If you’re thinking about what to do when you lose income, you’re not alone. According to a summer Bankrate survey, nearly half of U.S. households have faced financial difficulties due to the coronavirus pandemic. If a furlough, a layoff or a salary reduction has forced you to confront the harsh financial consequences of COVID-19, here’s what you should do to keep your personal finances as healthy as possible.
Call every company you owe.
If you know you’ll be receiving smaller paychecks or no paycheck at all, you might immediately think about calling around for a new job. However, the first names on your list should be anyone you need to pay on a regular basis: utility companies, credit card issuers and whoever you pay for your shelter (your landlord or the bank that issued your mortgage).
“When you’re short on money, there’s one commodity that you always have plenty of, and that is communication,” says Bruce McClary, senior vice president of communications at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC). “When you don’t have enough money to pay a bill, make sure you communicate with the people you owe. Ask questions to see if they have programs that can help you get by.”
Investigate options for pausing your housing payments.
“I would explore all options to put your mortgage into forbearance to also cut back on expenses heavily during this period of unemployment,” says Danna Jacobs, CFP, founding partner of New Jersey-based Legacy Care Wealth.
There are plenty of options, too. If your mortgage is backed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the FHA, the VA or the USDA, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act mandates that you can obtain a forbearance from your mortgage payments for 180 days, plus a chance to apply and receive an additional 180 days of protection, if you encounter financial struggles due to the coronavirus.
Plenty of banks are offering all their customers similar options. For example, Chase is offering payment assistance for homeowners that excuses payments for three months at a time for up to 12 months.
If you don’t own your home, check in with your landlord. There is currently a moratorium on evictions through the end of the year, thanks to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services. Think ahead to the end of the year, though. The moratorium cannot last forever, and it’s important to note that tenants will still have to eventually make those missed payments.
Consider options to move into a more affordable home.
Is the roof over your head the highest bill in your budget? If so, it may be time to think about finding a cheaper place to live. You don’t have to limit yourself to cheaper options in your current zip code, either. Use Bankrate’s cost of living calculator to compare how much money you need to be comfortable in other cities.
If you need to stay, now is a great time to consider refinancing your mortgage. However, there is an important caveat: Your income dip could create some challenges. While the headlines about record-low refinancing rates are attractive, McClary says that any homeowner facing financial difficulties may be out of luck in locking in those cheap borrowing offers because there are all kinds of qualifiers.
“If you’re facing a factor like job loss or reduction of hours at work, that could get in the way of approval,” McClary says. “Think about the ways to mitigate that situation. Are you going to be able to get an additional job or source of income in time to have a positive impact on your loan application?”
Look for a side hustle.
Speaking of additional sources of income, have you looked at options to bring in some extra cash? Jacobs says she encourages her clients to explore temporary ways to supplement their earnings. Those side hustles do not have to involve signing up for Uber, Lyft, TaskRabbit or any other common gigs, either.
“If it is for a gap between employment, some seemingly silly things such as selling items in your home that you have been meaning to get rid of could easily bring in $100 or more and can make a difference,” Jacobs says.
Look just outside your home, too.
“During COVID, there are some unique gaps and needs in our economy that might be worth considering,” Jacobs says. “If you are able to, you can see if neighbors want to hire you for basic errands that they might be unable or unwilling to do. If a family near you needs assistance with monitoring virtual learning, you could reach out to find some additional income opportunities.”
Keep an eye on who’s hiring.
While any celebration during COVID may not be as cheery, there are still a number of companies that need temporary assistance for the holiday rush. UPS has plans to hire more than 100,000 seasonal employees with work running from October through January, and FedEx is looking for around 70,000 seasonal workers. Some of the upcoming hiring efforts will stick around after Santa’s sleigh heads home, too. Amazon is gearing up to bring on more than 100,000 full- and part-time employees.
Identify opportunities for small spending cuts.
Figuring out what to do when you lose income isn’t just about managing the big expenses like a mortgage or a car payment. It’s equally important to take a magnifying glass to the monthly statements from your credit card or your checking account to identify what doesn’t need to be there.
“Look closely for redundancies in your automatic payments, particularly subscription services,” McClary says. “The truth is that you can find one affordable option for videos or music and cut the rest. You can also press pause. A number of streaming services have offered options to suspend or freeze an account.”
Many people are trying to figure out what to do when they have less money coming in each month. Now is a time to get creative by exploring new ways to earn additional income, and it’s a time to get serious about what you need (shelter and food) and what you don’t (large cable bills or expensive gym memberships).
The coronavirus has proven that unthinkable worst-case scenarios can happen. So, even if you’re lucky enough to feel confident about your finances, focus on building an emergency savings fund more to make sure you are protected.
“If things are going well for you right now, the worst thing you can do is assume that will be the same six months from now,” McClary says. “Sit down, and create an emergency budget. If someone pulls the rug out from underneath you, you’ll know how much you can cut from your spending and who you can call for assistance.”