Financial Resources to Help Get Through COVID-19

The coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, has impacted households, communities, and businesses since early 2020. The frequently asked questions below highlight some common financial challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The answer to each question has links to trusted websites and the types of assistance that might be available. We will keep updating this information as policies and resources are put into place or end.

If you would like to talk to a financial counselor about your situation, options include:

  • Free – The UW-Madison Extension has financial educators who can help you find resources and come up with a personal plan. Find contact information for Extension financial educator by clicking on this link.
  • Free – The Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education is currently offering free financial counseling and coaching with their certified professionals. Click here to visit the AFCPE website to set up an account and request services.
  • Free or low-cost – The National Foundation for Credit Counseling is a network of nonprofit consumer credit counseling agencies that provide services online and over the phone. Click here for the NFCC website or call 800-388-2227.

You can also contact your local UW-Madison Extension office for more financial information. Click here to find your county Extension office.

I have no money coming in. Where do I start?

When your income suddenly stops, it’s natural to feel shocked or panicked or to want to ignore the situation. The sooner you look at your household budget, the more options you have and the better off you will be in the long run.

  1. Start by creating a budget. Write down any last paychecks due to you or savings you may have, and then list your monthly bills. You can print out or save this budget worksheet in Word or fill out a basic budget worksheet online.
  2. Prioritize your bills by what is most important to keep you safe – housing, food, utilities, your car, and whatever else you need. Write down your minimum payment due and when it’s due.
  3. Check out the ‘frequently asked questions’ below to find links to resources to help you make ends meet meanwhile. Resources depend on your situation and could include help with food, healthcare, utilities, housing, or other items. There are also certain debts, like federal student loans, with temporary holds put on them.
  4. Let your creditors know about your financial situation, as hard as it is to think about it. It’s important to contact your creditors as soon as you know you will miss a payment so they know you are keeping track and working on the situation. Check out the Extension publication on Dealing with a Drop in Income for steps to take in prioritizing bills and a script you can use to contact creditors about a payment plan. Keep notes on everyone you talk with and any paperwork you share.
  5. Start looking ahead. Some households might expect to receive unemployment benefits or to start getting more hours at their job. Use any future income to pay those high priority bills that can’t be covered by government resources and that haven’t been put on hold by government authorities.

If you would like to get in touch with an Extension financial educator, please do contact one of our educators throughout Wisconsin by clicking on this link.

Can I get unemployment benefits?

For unemployment benefits in Wisconsin, apply online through the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) website. If you worked outside the State of Wisconsin, you can find links to other state’s workforce websites here. Benefits will start from the time you became eligible for unemployment, not from the time your application is submitted or approved.

If you or someone you know is not able to apply online, call Wisconsin DWD at (414) 435-7069 or toll-free (844) 910-3661 during business hours listed below. When you reach a claim specialist, tell them the week you are requesting your claim to begin. Unemployment insurance is taxable income, so ask to have 5% state and 10% federal taxes withheld from your weekly unemployment payments.

Tax Relief: As part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, many taxpayers will not be required to pay taxes on up to $10,200 in unemployment benefits received in 2020. If you have already filed your 2020 federal taxes, the IRS plans to issue a refund for any unemployment compensation tax overpayment. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has more information on the ‘unemployment compensation exclusion’ on their website. This federal unemployment tax relief does not affect your WI income taxes.

Health Insurance: If you’ve lost your job and need health insurance, look at options on the website.

Appealing a rejection: If you disagree with the Unemployment Insurance determination, you need to request a hearing by filing an appeal within 14-days of the determination. Follow the instructions on the back of your determination letter for filing an appeal, as stated on this DWD appeals website. Continue to file weekly claims while the appeal is pending. If you would like to talk with a lawyer about your situation, you can find free legal advice in Southern Wisconsin on the Legal Action of Wisconsin website or in Northern Wisconsin on the Judicare website.

Unemployment Fraud: Be on the lookout for any information you may receive from DWD. Fraudsters are using people’s stolen information to apply for UI benefits and have those benefits deposited into their own financial accounts. If you learn that someone is using your identity to collect unemployment benefits, report this immediately on the DWD fraud website or call the DWD Fraud Hotline at 800-909-9472 (Monday through Friday from 8:00 AM – 4:00 PM). The Federal Trade Commission provides guidelines for UI fraud victims, including links to file an identity theft report. You can also file a complaint with the WI Department of Ag, Trade, and Consumer Protection on their website.

