government shutdownIf you’ve been paying attention to the news recently, you may know that the U.S. federal government has been in a partial shutdown since Dec. 22, 2018, which means functions of the government deemed nonessential are closed. Unlike the two government shutdowns in the beginning of 2018, which lasted a few days and a few hours, respectively, this one has already gone on for several weeks and doesn’t seem to have an end in sight. The most recent talks between President Donald Trump and Congressional Democratic leaders quickly collapsed, and Trump has stated he could keep the government shut down for months or years. As the government shutdown drags on, more Americans are going to start personally feeling its financial effects, including delays in benefits, payments and application approvals. To see how the shutdown may hit you, and what you can do if it does, read on.

Delayed tax refunds

The IRS has furloughed most of its employees and is currently operating with about one-eighth of its normal workforce. During a government shutdown, the IRS isn’t supposed to perform audits, doesn’t answer taxpayer questions and, most distressingly, does not pay tax refunds. The White House has reassured Americans that tax refunds will go out on time, but it’s not clear how many IRS workers will be ordered back to work to make sure that happens. Additionally, some legal experts, such as current House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, believe it is illegal for the Trump administration to order the IRS to send out refunds during a shutdown, and some accountants say that this year’s filing season will be more difficult than normal due to the tax changes going into effect this year.

Many Americans rely on their tax refunds as a consistent windfall to catch up financially. According to a survey from the National Journal and Allstate, 20% of people expecting a tax refund will use it to buy essentials and 37% will use it to pay off debt. If you’re one of these people and the government shutdown actually holds up tax refunds, that could put you in a bad financial position. Late payments on bills and debt could mean penalty fees or hits to your credit scores. Even if you were just going to put your refund in a savings account, the delay means you’re losing out on potential interest yields. Oh, and even though tax refunds aren’t guaranteed to go out, you still need to complete your tax return on time (or file an extension if you’re unable to meet the April 15 deadline).

Delayed government benefits and loans

Before you start panicking, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits are currently fine, though if you’re a new applicant to one of those programs, you may have to deal with longer waits than usual. However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is only funded through February. SNAP funding for March and beyond is up in the air, and the USDA is asking states to issue benefits on Jan. 20, which is earlier than normal, to take advantage of temporary funding. For government loans, some agencies don’t have the funding to process loan applications for now. The Small Business Administration is inactive during the government shutdown, which means that 7(a) applications for small business loans are on hold. Also, mortgage applications could be delayed or denied because mortgage lenders have to verify that your social security number is valid with the Social Security Administration, and the shutdown is hindering that verification.

Suspended pay for government workers

If you work for the federal government in Washington, D.C., you’re one of the 79% of federal employees who work and live outside of the D.C. area or you work for a government contractor, the shutdown is probably having a much more direct influence on your life. More than 380,000 government employees have been furloughed without pay and another 420,000 are working with suspended pay, and if you’re in one of those groups, it’s likely that at least your next paycheck is going to be late. The law does not require Congress to issue back pay to furloughed employees, but it has done so in the past. Government contractors are in a much more tenuous position and are more likely to simply be laid off without pay.

Depending on your state, you may be able to file for unemployment benefits during the government shutdown by contacting your state’s employment office. Benefits vary according to where you live, but many states will pay unemployment for up to 26 weeks. However, note that once the shutdown ends, you will be required to repay the unemployment benefits you received.

How credit cards can help

With so many ways to experience financial hardship under the government shutdown, it’s possible that you or someone you know may need help with their bills or want a way to pay down debt without high interest fees. One way to ease the strain is to sign up for a 0% intro APR credit card, which will help you pay for your immediate expenses without having to dig too deep into your savings or worry about interest. Once the shutdown ends, you can use the tax refund, benefits or back pay you receive to pay off the card with no issue. To help you out, here are a few of our favorite 0% APR cards:

Wells Fargo Platinum Visa Card

government shutdownWhether you have purchases to make or debt payments piling up, the Wells Fargo Platinum Visa Card is one of the most helpful credit cards you can get to endure the shutdown. It features a long 18-month 0% intro APR period for purchases as well as for balance transfers made within the first 120 days of opening your account (balance transfer fee of 3% for transfers made in the first 120 days, then it increases to 5%), and charges no annual fee. Plus, if you use the card to pay for your monthly mobile phone bill, Wells Fargo will provide you with up to $600 of phone protection against covered damage or theft with a $25 deductible and a maximum of 2 claims per year. The Wells Fargo Platinum Visa Card requires good to excellent credit, typically considered to be a credit score of 700 or higher, for approval.

Discover it Cash Back

government shutdownThe Discover it Cash Back card offers a nice 14 months of 0% intro APR for both purchases and balance transfers (balance transfer fee of 3%) — after the 0% intro APR expires, the go-to variable rate applies, but what makes this card stand out is that it also provides cash back as well as a myriad of other perks, and requires average to excellent credit, typically considered to be a credit score of 670 or higher, for approval. Discover it Cash Back earns 5% cash back in categories that rotate every quarter (up to a quarterly maximum, which is currently $1,500, then it’s 1% cash back) and 1% cash back on all other purchases. Examples of categories include grocery stores, gas stations and purchases. Claiming the 5% cash back requires signing up for it each quarter, and you can have Discover send you free automatic reminder emails. In addition to the cash back, at the end of your first year of card ownership, Discover will match all of the cash back you’ve earned, effectively doubling your rewards for the first year. Extra benefits of this card include no foreign transaction fees, a free TransUnion FICO score on each monthly statement and security features like free identity theft monitoring and Discover Freeze it, which lets you freeze your account from a computer or mobile device if you lose your card and unfreeze it when you get it back. Even with all of these features, this card charges no annual fee.

Citi Simplicity Card – No Late Fees Ever

government shutdownThe Citi Simplicity Card – No Late Fees Ever (a NextAdvisor advertiser) is especially good for handling debt. While it only gives a modest 12 months of 0% intro APR for purchases, it grants an incredible 21 months of 0% intro APR for balance transfers, and charges no annual fee. This card does have a balance transfer fee of 5% (minimum $5), which is higher than average, but the amount of interest it can save you can easily make up for that. Additionally, the Citi Simplicity Card – No Late Fees Ever is true to its name, as it doesn’t charge late fees or apply penalty APRs, so if you occasionally can’t pay on time, it’s not a big deal. Other perks include a free Equifax FICO score every month, car rental insurance and Citi Price Rewind, which will hunt for a lower price on card purchases you register and refund you the difference in cost if it finds something you bought on sale for cheaper (on up to $200 per purchase, maximum $1,000 annually). This credit card requires good to excellent credit, typically considered to be a credit score of 700 or higher, for approval.

If you don’t see a card you like here, you can look for others by going to our low APR credit card reviews. To find more ways to weather financial storms, follow our personal finance blog.

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This content was accurate at the time of this post, but card terms and conditions may change at any time. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.