By now, you’ve seen the grim news about the job picture. In April, we hit an unemployment rate of 14.7% – the worst rate since the Great Depression. And the U.S. economy lost 20.5 million jobs – the largest monthly decline ever. Furthermore, many workers who kept their jobs saw their hours reduced or took salary cuts. If your employment has been negatively affected by the coronavirus pandemic, how should you respond?
Here’s a five-step plan to consider:
Step 1: File for work-related benefits. If you have lost your job, been furloughed or are unable to work because of quarantine, you should file for unemployment benefits. Your state’s unemployment website will have application information, but be prepared for delays. If you’re still working, but your hours have been reduced, you could receive a portion of your unemployment benefits as short-time compensation. Contact your company’s human resources representative to determine if you are eligible.
Step 2: Review your budget – and look for areas to cut. Compare the costs of your essential needs – housing, utilities, food, health care, transportation, etc. – with your sources of income, including unemployment benefits. This will give you a good basic picture of how you’re doing. Then, consider cutting back on non-essential items, such as multiple streaming services, and try to find other ways to save money, perhaps by looking for lower-cost or generic brands of the household or self-care items you regularly use.
Step 3: Explore assistance programs. In response to the current economic situation, federal agencies and private financial institutions are offering assistance programs. For example, payments on federally held student loans will be suspended through September 30, 2020. And some banks are offering to help individuals with credit card debt and consumer loans. (However, even if you can delay payments, you’ll still owe the money and you may also be assessed fees.) You might even get some help for your mortgage. As part of the recent stimulus legislation (the CARES Act), you can request a forbearance (suspension or reduction of payments) for up to 180 days, with the right to request an additional extension for up to another 180 days if you have a federally backed mortgage (FHA, VA, USDA, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac). You’ll have to contact your mortgage service provider to request this forbearance.
Step 4: Consider other potential sources of money. If, after following the above steps, you’re still having trouble meeting your essential needs, you may have to look at your other financial resources. If you’ve already established an emergency fund (consisting of liquid vehicles such as money market or savings accounts), you should use it. After that, you may need to sell investments from taxable accounts, drawing first from the cash in the account, then any investments that have incurred losses (the sales may provide you with tax benefits) and, finally, investments that have appreciated.
Step 5: Get professional help. For assistance in navigating the four steps listed above, you may want to meet with a financial professional – someone with the experience and knowledge to help individuals facing difficult financial situations.
Any disruption in employment is a serious matter – and when it happens during a crisis, it can be even more worrisome. Nonetheless, by taking the right steps, you may be able to reduce the impact on your life as we wait for the return of brighter days.
(This article was written by Edward Jones for use by Joe Parlavecchio, CFA, CFP®. Visit https://www.edwardjones.com/joseph-parlavecchio for more information.)