Am I eligible for any public health insurance or food assistance?

If your income has dropped or stopped, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services has information on government assistance programs to help with health insurance, food, and other needed resources. Click here to visit the DHS website for eligibility information, a list of information needed to apply, and a link to apply for benefits.

The Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance has answers to frequently asked health insurance questions and links to get in touch with free, expert help on their website You can also call the 2-1-1 Helpline or visit the 211 website to find free, local help.

Visit this Extension website that covers food resources to help get through the pandemic. Resources include both public and private food programs, and food assistance available to families with children out of school.

What are options for my small business or farm?

Some businesses have been ordered to close and others have lost revenue or shortened their hours due to the pandemic. A range of grants and loans have been put in place to provide needed support to get through the pandemic and recession. The Wisconsin Department of Administration has a COVID-19 Response & Recovery website that shows how and where investments to respond to COVID-19 are happening around the State.

NOTE: Beware of fraudulent businesses claiming they provide pandemic relief funds or that they are SBA lenders. The FTC has filed a complaint against one company that’s already misled thousands of companies. Only use the official websites for SBA, WECDA, or other links below.

Funding through the Small Business Administration (SBA) include:

  • Economic Injury Disaster Loan – SBA is continuing to accept new EIDL applications from qualified small businesses and U.S. agricultural businesses through December 31, 2021. Eligible businesses can apply for EIDL assistance here.
    • Applicants who have already submitted their applications directly through the SBA will continue to be processed on a first-come, first-served basis.
    • For pending or future loan applications, note that applicants need to have a credit history that’s acceptable to the SBA. If you have a freeze on your credit report, you would need to lift that freeze when applying for the EIDL loan.
  • SBA Debt Relief – The SBA is providing a financial reprieve to small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, including covering principal, interest and fees on new and existing SBA loans. Find out more on their website.

Closed programs:

  • Restaurant Revitalization Fund – Applications are closed for this program that provides emergency assistance for eligible restaurants, bars, and other qualifying businesses impacted by COVID-19. Recipients are not required to repay the funding as long as funds are used for eligible uses no later than March 11, 2023.
  • Paycheck Protection Program – The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) ended on May 31, 2021. Existing borrowers may be eligible for PPP loan forgiveness through the Small Business Administration (SBA). Find more information on loan forgiveness on the SBA website.

Resources specific to farmers and ranchers:

  • US Department of AgricultureThis USDA website provides information on USDA Service Centers and resources that support farmers and ranchers through Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and other USDA agencies.

Programs specific to Wisconsin-based small businesses:

  • The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC)
    • Business recovery events calendar – WEDC provides a listing of events geared toward responding to and recovering from the challenges COVID-19 has created for businesses in Wisconsin.
  • The Wisconsin Small Business Development Center (SBDC) has staff available to help small business owners work through the process of qualifying and applying for SBA disaster loans available through December 31, 2021. Click here to go to the Business Development website to find information for filing online or through the mail, as well as links to other partners, including WWBIC, Western Wisconsin Women’s Business Center, Veterans Business Outreach Center, or SCORE. The Wisconsin SBDC business answer line is (800) 940-7232 or email
  • Through UW Extension:

Will I get an advance child tax credit as a monthly payment?

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021 expanded the Child Tax Credit (CTC) for tax year 2021 only. Families claiming the CTC for tax year 2021 will receive up to $3,000 per qualifying child between the ages of 6 and 17 and $3,600 per qualifying child under age 6, as shown in this video and in this UW ACTC factsheet.  The credit for qualifying children is fully refundable, which means that taxpayers can get the credit even if they don’t have earned income or don’t owe any income taxes.

November 15, 2021 was the last day to claim an Advance Child Tax Credit and any missed stimulus payments on the website. Families who enroll after that date are still eligible to receive the credit when they file their 2021 taxes in early 2022. The IRS has additional online tools for parents and caregivers to update information about changes to their address or financial institution information on this IRS website.

