It's been more than six months since President Donald Trump signed the $2.2 trillion CARES Act into law on March 27. There's since been a lot of talk about a second round of stimulus checks, but Congress and the White House are still at odds over exactly what a new coronavirus relief bill would entail. And with the election looming, Americans can only say one thing with certainty: We don't know what to expect.
"Basically, people are in two buckets," says Shelly-Ann Eweka, director of central advice at TIAA. Some are doing well financially and find themselves with extra savings from reduced travel and the simplicity of a work-from-home lifestyle. Meanwhile, many Americans are struggling to make ends meet, concerned about job security and/or keeping their small businesses afloat.
Whether you fall in either of these two "buckets" or find yourself somewhere in between, Eweka offers advice to help you navigate the uncertainty.
To start, assess your current situation. Look at how much you're spending every month compared to your current income and/or emergency fund. Add up how much you'll need to pay for upcoming holiday expenses, as well as other seasonal necessities like higher heat bills and winter clothing.
If it looks like you're going to be stretched thin, focus on tending to your needs first and foremost. "Just survive," says Eweka, "and protect your credit — you can't forget that."
Next, reduce expenses like canceling unused/underused streaming services, curb dining out and put a halt to spending on new clothes and accessories (beyond the basics) and the latest electronics. Before you make a purchase, ask yourself whether it's an immediate need or just a want.
And if you have debt, such as a high credit card balance, a car note and/or private student loans, continue making your minimum payments. On-time payment history is the number-one factor in your credit score.
CreditWise® from Capital One is a free credit monitoring service that can help you stay on top of your score while you get through tough times. It has a helpful credit simulator tool that will show you what your estimated credit score would be if you were to make six, 12, 18 or 24 months of on-time payments. It also lets you simulate other hypotheticals, such as if you were to take out a personal or business loan to consolidate debt or simply make it through the year.
TransUnion and Experian
Also consider finding temporary work if you've been furloughed or laid off. "Find a side gig," says Eweka. "Put your skills to good use."
If you are fortunate to have extra money during this time, "sure up that emergency fund," Eweka advises. Experts recommend setting aside three to six months' worth of savings to prepare for a rainy day.
If your emergency savings is well taken care of, now is a good time to look at your financial portfolio and insurance: "Review the things like your disability coverage and life insurance coverage," says Eweka. "Make sure you have the right products for you and your family."
Time is running out for Congress to pass a stimulus bill before the upcoming Nov. 3 election. Though negotiations are currently at an impasse, there's no real way to know what Congress will do. The best way to prepare for the unknown is to focus on your needs for the next six months or so, and don't count on any extra money before it hits your checking account.
To help your savings stretch further, consider a high-yield savings account that earns a better interest rate than the national 0.05% average.
Vio Bank, the online division of MidFirst Bank, offers one of the highest APY rates for high-yield savings accounts right now (but remember the APY can go up and down). There is a minimum $100 deposit required to open an account.
There are no monthly charges to have a Vio Bank High Yield Online Savings Account if you opt to go paperless. Otherwise, there's a $5 monthly fee for anyone receiving paper billing.
$100 to open
None, if you opt for paperless statements (otherwise, $5 per month)
Up to 6 free withdrawals or transfers per statement cycle *The 6/statement cycle withdrawal limit is waived during the coronavirus outbreak under Regulation D
$10 per transaction
If you open a Vio savings account, make sure you keep your account active. If you go 12 months without making any transactions (a deposit or a withdrawal), you will be charged a $5 dormant account fee every month.
For other options with no fees whatsoever, check out our list of best high-yield savings accounts.