US Primary Insurer Travelers accelerates commission payments for agents & brokers

US primary insurer Travelers has announced plans to accelerate more than $100 million in commission payments to eligible distribution partners, building on the company’s COVID-19 relief efforts.

TravelersTravelers explained that the distribution support plan will speed up payments for agents and brokers to help them address the liquidity impacts of the COVID-19 crisis.

“As so many are facing a significant financial burden due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we want to show our agent and broker partners, many of whom are small business owners, our support at this challenging time,” said Alan Schnitzer, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Travelers.

“Independent agents and brokers not only provide invaluable counsel and care to our customers but also play a critical role in the U.S. economy, and we are committed to standing by them,” he added.

Bob Rusbuldt, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, also commented: “Travelers has always been the premier supporter of independent agents and brokers, and the Travelers Distribution Support Plan takes that support to a whole new level. We want to thank Travelers for their continued industry leadership.”

The commissions being accelerated were accrued in the ordinary course of business during the quarter ended March 31, 2020, and are not expected to have a significant impact on the Travelers’ results.

Liz Weston: What to do when you can’t pay your bills

Liz Weston: What to do when you can’t pay your bills

By Liz Weston Of Nerdwallet

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

The economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic could be profound. Many people are already losing jobs, with unemployment jumping at a record pace. Even those who stay employed may face reduced hours or uncertainty about how long their paychecks will continue.

If you’re in a situation where you can’t pay all your bills, or likely to be there soon, you may have some options to limit the damage to your finances.

PRIORITIZE ESSENTIALS

Before paying anything else, try to cover the basics: shelter (mortgage or rent), food and utilities. Transportation, cellphone service and child care are necessities if they allow you to work.

The recently enacted stimulus package includes a 120-day ban on evictions for many renters, as well as a moratorium on foreclosures for most mortgages. People who have federally backed mortgages (including Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA, VA and Department of Agriculture) and who can attest to COVID-19-related financial hardship can request forbearance from their mortgage lenders. If you’re going to miss a mortgage payment, contact your lender about hardship options and consider talking to a housing counsellor approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. You can call HUD at 888-995-4673 for round-the-clock foreclosure avoidance assistance.

Housing counsellors can help renters, as well. Another good resource is Just Shelter, which can point you to local organizations fighting eviction and homelessness. Also, emergency rental assistance may be available. Start your search for help at www.211.org.

Your local 211 organization can also connect you to resources to pay for other essentials, including food and utilities. Regulators in some states have told utilities not to shut off service for nonpayment during the crisis; elsewhere many utilities have vowed to suspend disconnections. Many also offer lower-cost “lifeline” service or payment plans if you fall behind.

If your car payments are too expensive and you owe less than the car is worth, you may be able to refinance the loan. Otherwise, the best option may be to sell it and buy something cheaper, if possible. If you owe more than the car’s value, you may still be able to sell it if you can get a personal loan to cover the difference in what you owe. Try to avoid repossession, either voluntary or otherwise, since you’ll still be on the hook for any deficit and your credit will suffer.

IDENTIFY YOUR NEXT-LEVEL PRIORITIES

Taxes, child support and insurance are expenses that can have serious consequences when you fail to pay.

The IRS and state tax agencies can take a portion of your wages, seize money from your bank account and even send you to jail (although that doesn’t usually happen unless you’re deliberately committing tax fraud). Similar penalties await people who fail to pay child support.

Falling behind on insurance payments, meanwhile, can cause your policies to lapse, leaving you vulnerable to potentially catastrophic expenses.

Some options for relief:

_ The IRS has pushed back the tax filing deadline to July 15. Many states are following suit. Tax agencies have payment plans if you can’t immediately pay what you owe.

_ You may be able to modify a child support agreement if you go back to court.

_ If your insurance is unaffordable, talk to the insurer about alternatives or shop around for a less expensive policy.