Report any SCAMS: Note that IRS doesn’t initiate contact by email, text messages, or social media channels to request personal or financial information. Watch out for emails with attachments or links claiming to have special information about advance Child Tax Credit payments or refunds of the Child Tax Credit.

Can I still get the third government Economic Impact Payments?

The Internal Revenue Service and the Treasury Department sent out a third round of Economic Impact Payments (EIP3) as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 on March 17, 2021. The EIP3 amount was $1,400 for each eligible individual based on the taxpayer’s latest processed tax return. The official payment date was April 7, 2021 for individuals who did not file taxes and receive Social Security or other federal benefits.

The IRS states that the payments are automatic using information from the first two rounds of payments, and individuals should not contact their financial institutions or the IRS with payment timing questions. The form of payment – direct deposit, paper check, or debit card – for the EIP3 will be automatic and similar to how you received your earlier EIP. Individuals may check the status of their EIP3 using the “Get My Payment” tool on the IRS website.

Who is eligible for the EIP3 payment?

  • Individuals who earned less than $75,000 will get a one-time payment of $1,400, with married couples getting $2,800 if they earned less than $150,000. Payment amounts will be lower for higher income earners, with reduced payments ending at $80,000 for individuals or $160,000 for couples.
  • Eligible families will get a $1,400 payment based on all of their qualifying dependents claimed on their federal tax return, including college students, adults with disabilities, parents, and grandparents.
  • To get a payment, you need to be a U.S. citizen or U.S. resident alien.
    • For taxpayers who file jointly with their spouse and only one individual has a valid SSN, the spouse with a valid SSN will receive up to a $1,400 third payment and up to $1,400 for each qualifying dependent claimed on the 2020 tax return.
    • Active Military: If either spouse is an active member of the U.S. Armed Forces at any time during the taxable year, only one spouse needs to have a valid SSN for the couple to receive up to $2,800 for themselves in the third stimulus payment.
    • For taxpayers who don’t have a valid SSN, but have a qualifying dependent who has an SSN, they will only receive up to $1,400 for a qualifying dependent claimed on their return only if they meet all other eligibility and income requirements.
    • Other nonresident aliens, temporary workers, and immigrants in the U.S. illegally will not get a payment.
  • Income information will be taken from either your 2020 tax return or your 2019 tax return if the 2020 return has not been submitted or processed yet.
  • Information for those who do not file taxes will be taken from the 2020 EIP1 Non-Filers tool, or in partnership with government agencies providing benefits, including Social Security Income and Veteran’s benefits.
  • Some people who will receive an automatic third payment based on their federal benefits information may need to file a 2020 tax return even if they don’t usually file. If your third payment does not include a payment for your qualified dependent who did not receive a third payment, you must file a 2020 tax return to be considered for an additional third payment even if you don’t normally file.

Under the American Rescue Plan relief package, the third stimulus check can’t be taken to pay past-due federal debts or back taxes. However, payments that have been deposited into a financial account with an existing judgment may be garnished.

Save your IRS letter – Notice 1444 Your Economic Impact Payment – with your 2021 tax records. You’ll need the amount of the payment in the letter when you file in 2022. If you have received IRS Notice 1444 in the mail stating that your payment was sent, but you did not actually receive your payment or may have accidentally thrown out your check, you can request a trace on the payment. Follow the IRS instructions for conducting a trace (FAQ #55). No one from the IRS will call or email asking for personal information or money.

The Federal Trade Commission cautions all households to BEWARE of SCAMS. Here’s the latest text message scam from the IRS. Keep in mind:

  • The government will not ask you to pay anything up front to get this money. No fees. No charges. Nothing.
  • The government will not call, email, or text to ask for your Social Security number, bank account, or credit card number. Anyone who does is a scammer.
  • The FTC encourages anyone who is contacted by a scammer asking for your bank account number or Social Security number to file a complaint on their website using this link.

What if I can't pay my rent?

The WI Emergency Rental Assistance (WERA) Program is available to assist eligible renters impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic who need help with their rent, utilities, or other housing stability. If you risk being evicted, check out the WERA Program information below or find more information on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau website.

