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How to manage your finances during the coronavirus outbreak
13 steps to make your money work harder for you.
The coronavirus has led to market downturns and business closures, leaving a lot of Americans feeling uncertain about the future. If you’re experiencing financial hardship or a loss of income, please know you’re not alone. There are a few steps you can take to help you manage your finances during this tumultuous time.
Checklist of things to do to get your finances in order
- Take a look at your budget and reprioritize needs vs. wants.
- Look into how much you have in your emergency fund.
- Move any extra savings you can to a high-yield savings account or CD.
- Look into refinancing your home loan, student loans and car loan.
- Review your car and home insurance policies.
- Reach out for financial assistance if you need it.
- Create a plan for managing existing debt.
- Know your borrowing options for paying bills.
- Review your investment portfolio.
- If you’re in a high-risk group, take stock to protect your family.
- Watch out for coronavirus scams.
- Find ways to make extra income if you need it.
- See if you can find better deals on your phone, Internet or streaming services.
How to find $1,000+ in your monthly budget
Here’s an example of potential savings you might be able to score by switching providers, refinancing or consolidating your debt.
|What to switch||Current payment||New payment by switching||Monthly savings|
|Credit cards with a high balance||Credit card #1|
Credit card #2
Credit card #3
Total credit card payment: $1,150 per month
|Debt consolidation loan|
New loan payment by consolidating: $478.72 per month
|$671.28||Switch to saveLearn more|
|Credit cards with a low balance||Credit card #1|
Credit card #2
Total credit card payment: $300 per month
|Balance transfer credit card|
New credit card payment to pay off debt in 18 months: $139 per month
|$161||Switch to saveLearn more|
|Mortgage||Current fixed-rate mortgage|
Total mortgage payment: $1,200 per month
|Refinancing to a new fixed-rate mortgage|
New mortgage payment: $851.08 per month
|$348.92||Switch to saveLearn more|
|Cell phone, Internet and streaming services|
Cell phone: $100
Total payment: $212.97 per month
Cell phone: $65
New payment: $140.98 per month
|$71.99||Switch to saveLearn more|
|Car insurance||Current premium: $83.33 per month||New premium by switching: $41.67 per month||$41.66||Switch to saveLearn more|
|Homeowners insurance||Current premium: $100 per month||New premium by switching: $62.50 per month||$37.50||Switch to saveLearn more|
|Total monthly savings:||$1,332.35|
1. Take a look at your budget and reprioritize needs vs. wants.
If you’ve lost a significant part of your income, look into your state’s unemployment benefits to see if you qualify. Next, take a look at your budget and figure out where you stand to save the most — this is typically on housing payments.
If you’re struggling to pay your rent, reach out to your landlord to see if it’s possible to get on a payment plan or even break off your lease for a cheaper alternative. Or if you have a mortgage, reach out to your lender to see what financial hardship programs are available.
Then, take a look at your budget to find ways you can make your money last longer throughout the month. This might include:
- Deferring your personal, car or student loan repayments
- Canceling your monthly subway or bus pass if you’re no longer commuting every day
- Canceling your gym, yoga or fitness club membership and opt for workouts at home
- Cooking at home instead of ordering out every night
If you’re still working and new to budgeting, experts suggest trying out the 50/30/20 rule — in which you spend 50% of your budget on needs like housing, utilities and groceries; 30% on wants like ordering takeout and online streaming services; and 20% on savings or debt payments.
2. Look into how much you have in your emergency fund.
Once you have your new budget set up, subtract your monthly expenses from your expected income. This is how much you’ll need to withdraw from your emergency fund each month to get by.
While no one knows how long the pandemic is expected to last, experts recommend setting aside at least four months worth of supplemental income in a checking or savings account — just in case.
3. Move any extra savings you can to a high-yield savings account or CD.
Once you’ve set aside the supplemental income you’ll need to get by, it’s time to make your extra savings work harder for you:
- Look at high-yield savings accounts. Online banks tend to offer the highest available savings rates, even when federal rate cuts drive APYs down. Plus, they have less overhead than brick-and-mortar banks, so you’ll likely save on annual and maintenance fees.