NOW CONSIDER EVERYTHING ELSE

Access to credit can help you pay the bills when your income isn’t enough. Ideally you would make minimum payments on any loans or credit cards, since skipped payments can seriously damage your credit scores and cut off your ability to borrow. Miss enough payments and you could face collection calls, lawsuits and wage garnishment.

But some bills have a “pause” button. You can ask for forbearance on federal student loans, for example, which allows you to temporarily stop making payments. Since interest on federal education loans has been waived during the crisis, forbearance won’t increase what you owe. Plus, federal loans have income-driven repayment plans that potentially can reduce your required payments to zero. The U.S. Department of Education’s federal student aid site has details.

Meanwhile, some banks and other lenders are offering their customers more options after federal regulators encouraged financial institutions to help consumers affected by the pandemic. For example, credit card issuers, including Capital One and American Express, are allowing customers who ask for help to skip a monthly payment without penalty. Contact your lenders to see what’s available and how to qualify for any assistance.

Unfortunately, sometimes the available help isn’t enough. A credit counsellor’s debt management plan could allow you to repay your debt at lower rates, or you may need to consider bankruptcy, which stops collections activity and legally erases many debts. You can get referrals from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling and the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, respectively.

____________________________

This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Liz Weston is a columnist at NerdWallet.

Canadians in New York’s arts scene describe the city’s grim

Canadians in New York’s arts scene describe the city’s grim

By Victoria Ahearn

THE CANADIAN PRESS

TORONTO _ As a New York-based Canadian with a home in Toronto, Allana Harkin has been closely following how COVID-19 is affecting this country.

The Hamilton-raised  “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” producer and correspondent says she’s comforted by how Canada’s leadership is responding to the virus.

And she’s proud Canada has universal health care available to pandemic patients, which she feels provides more of a safety net than in the U.S., where a lack of health insurance may prevent some people from seeking treatment.

Still, she’s worried.

“Right now we’re in the epicentre,” Harkin said this week in a phone interview from her home in New York City, where the death toll from the coronavirus has passed 1,000.

“In New York, it’s just exploding, and it’s pretty scary. And I know people in Canada that are still getting together with people and I’m just like, ‘Stay home. It’s so bad.”’

Harkin’s words echo those of many Canadians who work in the entertainment industry in the hard-hit city, where refrigerated morgue trucks are collecting the dead, and a U.S. Navy hospital ship is docked with beds for patients.

New York has also set up makeshift medical tents in Central Park, and is bringing in more ambulances, paramedics and volunteer health-care professionals.

“We went through this at lightning-fast speeds in New York,” said Toronto native Irene Sankoff, who co-created the hit Newfoundland-set musical “Come From Away” with her writing partner and husband, David Hein.

“My message is just to take it really, really seriously. I have so many friends who are sick or who are trying to help fight this on the front lines.”

Sankoff and Hein left their Manhattan apartment a week ago with their six-year-old daughter, and drove to Toronto where they plan to stay for a while.

Their life is in Manhattan, where some cast members from the Tony-nominated “Come From Away” have fallen ill with COVID-19, and Broadway productions are on hiatus due to the pandemic.

But Sankoff’s family is in Toronto, including her parents who are in their 80s. The couple wanted to be close to them while having access to Canada’s health-care system.

They also wanted to provide a bigger living space for their daughter during isolation, so they’re staying under quarantine in a rental house.

Sankoff has found Toronto is not “as panicked and as tense” as New York City.

“It was just eerily quiet while I was there. The only thing you would hear from time to time is sirens,” Sankoff said.

“It was like kind of post-9/11 quiet.”

Canadian actress Astrid Van Wieren, who plays Beulah Davis and other characters in “Come From Away” on Broadway, flew to Toronto about two weeks ago to stay there during the pandemic.

Van Wieren knows some “Come From Away” cast members and other Broadway actors who are recovering from the virus and said the acting community is doubly concerned about unemployment.

At the same time they’re trying to spread positivity through social media, and Van Wieren marvels at how New Yorkers are helping each other out in various ways.