WERA eligible households may receive up to 12 months of assistance to help with current or overdue bills. Individuals can find more information or apply for the program on the WISCAP website. A household may qualify if at least one or more individuals in the home meet the following:

  1. Qualifies for unemployment or has experienced a reduction in household income, experienced major costs, or experienced financial struggles due to COVID-19;
  2. Demonstrates a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability; and
  3. Has a household income at or below 80 percent of the county median​.​

NOTE: The counties of Brown, Dane, Milwaukee, and Waukesha, as well as the cities of Madison and Milwaukee, are operating their own emergency rental assistance programs and are not participating in the WERA program. Interested residents in these areas should apply directly to their local government’s rental assistance provider with contact information found here.

If you know you will not be able to pay all or some of your rent at any point, it’s best to contact your landlord before you miss a payment so they know you are keeping track and aware of the situation. Extension has fact sheets for both renters and landlords to explore other options and resources.  Check out the Extension publication on Dealing with a Drop In Income for steps to take in prioritizing bills and contacting your landlord about a payment plan.

What if I can't make my mortgage payment?

If you find that you won’t be able to make some or all of your next mortgage payment by the due date:

  • You are encouraged to contact your mortgage lender or servicer right away before you miss your payment due date or make a partial payment. This video from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau walks you through 5 steps to ask for mortgage forbearance.
  • Your mortgage servicer is the company that sends you the bill for your mortgage payment. If you’re not sure who holds your mortgage, you can call the MERS Servicer Identification System toll-free at 888-679-6377 or visit the MERS website here.
  • Write down all the steps you take, such as any phone calls you make and who you talk with, emails you send, and what types of information or documents you have shared.
  • Ask your mortgage servicer what options they have to offer. Some servicers may want a balloon payment of all missed mortgage payments and fees at once, but other servicers are willing to modify your loan and add on a few more months to the end of your current mortgage.
  • Under federal law, a servicer generally cannot start the state foreclosure process until your loan is more than 120 days past due. There can be exceptions depending on your forbearance or loss mitigation program.
  • If you need help to figure out your options for catching up with future mortgage payments or overdue property taxes on your home, contact a HUD-approved housing counselor through the Federal Making Home Affordable website. You can also call HUD at 888-995-4673 for round-the-clock foreclosure avoidance assistance.

About half of all mortgages in the US are federal loans. Watch this video from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for more information on Federal mortgage relief programs. These federal programs are discussed below:

  • If your mortgage is backed by HUD/FHA, USDA, or VA:
    • The deadline for requesting an initial forbearance has been extended while the COVID-19 National Emergency is in place. This emergency order is now scheduled to end on March 1, 2022. You may request up to two additional three-month extensions, for up to a maximum of 18 months of total forbearance, if you started a forbearance plan on or before June 30, 2020.
    • If the Borrower’s forbearance has completed or expired on or prior to February 16, 2021, the Mortgagee has 120 Days from February 16, 2021, to complete the Loss Mitigation Option.
    • You must contact your loan servicer to request this forbearance. No additional fees, penalties or additional interest (beyond scheduled amounts) will be added to your account. Learn more about mortgage forbearance from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
  • For loans backed by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae:
    • There currently is no deadline for requesting an initial mortgage forbearance.
    • You may request up to two additional three-month extensions, up to a maximum of 18 months of total forbearance, if you started a forbearance plan on or before February 28, 2021.
    • Borrowers may be eligible for forbearance regardless of whether their property is owner-occupied, a second home, or an investment/rental property.
    • You can also find a housing counselor and options to avoid foreclosure on the Freddie Mac website and on the Fannie Mae website.
  • Many provisions have also been put in place by USDA Rural Development to assist rural residents, communities, and business. Read more about the USDA community relief measures here.

What if I get behind on utility payments?

Wisconsin has a state law that covers cold-weather disconnections for Public Service Commission (PSC) utility services used specifically for home heating between November 1 and April 15. Water, electric, and gas utilities that want to disconnect during the winter moratorium must file a disconnection plan with the PSC and receive approval before they can disconnect a customer who has fallen behind on payments. This law does not apply to residents who are currently disconnected from their utilities because they are behind on bills.

