If you find yourself facing an emergency that you’re financially under-prepared for, the prospect of what to do next may feel overwhelming. Don’t panic. There are things you can do to get through this crisis.
The CARES Act adds additional assistance to those who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. First, it expanded availability to unemployment insurance for those who may not usually qualify, such as those diagnosed with COVID-19 or who are caring for someone unable to go to school or regular childcare because of closures. Second, it added an additional $600 on top of regular unemployment benefits until July 31st, 2020 as well as 13 additional weeks assistance.
You can also take an early hardship withdrawal from your retirement funds of up to $100,000 without penalty (taxes will still need to be paid) or as a loan. It’s important to consider the impacts of an early withdrawal or the failure to pay back the loan before making any decisions.
The first step is to restructure your current budget. While some expenses are difficult to change, such as mortgage or auto loan payments, there are plenty of areas that you can easily adjust to cut back spending and save money. This budget calculator can help you lay out specifics and make those adjustments.
Drawing from long term savings, vacation funds, and other savings accounts can help bolster your finances in a pinch. Similarly, if you’re really in a bind, you could consider cashing in on investments. Even if returns may not be as high as you would like, that money could help address your current emergency.
You should only withdraw early from retirement accounts like a 401(k) or IRA if absolutely necessary. Unless you meet certain criteria for an approved hardship, there is a 10% penalty for early withdrawals. Also, draining these accounts can greatly setback your financial security during retirement.
If your current assets just won’t cover it, look for ways to get more. Consider selling valuables that you don’t need. Things like art, jewelry, antiques, and similar items may be hard to part with, but that money can carry you through a rough patch. Plus, online marketplaces make selling valuables easy to do.
If selling won’t make a big enough difference, try to increase your income by picking up extra work. Additional part-time or variable hour work can help you quickly boost your cash flow. You could also ask your employer for an advance on your paycheck to help cover your current expenses, though not all companies will offer this type of benefit.
Remember that you don’t have to face an emergency alone. There are government programs put in place to help protect you and your dependents should you need it. This article walks through some of the programs that will be most helpful to you in detail. If you’ve been laid off, consider applying for unemployment benefits, or if you’re struggling to provide necessities for you and your family, SNAP or TANF can make up the difference if you qualify. If you currently don’t have health insurance, Medicaid or CHIP can help.
When you’re back on your feet, consider taking the time to prepare an emergency fund should you need it again.