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Suze Orman: Here's what government workers should do to prepare for another possible shutdown in 3 weeks

Suze Orman speaking at the eMerge Americas conference in Miami on June 12, 2017.
David A. Grogan | CNBC

On Friday, President Donald Trump signed a deal to temporarily end the record-setting partial government shutdown that left more than 800,000 federal employees cash-strapped and struggling to pay bills.

But those workers are not out of the woods yet: The deal only funds the government for three weeks, through Feb. 15. That means another partial shutdown could be around the corner.

CNBC Make It asked Suze Orman, financial expert and best-selling author of "Women and Money," what federal employees should do and not do. Here's what she suggests.

Build an emergency fund

Ideally, Orman says, you should have eight months' worth of living expenses put away in an emergency fund. Even if you aren't able to contribute much right away, though, save what you can.

"You do that by only buying needs, not wants, until you have accomplished that goal," says Orman. Remember, "something is better than nothing."

Orman emphasizes that this advice applies regardless of your financial situation: "It's not just about the government shutting down. Everyone needs an eight-month emergency fund."

Maximize your credit options

For workers struggling to pay bills, Orman suggests a few ways to maximize the credit options available to you:

  • Open a new credit card. If you have a good credit score, consider opening up a new card with a 0 percent interest rate. You can "use these cards to purchase goods and [pay for] as many needs and bills as possible if the government shuts down," Orman says.
  • Get a home equity line of credit, or HELOC, which allows you to borrow against the value of your home. But be sure to educate yourself on the downsides, which can include upfront costs and rising interest rates.
  • Be proactive. "Call all your creditors and try to just ask them for a shutdown leniency plan on your payments if it happens again," Orman says. At the very least, you'll be on record as having tried.

Remember that relying on credit is a temporary fix to be used only in case of emergency, she says. Once your finances are stable again, paying off debt should become a top priority.

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Draw on your retirement savings

If you have a Roth IRA, "you can take your original contributions out at any time with no taxes or penalties," Orman says, and traditional IRAs and SEP IRAs work in similar ways.

As a last resort, you can take a loan from your Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), a retirement account for government workers, similar to a 401(k) or 403(b). If your plan allows you to take a loan, you can take money directly out of your balance without paying taxes or other penalties. Then you develop a plan to pay it back, including interest, within one to five years.

But, Orman warns, only use this option when you've exhausted all others. Even though you're paying back interest on the loan, when you sell, your shares are no longer growing in value, so you could lose a lot more than just interest. Plus, if you aren't able to replace the entire loan on time, you could also owe taxes or other penalties.

Avoid payday loans

Although the shutdown constitutes an emergency for many employees, Orman says payday loans are not a solution: "Avoid them at all costs."

Also known as cash advances, payday loans are small, short-term, easy-to-get loans that can help tide you over until your next paycheck. The problem is that they're often prohibitively expensive. The national average annual percentage rate (APR) for a payday loan is almost 400 percent. Credit card APRs usually range from 12 to 30 percent.

If you fall behind in your payments, the costs on these loans can add up quickly and push you further into debt.

That's why Orman says you shouldn't take out a payday loan. As she puts it on her "Women and Money" podcast, "If you do it, it will be the biggest mistake you have ever made."

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