7 Tips to protect your finances during the coronavirus pandemic


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Written by
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UPDATED: 2020-08-13T20:41:08.799Z
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Someone sitting at a laptop with a calculator and notebook figuring out their budget and personal finances.

The biggest news story of 2020 is the coronavirus pandemic. It’s expected to disrupt lives and the economy, and many people are concerned about how it might impact their finances.

Indeed, for the week ending March 17, 2020, unemployment claims spiked — and with an increasing number of states on lockdown and small businesses struggling, it’s not unexpected that a certain amount of belt-tightening is going to be required by many Americans, even with Congress set to begin sending stimulus checks.

If you’re trying to decide how to manage your money during COVID-19, here are seven tips.

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1. Apply for unemployment

First of all, if you’ve been laid off or if your hours have been significantly reduced, apply for unemployment benefits. Your employer has been paying unemployment insurance and you’re entitled to these benefits. Some states have loosened the requirements so those who have experienced a big cut in their hours — even if they haven’t been laid off — can access unemployment benefits.

It can be hard to ask for this kind of help, but it’s important to get that cash flow going, so find out what your state requires and apply for benefits so you can begin receiving your benefits as soon as possible. Don’t wait until the situation is dire.

2. Make an emergency budget

Your first move is to create a budget for emergencies designed to help you save money where you can. It might be several weeks before you actually receive your stimulus check (if you’re eligible). It certainly won’t arrive in time for your April rent.

Budgeting during an emergency is about cutting out anything that’s non-essential. Rather than paying for three streaming services, you might cut back to the one most likely to help you maintain your sanity with the kids home from school. The chances are that you’ll still need to pay for internet access, especially if your children will be completing their classes online.

Check with various services to see if you can push pause on some of your payments. If your gym is closed during coronavirus, find out if they’ll stop charging you for the time that you’re not using it. In general, though, you’ll probably need to make a list of the items you can do without and ruthlessly cut them from your spending to save money where you can.

Prioritize your bills

Part of emergency budgeting is prioritizing your bills. Pay attention to which bills must be paid and which ones you might be able to let slide. For example, you probably want to make your mortgage or rent payment because you could lose your shelter if you don’t. However, you might be able to skip a credit card payment because the impact might not be as dire.

Take a look at what must be paid and reserve your funds for those items. No one wants to skip out on their obligations, but sometimes, if cash is tight and you’ve lost a lot of income due to coronavirus, you might have to make those hard decisions.

3. Find out about state and local COVID-19 initiatives

Don’t forget to check your state resources. In some states and cities, governments have placed a moratorium on evictions for a set period of time. If you’re impacted by the coronavirus, you might be able to skip rent and avoid eviction.

In other areas, lenders have been instructed to waive mortgage payments for a month or allow people to skip a payment (it’s added to the end of the term, however). You might not have to wait for state and local officials, though. If you’re having trouble paying your bills due to a loss of income related to coronavirus, call your provider. There might be something in place to help you manage the situation without impacting your credit.

4. Talk to your creditors

Even if you don’t have a local or state government helping you out, you might still be able to get help from your creditors. Many recognize the severity of COVID-19 and have policies in place to address the issue. The best thing to do is call ahead of time — before you start missing payments.

Credit card issuers, auto lenders and mortgage lenders are all aware of this situation and might be willing to allow you to go into forbearance for a few months or even create a more manageable repayment plan. You should also talk to your student loan servicer about income-driven repayment and some of the government plans designed to help you manage your student loans during this time.

5. Consider community resources

Review community resources. If you’re in need, community food banks, mental health resources and utility aid can be found. However, it’s also important to understand that these resources are in high demand right now, so you might need to be patient. If it’s possible for you to take other steps while you wait for approval for access to these resources, it’s a good idea to look for rent relief or talk to your creditors while you wait.

6. Comparison shop

Now is the time to save money by shopping around. Some ways you can reduce your costs while budgeting include getting lower prices for products and services.

Look for cheaper insurance

Wondering how to save money on car insurance? Ask around. If you have some extra time on your hands due to COVID-19, consider asking for a lower car insurance rate. Compare rates and find out if you can save each month on your car insurance bill. Be sure to check out Clearsurance’s car insurance rankings page for the top-rated carriers in your zip code according to consumers.

This also works for other types of insurance, including homeowners or renters insurance. If you can shop around for a lower rate, you could save money each month now — and after this pandemic passes.

In addition to shopping around for insurance to find the best deal, there are also many other ways you can save as well, including with discounts on any of your insurance policies. Make sure you are receiving all the discounts you qualify for. You can read Clearsurance’s blog, 14 Ways to lower your car insurance rates, for additional information on other ways to save on car insurance.

Consider refinancing your mortgage

If you’ve got a home loan, now is the time to comparison shop and look for a lower rate. Mortgage rates are expected to fall in the coming weeks, providing you a chance to get a lower monthly payment, improving your cash flow and saving you money in the long run. Additionally, if you have enough equity built up in your home, you might be able to cash out some of the equity during a refinance, helping you if you’re cash-strapped during this time.

Find lower prices on other items

Comparison shopping also works for everyday items. Use an app like ShopSavvy or Wikibuy to ensure that you’re getting the lowest price on what you’re buying. While you don’t want to get carried away with stockpiling and deny others of needed supplies, you might still need to buy in bulk to get you through a 14-day or 21-day lockdown. If that’s the case, comparison shopping is a big deal. You need to save money if you can since it can be a bigger expense to buy in bulk.

If you haven’t clipped coupons before, now might be the time to start. You can also look for buy-one, get-one deals if they are available. No matter what you’re trying to buy, comparison shopping can help you save money during this time.

7. Travel refunds

One way to increase your current cash flow is to get money back for some of the travel that you had planned, but now have to cancel. Some travel providers are just offering waivers, but some will give you a refund. Research the policies, as well as the window for canceling. If you can get a few hundred dollars back, it might help your personal finances during this challenging time.

What about travel insurance?

If you bought travel insurance or trip cancellation insurance, or if it is provided by your credit card issuer, it’s important to find out what the policy will cover.

While many travel insurance policies do include cancellation for medical issues, it’s not clear if a global pandemic is covered. Some insurers might not cover the costs. Additionally, you might not be able to file a claim unless you’ve exhausted other options. So, if the airline has a policy of issuing travel credits and the hotel has already refunded you, there’s a good chance you won’t get anything from your travel insurance policy.

The Bottom Line: coronavirus and personal finances

In the end, your personal finances may be in triage — especially if you’ve been unable to start an emergency fund, or if you were just starting an emergency fund when the pandemic hit.

Take a step back and look for ways that you can save money on your regular purchases, and review the avenues for help in your area. Create an emergency budget as soon as possible and do what you can to stick to it. And, if you do need help, ask for it. We’re all in this together.

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