- Open a fixed-rate CD. To lock in a high interest rate before the Federal Reserve makes further cuts, consider opening a fixed-rate CD. Just keep in mind that you’ll pay a penalty if you need to withdraw the funds before your CD ends.
4. Look into refinancing your home loan, student loans and car loan.
Interest rates are at record lows right now, so refinancing your home loan, students loans and car loans might be able to save you in the short and long run.
Refinancing your home loan
While the often-quoted rule of thumb is to only consider refinancing your home loan if you can score a rate that’s at least 1% lower than your current loan, even a 0.5% rate cut could help you save when we’re talking about such high loan amounts.
To qualify for a lower rate, you typically need to have a good credit score and a decent amount of equity owned in your home.
Use our mortgage refinancing calculator to crunch the numbers to see if it’s worth it.
Refinancing your student loans
With federal student loan repayments on pause through September 30, 2021, you’re better off holding on to your federal student loans for now. But if you have private student loans, now is the time to look into refinancing.
If your credit has improved since you first took out the loans and you still have an income, you might be able to qualify for a lower rate by refinancing with a different lender. Or even if you can’t, consider refinancing for a longer term to cut down on your monthly student loan payments.
Refinancing your car loan
If your auto loan provider isn’t offering any financial hardship relief, you might want to consider refinancing with a lender who does. Many are offering deferred repayments for up to three months to borrowers who refinance right now.
5. Review your car and home insurance policies.
Another way to find extra cash in your budget is to review your insurance policies. Make sure the amount of coverage you have still works with your current lifestyle and situation.
If you’re no longer commuting an hour to and from work every day, it might make sense to cancel your car insurance’s roadside assistance coverage or switch to a mileage-based policy.
|New car protection||Yes|
All 50 states
Paying for home-sharing coverage on a room or apartment you’re no longer renting out due to the coronavirus? See if you can pause that coverage for the time being.
Even if you don’t think there’s excess coverage you can cut, it doesn’t hurt to call your insurance provider and ask them to walk you through your policy. There might be coverage you’re not using that you can cut. And if you don’t currently bundle your car and home insurance policies together, it might pay to — many insurers offer loyalty discounts for multiple policies.
|Personal property coverage||Yes|
|New homeowner discount||Yes|
All 50 states
6. Reach out for financial assistance if you need it.
Struggling to pay your credit card, mortgage, personal loan or other bills? Here are a few ways to reduce, postpone or otherwise get relief from outstanding payments:
Many issuers are emphasizing the hardship and assistance programs available to cardholders, while others are evaluating requests on a case-by-case basis. The type of relief varies among card issuers but might include due date extensions, new lines of credit, interest waivers on your balance, lower fees or APRs and delayed payments.
If the pandemic is affecting your ability to make your credit card payments, check out our list of 10+ credit card issuers offering financial assistance.
You can apply for up to a total of 360 days of forbearance on all federally backed mortgages. This comes in addition to other federal and state mortgage assistance programs. Most private lenders are also offering mortgage assistance programs for those who are struggling with their repayments, including options for forbearance.
If you need help navigating your mortgage or negotiating with your lender, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers trained, HUD-approved mortgage counselors that can support you.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and other regulators have urged financial institutions to work with their customers during the coronavirus outbreak, so your lender might be able to offer an extension or flexible payment plan. A late payment can affect your credit, so try to contact your lenders and servicers as soon as possible.
When you contact your lender, explain your financial situation, and be up front about how much you can afford to pay, and when you can make your regular payments again.
The Department of Education has frozen federal student loan payments until December 31, 2020 and is not charging interest while the loans are on hold. But if you have private student loans, you’ll need to reach out to your servicer to discuss your options. Yours may be willing to lower or pause repayments if you’re struggling to pay your bills due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Back in May, the federal government started sending out economic impact payments to Americans making less than $100,000 a year. Individuals received up to $1,200, married couples got up to $2,400 and families got an extra $500 for each eligible child.
If you were already signed up for direct deposit with the IRS, the government should have deposited the funds directly into your account. Otherwise, you should have received a check or prepaid Visa debit card in the mail with your payment on it.