Before winter, the utility must attempt to contact customers whose service was disconnected for nonpayment. Utilities are also required to check the customer’s well-being, attempt to negotiate payment plans, and inform the customer about any special assistance available to avoid disconnection. PSC customers can also contact their utility provider to set up a repayment plan. Contact information for major PSC providers across Wisconsin can be found on the Wisconsin Citizen’s Utility Board website. If you cannot reach an agreement with your PSC utility or have a complaint against a PSC utility, you can contact the PSC by calling 1-800-225-7729 or file a complaint on the PSC website.

The COVID-19 moratorium and annual winter moratorium disconnection dates only include PSC utilities and may not include utility co-operatives. You’ll need to contact your non-public utility provider for their disconnection policy or to set up a payment plan. For complaints regarding services not regulated by the PSC, contact the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection at 1-800-422-7128 or file a complaint online on the DATCP website.

For help catching up with utility payments:

  • The Wisconsin Division of Energy, Housing and Community Resources provides services to Wisconsin qualified residential households with energy assistance and weatherization needs. For more information call 1-866-HEATWIS (432-8947) or visit their website for information on who is eligible for assistance and where to apply in your area.
  • The Wisconsin Emergency Rental Assistance Program may have funds available to assist eligible renters impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and need help with their utilities, rent, and/or other housing stability.
  • Low-income individuals who have at least one child in the house and are facing an emergency can apply for Emergency Assistance to pay a utility bill. Parents can apply for Emergency Assistance through their local W-2 agency found on this Department of Children and Families website.
  • A positive COVID-19 test of a customer or a member of a customer’s household shall automatically be considered a medical emergency for the purposes of a 21-day medical extension of service (even if the customer has had an extension for another medical reason), and the 21-day extension must be extended if the customer, or a person in the household, is still under a COVID-19 quarantine at the end of the original 21-day period, as documented by a medical provider.

Find out more about your rights as a PSC customer in this handout.

What if I can't pay my car loan or credit cards?

If you have more bills than money right now, check out the Extension publication on Dealing with a Drop in Income for steps to take in prioritizing bills and a script you can use to contact creditors about a payment plan. Some creditors are automatically waiving late fees, but other creditors ask consumers to call or fill out an online form. To assist in contacting creditors, the credit reporting bureau Experian website has a list of financial institutions, creditors, and insurers with website links.

Some creditors, such as federally-backed mortgages, rent, or student loans, already have a forbearance in place due to the CARES Act. The CARES Act also put into place guidelines that only apply to consumers who are approved by their creditor for a forbearance, workout, or similar “accommodation.” These CARES Act guidelines are in place until 120 days after the declared state of national emergency ends. The national emergency was extended in February 2021.

For these “approved” consumers, the CARES Act states that:

  • If the consumer was able to get the accommodation while they were still current (less than 30 days late), their accounts still will be reported as current on their credit report.
  • If the consumer was already behind on payments – or “delinquent” – when they received the accommodation, they will continue to be reported with the same delinquency status. For example, after the agreement is in place with the creditor, a 30 day late report will stay 30 days late and cannot be changed to 60 days late.
  • If a delinquent consumer catches up on payments during the accommodation period, they can then be reported as current.
  • CARES Act credit reporting protections do not apply to accounts that have been charged off. An account is charged off by a creditor when it is moved from profit to loss, occurring at 120 days past due for closed-end loans and 180 days past due for credit cards.

Make sure you have any new agreements in writing before you send in a payment. Keep track of all paperwork, plus who you talk with and when. It’s also important to check your credit report to make sure that creditors are reporting any agreements or accommodations as outlined by the CARES Act. The three major credit reporting bureaus – TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian – now offer free weekly online credit reports through April 20, 2022. The weekly free reports can be ordered online at the only official website: In addition, each bureau has set up a website specific to the COVID-19 pandemic:

Beware of scams like emails or phone calls you get claiming to be from your credit card company or lender. When you reach out to creditors, call the customer number on the back of your credit card, use their app, or visit their website online. Click here to visit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau website for more tips and resources for working with creditors. As you plan for the potential impact of the coronavirus, there are a number of steps that you can take to help protect yourself or a loved one financially, both in the short and long term.

What if I can't make my federal student loan payment?

