We’ve had a tough past few weeks, and it’s likely that we have a rough road ahead of us as well. Your health and safety is undoubtedly top of mind, but with scary headlines about a recession, you might also be worried about your money.
While you can’t control the stock market or your employer, there are still things you can do to take control of your money situation right now.
1. Brush up on new relief options
While things are tough—and getting tougher—there are a lot of safety nets in place to help us all through this (and hopefully more to come). What’s important is to know where to look for help when you need it.
- If your income is reduced: If you are laid off, had your hours reduced, need to leave work to care for your child, or can’t work because you’re ill, your state unemployment may be able to help. Many states are bringing in emergency measures to help you access what you need, including mandatory waiting periods and the requirement that you look for jobs. Visit CareerOneStop.com to find direct links to your state resources.
- If you can’t pay your student loans: Federal student loans will have interest rates automatically set to 0 percent for at least 60 days. Payments can also be suspended for at least two months so you can stop making payments and not worry about interest accruing. If you have private student loans and are struggling to make payments, contact your lender to explore your options.
- If you’re struggling with credit card debt: Call your credit card company. You could be eligible to have payments deferred and fees waived if you’ve been affected by coronavirus.
- If you can’t pay your mortgage: If you’ve lost your job or income because of coronavirus, call your lender. Homeowners with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgages can qualify for reduced mortgage payments, eliminated late fees and penalties, and up to 12 months of forbearance. This should cover half of the mortgages in the U.S. But if yours isn’t covered, contact your lender anyway. They may be adopting similar plans.
- If you can’t pay your rent: Some cities and states have paused evictions so you won’t find yourself out if you can’t pay rent right now. But before you get into an eviction situation, talk to your landlord. They may be able to accept partial or late payments and should be willing to be flexible, especially if they are able to qualify for mortgage relief.
Asking for help can be hard, but it’s important to be proactive. Reach out to discuss your options and make a game plan.
2. Cut unnecessary expenses
Even if your income hasn’t changed, it might be time to take a hard look at your spending. What has snuck into your spending that you can live without? A sneaky place to look is subscriptions. Cutting back on your $10 or $15 a month subscription doesn’t seem like much, but when you’re facing a tough situation, every little bit can help.
3. Work on other sources of income
If you find yourself in a social distancing, work from home type of situation, use your newfound time to your advantage. There’s nothing wrong with a good Netflix binge (and sometimes it’s totally needed), but as we’ve seen, the world can be unpredictable.
Don’t rest on your laurels thinking that your job is safe. Consider other ways you can make money remotely. Maybe it requires you to learn a new skill, or do some remote work for free to learn. You may be tired of hearing about side-hustles, but now is exactly the time to start plotting yours.
4. Hold off on aggressive debt-repayment
In any other normal, non-global-pandemic scenario, paying off your debt is a great idea, but we aren’t even close to living in a normal time right now. If you are aggressively trying to pay down your debt, consider pausing. Having cash to see you through uncertain times might be a better move if you don’t have a fully-funded emergency account or you’re worried about your job.
It can be frustrating to pause your plan, but a financial cushion can help ensure you pay your necessary bills. You’ll get back on the debt payment track eventually.
5. Remember that investments are for the long-run
Do you keep investing or do you sell it all now that the market is tanking? Experts recommend that you stay the course. Investing is for the long-run and the stock market is volatile. That’s why you don’t put your emergency fund in investments, but you invest money that you won’t need for the next 10+ years.
If you’re tempted to sell it all now that the market is down, remember that it’s only a loss once you sell. If you’re still invested, you still own the stock. It might be worth less at the moment, but chances are it will go up over the next decade or more.
If you’re tempted to stop contributing to your retirement account, re-consider if you can afford it. Stocks currently cost less than they did a week ago. If history repeats itself, they will go up again in the future. If you’ve heard the advice “buy low, sell high,” this is what buying low looks like. This New York Times article does a great job of explaining why now is not the time to stop your retirement contributions.
6. Support small businesses
If you find yourself in a lucky position to have a stable income and no debt, consider supporting small businesses or organizations that you care about. Buy gift cards, Venmo your regular service providers who can’t work, tip your delivery people, and get takeout from local restaurants.
7. Try to stay calm
Above all, try to stay calm. Decisions made out of fear may not be the right ones. This may feel overwhelming and terrifying. Find a mantra that makes you feel calm. For me it’s from this HBR article: “This is survivable. We will survive. This is a time to overprotect but not overreact.”
Do everything in your control to overprotect your health and financial situation, but draw the line when it comes to overreacting. We will survive this.