COVID-19 has taken a huge toll on the American economy; I know that is an understatement.
Many businesses have shut down altogether, while others are operating at reduced capacity. That means furloughed workers and permanent job losses.
For a time, many of these workers were able to depend on $600 a week from the federal government. But those extended unemployment benefits expired on July 31st.
While a $300 federal enhanced unemployment benefit will start going out for some in the coming weeks, this is the time to prepare yourself however you need to do so, to help you make it through this tough time with minimal debt.
Take out a personal loan
If you can make it through COVID-19 without accruing additional debt, that’s ideal. But if you do need some extra money to get you through, a personal loan could be the best way. Shop around for the best rate and keep the amount as low as possible.
I recommend using a service like Fiona to shop multiple lenders quickly.
You can review the options and choose the one that works best for you. If you want to get a feel for the interest rates and monthly payment amounts you can expect, you can pull that information up on Fiona’s website.
Avoid high-interest debt
One thing a personal loan can do is keep your interest low. It can be tempting to rely on credit cards to pay bills and buy necessities while you’re searching for work. But take a look at the interest you’re paying. It might be a good time to get a card with 0% APR for an introductory period. Chances are, you’ll be working again by the time that the introductory period ends and you can start working on paying it off.
One of the better credit cards on the market is the Chase Freedom Unlimited®. For starters, it offers a 0% Intro APR on Purchases for 15 months. You’ll get 5% back on travel booked through Chase, as well as 3% on dining and drugstore purchases. On all other purchases, you’ll enjoy 1.5% cash back which is perfect for those looking for a straightforward card that doesn’t have complicated rotating categories you need to remember to activate.
If these features aren’t enough to grab your attention, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® offers a unique sign-up bonus of $200 after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months. AND, you’ll get 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target or Walmart) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
During tough economic times, it may also be tempting to go for high-interest short-term options like payday loans. These are easier to get than a personal loan, but you pay for that access – which is why they are not at all recommended. Interest on payday loans is, on average, 400%, which means the interest you pay on that loan could be quadruple the amount you borrow.
Ramp up your job search
Looking for employment is always challenging, but job searches are especially tough during a pandemic. If your skills are geared toward on-site work, it may be time to think about how they can translate to an at-home option. Companies like Amazon, Apple, and Dell are among many other businesses that will let you work from the comfort of your home. Indeed and FlexJobs can help you filter out jobs that let you work remotely.
Networking can be tough during COVID since in-person events are in short supply. It’s a great time to update your LinkedIn profile and maybe even start making new connections. If you’re on Facebook, look for groups specific to your industry or town and start making connections. You’ll be surprised how many job opportunities will come through your social media connections.
Side hustles and odd jobs
Gig work has thrived during the pandemic. Stay-at-home orders gave some consumers a chance to try out services for the first time. Restaurant and grocery deliveries are still in demand, and likely will remain that way. You can keep money rolling in while you wait for a more permanent position by signing up to work with a service like Grubhub, Instacart, Rover, or Taskrabbit.
However, as unemployment benefits expire, you may find that competition for these gigs increases. Some gig workers sign up for multiple services, maximizing peak times with each to boost their income. It could also be a way to start your own business. Signing up with a pet-sitting service, for instance, could help you build the experience and local presence necessary to launch the pet-sitting business you’ve always wanted.
Set a budget
If you don’t already follow a monthly budget, now’s a great time to start. Your bank will likely let you pull a report detailing your monthly expenses. I’ve found that this report is great for identifying areas where I can cut back. I then use what I’ve learned to set a monthly budget and work hard to stick to it.
You may have already cut back on dining out due to COVID-19, but your food budget is a great place to start reducing spending. Switch to cheaper items that will make enough for leftovers.
Recurring monthly expenses are also a great target. Can you eliminate cable TV and drop down to a cheaper cell phone plan? If the answer is yes, you need to check out Trim, which can help you find and cancel your recurring subscriptions and even negotiate your bills for you, which is incredible for all us Millennials with social anxiety. Once you have income rolling in again, you can return to your previous subscriptions.
Managing your budget isn’t always easy, so if you need a little extra help, I’d suggest PocketSmith, one of the most thorough budgeting apps out there.
With PocketSmith, you can categorize, label, and leave notes on your spending. You’ll need to connect your bank so PocketSmith can automatically update your budget every time you make a purchase. This is an incredible feature, that can really help you stay on top of what you’re spending.
Even if extended unemployment benefits end, you’ll still qualify for state unemployment benefits. Make sure you keep those active. In addition, consider some of these programs that can help you offset that $600 a week you’ll no longer be getting.
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (S.N.A.P.). The S.N.A.P. program gives funds to qualifying families to purchase food. The program has granted waivers to most states to provide emergency assistance to households affected by COVID-19.
- Talent Exchange. This program, powered by artificial intelligence, pairs unemployed workers with available jobs in their area. Once you’ve signed up, you’ll be notified as new opportunities are added.
- Healthcare and Medical Assistance. If you lost your medical benefits due to COVID-19, check out this list of resources. Filter by state to see those that are available to your family.
Since there are many state-supported programs, check with your state’s human services or labor departments for local offerings. You may also find that local churches and nonprofits are helping those in need in the community.
Tap into savings
If you’ve been saving for a rainy day, you probably already have plans to rely on your savings to get you through. Once those funds are gone, though, you may start eyeing any retirement savings accounts. If you remove funds from those accounts, make sure you know exactly what penalties and taxes you’ll face for early withdrawals.
In 2020, if you withdraw funds from your retirement account for coronavirus-related reasons, the 10% penalty will be waived. You can withdraw $100,000 from your 401(k) account without penalty. Before you take the money out, though, be aware that it will be taxed as ordinary income. Also, check to make sure your withdrawal will qualify. Financial-related qualifying reasons include:
- You experience adverse financial consequences as a result of being quarantined, being furloughed or laid off, or having work hours reduced due to SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19.
- You experience adverse financial consequences as a result of being unable to work due to lack of child care due to SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19.
In the coming weeks, the government will be extending $300 unemployment benefits for some, so keep an eye out. The hope, of course, is to be able to get the support you need to weather these setbacks and start working toward a strong financial future.