The coronavirus is having a profound impact on Americans’ health and finances. In the U.S. alone, there have been more than a million confirmed cases with tens of thousands of deaths. Roughly 30 million people have filed for unemployment benefits. Many more have had to make major changes to their daily routine.
While the virus has caused major financial challenges for many people right now, for some, the story is different. They are lucky enough to have jobs they can do from home. While the transition to work from home (with kids at home too) hasn’t always been easy, if you’re in a position where there’s been no disruption to your income and you find yourself spending less, you may be able to boost your long-term financial health.
Here are a few smart money moves you can make during the coronavirus to boost your financial strength.
MORE COMING IN, LESS GOING OUT
If you think about it, several positives are aligning for your budget right now. You can still work during unprecedented closures, for one. Perhaps you received a stimulus check from the IRS for yourself or your children. Don’t forget, you may also have a tax refund coming. On top of it all, you’ve likely pulled back on your spending. Restaurants are take-out only (though some are slowly opening). Concerts and sporting events are canceled. Your daily commute is on hold. Dinner parties may have been put on hold. Altogether, that’s perhaps hundreds of dollars or more back in the budget.
REINFORCE AND PROTECT YOUR FOUNDATION
The income you earn is your financial foundation — everything builds on top of it. Therefore, a solid financial plan builds in safeguards in case your income is ever in jeopardy. It sounds pessimistic, but the coronavirus has shown how quickly a paycheck can stop coming in. Ask yourself: If you lost your job, or were hurt and couldn’t work, how long could you last until your next paycheck?
We recommend keeping enough to cover 6 months of expenses in an easy-to-access emergency account to give yourself a cushion for the unexpected. If your emergency fund isn’t to that level yet, consider putting some of that mini windfall we described above into it to get yourself a little closer.
That extra money could also be the final nudge to purchase additional disability insurance or life insurance to further protect your finances from uncertainty.
REDUCE YOUR DEBT COSTS
As part of recent efforts to support the economy, the Federal Reserve dropped interest rates to historic lows. That’s reason enough to look at all your debt — especially costly, high-interest debt on a credit card — and consider ways to reduce your interest payments.
You could, for example, consolidate debt from all your credit cards into a single loan that charges a lower rate. Low rates have also unleashed a tidal wave of mortgage refinancing activity, up 225 percent from the year prior. For perspective, you would save $1,500 a year by cutting one percentage point off a $300,000 mortgage with a 4.5 percent rate (a 30-year, fixed mortgage is roughly 3.3 percent as of May 2020) and 15 years remaining.
INTEREST ON STUDENT LOANS WAIVED
Interest on all federal student loans was suspended as part of the government response to coronavirus. If higher interest debt isn’t on your radar, consider an extra payment on these loans. With interest charges waived, 100 percent of your payment goes toward reducing your principal balance. That shrinks the balance faster, and you’ll reduce your interest costs when the waiver period ends.
BOOST YOUR LONG-TERM SAVINGS
If everything else is looking good, your mini windfall could boost the kids’ college fund or your retirement savings, especially if you’re decades from retirement. History has shown that investing during periods of elevated fear and panic in markets tends to reward disciplined, patient investors over long time frames.
Let’s say you got the full $1,200 stimulus check. If you invested that and let it sit in a retirement account, it would be worth more than $6,000 in 30 years assuming a modest 6 percent average, annual return. Thanks to compounding, a little can go a long way over decades.