You Are Not Alone – Thoughts On Coping with Financial Uncertainty in a Pandemic

You Are Not Alone

by Amy Smith for The Dance Journal

Dance artists, this is a terrible and uncertain time.  I believe that as artists we can play a role in imagining and creating new structures that are more equitable and humane.  Our arts community is practicing radical wealth redistribution with the many emergency grants and relief funds that have been created in recent weeks.  But for many dance artists, accessing those benefits, grants, and safety net programs will take time. So, in the meantime, here are some thoughts about getting through the next several weeks and months financially.

First I want to say that you are not alone.  Literally millions of people are in the same boat right now.  There is strength in numbers. Also, the structures of neoliberal capitalism tell us that our debt is shameful, our precarity is shameful, and that we are weak or irresponsible for having debt or being low income.  Please do your best to see this clearly and banish shame from your thinking.  Do not let shame get in the way of asking for help and accessing safety net programs.  

All debt is negotiable.  This is something that rich people know from experience. I myself learned it because when I was first starting out as a dance artist, one of my day jobs included calling people who owed us money and writing off a portion of their bill.  Many low-income artists don’t realize that lenders have all budgeted for writing off “bad debt”.  

First, do a rough calculation of your lost income.  Create a folder called Lost Income and save all the emails canceling work or gigs.  Also, keep a running tally of your lost income in a spreadsheet, so you can start the conversation from a place of knowing, and real numbers. This information will be helpful when applying for SBA loans and Unemployment Compensation.

If you are a renter, call your landlord and ask for reduced rent, or total rent pause.  There are already many eviction freezes and renter protection plans in place to protect you, and many programs already in place to give your landlord financial relief.  Of course, you should make a decision based on your particular landlord’s situation, but in general, your landlord should not be pushing the burden of this crisis onto you.  If you have a mortgage, call the mortgage company and get them to pause your payments for a few months. The interest will accrue, but they will tack it onto the end of your mortgage, so you will barely notice it.  Call your internet provider to sign up for free internet during the crisis. Call your auto loan provider and insurer, ask for a lower APR, forbearance or pause. Ask your credit card company for a lower APR and to increase your credit limit.  Normally I would never advise folks to max out credit cards, but these are extraordinary times. You need to preserve cash on hand as much as possible right now, and you can deal with the credit card debt later (keep making minimum payments until times are better).  Ask your student loan lender (even if it’s a private loan) for a rate reduction or forbearance. Even if they don’t accept your offer, don’t pay student loans during this crisis. Student loans should not be your priority right now, and if enough Americans stop paying them, they will finally give borrowers the terms and rates we should have had all along.  Sign up for safety net programs like food stamps (aka SNAP), Medicaid or Obamacare using your new income numbers.  If you are self-employed, create a Profit and Loss statement for 2019 and one for 2020 so you can demonstrate your new financial reality to those programs. There is a sample Profit and Loss template on my website, http://amyelainesmith.com/covid-19/

You can also use this time to consolidate loans, use a lower interest loan to pay off higher interest ones.  Consider declaring bankruptcy! It is nothing to be ashamed of — it’s a smart move if you are overwhelmed with debt.  The caveat, if you work with a credit counseling agency, make sure it is a non-profit. NFCC.org is a good place to start, and you can go to the resources page of my website for more resources.

Everyone’s credit score is going to go down in this crisis, so please don’t prioritize keeping a “good” credit score right now — and remember, YOU ARE NOT YOUR CREDIT SCORE.  Your value and worth as a human being are not related to this number that has been assigned to you by faceless credit agencies.

About Amy Smith

Amy Smith is a dance and theater artist, educator, and facilitator. She works to dismantle oppressive structures in non-profit organizations and other groups so that artists and low-income folks can achieve collective liberation. She does this through financial well-being workshops, one-on-one work with clients giving financial advice and doing tax preparation, consulting with arts organizations, co-facilitating anti-racism sessions with co-facilitators of color, and as a dance and theater educator. Amy co-founded, co-directed, and performed with Headlong, a dance theater non-profit that transformed into a community arts organization over 25 years. She left Headlong in 2019 to pursue her freelance work. She leads financial well-being workshops through Creative Capital, Assets for Artists, and in many other settings. She holds a BA from Wesleyan University and has been greatly affected by her learning as part of artEquity’s National Facilitator Training and other anti-oppression training.

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