Whether you've already received your coronavirus stimulus check or are eagerly awaiting it, having a plan for the money is important.
COVID-19 payments total up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per eligible dependent child, so many households are getting a large sum that could make a big difference in their finances.
What should you do with it? A lot depends on your personal situation, but here are seven ideas that might work.
1. Pay bills
If you need the money to cover your day-to-day expenses, deciding what to do with it is a no-brainer. The money is meant for exactly this situation.
While there's a moratorium on evictions, foreclosures, and utility shut-offs for most people, payments are still due and interest keeps accruing, so try to cover as much as you can. If you can't pay all your bills with your COVID-19 funds, prioritize the most important. Creditors are willing to work with people during these times, so reach out to any companies you can't afford to pay to work out a plan.
2. Pay down debt
If you don't need your stimulus check to cover bills due now, use it to lighten your load moving ahead.
Paying off credit cards or other debt eliminates obligations and makes it easier to meet expenses if your financial situation worsens. Reducing debt helps even if you can't pay it all off, because it reduces your minimum payment or lets you become debt-free sooner.
Now is also a good time to make extra payments on student loans since interest and payments are suspended through Sept. 30. If you make a voluntary payment, the entire amount reduces your principal.
3. Bulk up your emergency fund with it
Most Americans don't have the hefty emergency fund financial experts recommend. While saving your stimulus check probably isn't going to give you enough to cover three to six months of living expenses, it's a good start. And it's enough to cover some of the most common emergencies, such as minor car or home repairs.
4. Invest it
Putting your coronavirus funds into the market gives you the opportunity to turn the stimulus payment into a lot more money over time.
If you just make a typical 7% average annual return and keep the money invested for as little as 10 years, you could almost double your $1,200 payment. And if you outperform the market and earn a 10% return over two decades, that single stimulus payment could become a whopping $8,130.
Because many great companies have seen their stock prices fall in recent months, investing now could provide that above-average return if you research your stock buys carefully.
5. Learn a new skill
Investing in yourself almost always pays off, and now is a great time to take some courses while you're stuck at home.
Adding a new line item to your resume could help you keep your job, advance at work, or find a new position. And making yourself more employable could be invaluable if a COVID-19 recession affects your workplace.
6. Start your own business
The coronavirus is likely to usher in a new normal. If you have an idea for a product or service likely to be in demand in its aftermath, consider using your stimulus funds to get a new business off the ground.
The money could also be seed capital to start a company you've long dreamed of opening. While $1,200 may not seem like a lot, you often don't need much to open your doors. And your check may be even bigger if you have dependents or a spouse, so your new company could have a real influx of start-up cash.
7. Help a local business or others in need
If you don't need the money, there are others who do. Donate it to support first responders, people who have been affected by the coronavirus, or a local business.
The coronavirus payout is a windfall if you aren't hurt financially by COVID-19. Paying it forward may be the best thing you can do.