Protecting Your Finances in a Pandemic
IAFF members are on the frontline of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, but many of their spouses may be out of work due to stay-at-home orders. If this is the case for your family and you are under financial stress, below are some financial moves can you make right now:
- Write down every monthly bill you have. Label it essential or non-essential. Rent, mortgage, federal student loans, utilities, insurance, phone and internet are all essentials. In times like these, non-essentials can go unpaid for now. Don’t forget to review your credit card bills and bank statement for monthly subscriptions you don’t need right now or had forgotten to cancel – every dollar counts right now. Cancel those non-essential services.
- Call every essential bill provider and ask to defer payment for three months. Many will. Mortgage interest will continue to accrue but will be added to the back end of the loan. In Canada, payments are skipped for a period of time and interest accrued is added to the mortgage’s outstanding balance. The additional interest is incorporated into future monthly payments when they resume or on renewal at the end of the mortgage’s term.
- Use deferred rent/mortgage money to pay the essentials that you cannot defer. Deposit the rest into your emergency fund. We do not know the extent of this situation, so we must prepare for a long slog.
- Call each of your creditors (credit cards, auto loans, personal loans, etc.) to make temporary arrangements to reduce or pause your payments until your income returns to normal. Do not avoid or ignore them – contact them immediately.
- Spouse unemployed? Unemployment benefits are now available to those who were previously exempt: part-time workers, gig workers and the self-employed are all eligible in this environment. To learn how to apply, start at careeronestop.org and enter your state for the phone number. You will need to be persistent to get this done. Do not give up. In Canada, any spouse who has lost employment due to COVID-19 can apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). The application process is very simple and can be done online on the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) website. Benefits are usually deposited within three business days.
If you are not under financial stress, consider that the long-term economic effects of this pandemic will be far-reaching. We all must prepare for the long haul by strengthening our finances in this time of uncertainty.
- Review your credit card bills and bank statement for monthly subscriptions you don’t need right now or had forgotten to cancel – every dollar counts. Cancel those non-essential services.
- Look for additional money to stash away. That proverbial rainy day is coming. Avoid any new credit card debt.
- If possible, eliminate the credit card debt you do have so that if you are in a tight spot later, you’re not using money you need to make payments. Prioritize your debt balances by the highest to lowest APR (annual percentage rate). Make the minimum payment on the rest and pay as much as you can on the debt with the highest APR. When that debt is gone, do the same for the next highest APR and so on until all credit card debt is paid.
- Expand your emergency savings account. In normal times, it’s smart to keep three to six months of bills and living expenses on hand. With this safety net in place, you can weather short-term unemployment without relying on credit cards or other debt. These are not going to be normal times, so reach a bit further for your safety net. Aim to have six months or more of living expenses on hand to handle the economic uncertainty ahead.