COVID-19 has been battering the U.S. economy since cases first started popping up in droves back in March. Since then, there's been tons of economic relief, from extended unemployment benefits to stimulus payments, in the hopes of helping Americans stay afloat financially during these uncertain times.
Unfortunately, the financial pain related to COVID-19 may not be all that short-lived. In a just-released survey by Marcus by Goldman Sachs, 21% of Americans think they'll be worse off financially six months from now than they are today. And despite recent signs of recovery, 39% of Americans think the stock market will go down during the next six months.
Of course, without a crystal ball, it's impossible to predict what the next half-year will look like, and a lot will depend on how long parts of the country stay shut down and what developments ensue in the fight against COVID-19. But if your outlook on the next six months is anything but positive, a few moves on your part could turn that around.
Improving your near-term financial outlook
The fact that there's so much economic uncertainty right now is no doubt making lots of Americans nervous about their financial prospects. But if you're concerned that your picture is only going to get worse, not better, you should start by doing your best to build an emergency fund -- ideally, one with enough money to cover at least three months' worth of living expenses, and preferably, more like six months' worth of bills.
Having that money in the bank is important for a number of reasons. First, it can buy you some peace of mind in the face of job insecurity. Secondly, if your income does take a hit, you'll have the means of covering your expenses for a good number of months. That, in turn, can help you avoid debt or falling behind on existing bills, thereby preserving your credit score.
Of course, this advice assumes that you're still working and have the ability to build or pad an emergency fund. If you're not working, you may have no choice but to reduce your spending to the greatest extent possible and be proactive in seeking out relief from paying your bills. But if your paycheck has held steady throughout the crisis, you may have a solid opportunity to boost your cash reserves, especially if certain expenses, like fueling your vehicle or paying for entertainment outside the home, are no longer in play.
Additionally, it helps to do whatever you can to buy yourself a degree of income security. If possible, line up a side job you can do remotely, like editing, web design, or even online tutoring. At the same time, try boosting some of the skills that are integral to your current job. That way, if the crisis drags on and layoffs come to be, you may be less likely to end up on the chopping block.
Finally, it wouldn't hurt to explore your options for borrowing money affordably, just in case. If you have equity in your home, you may want to apply for a home equity line of credit, which you can use as needed should your financial circumstances worsen. But act quickly -- some lenders may stop accepting HELOC applications as more and more homeowners scramble for them.
It's too soon to tell what the next six months will look like, but if you do everything in your power to protect yourself from continued economic turbulence, your outlook just might change for the better. And at a time like this, boosting your own morale is an essential thing to do.