Since mid-March, total unemployment claims have reached close to 26.5 million — almost double of peak levels reached in the last recession of 2008.
According to the Labor Department’s recent announcement, the advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate is now at 11 percent, with grim estimated outlooks that it could reach between 12% and 20% by end of summer.
For those of you who are among the millions of jobless or furloughed Americans, the financial stress feels unparalleled to anything we have ever experienced before and can feel overwhelming for those who have lost their primary source of income almost overnight. Try not to panic, take a deep breath, and think of this as a good time to possibly pivot into doing something else or picking up new skills.
For those who are facing this new reality, here are 5 things you can do today to help stay afloat without a primary source of income:
1) Get organized! How can you see what your financial situation is if you don’t have a way to see everything in one place (and yes this probably sounds like a plug for our award-winning tools… but it’s a good idea to use financial tools that can help you track everything.) Once you get a better picture of what you have and what you spend on groceries, streaming services, bills, and other essentials, start determining what your “baseline budget” is. This is the absolute minimum amount of money you need every week/month to cover basic costs such as housing, food, utilities and debt payments like your car or student loans.
Once you establish a basis, you can clearly see where you can cut extraneous spending like gym memberships and subscription services you may not need anymore. Even small tweaks to your weekly budget can save thousands for a household over the course of a year.
For those of you who need help building your budget, we recommend starting at zero and build from the ground up. Start with the basics as mentioned above i.e. what is most important to you – do you have a roof over your head, food to eat and water to drink along with basic essentials like medicine and internet? For everything you add, ask yourself “is there a way I can reduce this cost? Do I need to move from my current place or can I rent a room to reduce housing costs?” Now is the time to thoroughly review your spending needs and cut where you can.
Next, ask yourself “how much cash can I access right now?” If your monthly expenses are under that amount, figure out the total number of weeks that you can live off right now with the cash you have. The reason you do this is that it gives you the reassurance that you have some time before you run dry.
2) Apply for unemployment and get to know the CARES Act. Learn who qualifies for the new $2 trillion government stimulus package, which recently expanded unemployment benefits to both part-time and self-employed workers, including gig workers. Certain state benefits are also boosted now with an additional $600 a week – for up to four months – so check your local government websites for more information. Up to 29 states have now expanded their jobless benefits including New York, New Jersey and California.
Anyone whose workplace was closed due to the coronavirus crisis, who had to quit their job because of the disease, or who were supposed to start working but the job fell through because of the crisis are covered. For those who are family caregivers/nannies and childcare workers, you can also qualify for new unemployment benefits. Don’t delay in submitting your application as the program ends July 31 at the latest.
3) Prioritize your debts – Recently Congress has approved loan forgiveness for those directly impacted by COVID-19, allowing millions of Americans to skip mortgage payments this month along with student loans, car payments etc.
Every person or family has different loan amounts and sources. Mortgages? Credit cards? Auto loans? Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC)? Every loan has different terms, and different interest rates. Review the documentation, and think about the risk to your current situation. For instance, if you stop paying a mortgage you might lose your house. The CARES Act has temporary mortgage relief, though – can you take advantage of it in the short term? Investigating these types of decisions is complex, and challenging. If all else fails call your bank, your credit card, whomever. They may have changed rules recently (and temporarily). Whatever you do, understand the impact. Delaying debt payments now offers a short-term fix, but can create long-term headaches, so be careful how you prioritize what you need to make any changes, and proceed with caution and a clear mind.
4) Use this opportunity to try something new or adapt your business to a new virtual world – i.e. yoga teachers are starting to do zoom classes and the “virtual haircut” is now a thing. Start an Etsy website to sell desperately needed masks for healthcare workers or babysit for the family next door who might be struggling with childcare and full-time work these days. Check to see who is hiring, CareerBuilder recently posted this list which includes everything from Amazon, Home Depot and the Army National Guard.
Here’s a list of the top positions available including registered nurses, truck drivers/commercial drivers and customer service representatives:
5) Last, but not least – (and this should be your last resort) it’s ok now to tap into that emergency fund. Hopefully, you have been squirreling away some of your paycheck for “rain days” and this would be a good opportunity to use those funds to cover expenses if you need. Just please don’t dip into those retirement savings accounts if at all possible — your future self will thank you.
Other financial tips we’ve heard from advisors are applying for a zero interest rate credit card and lean on short-term credit, delay filing your taxes this month if you owe (as this year’s deadline has been extended to July 15) or potentially swapping services (like shopping for elderly neighbors/family members) in exchange for essentials like toilet paper and food. We’re all in this together so if you are able to help those in need, please do!
For the many who are financially struggling, we hope these steps can help give you runway for surviving the next few weeks or as long as you need until things get back to normal.
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The information and content provided herein is general in nature and is for informational purposes only. It is not intended and should not be construed as a specific recommendation, or legal, tax or investment advice, or a legal opinion. Individuals should contact their own professional tax advisors or other professional to help answer questions about specific situations or needs prior to taking action based on this information. Tax laws and authorities are subject to change, either prospectively or retroactively, and any subsequent change could have a material impact on your situation.