And another stimulus payment may be on the horizon. Congress has been working hard to agree on another stimulus bill that will hopefully include a second round of economic impact payments this fall.
How does the coronavirus stimulus package affect my finances?
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act authorized the government to send checks to all individuals, paused federal student loan repayments, expanded unemployment benefits, offers mortgage and rent relief, and more.
You can read more with our breakdown of the $2 trillion aid package.
7. Create a plan for managing existing debt.
Having a hard time juggling multiple credit cards, medical bills and unsecured personal loans each month? Consider one of these tactics to get a handle on your debt — and save money in the process.
Balance transfer credit card
If you’re paying off multiple credit cards with high interest rates, consider applying for a balance transfer credit card. You’ll move all of your credit card balances onto this new card — for one streamlined monthly payment.
Many come with a 0% APR promotional period that lasts anywhere from six to 21 months. If you’re able to pay down your balance during this time — you’ll pay $0 in interest.
Just keep in mind you typically need good to excellent credit to qualify. And you’ll only be able to transfer debt up to your credit limit.
Debt consolidation loan
If you don’t have the credit to qualify for a balance transfer card or have a larger amount of debt, consider taking out a debt consolidation loan instead. This is an unsecured personal loan that allows you to pay off multiple unsecured debts — like from credit cards or personal loans — in exchange for a new loan with one monthly payment.
You might be able to save in both the short and long run if you qualify for a lower interest rate than your existing debts and a longer repayment term. And you might be able to qualify with less-than-perfect credit.
- Compare offers from 30+ lenders
- Starting rates as low as 3.49%
- All credit types accepted
|Min. Loan Amount||$500|
|Max. Loan Amount||$100,000|
|APR||1.99% to 35.99%|
|Interest Rate Type||Fixed|
|Minimum Loan Term||3 months|
|Maximum Loan Term||144 months|
|Turnaround Time||Varies by lender|
Credit counselors typically work for nonprofit organizations, and they can help you manage your debt and negotiate with creditors.
8. Know your borrowing options for paying bills.
If you’re thinking of borrowing to pay your bills, these types of credit might make the most sense. Generally, you still need to be employed for most of these options — or have another source of steady income.
New credit card
- Best for: Covering groceries and other essentials with good credit
Many new credit cards come with a 0% promotional APR that can last from 6 to 18 months — and sometimes as long as 21 months. This gives you time to rack up and pay off a balance before interest adds up.
But you’ll need good credit to qualify and it won’t be as useful for costs you need to cover with cash. And if you can’t pay off your balance before the introductory rate is up, you’ll be stuck with higher interest rates than you’ll find with a loan.
Personal line of credit
- Best for: Paying rent and other bills
A personal line of credit gives you access to cash that you can draw from as needed. There’s a cap on how much you can borrow, and you typically can make repayments in installments over a few years. Some lender require minimum monthly repayments. Interest rates generally start around 4% and can go as high as 36% APR and you can access your credit line as soon as the next day once you apply in some cases.
Lines of credit can be helpful if you think your work hours may get reduced or if you think you’ll be temporarily laid off. Generally, you need to have a steady source of income to qualify, and you’ll have the most options with good credit.
Local bank or credit union loan
- Best for: Borrowing less than $1,000 in cash
Some local banks and credit unions offer small-dollar loans to borrowers with bad credit or low income. These are designed as a more affordable alternative to payday loans, though rates are higher than what you’d find with a personal line of credit. It might take several days to get your funds, however, and these aren’t available at all local banks.
9. Figure out if you should make changes to your investment portfolio.
The coronavirus outbreak has not only wreaked havoc on the daily lives of millions of Americans, but also the financial market.
With stock prices ping-ponging over the last few weeks, what’s the best money move for your investment portfolio? It all depends on your current financial situation and risk appetite.
If you think you’ll need access to cash in the near future and are worried about the market falling even lower, you might be thinking it’s best to cut your losses and sell.
On the other hand, if you have time to wait for the market to rebound, you might be considering buying more stocks to take advantage of rock-bottom prices.
