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The coronavirus pandemic continues to take its toll on Americans’ finances.
With many businesses unable to operate as normal, unemployment remains higher than it was before COVID-19 hit. A second stimulus package is still up in the air. In the meantime, emergency savings is dwindling for many American households.
Nearly three times as many people have less emergency savings now than they did before the pandemic hit, according to a recent survey from Bankrate. Moreover, 21 percent of Americans say they have no emergency savings whatsoever.
If you’re running out of emergency funds, there are steps you can take to buy some time.
Redo your budget
If you’re running out of savings and you need to make your money last, start by finding areas where you could cut back. Then, rework your budget.
Andrew Westlin, a senior financial planner at Betterment, suggests ruthlessly cutting non-essential expenses. This could include things like dining out, cable television, subscription services or other purchases you can live without.
Also look for ways you can pay less for expenses you have to pay. For example, shop around for homeowners insurance and auto insurance and find a better deal. Or, consider sticking to bare bones “beans and rice” grocery trips for a while.
Use a fintech app
Consider whether a fintech app could help you manage your money better — whether that’s by helping you track your spending or making sure the money you are earning is going where you want it to go.
You can use these apps to set up custom goals, analyze your spending and save for you automatically.
“This takes the pressure off you to remember to save, and I think you’ll be surprised by just how fast you can rebuild your emergency fund,” says Michaela McDonald, CFP, a financial advice expert at Albert, a fintech app.
Of course, there are other money apps that help you create and stick to a monthly budget, including Qube Money or You Need a Budget (YNAB). Some apps that can help you manage your money even offer a free version you can try. Your bank app may also have features designed to help you save.
Get a bank bonus
If you want to earn some free money with not too much effort required, consider pursuing a bank bonus or two. Bank bonuses are offered when you open a new checking or savings account and meet minimum requirements, such as setting up direct deposits or maintaining a minimum balance.
The best bank account bonuses of 2020 come in amounts up to around $500, so they are worth pursuing if you don’t mind jumping through a few hoops.
Tap into valuable resources
If you’re on the edge of financial disaster and need a way to get your hands on some cash to stay afloat, you may have some last-resort options to consider. For example, Westlin says the CARES Act made it “easier” to withdraw from IRAs and employer-sponsored retirement accounts since you won’t have to pay a 10 percent early distribution penalty for withdrawals before age 59 ½. You will have to pay taxes on money you take out of your tax-advantaged retirement accounts, however, and you have to meet certain IRS requirements to qualify for this option.
Westlin also points out that it’s wise to keep your hands off your retirement accounts unless you have no other options available.
If you own your own residence, a home equity line of credit (HELOC) could provide some relief, says Ivan M. Nalibotsky, a financial advisor at Regal Financial Group. This type of line of credit lets you borrow against the equity in your home. It can come in handy as a flexible borrowing mechanism in the event your savings are depleted and you need access to quick cash.
Just remember that you can typically only borrow up to 85 percent of your home’s value with a first mortgage and home equity product, according to the Federal Trade Commission. So, you would need considerable equity in your house to consider this option.
How much is enough?
If you’re single, three to six months of living expenses is a great goal for an emergency fund, McDonald says. However, aim to save on the high end of that range if you add a spouse or partner to the mix.
Once you have children, McDonald recommends keeping closer to nine to 12 months worth of living expenses in your emergency savings account.
“Remember to keep in mind any larger annual expenses for your family that you’ll want to cover such as annual medical check ups, tuition, sports dues and more,” she says.
If your emergency savings is slowly dwindling down, your first order of business is to try to put an end to the bleeding: Cut your spending down as much as you can and try to earn more money while you push through tough times.