The coronavirus stimulus checks are arriving—here's the best way to use it if you're out of work


The IRS started depositing coronavirus stimulus relief checks into some Americans' bank accounts this week.

Individuals will receive up to $1,200, married couples will get up to $2,400 and $500 will be added for every child.

There are income restrictions: If you earn more than $75,000 as an individual or $150,000 as a couple, the total amount you're eligible to receive starts to decrease. If you earn $99,000 or more as an individual or $198,000 as a couple, you aren't eligible to receive a stimulus check.

To help you use your check wisely, CNBC Make It spoke to Andrew Westlin, a certified financial planner at Betterment, about what to do with the money depending on your financial situation. Here's what to do if you're among the millions of Americans out of work right now and don't have a consistent income.

1. Cover essential bills

Food and housing should be your top priorities. If you're worried about making your housing payments because of the pandemic, start by contacting your lender if you're a homeowner and your landlord if you're a renter to discuss payment options. 

"Federal regulators are ordering lenders to offer homeowners flexibility," says Westlin. "These changes are expected to be offered by private lenders, too. Under this policy, payments can be reduced or suspended for up to 12 months."

When it comes to your food budget, keep it low-cost by being mindful of what you're putting in your cart. Once you've planned out what you're going to cook for the week, make a list of the ingredients you'll need. Then, when you're actually shopping, stick to the list and avoid impulse buys. You can also follow this guide on what to not waste money on, including foods you normally don't eat.

After prioritizing food and housing, you'll want to figure out the smartest way to tackle your other bills, including utilities and your phone bill. Again, start with a phone call: Contact your utility company, internet provider and/or cell phone provider and ask if they'd be willing to waive late fees or can provide a payment plan with low interest. It can't hurt to ask.

If one refuses to be flexible, consider paying that bill first so you won't owe late fees or rack up interest over time.

2. Cover debt obligations

If you have money left over after covering your essential bills, start tackling any debt obligations you have, such as a credit card balance or car payment.

If you're worried about staying on track with your car payment, contact your lender. Major auto brands like Ford, Toyota and Nissan are offering payment deferrals, waiving late fees and encouraging you to reach out to discuss your options.

As for credit card debt, it's important to pay at least the minimum on your balance — otherwise, you may owe fees and extra interest, and your credit score could be negatively impacted. Ideally, you want to make payments in full every month to avoid being in debt longer and racking up additional interest.

If you absolutely cannot make payments at this time, contact your card issuer right away, says Westlin. "There is no universal relief program, but several major card issuers are offering some relief to cardholders," he says. You could also consider a balance transfer, he says, which allows you to move your credit card balance from a high-interest card to one that charges you no interest during a 0% introductory period.

It sounds simple, but reaching out to your various providers — mortgage lenders, student loan providers or credit card companies — to review your options is essential. "You won't know what's available if you don't ask," Westlin says.

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