Regardless, now is the time to talk to your financial adviser to find the best steps to take to reach your investment goals.
|Available asset types||Stocks, Bonds, Options, Mutual funds, ETFs|
|Stock trade fee||$0|
|Option trade fee||$0 + $0.50/contract|
10. If you’re in a high-risk group, take stock to protect your family.
The COVID-19 has brought up more questions than answers, but we know it’s a good time to take stock and put financial measures in place to protect yourself and your family.
Now that you’re at home, use the time you would have spent on your commute or other duties to get your financial affairs in order. These tasks will offer peace of mind should something happen to you:
- Create a living will. Also called an advance directive, this is a legal document that specifies the medical treatment you want — and don’t want — to receive if you become incapacitied and can’t express those wishes yourself. A “do not resuscitate” order is just one of many instructions you can leave. Depending on your state, you can hire a lawyer to prepare a living will for you or download a form online.
- Review your will. While you’re at it, read over your will and ensure it clearly explains what you want to happen to your property, assets and minor children if you die. If you need to make changes or draft a will, you can enlist a lawyer’s help, fill out a premade form or use online software.
- Update your life insurance beneficiaries. It’s always a good idea to evaluate your beneficiaries whenever your circumstances change — like when you get married or have children. Since you’re in admin mode, assess your list of nominated beneficiaries and update it if necessary. With most insurers, you can make any changes online or over the phone.
11. Watch out for coronavirus scams.
Scammers target vulnerable people, and scams tend to spike during emergencies and natural disasters.
To avoid falling victim to a scam, stick to legitimate news sources, like the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and don’t give out your personal identifying information — like your Social Security number — over the phone or email.
The Federal Trade Commission offers tips specific to the coronavirus:
- Don’t click on links from sources you don’t know.
- Watch out for emails claiming to be from the CDC or other experts claiming information about the virus.
- Ignore online offers for vaccinations.
- Don’t let anyone push you into making a donation, whether to a charity or crowdfunding site.
- Be wary of “investment opportunities,” and report any suspicious opportunities to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
12. Find ways to make extra income if you need it.
If there’s any silver lining to this whole pandemic, it’s that it happened at a time when side hustles are having their moment. Here are a few ways to supplement your income:
- Drive for a rideshare company. Whether driving for Lyft, Uber or Via, now more than ever people are opting for rideshare services over public transportation. Check out our guide to ridesharing companies to find out how much drivers make, upfront costs to get started and more.
- Sell your used stuff on the Internet. If you’re stuck in quarantine, why not take the time to declutter your home and make some extra cash in the process? From eBay to Craigslist to Facebook, you have a slew of places to hock your used items. Plus, explore 12 other ways to make money online.
- Drive for a food delivery company. From Uber Eats to PostMates, Instacart to Grubhub, Americans ordered to shelter at home are taking advantage of grocery and takeout delivery services. Compare Uber Eats to other takeout delivery services to find the right fit for you.
- Freelance online. Whether you’re a graphic designer or writer, programmer or video editor, you have a variety of freelance platforms — like Fiverr and Upwork — to market your skills.
13. See if you can find a better deal on your phone, Internet or streaming services.
The average American spent $116 per month on their cellphone bill alone in 2018, according to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Add to that monthly Internet and streaming costs, and you’re likely shelling out over $200 per month on these little luxuries.
If you’re stuck at home, what better time to shop around to see if you can find a better deal elsewhere. Mobile wireless providers like Verizon and T-Mobile are offering sweet deals to new customers willing to switch servicers. You might even be able to find a deal that throws in a streaming subscription for free — Verizon teamed up with Disney+ to offer a free subscription for a year if you sign up for unlimited data.
Shop around to make sure you’re getting the best deals available with our guides:
- Compare prices and bundles of top Internet service providers
- See costs, data plans and more for 10+ cellphone providers
- Find the latest deals from 15+ streaming services
Feeling lazy? Have an app like Trim do the work for you.
The coronavirus has affected all our lives on some level, and we’re unsure how long its impact will last. But there are steps you can take to help you financially weather the outbreak.
To stay on top of your finances, take action as soon as possible — and be sure to keep up with changing information on the coronavirus.
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