Millions of Americans have already been impacted financially by COVID-19. Not only have unemployment levels reached a dangerous high, but many people who are still working have seen their incomes decline.
Thankfully, there's been some relief already, as millions of Americans have already received stimulus checks in their bank accounts. But those payments, which max out at $1,200 per adult, will only go so far in the grand scheme of what could be a very long recovery.
It's not shocking, then, to learn that 82% of Americans fear they won't manage to keep up with their bills until the economy opens back up, according to a recent survey by mobile and web bill pay service doxo. And a big part of that boils down to a lack of savings. An estimated 35% of households say they can only cover the bills for one month before experiencing a cash shortage. And 69% of households don't have enough savings to last four months.
If you're in a full-fledged panic due to financial concerns, you're clearly in good company. And if that's the case, here are a few things you can do to stay afloat over the next few months.
1. File for unemployment benefits
You may think you're ineligible for unemployment because you didn't work full-time prior to the pandemic, or you worked as an independent contractor. You may also assume that you're not allowed to claim benefits because you're unavailable for work due to not having child care.
But actually, the rules surrounding unemployment benefits have changed a lot because of COVID-19. In many states, you're eligible for benefits if child care constraints are preventing you from accepting a job. And gig workers can now file for benefits, too -- a new rule that didn't previously exist.
It pays to file an unemployment claim and see what benefits you're eligible for, because you may have an unexpected source of income at your disposal.
2. Ask for relief from paying the bills
Many mortgage lenders, landlords, utility companies, and service providers are granting customers more leeway in paying their bills due to the ongoing crisis. If you're worried about covering your expenses in the coming months, reach out and see what options are available to you. You may be able to hit pause on certain payments completely until things improve.
3. Apply for a loan
If you don't have enough money to pay your bills and don't get complete relief from them, then you may have no choice but to borrow. Racking up a credit card balance may seem like the easiest bet in this regard, but it's also a dangerous one, because it can cost you a lot in interest and also damage your credit score. A better bet? If you own a home, try applying for a home equity loan or line of credit. This type of financing is usually fairly easy to come by, though you'll want to act quickly, because some lenders are cutting back on it. If you don't own a home, you can try applying for a personal loan through a bank.
4. Tap your retirement savings if all else fails
You may only have so much money in a savings account to access during this difficult time. But if you have a 401(k) or IRA, you can take a withdrawal from that account if you've really exhausted all other options. Normally, an early retirement plan withdrawal results in a 10% penalty on the sum you remove, but right now, you're allowed to take out up to $100,000 without being hit with that penalty. You can also borrow from your 401(k) if your plan allows for that, and the amount you can take out in loan form has doubled to $100,000.
Of course, many people don't have $100,000 in retirement savings, and if you don't, the amount you withdraw or borrow is limited to the balance you have. And again, touching your retirement savings should really be a last resort-option. But if you've drawn down your regular savings and can't get a loan for those bills you can't put off, you may have to tap your 401(k) or IRA.
So many people are struggling financially right now, and understandably so. If you're worried about making ends meet during the pandemic, see about collecting unemployment benefits, getting relief from bills, and borrowing affordably. And if you need to, raid your retirement plan. Though doing so puts you at risk of falling short financially later in life, ultimately, you need to cover your immediate needs and then worry about your future ones.