Personal Finance

How to prepare for unemployment before you get the pink slip

Key Points
  • Studies show that Americans now list job loss and the ability to pay bills among their greatest fears.
  • You can take a few steps, like freeing up cash and lining up a loan, to ease the blow of a potential job loss. 
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Since the start of the coronavirus crisis, concerns about job security and loss of income have loomed large.

For many, even a few weeks without wages would be financially devastating. However, economists are forecasting an unemployment rate of as much as 15% or more.

Studies show that Americans now list job loss and the ability to pay bills among their greatest fears.

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You can take a few steps, like freeing up cash and lining up a loan, to ease the blow of a potential job loss.

"Review your overall financial situation and make some plans that will help see you through this crisis, however long it might last," said Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist at LendingTree, an online loan marketplace.

Free up cash

To give your income a boost, at least for the time being, start by differentiating between discretionary and fixed expenses and then taking a hard look at where you can cut costs.

To do this, track what you spend money on and then rank that list of monthly, recurring and one-time expenses in order of importance.

Put essential expenses at the top — that's what you can't live without, such as housing and food. Then rank nonessential items, which may include streaming services like Netflix.

Sample monthly budget
Alex Kuzoian

Consider how much are you paying, as well as whether you could pay less or cut it completely.

Further, is it possible to negotiate a better rate or even a discount on some recurring expenses. For example, with fewer people on the road, some auto insurers are offering customers money back

Another option in an emergency is to increase your take-home pay by lowering your contribution to a retirement plan or changing your tax withholding, said Winnie Sun, managing director of Sun Group Wealth Partners in Irvine, California. (If you withhold less, you take home more cash in your paycheck, but you may owe the IRS down the road.)

While you are at it, get familiar with your benefits package and human resource manager, Sun said, as well as making a note of all of your balance information and passwords.

Get another gig

Even as job losses mount, some industries are hiring, and scoring a new position isn't out of the question.

Consider how your skills could transfer to a position that's in demand or whether you could obtain new skills, even online, to meet the need for workers.

"If you are a wedding planner, you may be able to transfer that skill set to social media, for example," Sun said. "Start to think outside the box.

"Everyone should have a plan B or plan C," she added. "It's good to know that you could rally up some extra dollars when you need to."

Everyone should have a plan B or plan C.
Winnie Sun
managing director of Sun Group Wealth Partners

In the meantime, beef up your LinkedIn profile and begin to boost your business network, she said.

"The more you network in a sincere way, the more business opportunities will come your way," Sun said.

Line up a loan

If you own a home, you may be able to access some equity through a cash-out refinance — which is when you refinance your current mortgage and take out a bigger mortgage — or a home equity loan.

A home equity loan can be withdrawn as a lump sum, with a fixed rate and a repayment period generally of five to 15 years, or as a home equity line of credit with a variable rate.

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Without borrowing against something of value, like a house, a personal loan could be another option. Since these loans are unsecured, that generally means the loans come with a higher interest rate than a home equity loan.

Personal loans are also locked in over shorter terms, like one to five years, and payments are generally automatically deducted from a checking account, which decreases the odds of missing a payment or defaulting.

Personal loans are well suited for smaller loan amounts than a typical home equity loan, but more than one would want to run up on credit cards — generally, anything up to $35,000.

Even as lending standards begin to tighten, "there are many lenders out there with a wide range of policies, and you may find a lender that will work with you," Kapfidze said.

"Just make sure you don't overextend yourself, he added. "You might be worried about your liquidity now but if you overleverage yourself, you will be worried about meeting those obligations later on."

Snag a no-interest credit card 

Credit cards are generally considered one of the worst ways to borrow money because of the sky-high interest rates.  

If you're concerned that you may have to rely on plastic in the face of an income disruption, consider transferring your balance now to a card that offers 0% interest for the first 12 months to 18 months, said Ted Rossman, industry analyst at CreditCards.com.

"If you are currently employed and worried you are going to lose your job, this is a great time to get a new credit card with a long 0% intro period or balance transfer," he said.

Your current income and credit score are the two main factors that determine your access to some of the more generous offers out there, so "I would open one of those preemptively," Rossman said.

"It could be a phenomenal time to get in before it's too late."

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