Another problem for federal workers not getting paid during government shutdown: credit damage
The United States Office of Personnel Management provides a guide designed to help agencies and employees whose paychecks are affected during a work stoppage. The guide answers questions on issues like retroactive payment, paid time off, benefits, and 357 pages of additional information.
What the guide does not address, however, is whether an unpaid government employee has to worry about credit damage during the shutdown.
In short, the answer is yes. Government employees who are on leave, and essential employees who are still working but have their paychecks on hold, need to worry about the possibility of credit damage if they fall behind on their bills.
The country is currently in week 4 of the longest government shutdown in history. If the wage freeze continues, unpaid federal workers may soon be unable to pay their bills on time. Some workers without enough emergency savings might already be facing this reality as we speak.
Long-term credit consequences
Derogatory marks on credit reports could be a big deal for consumers who don’t get paid while they close. Unfortunately, this is not just a problem now. Any credit damage suffered by affected government employees could have long-term consequences that stretch for years into the future.
- The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is the main federal law that regulates credit reporting. There is no provision in the FCRA that protects the credit reports of government employees on leave. If a late payment is made by a government employee who is currently without pay, nothing prevents that late payment from appearing on a future credit report.
- Any damage to the credit report resulting from unpaid bills and late payments can remain on the credit reports for up to seven years.
Unfortunately, even if the credit bureaus wanted to, they couldn’t prevent late payments from showing up on the credit reports of employees on leave.
They have no way of identifying which consumers are making late payments due to the shutdown and which consumers are making late payments for other reasons.
Potential Solutions for Unpaid Federal Workers
No matter what your situation, you should do everything you can to protect your credit health.
Here are some potential solutions to help you avoid credit damage, at least temporarily, until the government reopens:
Talk to your lenders
Some lenders offer affected government employees a forbearance that temporarily suspends required monthly payments.
Lenders are not currently required to extend abstentions. (That would require an executive order or legislation from Congress.) For now, at least, it’s up to the lender to decide whether to offer relief to affected borrowers.
Although the credit bureaus do not know if you are affected by the closure, you can communicate the problem to your lender. If your lender agrees not to report you late to the credit bureaus, your credit report should be kept safe.
Check if you are entitled to unemployment benefits
Some states offer unemployment benefits to federal workers who are on leave and without pay as a result of the shutdown. However, federal employees who have been deemed essential and are still required to report for their duties may not be eligible, even if they do not currently receive paychecks.
If you want to apply for unemployment benefits, the US Department of Labor website asks you to “contact your national unemployment insurance agency” for more information.
Additionally, it should be noted that once the government reopens and employees receive the retroactive payment ordered by Congress and signed by the President, you may need to repay the unemployment benefits you received in the interval.
Consider taking out a loan
While taking out a new loan just to meet your payment obligations on your old loans is usually not the best way to manage your finances, it may be worth considering in the short term.
Several federal lenders, banks and credit unions are offering low-interest loans to help on leave and unpaid government employees make ends meet until their paychecks pick up.
If you are considering borrowing money to stay afloat during the shutdown, here are a few options to consider.
- USAA Government Closure Loan Program: The Federal Savings Bank of USAA states on its website that “active eligible members of the Coast Guard, Coast Guard Reserve, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Corp, Public Health Service Corps and their spouses “may be eligible for a special government closing loan program, provided they already have a relationship with the bank. The USAA is also providing additional assistance to members affected by the closure. For more information, members are encouraged to call 800-531-USAA (8722).
- American Bank: The US bank offers a “fast, low rate loan” option to customers who need financial assistance during the federal government shutdown. Qualified federal government employees can apply for a loan of $ 100 to $ 6,000 and when the US bank says it’s a low rate loan, they mean it. The rate offered on this 12 month loan product is only 0.01%.
- Federal Navy Credit Union: Another financial institution offering government shutdown assistance loans is the Navy Federal Credit Union. According to the credit union’s website, loans are available to eligible borrowers up to a maximum of $ 6,000. These loans are also interest free and no credit check is required.
Until the close is complete and your paychecks pick up, it may be wise to stretch the money you have available as much as possible. Even if you haven’t used up your emergency savings yet, it can’t hurt to ration your spending.
For example, you might consider making only the minimum payment to your accounts. You can ask all of your lenders and loan officers if they have forbearance options. You might even want to speak with your service providers (utilities, cell phones, babysitting, etc.) to see if they’re ready to defer payments until your payroll resumes.