A sanitation worker from Ukraine, wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) manufactured by 3M Co., sprays disinfectant on city buses during cleaning operations at a public transport depot, operated by Michalczewski sp zoo, in Warsaw, Poland, on Friday, March 27, 2020. Picture: PIOTR MALECKI / BLOOMBERG
A sanitation worker from Ukraine, wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) manufactured by 3M Co., sprays disinfectant on city buses during cleaning operations at a public transport depot, operated by Michalczewski sp zoo, in Warsaw, Poland, on Friday, March 27, 2020. Picture: PIOTR MALECKI / BLOOMBERG

The coronavirus is as much a test of financial resilience as it is a test of immunity. People in the most adversely affected sectors of the economy have been or could be retrenched while others are facing a sudden drop in income. In the absence of emergency savings, what can you do to pandemic-proof your personal finances?

Take a payment holiday

For most of us, accommodation is our biggest monthly expense. A payment holiday - when a lender gives you a break from repayments on a credit agreement - could provide huge relief to anyone struggling.

More than a week ago, Britain's biggest mortgage lenders announced payment holidays of up to three months to help customers survive the coronavirus.

The UK's financial conduct authority followed by banning lenders from repossessing homes during the crisis.

Although our regulator and banks haven't yet made any such announcements to protect mortgage borrowers, it's worth asking your bank for a payment holiday.

You will typically be charged interest during a payment holiday, which will increase your interest repayments. Use it only if you need it.

You may even be required to repay the interest part of your repayment - meaning, your relief is only from repaying the capital. If your home loan is fairly new, this means the relief will be small.

Nedbank says it is offering its clients with any loan agreement "suitable individual solutions to cash-flow challenges". This could include deferring payments in full or in part for a period, extending loan periods or extending additional credit to manage short-term cash flow shortfalls.

The bank encourages clients to contact it to restructure debt or change payment arrangements if they are struggling.

An Absa spokesperson says the bank is "looking at various possible scenarios and related actions that may become necessary" and called on customers to approach the bank if necessary.

Standard Bank announced a payment holiday for full-time students with student loans. This applies from April 1 to June 30, during which time the bank will not charge interest or fees. The payment holiday is automatic, so you need not apply for it.

Asked if the bank would be offering such relief to mortgage borrowers, Standard Bank spokesperson Ross Linstrom says customers in financial distress should contact the bank as soon as possible for both parties to find a workable solution to address the issues.

If you have vehicle finance, Wesbank says it is working with the Banking Association of South Africa which is engaging with the South African Reserve Bank and the government on "a variety of solutions aimed at supporting consumers and businesses, and will make further announcements on the nature of this support in the days ahead".

If you're renting, be warned: rent is still due

Michelle Dickens, MD of Tenant Profile Network (TPN) credit bureau, says a false document was distributed on social media this week claiming health minister Zweli Mkhize had barred landlords from collecting rent for the next 90 days.

"This is fake news," Dickens says. "Tenants are still bound by their rental agreement."

But if you're having difficulty paying your rent due to the pandemic, TPN has developed a free "rental recovery pack" to help landlords and tenants negotiate. The pack is available online at shop.tpn.co.za and consists of a declaration of earnings, a deposit utilisation agreement, a deferment payment agreement and a lease extension agreement.

In the declaration of earnings form you need to state on what grounds you are applying for relief from your landlord. It may be due to you being retrenched, placed on unpaid leave, being a commission-only earner or self-employed, Dickens says.

The deposit utilisation agreement can be used if you and your landlord agree that your deposit will be used as rental, Dickens says. Once the state of disaster is lifted, you agree to reinstate your deposit by making payments in instalments until the lease ends.

You can use the deferment of rent agreement if your landlord agrees to a payment holiday, Dickens says. Once the state of disaster is lifted, you agree to pay instalments for the loss your landlord suffered during the payment holiday. If you default on the agreement, it's easy for the landlord to take legal action against you, she says.

If your lease comes to an end at the end of the month or the next month, but you're in self-isolation or in quarantine, use the lease extension agreement to enter into a month-to-month agreement on the same terms as the existing lease, Dickens says.

She says TPN recommends that if tenants default and have a history of partial or non-payment, landlords should continue with the collection process.

Pay off short-term debt

If you are able to save money anywhere during the lockdown, use it to repay expensive short-term debt, such as a credit card or store accounts.

You may save money on transport costs. If you're in the habit of dining out and spending on fast foods, you'll save with restaurants and takeaways being closed for the present 21-day period. You may also be able to save by doing disciplined online shopping.

Some gyms allow you to freeze or suspend your membership. Virgin Active charges you a non-refundable freeze fee to suspend your membership, which might be worth it if the whole family belongs to the gym and the fees are steep.

Use these opportunities to redeploy that money to pay off short-term debt or start or replenish your emergency fund.

Get advice

If you're feeling overwhelmed by your financial situation, financial advice may help. Some independent financial advisers are remaining open for telephonic advice and at least one financial planning practice, Cape Town-based Crue Invest, is offering pro bono services during the state of disaster.