“I can’t believe there are still people who aren’t quite taking it seriously,” Van Wieren said.

“I think, unfortunately, for some people, it’s going to be when their bubble is burst that somebody they love or know somebody near them is very sick or passes away from this, and maybe then they’ll get a sense of ‘OK, going down to the beaches in Toronto and walking the boardwalk with a whole bunch of people is not a smart thing to do.’ This thing is insidiously contagious.”

Van Wieren said she has “a weird feeling of having abandoned New York” and she’s eager to return once the situation is better.

Sankoff is also sad about leaving.

“The New York we left won’t be the same one we return to,” she said. “But we will return to be a part of rebuilding it.”

Harkin has stayed in the city to work remotely on “Full Frontal,” which has Bee hosting from her own home. The weekly late-night show airs Wednesdays on TBS and CTV Comedy Channel.

She knows a few people who’ve recovered from the virus in the U.S., including two close friends, and said their experience “sounded an absolute nightmare.”

“It’s going to hit like wildfire, I’ve got to tell you, because it did here,” said Harkin, who lives with her husband and two kids.

“People in my neighbourhood were like, ‘Ah, it’s not a big deal. The chances of you getting coronavirus are the same chances of you getting hit by a bus.’ I’m like, ‘Well that’s a lot of buses now.”’

Millennial Money: Managing the high cost of infertility

Millennial Money: Managing the high cost of infertility

By Kelsey Sheehy Of Nerdwallet

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

No one plans for infertility. But that doesn’t stop it from being a reality for millions of people.

In the United States, around 12% of women ages 15 to 44 have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some of them turn to in vitro fertilization to try to conceive, with more than 72,000 babies born as a result of IVF and other  “assisted reproductive technologies” in 2017, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

Conceiving is just one obstacle these patients face. There’s also the question of how to pay for the treatment.

“The total cost is roughly $20,335 per (IVF) cycle,” says Jake Anderson-Bialis, co-founder of FertilityIQ, which provides research on fertility treatments, doctors and clinics.

Most IVF patients don’t get pregnant the first go-round. Many require multiple cycles, spending $60,000 or more in the process.

The sky-high costs and scant insurance coverage only a handful of states require coverage for fertility treatments, and that coverage varies widely _ leave families struggling to pay on their own.

Arielle Spiegel and her husband had some insurance coverage but still spent roughly $70,000 in fertility treatments, including multiple rounds of IVF.

“Nobody, myself included, is truly prepared for the cost involved,” says Spiegel, founder of CoFertility, which offers tools and resources to help navigate fertility treatment.

DISCUSS YOUR FINANCIAL LIMITS

You want to stay optimistic, but it’s important to think ahead. While your physical and emotional limits can be hard to anticipate, you can sketch a plan for your financial ceiling.

“One of the most important things to talk about at the beginning is, `At what point do we stop?”’ says Dawn Davenport, executive director of Creating a Family, a non-profit focused on adoption and infertility education.  “Continue to reassess. Because at the beginning you don’t have a clue how all-consuming it can be.”

Thinking about what comes next if IVF doesn’t work is painful but necessary, because alternate options like surrogates, donor eggs and adoption are also expensive.

FIND WAYS TO LOWER THE COST

There are several programs that can help you reduce your overall costs, including:

_ GRANTS: Free money for fertility treatment does exist, but it can be hard to track down. You can search for grants and scholarships by state using CoFertility’s Find a Grant tool. Some grant programs also offer donated medical care, rather than cash.

_ DISCOUNTS: Clinics may offer discounted services for low-income patients. Some also extend discounts to people in certain professions, including teachers, members of the military, and police and firefighters.

_ SHARED RISK: Your fertility clinic may offer a shared risk program, which typically offers multiple IVF cycles for a flat rate. This can save you tens of thousands of dollars if it takes multiple IVF cycles for you to conceive.

