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Stressed About Finances Right Now? Here's What to Do.

By Maurie Backman - May 20, 2020 at 8:47AM

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Most Americans have money-related concerns during the COVID-19 crisis. Here are a few steps you can take to improve your outlook.

Many Americans had financial concerns before COVID-19, but the pandemic has caused its share of panic since cases started multiplying domestically back in March. Since then, unemployment levels have reached record highs, and even workers who haven't lost their jobs are feeling the strain. In fact, 62% of Americans say they're stressed about their current financial situation, according to a recent survey by insurance agency Haven Life. If you feel similarly, here are some important steps to take if your paycheck has held steady.

1. Boost your emergency savings

Under normal circumstances, it's wise to have at least three months' worth of living expenses tucked away in a savings account. That way, if an unplanned bill lands in your lap or you wind up unemployed, you'll have money to access in a pinch. Due to the nature of the COVID-19 crisis, it would be wise to aim for more like six months' worth of living expenses in savings, so if you're not there yet, make an effort to boost your cash reserves. Though certain things, like groceries, may be costing you more money than usual right now, there's a good chance you're saving in other ways -- perhaps by not commuting to work or not spending money on entertainment outside the home. As such, you may have a solid opportunity to solidify your emergency fund.

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2. Rethink your spending

During a crisis, it's the small luxuries that can bring comfort. As such, now's not the time to cancel a $10 monthly streaming service that serves as a source of entertainment and distraction for you. But if there are more substantial expenses in your budget you can do without, consider unloading them. For example, you may not need a cable package that costs close to $100 per month, or you may realize you can do without a couple of subscription boxes you normally get in the mail (as a bonus, canceling them means not having to worry about wiping them down once they arrive).

3. Stay on track for retirement

While you may not be all that focused on the future when there's a major health and economic crisis at present, the reality is that falling behind on your retirement savings will likely serve as a source of stress at some point in your life. If you're doing well on emergency savings and have extra money in your paychecks, be sure to maintain or even increase your IRA or 401(k) contributions. If you save in a traditional retirement plan, doing so will lower your tax bill this year, which is another easy way to get near-term relief.

4. Explore affordable borrowing options

You may not need to borrow money to pay your bills right now. But what happens if you are laid off in the coming months? Though it pays to be optimistic that you won't lose your job, it also makes sense to plan for that possibility -- namely, by figuring out what you might do for money should the need arise. If you have equity in your home, it could pay to apply for a home equity line of credit, or HELOC. With a HELOC, you're not borrowing money immediately; rather, you're giving yourself the option to borrow. As such, you won't rack up interest on a HELOC until you actually draw from your line of credit. Another option is to borrow from your 401(k), and thanks to the COVID-19 relief package passed in March, borrowing limits have doubled. Taking a 401(k) loan has its drawbacks, but it may be a good solution if you have money in that retirement plan but don't have a home to borrow against.

It's natural to have financial concerns at a time like this, and if it's any consolation, you're not alone. The above steps, however, could help your outlook change for the better, so focus on actions you can take to make a stressful time just a bit easier.

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