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'This isn't forever but it is survival mode' — how to handle your loss of income during the coronavirus pandemic

Framing designer Leticia Bartelle Lorenzoni searches Social Security services on the internet in her house after losing her job at a framing art gallery, during the coronavirus outbreak, in Los Angeles, California on April 1, 2020.
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Many Americans, now more than ever, are learning how to stretch their dollars.

Faced with layoffs, furloughs or cuts in pay due to the coronavirus outbreak, they have been forced to find ways to still pay their bills.

On Thursday, the Labor Department reported 6.6 million Americans filed first-time unemployment claims the week ending April 4. The U.S. has now lost 10% of the workforce in three weeks.

"This isn't forever, but it is survival mode," said financial advisor Winnie Sun, founder of Sun Group Wealth Partners in Irvine, California.

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According to States of Play, a new joint CNBC/Change Research survey, 13% of those who lost their income have a week or less of funds to cover the cost of food, housing and other essentials and 23% have less than a month.

Additionally, 25% said they could afford essentials for one or two months, 15% said three to five months and 23% said six months or more.

CNBC and Change Research polled more than 2,000 anticipated general election voters from six major battleground states (Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin), as well as 1,200 anticipated general election voters nationally. The survey was conducted April 2-3.

If you've found yourself with no job, no wages due to being furloughed or even a reduction in pay, there are several things you can do to cut expenses and bring in income.

Take advantage of government benefits

If you've lost your job, the first thing you should do is file for unemployment. In addition to your state benefit, the coronavirus rescue package offers an extra $600 a week to laid off or furloughed workers for up to four months. It also extends state benefits by 13 weeks.

Also, make sure your bank account is set up to receive the stimulus check the government will be processing, Sun said. If you are eligible and filed tax returns for either 2019 or 2018, you will automatically receive an electronic payment from the government.

Individuals will get up to $1,200 and married couples will get up to $2,400. Parents will also get $500 for each qualifying child. To be eligible for the full payment, individual tax filers should have an adjusted gross income up to $75,000. For married couples, it is $150,000. There are reduced payments for individual filers with income up to $99,000 or 198,000 for joint filers with no children.

Prioritize your budget

Make sure you can pay for the essentials, like medication and groceries, Sun said. "Everything else, find a way to cut."

That may mean putting some bills off. Reach out to your creditors to see about delaying payments. Many are offering assistance right now, including mortgage companies. The coronavirus relief bill allows federal mortgages payments to be delayed for up to 12 months.

However, most banks won't approve it for more than 90 days at a time, said Harrison, Pennsylvania- based certified financial planner Bryson Roof, an investment advisor with Fort Pitt Capital Group.

Therefore, after 90 days, contact your bank again if you need additional assistance.

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"It won't impact your credit score and this is available for any loan that is backed by the U.S. government," he said.

In fact, 70% of all mortgages are backed by a government agency, so even if you don't think yours is, double check, he added.

Also take a look at making outright cuts. Some auto insurers are now giving partial refunds on their April and May premiums. You could also cancel subscriptions you don't use.

Seek help

Figure out who in your life — like family, friends or your previous employers — can give you a financial lifeline.

While you may be embarrassed to ask for help, don't be, said Sun.

"Right now, you need to shed that feeling and do what you need to do," she said.

Tap into retirement accounts, if necessary

FabrikaCr | iStock | Getty Images

Any financial expert will warn you against from dipping into your retirement savings, but if times are really tough, you may have no choice.

The relief measures allow you to withdraw up to $100,000 from your individual retirement account or 401(k) penalty free — although you still have to pay taxes. You can also now borrow up to $100,000 from your 401(k).

"I prefer not to touch retirement accounts, but if that is what you need to do, you need to take care of your family," Roof said.

"Sometimes you have to do things you don't necessarily want to do and then you figure out a way to replenish yourself later."

If you work with a financial professional, loop them into any conversation before you make a decision, he said.

Also, if you work for a small business, talk to your employer about filling for the Payroll Protection Program, Roof suggested.

That way, if your company gets money from the government, you could find your pay reinstituted and you can then pay back your retirement account. 

Boost your LinkedIn profile

Take this time to polish your LinkedIn profile and ask colleagues to write something positive about you. A public endorsement is much more valuable than a reference, Sun said.

Take temporary work as you look for something permanent.

"It is really important for people to not just become completely broken down that they can't bring in income," Sun said.

If you have any skills that you can translate to another opportunity, you should.
Winnie Sun
founder of Sun Group Wealth Partners

"If you have any skills that you can translate to another opportunity, you should."

Check out upwork.com and freelancer.com, where there are people still looking for help, she said.

You can also use different social platforms to demonstrate your skill set and unique abilities to potential employers.

Help others out

In addition to cutting expenses and improving your skills, think about how you can build your social currency, Sun suggested.

That can mean doing something to help others out during this time, like supporting a small business on social media.

"People will remember that," she said.

"It's not just, 'woe is me,'" she added. Instead, you are turning your bad situation into something positive by supporting others with your time and energy.

"That is just good practice right now," Sun said.

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