To provide relief to student loan borrowers during the COVID-19 pandemic, federal student loan borrowers are automatically being placed in an “administrative forbearance”, which lets you temporarily stop making your monthly loan payment. This suspension of payments has been extended until January 31, 2022. Borrowers who can still afford to make payments will have any payments made during this time be applied directly to their loan principal which is the original amount of money borrowed.

Until January 31, 2022, collections have been stopped on defaulted loans and  the interest rate is 0% on the following types of federal student loans owned by US Department of Education:

  • Defaulted and nondefaulted Direct Loans
  • Defaulted and nondefaulted FFEL Program loans – Federal only, not those owned by commercial lenders
  • Federal Perkins Loans – Federal only, not those owned by educational institutions

Your federal student loan servicer is the organization you make your monthly payment to. If you’re not sure who your servicer is, visit or call 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243). For more information, click here to go to the Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid website.

To preserve GI Bill benefits, the Veteran’s Administration has the authority to continue GI Bill payments uninterrupted in the event of national emergencies. Recent laws give VA temporary authority to pay education benefits and Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) payments to GI Bill students at the resident rate when their programs are converted from in-person to online learning solely due to COVID-19 until December 21, 2021. To learn more about options related to the GI Bill benefits, contact the VA’s Education Call Center at 1-888-442-4551 between 8 AM and 7 PM Eastern Time, Monday-Friday, or visit the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website.

For private student loans – Keep in mind that the student loan forbearance, repayment plans, or deferment options offered through the Department of Education only apply to federal student loans. Any borrower who has experienced a change in income can contact their loan servicer to discuss lowering their monthly payment. If you have a private student loan through a commercial lender, contact your loan servicer as soon as you think you may not be able to make a payment to find out what options they have to offer. If you are a co-signer on a private student loan, check in with the primary borrower to see if they are able to keep up with their payments, or else the co-signer will be responsible for making those monthly payments. The private student loan co-signer may not be able to request an accommodation, but the primary borrower can.

Wisconsin borrowers can get more information about their loans or repayment options based on their specific circumstances by calling the free Student Loan Debt Hotline at: 833-589-0750. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also has guidelines and links to resources on their website to help people figure out their best options.

What if I can't pay my income taxes?

Federal and state income taxes were due on May 17, 2021 for the 2020 tax year. If you are entitled to a refund, there’s no penalty for filing late.

If you were not able to file your tax return by the due date, you may qualify for relief from penalties from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) if you made an effort to comply with the law, but were unable to pay your taxes due to circumstances beyond your control. Interest is still charged, but you could owe less interest if any penalties are reduced.

Around 70% of Americans are eligible to file taxes for free online using one of the Free File IRS partners. Check out the IRS Free File Online Lookup Tool to see if this program is right for you. Low- to moderate-income individuals can also find free help with filing taxes through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) or Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) programs. Find out more about the VITA and TCE programs on the WI Department of Revenue Website or call “211” for a site near you.

Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) Relief: The EITC is a tax credit for workers who earn low or moderate incomes where some or all of their income tax that was withheld may be returned. An individual must file a tax return to receive the EITC even if they do not owe taxes. If your earned income was higher in 2019 than in 2020, you can use the 2019 amount to figure your EITC for 2020. This temporary relief is provided through the Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2020. Learn more about the EITC on the IRS website or use this UW chart to see if you qualify for the EITC or other federal and state tax credits.

Unemployment Benefits Tax Relief: As part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, many taxpayers will not be required to pay taxes on up to $10,200 in unemployment benefits received in 2020. If you have already filed your 2020 federal taxes, the IRS plans to issue a refund for any unemployment compensation tax overpayment. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has a worksheet on the ‘unemployment compensation exclusion’ to help with 2020 tax filing along more details on their website. This federal unemployment tax relief does not affect your WI income taxes.

Payment Plans: Qualified taxpayers can choose to pay any taxes owed over time through an installment agreement. Payment options include:

However, a taxpayer’s specific tax situation will determine which payment options are available. The IRS has more information for taxpayers who owe taxes, but cannot afford to pay the full amount.

For income tax filers in Wisconsin, click here to go to the Department of Revenue website for links and information on filing state income taxes online or setting up a payment plan for state income taxes that are due on May 17, 2021. Wisconsin DOR encourages taxpayers with questions to submit them online or call DOR’s individual customer service line at 608-266-2486. Regular hours are from 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday thru Friday.

