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'Concerned and confused' about the future, young adults try to navigate through the coronavirus crisis

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Finding a path forward from the coronavirus crisis

The future seems uncertain.

For many recent college graduates, the coronavirus pandemic has impacted their career plans and their financial outlook.

New Yorker Ryan Williams, 22, was planning to start a career as a fashion photographer. She was working as a freelance photo assistant, the first step towards her dream, when everything came to a halt.

"Since everything shut down because of the pandemic, there are no photo shoots. There's no work in my industry," said Williams, who graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2019. 

Luckily for Williams, she has a part-time job as a photo editor. Now she's wondering if she should give up on her passion and look for a full-time job as a photo editor in order to have some stability.

"This whole pandemic has me concerned and confused about what my future looks like," she said.

"I don't really know what the other side of this looks like. I don't know if publications and companies are going to have money to put into shoots at the end of this."

Ryan Williams
Source: Ryan Williams

It's hard not to question the future when this kind of disruption occurs.

From a lack of income to the inability to pay bills, young adults are facing obstacles they weren't expecting.

"We've kind of had this like more better, faster, now lifestyle happening for the last decade since the stock market's been going up and the job market has been really good," said certified financial planner Sophia Bera, founder of Gen Y Planning.

She's seen 20-somethings buying or leasing new cars, or renting one-bedroom apartments in a new city.

Now that the economy has taken a hit, young adults will need to make some adjustments.

Here are some things they can do to land a job and create some financial stability.

Find a way in

With more than 30 million people out of work since the pandemic began, competition for jobs will be fierce.

That means you should look at perhaps taking some temp work, or even a free internship if you can live with your parents, said Tyler Huck, a CFP at Oxygen Financial, a financial advisory and wealth management firm specializing in Generations X and Y.

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However, make sure you do your research to see which companies are doing better than others in the industry in which you want to work.

"If you can identify some companies, be willing to take on any job with that company, just get your foot in the door," he said.

He speaks from experience. Huck, who graduated during the financial crisis in 2008, wanted to go into sports marketing. He scored a job at a startup but by May 2009, the paychecks stopped coming. The company eventually folded.

In order to make money, he started working as a bank teller, something he said he was overqualified for but was a way to start a career in finance.

Get creative

This is also a good time to think creatively when it comes to your career, said Bera, a member of the CNBC Financial Advisor Council.

"What I know about my generation is that we're scrappy," she said.

In fact, when she started her financial firm seven years ago, other financial planners thought it was "really stupid" because she didn't have a physical office or staff, she said. Instead, she was able to cut expenses and serve a previously under-served demographic.

"You can look at this situation and get really bummed out and get really discouraged. Or you can say, 'How can I do this a little bit differently?'" Bera said. "This is when innovation happens."

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How college grads got stuck in the middle of the coronavirus economic fallout

Caishalynne Echols, a 2019 graduate of Utah Valley University and a client service associate at Gen Y Planning, agrees. She currently works part-time at the firm, and is also a part-time gymnastics coach in Utah.

With social distancing guidelines in place, gymnastics classes at her studio were shut down. Now, since Utah allows small gatherings, she is going to start doing private lessons.

"We really have all the answers up in our head," said Echols, who is an accredited financial counselor. "It's making us think a little bit more critically."

Their advice to Williams is not to give up her passion. Take extra photo editing jobs for money right now, and target businesses where she may be able to work her way up to a photographer position. She can also see what businesses on Instagram could use her expertise, or even give photography tutorials on her own Instagram page.

Defer student loan payments

The coronavirus stimulus package signed into law in March gives most federal student loan borrowers a six-month reprieve from their bills.

You can use the money to either pay your bills or build up an emergency fund.

"At the end of the day, whether you still have a job or are furloughed or you completely lost your job, having a cash base to live off of instead of going into credit card debt is supremely important," Huck said.

"It doesn't matter how old you are. That is the single most important thing to have."

You can look at this situation and get really bummed out and get really discouraged. Or you can say, 'How can I do this a little bit differently?'
Sophia Bera
Certified financial planner

However, if you are in a position to continue to pay off your loan, do so, because the interest on the federal loans have also been frozen for six months, he advised.

Any payments would then go directly to the principal and "you'll get your loan down a lot quicker," Huck said.

If you aren't sure if your loan qualifies, call your loan provider or 1-800-4-FED-AID. You can also log onto Federal Student Aid.

'Live like a broke college student'

Times like these call for reining in spending.

In fact, Bera often likes to tell those in their early 20s to "live like a broke college student as long as you can, because life will change and you will not always be able to do that."

She thinks the current climate will force people to live at home with their parents longer to save money, work a college job a bit longer, or live with roommates.

Also, concentrate on staying out of credit card debt or paying off the debt you have.  

"It's causing us to kind of question some of the excessive lifestyle choices that we've made," Bera said.

"Some of those things that we're kind of forced to go back to are actually really helpful in building good financial habits."

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Don't forget retirement

If you work at a job that offers a 401(k) with an employer matching contribution, contribute if you can.

Otherwise, look into a Roth IRA, which grows your money tax free, Bera said.

"Life changes very quickly," Bera said. "If you can get in the habit of saving, and just building that as a habit, you will keep that habit up your entire life."

It can be just 3% going into a 401(k) plan or $25 a month into a Roth individual retirement account. As time goes by, you can bump up those amounts.

If you need help

Guidance is available to those who need help.

For instance, counselors and coaches certified by the Association for Financial Counseling & Planning are offering free virtual sessions through the Yellow Ribbon Network.

"It's a really good resource for people who are really in a hard financial spot and need a little bit of counseling for like, 'What do I do? I have these debts and I don't have any way to pay them. How can I kind of manage that?" said Echols.

The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) is also offering free guidance from nonprofit credit counselors through their website or by calling 800-388-2227.

'We're going to be just fine'

In the end, it's about letting go of your pride and ego and doing what needs to be done, Bera said.

"This is what previous generations did," she said.

"We are learning sacrifice. And we are also learning that we are going to be just fine."

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Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.