No Job? Take 5 Steps to Shore up Your Finances
The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating to our health and our economy. If you are among the millions of people who lost your job — whether it was months ago or just last week — be sure to follow these basic steps to protect your finances.
The holidays create financial strain for many people every year, but going into the holidays with no job during a pandemic? That's a kind of stress that only 2020 could serve up.
Back in April, BECU Lead Financial Educator Stacey Black offered five financial recommendations to protect your financial health while you look for your next job opportunity. With the holidays fast approaching, we thought it was a good time to remind you of a few steps you can take and programs you can turn to for help.
1. Apply for Unemployment Benefits
Although federal legislation like the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act expired, the state of Washington expanded access to unemployment benefits as part of its response to the pandemic. Some formerly part-time and self-employed workers, including contractors and gig workers, are eligible.
If you haven't already, Washington residents can file claims at esd.wa.gov. On that page, you can also find financial resources beyond filing for benefits, including career counseling, training and help with skills such as resume and cover letter writing.
2. Check Your Health Insurance Coverage
If you had health insurance through your employer, reach out to your insurance provider. You may be covered for a length of time after you stop working.
If you are on a private insurance plan and you miss a premium payment, it doesn't automatically mean a loss of coverage. Most plans offer a grace period — usually 90 days — to make your payment.
If you need to apply for a new private health insurance plan, visit wahealthplanfinder.org.
3. Prioritize Essential Expenses
Make a list of your expenses with items like housing, utilities and food at the top. Work your way down from there.
“Not having your regular paycheck can be scary, but you may be saving some money by staying home,” Black said. “For example, you probably aren't using as much gas or eating out as much. If you can, reallocate that money to these essential expenses.”
As you go down your expense list, note any payments you may be able to delay or defer. If you still can't cover the basics, contact your mortgage lender, utility provider and other service providers. Many organizations are working with consumers through this difficult time, but they won't know you need help unless you tell them, so it's important that you reach out to them to discuss alternative payment options.
4. Tap Into Community Resources
Do some online research to find resources in your community that may be able to help. People often assume they don't qualify for assistance, but that might not be the case. For example, many food pantries offer services to all people. You can see a comprehensive list of food pantries in your area by visiting the Emergency Food Network.
Another quick way to check on available support services in your area is to contact United Way by dialing or texting 211, or find your local office at unitedway.org.
5. Pause Your Debt Payoff Strategy
If you created your debt payment plan under better financial circumstances, now might be a good time to reconsider your debt payoff strategy. If you're paying down credit card debt, for example, think about making only the minimum payments for now. Focus your efforts on saving as much as possible and prioritizing your essential expenses. You can resume your original debt payoff plan when you find yourself on more financially stable ground.
If you're feeling worried about keeping up with credit card bills or loan payments, call your creditor or loan provider. They may be able to offer relief by allowing you to skip a payment, modify loans or offer options for refinancing.
This also might be a good time to look at your monthly subscriptions and cancel any you aren't using — especially if the subscription is billed automatically each month. See if you can stop any services you aren't using or don't need right now.
If you do have to pause a favorite subscription, Black suggested finding creative, low-cost substitutes for the experience.
“Some non-essential expenses are hard to give up because they bring us comfort,” Black said, “and comfort is exactly what a lot of people need right now.”