blow of the coronavirus crisis on the economy, the Australian federal government has released a number of stimulus packages. You can find a more detailed summary of these packages here. As an overview, some of the key initial measures included:
- Centrelink support. The eligibility requirements for Centrelink support, in particular for JobSeeker and Youth Allowance, has been greatly expanded. In addition, a number of the hurdles on the journey to being approved for welfare payments have been knocked down. This is to ensure people who have suddenly lost their jobs or most of their income can get support quickly. An additional $550 Coronavirus Supplement will be added to the base Centrelink payment each fortnight, too. We have a massive guide that takes you through all the details and how to apply.
- $1.3b in support payments to keep apprentices in work. The Government will offer up to $7,000 per apprentice per quarter to keep them in work. The measure will support around 70,000 small businesses employing approximately 117,000 apprentices. Find out more about how to apply and eligibility by contacting an Australian Apprenticeship Support Network provider here.
- JobKeeper subsidies. Workers that have lost their job or had hours reduced as a result of coronavirus may be eligible for the government's fortnightly JobKeeper payment of $1,500, paid through their employer. Find out more about eligibility here. Employers can register to apply for the JobKeeper Payment from 30 March 2020 on The Australian Taxation Office.
- Low-income earners will receive $750 cash. A number of welfare recipients and concession card holders will receive two $750 bonus payments (one in early April and a second in early July). This includes 2.4 million pensioners and those with a commonwealth seniors card. It should be automatically added to your welfare payment.
- Businesses will be allowed to defer tax obligations. The Australian Taxation Office announced that it will offer relief to those hit hard by the downturn on a case-by-case basis. Contact the ATO on 1800 806 218 or visit their website here for further information.
- Changes to the pension deeming rate. Payment recipients whose income is assessed using deeming could receive up to $1,612 extra a year (for couples), and up to fortnight $1,300 a year (for singles). The extra money will begin to go into people's bank accounts from 1 May.
- Boosting cash flow for employers. Up to $25,000 will be given to small and medium-sized businesses, with a minimum payment of $2,000 for eligible businesses. The payment will provide cash flow support to businesses with a turnover of less than $50 million that employ staff and will be tax free. It will benefit around 690,000 businesses employing around 7.8 million people. Businesses don't need to apply - the cash flow boost is a tax free payment and is automatically calculated by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).
- Assistance for severely affected areas such as tourism, agriculture and education. The Government has also set aside $1 billion to support regions and communities disproportionately affected by the economic impacts of the coronavirus. According to the Business Gov website, the $1 billion will be available for distribution through existing or new mechanisms as soon as practicable.
- Increasing the instant asset write-off for businesses. The Government has increased the instant asset write-off threshold from $30,000 to $150,000 and expanded access to include businesses with aggregated annual turnover of less than $500 million until 30 June 2020. You can get more information about eligibility and how to apply here.
- Backing business investment. The Government has given businesses an incentive to invest by accelerating depreciation deductions. In a nutshell, businesses with a turnover of less than $500 million will be able to deduct 50% of the cost of an eligible asset on installation. Existing depreciation rules will apply to the balance of the asset's cost.This will be in place until 30 June 2021. You can get more information about eligibility here.
- Small businesses will receive cash payments up to $100,000. This is part of the Boosting Cash Flow for Employers measure and will be applied for a limited number of activity statement lodgments. The ATO should deliver the payment as a credit to your business upon lodgment of your activity statements.
- Guaranteed loans. The government are also guaranteeing unsecured small business loans up to $250,000. This is being offered by many of Australia's major banks, including NAB and Bankwest. No repayments will be required for six months. The unsecured loans are 50 per cent guaranteed by the Federal Government and no interest will be charged unless the money is actually used. Reach out to your bank to see if they are offering the loan.
- Superannuation access. The Government will allow people to access up to $10,000 from their superannuation.
Free financial tools
If you are facing extreme financial stress in Australia, you may be able to access financial counselling services. Financial counsellors are qualified professionals who provide information, advice and advocacy to people in financial difficulty.
The National Debt Hotline is another free tool available to those who are struggling to pay their debts. Call 1800 007 007 to speak to trained financial counsellors who can offer guidance on your situation.
There are a wide range of apps and websites that exist to help you track your spending. The Finder app can help you as you make plans for the future. Track your spending, see where you can cut down and create budgets you can stick to.
Take care of your mental health
There is a lot of stress and anxiety in the world right now and that can be made worse if you're struggling financially. It's important to know where to get help if you're finding it hard to cope.
If you're experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression, try reaching out to Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636. You can speak with trained mental health professionals over the phone or through the online forum. Their website also contains excellent information and tools for maintaining good mental health.
Telehealth services for mental health services are also now widely available with Medicare and Private Health Insurance.
If you are experiencing a mental health crisis or severe emotional distress, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. They are a 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention network.
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger call 000 to get help from emergency services as soon as possible.
Other quick ways to save money
Are you worried about your finances during this time? Don't forget to review your bills - spending a little time on admin, could save you over the weeks and months to come.
Here are some guides on how to save some money on your daily expenses. There are plenty of things you could do, from checking your energy rates, switching to a low-interest credit card, or simply dropping parts of your insurance that you don't need.
Pictures: Getty Images
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