My spouse lost their job and our family health insurance plan. What options do we have for health insurance?

If your spouse or partner lost their job and your family’s health insurance, you have health insurance options. There is more help to pay for health insurance with new COVID relief from the American Rescue Plan Act. Many people can now get plans for less than $10 a month. This fact sheet from Covering Wisconsin talks more about the savings for health insurance from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Health Insurance Marketplace – If you or your spouse or partner does not have affordable health insurance benefits available through an employer, you can look for a plan on the Health Insurance Marketplace at

COBRA: If you lose your health insurance plan from work, you can sometimes keep that insurance for up to 18 months. This option is called COBRA. With COBRA, you usually pay the full cost of the plan.

Starting April 1, 2021, if you lost your plan because you or your spouse were laid off or had hours cut at work, new COVID relief from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021:

  • Gives you a new opportunity to enroll in COBRA, even if you missed or decided not to enroll during your initial 60-day COBRA election period. You must still be within the COBRA eligibility period, which is usually 18 months.
  • Helps pay 100% of your COBRA premium until September 30, 2021.

Consumers who left their jobs voluntarily or are eligible for Medicare or other group health coverage are not eligible for free COBRA. Employers are required to notify employees who are eligible for free COBRA coverage before June 1, 2021.

Get free help: Wisconsin has free, local, unbiased experts to help you decide whether COBRA or a plan on is the best option for you. Call the 2-1-1 Helpline or go to to find an expert.

Covering Wisconsin has additional information on health insurance coverage and assistance. The Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance also has answers to frequently asked health insurance questions and links to get in touch with free, expert help on their website

Are there other services that can help me keep up with bills?

Call 211 or click here to visit the website for referrals to food assistance, paying housing bills, accessing free child care, or obtaining help with other needs. You’ll be able to enter your zip code on the website to be connected to your local 211 office.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) offers two programs to help limited-income households with cell phone and internet access:

  • The Lifeline program provides a monthly discount on landline or cell phone (not both) coverage for qualifying individuals. To learn more or apply for the information, visit the Lifeline website or contact Lifeline at 1 (800) 234-9473 or
  • The Emergency Broadband Benefit will provide a discount of up to $50 per month towards broadband service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for households on Tribal lands. Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers if they contribute more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price. The Emergency Broadband Benefit started in May 2021 and is limited to one monthly service discount and one device discount per household.
  • Find more options for broadband plans for low-income households in this fact sheet.

Should I take money out of my retirement savings to pay for my living expenses now?

The CARES Act passed on March 27, 2020 put into place new rules around hardship withdrawals and loans from 401(k), 403(b), IRA, and similar types of retirement plans, if the allowed by the plan. The Internal Revenue Service allows “hardship withdrawals” from certain retirement plans when you’re faced with an “immediate and heavy” financial need which now includes if individuals, their spouse, or dependents are diagnosed with COVID-19, and those who have been laid-off, had work hours reduced, or were unable to work due to lack of child care. Anyone withdrawing funds from their traditional retirement account will have up to three years to pay the taxes due on the money withdrawn, although all early withdrawal penalties will be waived. Another change to these new retirement account ‘coronavirus emergency’ withdrawals is that you can put the money back into your retirement account for up to three years after the withdrawal. Usually, retirement account contributions have strict annual contribution limits that can make it hard to rebuild a retirement account after a hardship withdrawal.

Different than a hardship withdrawal, the CARES Act also included an increase in 401(k) loan limits where borrowers can access up to 100% of their vested account balance, but the loans will still need to be repaid within five years — or sooner if you lose or leave your job — along with interest and fees. Additional changes in the law let individuals age 72 or older delay taking required minimum distributions from retirement accounts in 2020, and also extended the 2019 IRA contribution deadline to July 15, 2020. The IRS has a web page to provide guidelines on retirement plan withdrawals occurring in 2020.

Taking a hardship withdrawal or a loan after the recent stock market declines would lock in any losses in the retirement accounts value. If the worst should happen and a person needs to declare bankruptcy in the future, also keep in mind that retirement accounts are protected from creditors in a bankruptcy and can be used to start over. You can find more information on pros and cons of options to increase your income in Extension’s Increasing Your Income handout.