On the flip side, if you conceive on the first cycle, you still pay the full rate, which is significantly more than a single cycle. And most patients who enrol in these programs conceive from their first egg retrieval, according to data from FertilityIQ.

_ CLINICAL TRIALS: Research studies are typically narrow in scope, making it difficult to qualify. If you do meet the criteria, you’re often able to get treatment at a steep discount. Clinical trials come with inherent risks, so understand all of the details before committing.

EVALUATE YOUR PAYMENT OPTIONS

Spiegel and her husband funded their treatment primarily via savings and budgeting, but that’s not realistic for everyone. Many couples take on debt to pay for some or all of the costs.

Credit cards are one way to pay for treatment, but the average interest rate on a credit card is 16.97%, and some cards charge rates as high as 26.99%, depending on your credit. Those fees add to an already expensive treatment bill if you’re unable to pay your credit card in full each month.

Personal loans are another vehicle to help you pay for IVF. You’ll often find the lowest interest rates via a credit union, even if your credit is a little banged up, but the process can take a bit longer. Online lenders like Prosper and LightStream offer flexible terms and can be funded in as little as a day, but they typically charge high rates for people with a troubled credit history.

Fertility loans are increasingly common, too, with lenders like CapexMD working directly with fertility clinics to help patients finance treatment. While rates may be higher than a traditional personal loan, the lender typically works directly with your fertility clinic, easing some of the hassle and paperwork.

_______________________

This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet.

Once booming concert industry goes quiet after coronavirus

By Kristin M. Hall

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Inside a warehouse for MooTV, a live video production company in Nashville, Tennessee, the floor-to-ceiling shelves are lined with row after row of video screens, cables and rolling cases that normally would be out on the road with Brad Paisley, Chris Stapleton or Dierks Bentley. At one end of the warehouse sits an empty bar with beer taps where fans once sat on stage with Paisley.

It’s starkly quiet in the warehouse that was once a bustling hive of activity just weeks ago.

“We’ve watched within a few days 100% of our calendar clear, which means no income and a lot of mouths to feed,” said Scott Scovill, owner of MooTV.

Live music, concerts, festivals, awards shows and other live entertainment events came to an abrupt halt just weeks ago over concerns of spreading the new coronavirus. For thousands of live entertainment staff who work behind the stages, the world got a lot quieter.

Concerts make up a multibillion-dollar live event industry that has boomed in recent years even as album sales have declined. But that industry went from highs to unprecedented lows in a matter of days.

Workers who live gig-to-gig supporting musicians, sports, festivals and other live events that draw massive crowds are suddenly faced with months of no income and no clear idea of when gigs might resume. Many of them are freelance or contract workers, which means they don’t have the support of a business to keep them going during slowdowns or provide health care or medical leave. The concert business is also very seasonal with the number of shows slowing in the winter months, which means that many businesses and workers were financially depending on an uptick in gigs starting in the spring, just as the virus hit.

Kai Griffin is a tour manager, production manager and sound engineer who has been working for country artist Lorrie Morgan for seven years, in addition to working with several new and upcoming bands. On average, he works about 125 shows a year. But after the virus hit the United States, he’s out of work for the foreseeable future and with very little in savings.

“I didn’t have hardly any work towards the end of the year,” said Griffin, 49, who is a father of three children. “You save up for dry times in this industry. Now it’s absolutely nothing. It’s totally bone dry.”

Griffin sought out financial help from his family as well as MusiCares, the Recording Academy’s charitable organization, which gave him $1,000 to help with bills. “I was so thankful for it,” he said, but acknowledged that he was hoping that the federal government would step up for people like him.

For most people, COVID-19 causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

The first real sign of the virus’ impact on mass events was the cancellation of the South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, followed by the postponing of Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California. It’s likely that those mass entertainment events and venues won’t be the first to return either.

“In my 29 years, this is the worst I have ever seen,” said Chris Lisle, of CLLD LLC, a show production designer in Nashville, Tennessee, who has worked on tours for Jason Aldean, Miranda Lambert and One Direction.

