Financial emergencies can come out of nowhere. But while you can't plan for when one will hit your household, it's highly likely some eventually will. Most people experience unexpected expenses or a sudden drop in income at least in a few points during their lives, either through medical bills, job loss, or other unexpected household events.
Whether you find yourself constantly careening from one financial emergency to the next or you've been lucky and one hasn't hit your household yet, it's imperative to be prepared for when disaster strikes. By taking some smart steps, you can maximize the chances you'll be able to cope with the situation without experiencing lasting damage to your financial stability.
1. Save up an emergency fund
When you can, it's important to set aside some money to help pay the bills if you experience a job loss or other emergency. This may seem obvious, but only a small minority of Americans have set up an emergency fund. This money should be held in an accessible savings account -- and ideally, you should have enough money to cover three to six months of essential expenses.
Socking away this much cash isn't easy and it can take a long time, but consistent effort helps in this field, as can taking a hard look at your spending to find places to trim. (Don't forgo retirement savings, though!)
2. Avoid debt, and pay down where possible
Staying out of debt can help you to cope better with financial emergencies, as you won't need to worry about how to make monthly payments if you see a drop in income or something else goes wrong.
If you have a lot of high-interest debt, you may want to focus on debt repayment before fully building up your emergency account. In this case, it's recommended to start with a mini-emergency fund with a few hundred or a few thousand dollars (depending on income) before turning your attention to debt repayment.
Provided you're not drowning in debt, you may also have more access to credit if you do need to borrow to help handle an emergency. While taking out a loan or using your credit cards to cover unexpected expenses isn't ideal, it's far better than having no access to credit when you need it, or being forced to rely on very expensive sources of credit such as payday loans because your credit cards are already maxed out.
3. Maintain a good credit score
Speaking of being able to borrow in case of an emergency, a good credit score is a prerequisite for you to borrow money at a reasonable rate.
Good credit could enable you to access affordable financing if you absolutely need it in a true emergency. It could also allow you to refinance a car loan, mortgage, or other debt if you face financial troubles and can't afford your current payments.
4. Minimize your fixed monthly expenses
Keeping your required expenses as low as possible can help you to save up an emergency fund or pay off debt more quickly. It also means you'll need a smaller emergency fund, as you won't need as much money to cover the essential bills you have to pay.
If you have a very high mortgage or car payment, you're at much greater risk of financial disaster than someone without these big commitments.
Don't get caught unprepared for a financial emergency
By making sure to keep your finances in check, a bump in the road should be something you can get past easily. While it takes a little effort, these are smart financial practices to follow no matter what -- and they'll give you peace of mind, so you can feel prepared for life's curveballs.