The financial impact of COVID-19 is being felt by many people in the form of salary cuts, reduced hours, and lost jobs. In times of financial stress, it's understandable and common to feel overwhelmed. Knowing your options and focusing on a few key strategies can help keep you on sturdy footing and feeling in control. If you are facing financial difficulty, address these key strategies in order:
- File for unemployment benefits or short-term compensation if you qualify
- Review your budget, identify essential needs, and look for things to cut
- Explore assistance programs to help cover essential expenses
- Consider other potentials sources of money you may have
- Get financial guidance from a professional
Step 1: File for unemployment benefits or short-term coverage if you qualify
Unemployment Benefits: File for unemployment as soon as you're eligible if you have lost your job, been furloughed, or are unable to work because of quarantine. Your state will have an unemployment website with an application process and contact information to answer questions. The federal government recently expanded unemployment benefits so that it now covers more people, pays a higher benefit, and has a longer benefit period. If you weren't eligible for benefits before April, it's worth checking back to determine if you are now.
Short-term Compensation: If your work hours have been reduced, short-term compensation may be available to help you. This allows you to access a portion of your unemployment benefit if your hours have been reduced. Not all states offer this benefit, but the federal government has taken steps to encourage more states to adopt the program. Also, your employer must apply for the program, so reach out to your HR representative at your company to ask if you may be eligible.
Health Insurance: If you've lost your job or had your hours cut, you may no longer be covered by your employer's health insurance. It is important to maintain coverage if you can. Two programs are available to ensure you maintain health care coverage – COBRA and the Health insurance Market Place. Visit healthcare.gov for more information.
Step 2: Review your budget, identify essential needs and look for things to cut
To make sure you're focusing any money you have on where you need it most, identify your most essential needs and look for areas you can trim or cut spending.
Identify your essential needs: Things like housing, food, household items, utilities, health care and transportation are likely to be some of your top priorities. Look through your bank accounts and credit card statements to help inform this, and don’t forget about expenses that may occur less regularly like car and home/rental insurance. Once you have identified your essential expenses and have a handle on how much they cost, compare that to your sources of income including unemployment benefits. Additionally, the CARES Act includes stimulus checks for qualifying individuals up to $1,200 per individual and an additional $500 per dependent child. This can be used to help meet your essential needs.
Look for areas to cut or swap: Look at what you typically spend money on and determine if there are things you can live without in the short term. Watch for subscription services you may no longer use or categories where you have multiple subscriptions like video or music streaming. Also, consider items with reasonable substitutes like generic brands that may be able to help you save money.
Step 3: Explore assistance programs to help cover expenses
If you have concerns about your ability to meet your essential needs, there are new assistance programs that may be available to you. It's important to understand which options are available to you and the specifics of each program. This will help you determine which program(s) to take advantage of. Make sure you consider things like whether fees or interest will be charged, if there will be an impact to your credit, when and how you'll be expected to make up missed payments (e.g., all at once or over time), and what happens if you can't pay at that time.
Student Loans: Payments on federally held student loans are suspended through September 30, 2020 and interest will not accrue. While you can still pay on your loans during that time, you may want to forgo payments if that money is better served to help meet your basic needs. If you have a private student loan, be sure to contact your loan provider for their specifics to determine your options.
Credit Card Debt/Consumer Credit: Some banks are offering programs to help borrowers. Programs and their conditions vary. While this may be a good short-term option, you will still owe the money later, fees and penalties may apply, and not paying may hurt your credit. Call or visit your bank's website to understand your options.
Housing, utilities and auto loans: There are several programs that may assist you in delaying the payment of your mortgage, rent, utilities and auto loans. Specifically, federally backed loans are eligible for 180-day deferment if you request this option from your bank. If you're struggling to make payments, these programs may be able to help, but it's important to remember you will owe this money later.
Step 4: Consider other potentials sources of money you may have
If you're still having trouble meeting your essential needs, you may want to consider utilizing various forms of savings you may have accumulated. We recommend using these accounts in the following order:
- Spending cash on hand or in a checking account
- Using emergency funds like a savings account, money market or certificate of deposit
- Selling investments from taxable accounts, drawing first from cash in the account, then investments with losses and lastly investments with gains
- Considering the relative costs and benefits associated with taking on debt like a home equity line of credit versus withdrawing from tax-advantaged accounts like an individual retirement account.
Step 5: Get financial guidance from a professional
One of the biggest misconceptions about financial advisors is that you should have your finances in order before meeting with one. But financial advisors are especially useful in helping you navigate difficult financial situations. If you would like help with the previous steps, work with your local Edward Jones financial advisor to determine the course of action that is best suited for your unique situation.