How rideshare drivers can stay financially stable amid COVID-19

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When all’s right with the world, being a rideshare driver is a great way to earn money. You’re your own boss, you get plenty of human interaction, and the wages are better than most full-time or part-time jobs that offer far less flexibility and enjoyment. 

In today’s climate, with the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis heating up from a simmer to a rolling boil, our world has changed–a lot. In an effort to curtail the virus, public officials are ordering non-essential businesses to close, bars are no longer open, and many restaurants have switched to take-out only. Schools have closed, sporting events, concerts, and other large public gatherings are canceled or postponed. To say there have been drastic changes is an understatement. 

These unprecedented moves are unsettling to everyone, but for rideshare drivers they are especially disturbing. Without people moving from place to place, where will you find your business? Chances are, while these measures are being taken, the places where you routinely pick up riders look like ghost towns.

Then there’s another problem: What if you take a rideshare customer in your car, find out the person is sick, and discover you’ve picked up way more than you bargained for? Even if you don’t fall ill, you could wind up carrying the virus to someone who is especially vulnerable. Or, you might discover that you’ve been put into quarantine, because a government official found out you were exposed and ordered you to live in temporary isolation.

It’s easy to see how quickly your rideshare income can shrink and even disappear as this crisis builds. Suddenly, being an independent contractor, free of restrictions and able to take advantage of flexible hours, doesn’t seem quite so appealing.

Here at Gridwise, we take this crisis and the way it affects rideshare drivers very seriously. That’s why we developed a summary of what financial help is available to you, with up-to-the-minute information and links that could be your lifeline at this critical time.

  1. How to get help from rideshare companies
    1. Lyft
    2. Uber
  2. Managing monthly finances
    1. Mortgage and Rent
    2. Utilities, phone, and internet
    3. Food
    4. Car
    5. Credit card
    6. Student loan

Don’t Panic

There’s no doubt that this is a major, disruptive event, regardless of the scale of stress it’s measured against. Still, it’s important that the uncertainty of these times doesn’t push you (or any of us) to get caught up in the vortex of negative energy that’s sure to be a part of the public reaction.

There will be places to fall back on financially, whether that is your rideshare company, the companies to whom you owe money on a monthly basis, charities, or the government. Let’s look at some of them here, and give you the opportunity to form a strategy that will protect you from losing your ability to cope.

Help from Rideshare Companies

If you’re an active driver, you’ve probably already received a notice from Uber and/or Lyft telling you that they will offer support to drivers who are either diagnosed with COVID-19, or who have been quarantined by a government entity. Here are the details for both companies.

Lyft

While Lyft openly expresses a promise of financial support for drivers, there are not many details about exactly how much help will be available and how it can be procured. The company’s statement reads as follows:

“We will provide funds to drivers should they be diagnosed with COVID-19 or put under individual quarantine by a public health agency. This helps support drivers financially when they can’t drive, while also protecting our riders’ health. These funds will be given to affected drivers who are identified to us by public health officials or who contact our support team to self-report and provide documentation that they have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or put under individual quarantine by a public health agency. We will provide funds to affected drivers based on the rides they provided on the Lyft platform over the last four weeks.”

If you’re eligible for the support Lyft offers via this policy, contact Lyft support here.

Uber

Uber’s policy is quite specific, which has its good and bad points. While you can know what to expect as an Uber driver, there are limits on the help that’s being offered. In general, if you have been diagnosed with COVID-19, or if you are placed under quarantine by a public health official, or if you are asked to self-isolate by a licensed medical provider, you’re eligible for help. You can also get assistance if Uber restricts your account because you have the virus, or have been exposed to someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Also, to get financial help from Uber, you must have a record of driving for the company that shows you were active within 30 days before March 6, 2020. Then, Uber will examine your average daily earnings for the previous six months, and pay you that amount of money … but only for two weeks.

This policy might evolve as the coronavirus crisis unfolds, but in any case, it makes sense to take advantage of whatever assistance Uber is offering. You can read the company’s entire policy and report your situation to Uber here.

If you are still unable to work after two weeks of compensation, there are other ways to get financial support and cope during the coronavirus crisis.

Managing Monthly Finances

It’s a fact that the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak will affect almost everyone. Remember that you’re not alone, and asking for help or leniency isn’t going to make you a less honorable or competent human being. There are many ways you can help yourself, and get help from others.

