Losing your job unexpectedly is among the most difficult events a person can experience. Obviously, the income you rely on has abruptly stopped, and that sparks fear and uncertainty. But job loss also takes a mental toll. It’s hard not to take it personally and wonder what you could’ve done differently.
But if you’re among the millions of Americans who recently lost a job, keep your head up — this is hopefully a temporary setback. In the meantime, while you’re on the job hunt, you’ll want to pay close attention on your finances. Here are a few important financial steps to take immediately after an unexpected job loss.
TRIM DISCRETIONARY SPENDING
Run through your monthly budget, line by line, and cut discretionary spending (services and products that aren’t essential). If it’s nice to have but not critical, or you can do it yourself, cut it.
And you can get creative about lowering the costs of essential services. A cell phone, for example, is a must for your job search, but do you need all those minutes or data? Also, consider switching to a lower-cost provider — you could cut your cell phone bill by $30 or $40 a month, depending on the provider. Instead of take-out, shop at a discount grocer and make simple meals at home. Discretionary spending is the easiest to control, and there are usually places to cut back.
In a similar vein, you may want to turn off autopay on your bills. That will give you more control over when money is withdrawn from your account so you can better manage cash flow and avoid any overdrafts.
REVIEW YOUR INSURANCE COVERAGE
Check with the HR department for details about health coverage after your employment ends. In some instances, you’ll have a grace period before you need to seek out other options. Keep in mind, losing your job is a “qualified event” which means you can probably enroll in your spouse’s health plan. If not, you can apply for COBRA or get insured through your state’s Affordable Care Act portal. This is no time to be hit with a surprise, costly health bill.
If you have permanent life insurance, now is a good time to review your policy. You may have accumulated cash value that you could access to cover expenses or pay your premiums to keep your policy in force.
APPLY FOR UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS
As soon as you’ve lost your job, file for unemployment. Recent legislation boosted the benefit and broadened the kinds of employees who qualify for benefits (eligibility requirements are different in each state). However, with so many people filing for benefits right now, the sooner you get your application in the better.
DIP INTO YOUR EMERGENCY SAVINGS
If you have an emergency savings fund to cover expenses during rainy weather, this is precisely the time to use it. Lean on your emergency funds to pay your essential bills to keep the lights on and a roof over your head.
“A job loss is exactly what an emergency fund is for. Use this available cash instead of reaching for credit cards which will make it more difficult to recover once the emergency is over,” says Lauren Yoder, Senior Director of Product Management and CFP© at Northwestern Mutual.
PRIORITIZE YOUR BILLS
Rent, utilities, car payments and credit card bills will still come due. However, you have some wiggle room here. In good times, it’s always better to pay the full balance of your credit card bill. However, if you've tapped your emergency fund and it's starting to run short, you could consider making just the minimum required payment on credit cards and other debts temporarily. Yes, that means your credit card balance will accrue interest, but right now your goal is to stretch your cash as far as possible so you can cover other essential, fixed expenses.
CONSIDER DEBT CONSOLIDATION
If there’s a silver lining to economic turbulence we’ve been experiencing lately, it’s historically low interest rates. There may be an opportunity to consolidate all your debt into a single loan that charges a lower interest rate. You might even roll high-interest credit card debt into a new card, especially if the company offers an interest-free introductory period. Just be sure that you’re making minimum payments and meeting any other requirement to keep the interest rate from jumping higher.
CALL YOUR CREDITORS
Despite your best efforts, you may find that you’re falling behind on your bills. While that’s incredibly stressful, there’s room to negotiate. Contact your credit card company, landlord or mortgage servicer and tell them your situation. You may be able to negotiate a payment plan or have a month’s rent waived for example. Generally, creditors would rather work with their customers rather than send your debt into collections. Be frank, be patient, be persistent.
REACH OUT TO YOUR ADVISOR
If you have a financial advisor, give them a call. They’re money management experts, who can provide advise that’s specific to your situation. They know your options and may have a recommendation or solution that hadn’t crossed your mind. What’s more, you can leave the stressful money matters to them while you focus on your family and getting back on your feet.
Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and CFP® (with flame design) in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board's initial and ongoing certification requirements.