At the end of this week, about 25 million Americans are set to lose the extra $600 per week boost to unemployment benefits when the federal program expires.
Over the last few months, Americans who are eligible for unemployment insurance received an extra $600 on top of what they normally claim under their state's benefits through the the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program put in place as part of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act. This boost is scheduled to end for all states except New York on Saturday, July 25, 2020. New York's end date is Sunday, July 26, according to the Department of Labor.
Yet even if Congress agrees to extend the unemployment benefit boost, people will likely experience a disruption in their benefits. "I envision that this bill doesn't get done by the end of July," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Tuesday. He expects Congress to approve legislation "probably in the first week of August."
With this critical funding set to end, financial experts say now is the time that those who are struggling need to get their finances in order. Here are seven steps to take now to help make ends meet and get on firmer financial ground.
1. Be 'ruthless' about cutting your spending
If money is tight right now, start by figuring out which expenses you can cut, at least temporarily. "Now is the time to be ruthless with your spending plan," says Michelle Buonincontri, an Arizona-based certified financial planner.
Look for the obvious expenses you can eliminate, such as streaming services and gym memberships. And make sure you're digging into every aspect of your spending, Buonincontri says. That includes going through all your bank and credit card statements over the past few months. Look for recurring expenses, especially small amounts such as Apple Pay expenses and money spent on mobile or online games. "These are often overlooked and forgotten," Buonincontri says.
Food is another area where most people can probably trim their budgets, says Nadine Burns, a Michigan-based financial planner with A New Path Financial. Most Americans may not be dining out as much because of the coronavirus pandemic, but it's worth keeping track of what you spend on groceries. Are you buying things that are going to waste? Could you make more things from scratch to save on prepared foods?
For Burns, planning out meals in advance helps her cut down on food waste and takeout. "We have a menu board on our refrigerator," she says.
Also consider how you're using electricity, water and gas, says Jason Hunt, a Florida-based financial planner and founder of Hunt Financial Planning. "Cut all non-essential water and electric use, turn off lights, limit shower times and laundry, as well as lower your water heater temperature," Hunt says.
You can also get creative: If you have a stockpile of batteries, for example, you can use a flashlight for nighttime reading instead of turning on a lamp.
2. Save Receipts
"Cash expenses are often overlooked when creating budgets," says Sallie Mullins Thompson, a New York-based financial planner. While it might seem like you aren't spending as much cash during the pandemic, you might be using more than you think.
To help track and potentially reduce cash spending, Thompson recommends saving all your receipts and reviewing them monthly to see where your ATM withdrawals are going. If that doesn't work, try keeping a daily log of how much cash you spend, Thompson says.
3. Apply for hardship programs
Most Americans who are struggling financially because of the coronavirus pandemic have probably already called up their lenders and utility companies to ask about payment assistance programs.
But if you haven't, now is the time. Contact every entity you owe money to: rent, mortgage, utilities, credit card, cell phone carriers, Wi-Fi, cable, water and gas, Hunt says. Many of these companies, such as your utility and car insurance provider, may have formal financial assistance programs available at the moment. Even if they don't, it's worth trying to negotiate down your current payment or delay payment until a later date.
Explain your personal situation and ask for forbearance, deferred or reduced payments in any way possible. Even if you've already tried, make sure you call up these providers again since your financial situation may change once the unemployment boost ends, Hunt says.
"You may be able to get credit card companies to reduce or defer your interest rates to make payments more manageable or help you from falling further behind," he says.
If it's absolutely necessary and you have an available balance on your credit cards, use them to pay your bills, Hunt says. But this should be a last resort, used only for things like keeping a roof over your head.
4. Consider adjusting your insurance
Car, home and health insurance can be expensive. It may make sense to opt for less coverage or a smaller monthly deductible right now.
If you've lost your job and your health insurance, don't simply sign up for coverage offered under Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, better known as COBRA. This can be an expensive option because it keeps you on the same plan you had before, but previously, your employer covered a portion of the cost. Under COBRA, you're on the hook for the entire plan yourself.
Instead, check out your state's health insurance marketplace for less expensive options, says Georgia-based financial planner Herschel Clanton. Losing job-based health insurance coverage, even if you quit or get fired, qualifies you for a special enrollment period. Depending on your situation and where you live, you may also qualify for Medicaid.
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If you haven't received a reduction in your car insurance due to Covid-19, call your insurer and see what's available, Buonincontri says.
You should also review your home or renters insurance. While it's important to make sure that your coverage and liability limits are appropriate for your current situation, it's also good to critically look at your deductible. If you have expensive homeowners insurance with a low deductible, ask yourself how often you make a claim on the policy. If it's not that often, it may make sense for you to consider switching to a policy with a higher deductible and lower premium.
5. Take advantage of free programs
A lot of nonessential spending goes toward entertainment, which is understandable, especially now that everyone is spending a lot of time at home. But rather than keep your Netflix subscription or cable package, look around for free alternatives, Thompson says.
"Look online for free entertainment and family events to attend — there are lots of these available these days," Thompson says. "This can cut the family budget in this area to $0."
Local libraries typically offer tons of free books, movies and magazines. If your library isn't open or you can't visit in person, most have robust digital catalogs. Plus, libraries across the country are extending immediate temporary access, so if you don't already have a library card, you can register for one online and get started right away. Apple and Amazon both offer a wide range of free digital books as well.
When it comes to the arts, the UK's National Theater is airing free, full-length plays every Thursday. If musicals are more your style, YouTube channel The Shows Must Go On is streaming a musical on Fridays each week.
6. Find ways to get some money flowing in
It's not easy to find a job these days, even if your state isn't experiencing a surge of Covid-19 cases that's prompting new shutdowns. The ratio of unemployed workers to job openings as of mid-June is about 3.6 people for every available position, according to progressive Economic Policy Institute.
That said, there's only so much you can do to trim a budget, so those on unemployment may need to look around for ways to earn money, even if it's only a side job. In some states, you may be able to work part-time and still claim unemployment.
There are even some types of remote, full-time jobs that have openings, according to Indeed. The careers site says it's seen an increase in available jobs, including entry-level sales representatives, insurance agents and loan officers.
Beyond scouring formal employment sites, you may find jobs by posting your availability for local work on sites like NextDoor, Hunt says. You can likely find jobs doing yard cleanup, moving help, delivery work and even ongoing handyman gigs that can help bring in some income while times are tough.
These types of jobs may not be "perfect," but if you can get them, they may help keep you afloat until you can find something you're more suited for, Burns says.
7. Sell your stuff
"If you have struggled with finding a job and adding income, now may be the time to start looking through closets and garages and selling items," Buonincontri says.
If you're new to the resale game, take some time to browse your options. There are dozens of popular resale sites and apps, which include everything from general interest places like eBay, Facebook Marketplace and Mercari, to clothing-specific ones such as Poshmark and thredUP.
And don't forget about your old phones, computers, smartwatches, speakers and other gadgets. Tech resale site Decluttr found that the average U.S. household has $199 worth of unwanted devices. In a recent survey, the company found that 83% of people had unused smartphones and 35% have three to five obsolete devices like tablets, smartwatches and speakers.
At the end of the day, it's worth remembering to stay positive as much as possible, even if that's easier said than done, Clanton says. This is especially important because stress and worry can have effects on your health. Just keep the old adage in mind: "As one door closes another opens," he says.
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