He started a non-profit years ago called Touring Career Workshop to help freelancers in the live music industry with education about health insurance, retirement plans, accounting and taxes. Another program, called All Access, connects touring workers with mental health and counselling professionals, which he said will be critical for a lot of out-of-work people right now. “We’re encouraging people to make sure they’re taking care of themselves mentally,” he said.

Lisle said that while many major touring artists have salaried staff _ like front of house engineer, lighting director or guitar tech _ there are many more jobs like support technicians, video techs and audio techs that work on a freelance basis.

Country artist Zac Brown posted a video on Instagram a day after cancelling his tour with tears in his eyes to explain that he had to let go of 90% of his crew and touring staff.

Feld Entertainment, a Florida-based company that puts on arena shows like Disney on Ice, Monster Jam and Supercross, announced company-wide layoffs as all its tours were halted.

Bandit Lites, a large stage lighting company with seven offices in America, Europe and Asia, employs 250 employees and works with 300 clients including Garth Brooks and Jimmy Buffett. Michael Strickland, the founder of the company, said he’s got a plan to get his business through the next 24 weeks without layoffs or pay reductions.

“I’ve now seen three artists with net worths of over $50 million dollars on television crying, talking about having to lay off 20 people,” Strickland said.  “That’s a head scratcher.”

He is urging other live event businesses, as well as artists, to avoid immediate layoffs and seek out federal financial assistance under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which was signed into law by President Donald Trump last week. That provides small businesses with tax credits as reimbursements for providing employees with paid family and medical leave.

“But the only way this works is if everyone in entertainment does not lay everybody off,” Strickland said.  “They’ve got to keep their people on.”

MusiCares established a COVID-19 fund specially for those who have lost work due to the virus. In the past, they’ve provided financial relief for entertainment workers after the terrorist attacks on 9-11 and Hurricane Katrina. But Harvey Mason Jr., the interim president of the Recording Academy, said the coronavirus’ effect on the music industry has been unprecedented because it’s been so widely felt across the country.

“We’re getting hundreds of calls a day,” Mason said. “The requests vary from `I can’t get my medicine’ to `I can’t afford groceries and I need help with my rent.”’

MooTV’s Scovill is keeping his employees on the payroll so they won’t lose their health insurance. He’s seeking out small business loans to keep the company afloat, but said that will put it into deep debt. Like a lot of people, he’s been keeping himself isolated at home.

“The world has absolutely gone quiet for me,” Scovill said. “For myself and everyone in the entertainment industry, we’re hurting.”

Canadian truckers face insurance issues in U.S.

The excerpted article was written BY  

Trucking companies in Atlantic Canada are raising a red flag over a lack of health insurance for drivers crossing the American border after new restrictions were implemented to deal with the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“Some small companies have called and pointed out that their insurance, or their health insurance, wouldn’t be covered for drivers going into the U.S.,” says Jean-Marc Picard, the executive director of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association.

However, in a news release issues late Thursday afternoon, the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association says “Canada’s life and health insurers are confirming that group out-of-country medical coverage for commercial truckers will continue uninterrupted.”

“Provisions in some group, or workplace insurance plans refer specifically to Government of Canada travel advisories as a limitation or exclusion for out-of-country medical coverage,” spokesperson Kevin Dorse says in the release.

“Some commercial trucking employers offer plans with this exclusion.”

Picard says the issue of immigrant drivers, several of whom are temporary foreign workers crossing the border and being denied re-entry, has been resolved following clarification from the federal government indicating truckers, among others in the trade and transportation sector, are exempt from the isolation rules.

But while trucks are “flowing well across the border,” Picard says it’s not necessarily smooth sailing for the drivers on the ground.

“Some truck stops in the U.S. are starting to close, and Canada as well, limited access, restaurants are closed, take-out only,” which means in some cases there are no places to shower or relax.

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