Assess the Damage and Set Priorities

When you lose your source of income, even if the flow is only temporarily interrupted you still have bills to pay. So, you’ll need to prioritize. Take a hard look at exactly what money you have coming in, and then figure out what you must pay first, rather than looking at all your expenses at once. This helps keep you from becoming overwhelmed.

Essential Living Expenses- Mortgage & Rent

The first thing you have to pay for is a place to live. Whether this involves paying rent or making a mortgage payment, keeping a roof over your head is your first priority. If you can’t make this payment, you need to communicate with your landlord or mortgage lender so you can potentially work out an agreement of some kind. 

Start by studying your lease or mortgage agreement. Maybe you can make a late payment, or work out a plan for paying less over a longer period of time. In any case, communicate your situation and ask for what you need. This gives you a far greater chance at getting a reasonable response than if you simply fail to pay anything–which could result in losing that roof over your head.

Keeping Your Place on The Grid – Utilities, Phone, Internet

The same goes for utilities. If you anticipate problems keeping your utility bills paid, contact the companies immediately to negotiate a payment plan. Here’s a timely USA Today article about how utility, phone, and Internet providers are giving consumers a break during the coronavirus crisis. 

No matter what your specific financial challenges may be, the crucial element is communication. Companies, big and small, are more likely to work with you when you are open and honest about your situation, and show your willingness to pay what you can.

If your landlord, lender, or utility company can’t or won’t be flexible, there are places to get help. You can get grants from organizations such as Catholic Charities, as well as the government. Check out Lavish Green, a portal online that leads to opportunities for procuring grants that help with rent, utilities, and other basic expenses.

Staying Well-Fed

Food is a high-priority item, and there are ways to keep to a food budget manageable, even when your income is low. Preparing meals at home, of course, is the number-one way to keep food expenses under control. Make simple dishes that stretch a long way. Be prepared to serve up leftovers, and learn to like them. Your culinary creativity will come into full bloom. If you don’t know how to cook, or would like to learn more, visit your local library. You’ll be amazed at all the cookbooks that can be yours for the borrowing.

Good nutrition is crucial, because you want to keep your immune system strong and your mind nimble as the environment becomes increasingly uncertain. Make sure you’re eating enough and getting solid protein, despite the need to conserve your financial resources. Consider canned tuna, beans, and other meats and vegetables as cheap-but-practical staples that are easy to prepare.

If you are simply too short of money to buy food, you do not need to go hungry. Visit a local food bank, where you can get basic food staples at no cost. They are usually sponsored by charitable organizations, or they might receive grants from various levels of government.

Another option is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which was formerly known as food stamps. Along with the new name came a simpler, more private way of redeeming SNAP benefits: a debit card that looks just like any other kind of plastic you’d use to pay for groceries. Visit this website to find out more about the SNAP program, including eligibility requirements. But don’t put it off–apply as soon as you know your income will be interrupted. That way, you’ll be able to receive help before you run out of the food you have on hand.

Keeping Your Car

Reduced income can definitely affect your ability to make car payments. Similar to mortgage payments and rent, you may be able to negotiate for lower payments, or even skip them for a short period of time–and as a rideshare driver, you’ll want to take care of this as soon as possible. 

While most companies allow you to miss three payments before they start the repossession ball rolling, you don’t want to take any chances with losing your means of transportation–and livelihood. Save yourself a panic situation by taking care of this sooner, rather than later. 

It might also comfort you to know that as the coronavirus crisis continues to expand, auto companies are taking action to alleviate pressure from those of us who depend on our cars and are unable to handle loan payments at this time.

Ford, Nissan, GM, and Toyota said they’ll provide payment relief options such as deferred payments and extensions to people who have been affected by the virus. All these companies joined Hyundai in delaying payments on new cars. Hyundai also said it would provide up to six months of payment relief for customers who lose their jobs.

Even if you hear about your car loan company offering these relief measures, remember that you must communicate with them to let them know you need their assistance. Also, they’re awarding this support on a case-by-case basis, so your credit rating is going to be an important factor in whether you’ll get them to help you out.

The Credit Card Conundrum

Like other types of creditors, credit card companies will treat you better if you (A) communicate with them, and (B) at least try to pay something on your bill, rather than nothing at all. You must do this carefully, though, and get their consent to an alternate arrangement. 