Can I get emergency paid sick leave?

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act ended December 31, 2020. This law provided guidelines for Emergency Paid Sick Leave, expanded Family and Medical Leave, employer tax credits, increased emergency food assistance, and other programs. The Emergency Paid Sick Leave rule applied to certain public employers and to businesses with 500 employees or less, though businesses with fewer than 50 employees may be able to get some exemptions due to economic hardship. Find more information about the Act for both employees and employers on the Department of Labor’s website.

Employers are entitled to a refundable tax credit for the required leave paid, up to the limits specified through the DOL. Find more information and Frequently Asked Questions surrounding COVID-19 related tax credits for small and mid-size businesses on this IRS website.

Where can I find more information on the virus?

Click here to go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for information on minimizing your exposure to the virus, what to do if you think you may have the virus, and links to community resources.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services also has a website for COVID-19 that provides up-to-date information and additional resources.

Additional resources related to COVID-19

USA.GOV – For answers to other questions, find a complete list of government agency resources related to COVID-19, including Health and Human Service updates and a link to the Federal Trade Commission’s website tracking scams related to the virus. – Has a website with resources and updates related to COVID-19, along with links to State agencies.

COVID-19 Funeral Assistance – FEMA is providing financial assistance for COVID-19 related funeral expenses incurred after January 20, 2020. Funeral assistance is available to reimburse an individual who has receipts for funeral expenses for a person who had COVID-19 as the cause of death on their death certificate. Assistance is limited to a maximum of $9,000 per funeral. Find more information on the FEMA website or call 844-684-6333 Monday – Friday  from 9am-9pm Eastern Time. NOTE: FEMA has received reports of scammers reaching out to people offering to register them for funeral assistance. FEMA has not sent any such notifications and does not contact people before they register for assistance.

Advance Directive for Health Decisions – this is also known as a Healthcare Directive and tells doctors and family about what medical treatment you want if you are so sick you cannot make decisions anymore. A Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare, also known as a Healthcare Proxy, appoints a person to make health care decisions for you. Unlike many states, Wisconsin is not a “next of kin” or “family consent” state for adults. That means Wisconsin law does not let family members make decisions for incapacitated adult family members. As a general rule, spouses cannot make decisions for spouses, parents cannot make decisions for adult children, adult children cannot makes decisions for parents, with some exceptions for hospice and emergency care. Notarized signatures are not required on these forms, but you do need two witnesses when signing. Both forms are easy to fill out and can be downloaded from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services website.

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation – Visit the FDIC’s COVID-19 website with information for both consumers and bankers. If you have trouble reaching your bank, are looking for a bank to use, or have concerns about accessing your funds due to your bank’s reduced hours or ATM access, see the FDIC’s frequently asked question fact sheet with contact information surrounding your concerns.

The Eldercare Locator website is a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging and connects older adults and their families to services. If you know an older adult who could use help with supportive home resources, such as shopping, visit the Eldercare Locator. You can also call them at 1-800-677-1116. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a series of resources available to caregivers of an older adult and/or a person with a disability and particulars to consider during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Child Care Resources – Healthcare workers and essential employees are now able to submit a request for care through the department’s updated Child Care Finder. Workers can also proactively view up-to-date availability across the state using the department’s new child care map. More information for providers, essential workers and families can be found on the DCF COVID-19 Child Care webpage.

IRS Guidelines for Charitable Giving in 2021 – If you are in a position to support your community in natural disaster recovery, COVID-19 pandemic aid, or another cause that’s personally meaningful, your charitable donations may be tax-deductible. The CARES Act allows taxpayers who don’t itemize deductions to take a charitable deduction of up to $300 for individuals and $600 for couples on donations made to qualifying organizations.

Financial Resiliency Center – The National Disability Institute offers resources and assistance to help those with disabilities and chronic health conditions cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Investing: Surviving a Volatile Stock Market – This University of Minnesota fact sheet suggests steps to consider if you have retirement or other investments in the stock market. The most important step is to not panic or make quick decisions.

Online security tips for working from home – Some US workers and many school children may be telecommuting — working from home — due to the pandemic. The Federal Trade Commission shares helpful cybersecurity tips and links for individuals and small businesses on their recent blog post.

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