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Worried about bills during the coronavirus pandemic? This A.I. lawyer can help

Anyone who says they’re not worried about the future right now isn’t telling the truth. But while we’re all worried about the health implications of the COVID-19 coronavirus, for many the economic ramifications run an extremely close second. Especially for those without savings, or those in low-paid gig economy jobs, anxieties about how to pay the next bill are pretty darn scary. Even if it’s a type of scary that no Hollywood pandemic movie is ever going to touch.

Give a round of applause, then, to Joshua Browder: The 24-year-old legal-tech whiz kid behind DoNotPay, a growing arsenal of free automated A.I. tools that everyday consumers can use to do everything from disputing parking tickets to suing robocall scammers. His latest creation is tailor-made for those fretting about the impact that the coronavirus crisis is going to have on their ability to pay the next time they face demands.

The new DoNotPay service first identifies all the bills where the user can qualify for an extension and waiver of late fees. It can do this with the majority of payment demands, including rent, credit card, and utility bills. It will then automatically first reach out to the relevant company and make a “compassionate and polite” request. The average extension granted is two weeks. So far, so good. However, if the company denies a request, it then triggers a second legal request, drawing on local and state laws to ensure the request is granted and the company is not able to retaliate for the payment being late.

“It is relying on a combination of both new and existing rules,” Browder told Digital Trends. “For example, for states that don’t have specific COVID-19 protections, it will use long-standing rental laws to challenge unreasonable fees. It will then bolster these existing rules with the new measures, such as the executive order in the state of California. Finally, it will even use city laws to cement the case, including the upcoming proposal in New York City to allow people to use their security deposit toward rent. There are so many laws to protect people, but unfortunately the average person doesn’t know how it applies to them.”

Browder said that, compared to previous DoNotPay projects, getting this tool out to the public was considered much more urgent. “After we finished it, we then immediately began testing and secured extensions for all of our test users, [which numbered] about a dozen,” he said. “We were rushing to get this out before April 1, because we know that tens of millions won’t be able to make that deadline.”

The service is available via both the DoNotPay app and website. Right now, it only covers the U.S., though.

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