Do NOT simply skip a payment or pay less than the minimum amount due without talking with the company first. It’s important to know that if you skip payments for 60 days, your account will go into collection. After 90 days without submitting a payment, you’ll be subject to having your account closed and sold off to a collection agency–and you could wind up being sued. 

The worst possible thing you can do is ignore your bills. This will have an extremely bad effect on your credit rating, and ultimately, your economic freedom.

So how can you avoid encountering the wrath of the credit card companies, when your income doesn’t provide enough to make the minimum payments? You can arrange for a “workout plan,” with the cooperation of each credit card company. This will allow you to restructure the loan, and get it paid off in increments that are easier for you to manage. The company might eliminate fees or interest to make it easier for you to manage. This arrangement, aptly, is also known as a “debt management plan.”

Depending on your situation, it might make sense for you to arrange for a hardship plan. You must have paid your bills on time up to the time your income dissipated, and you must agree to continue making payments as soon as your income is reinstated. 

The hardship plan puts your account on”hold.” You won’t be charged during the time period you are unable to pay, but you won’t be allowed to use your card until you begin to make payments again. This could be good, but make sure you still have a way to pay for gas.

Without question, it’s best to communicate with the credit card companies as soon as you know you’re not going to be able to pay them. Look further into the methods outlined here, and know what will work best for you before you call. It might take some effort to get to the right supervisor or manager, but your persistence will pay off. 

For more information on how credit card companies are working with consumers during the coronavirus crisis, check out this CNBC article. Here’s another article on dealing with creditors that you might also find helpful. 

Help with Student Loans

It’s really difficult to get out of paying your student loans, but there are remedies available when your income trickles down to a slow drip. Again, make sure you communicate with the financial institution that gave you the loan, and if you haven’t already, you can begin to negotiate what is called an income-driven plan. 

This arrangement is usually restricted to government-backed loans, and is not as easy to procure in the case of private loans. The plan allows you to set up a payment schedule based on the monies you have coming in, and would take account of your reduced income.If you already have an income driven plan, you can renegotiate it at this time.

In the case of private loans, you can try to negotiate a hardship modification for your plan. This might give you some relief, but in the future your payments could rise higher to compensate for the break you get now.

At the moment, there are no public plans to offer relief from student loans due to the coronavirus crisis. It would take an act of Congress to make changes to current laws, so it might be worth a call to your representatives to alert them to your needs, and request that they take action.

What’s Next?

The situation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic is changing rapidly, so it’s impossible to know exactly what’s coming next. As of this writing, the U.S. Senate is reworking a bill that was originally crafted by the House of Representatives. The bill is expected to help compensate people and companies for loss of income that has resulted from the coronavirus outbreak. In addition to income supplements, there will be other accommodations, including a deferment of the April 15th tax payment deadline, for three months. This was announced by U.S. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin on March 17, 2020.

This will be good for you as a rideshare driver, as you’ll be able to put off paying your tax bill. However, if you have other employment besides driving, and think you’ll have a refund coming, it makes more sense to file before the usual deadline.

On March 16th, the President and Vice President’s task force announced recommendations that limit public gatherings to 10 people or less at least through March 31st. Although a national lockdown has not occurred, there are new guidelines that urge people to avoid unnecessary travel and eating in restaurants, food courts, and other public places. 

Also, a growing number of states have passed their own restrictions, which are discussed in this March 17, 2020 article

For now, the food to-go business seems to be in for a boom, so it could be time to branch out to one of the delivery services as a source of income–but only if you’re healthy. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, which you can learn about here in an informative article by the CDC, you will need to get help and stay isolated to keep the virus from spreading.

Pool & Share Rides Suspended

On March 17, 2020 Uber and Lyft announced they would suspend pool and share rides, to help stem the spread of the virus. It makes a lot of sense to limit the number of people who are in your car at one time, for you and your passengers.

Take Care and Stay Safe

We hope this article has given you some ideas about where you can get the help you may need. We also hope you’ll take all necessary steps to stay strong and healthy.

Uber offers these tips to keep your drives safe: 

  • Wash your hands before and after entering your car
  • Give space by asking passengers to sit in the back seat
  • Cover the mouth or nose to contain coughs or sneezes
  • Consider rolling down the window to improve ventilation

Follow these and other common-sense practices, and we’ll get through this together.

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