Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

If the COVID-19 Crisis Doesn't End Soon, 30% of Americans Won't Manage to Cover Their Bills

By Maurie Backman - Mar 26, 2020 at 6:54AM

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

Here are four steps to consider in that situation.

The COVID-19 crisis has already cost millions of Americans their jobs, and the longer it continues, the more likely workers are to keep feeling the pain. Part of the problem, unfortunately, stems from the fact that many Americans lack emergency savings for periods such as the one we're going through.

Last year, the Federal Reserve Board reported that 39% of Americans don't have the cash reserves to cover an unplanned $400 expense. With so many people now out of work, or heading in that direction, it stands to reason that many will be risking debt in the coming weeks and months if things don't turn around soon.

Man and woman with concerned expressions, looking at a aptop.

Image source: Getty Images.

In fact, in a recent survey by CouponFollow, a consumer savings engine, 30% of Americans said that if the COVID-19 pandemic extends through April, they won't be able to cover their basic bills, like rent and utilities. And among those with an annual household income of under $50,000, that figure jumped to 40%.

Now here's the bad news: Based on what health officials are saying, it doesn't look like things will be back to normal anytime soon. If you're worried about covering near-term expenses in light of that, here are a few steps to take.

1. Trim all nonessentials immediately

Canceling your cable plan when you're stuck at home and out of work may not seem like something you want to do, but if you can stream content at a lower cost, do so. Now's the time to be more frugal than you've ever been, so go through your budget and see where there's room to cut back on spending.

2. File for unemployment benefits right away

If you're not self-employed and lost your job due to no fault of your own, you may be eligible to claim unemployment benefits that replace part of your paycheck for the time being. Eligibility varies from state to state and often hinges on earnings from the past year, but it pays to file your claim quickly, especially since it can take time to process it.

3. Ask for assistance with bills

The rent you might struggle to pay next month? If you tell your landlord you're unemployed, you may get a bit of a reprieve. The same goes for your car payment, electric bill, or phone plan, so reach out to your various service providers and see what relief they may be offering.

4. Look into remote work

Even if you're a low or moderate earner, unemployment benefits will only replace a portion of your former paycheck, not the whole thing. That's why it pays to see if there's a job you can do remotely if returning to work full time isn't feasible right now. Some states will let you continue collecting benefits even if you're working part time, so see if there's an online gig you can take on -- something like writing, editing, web development, or graphic design, if you have those skills.

We don't know when the COVID-19 crisis will be over, but it may not be for a while. And the longer it drags out, the greater the chances of the U.S. economy plunging into a full-blown recession. If you're out of work and running out of money, take the above steps to buy yourself a bit of financial breathing room while you wait for things to play out.

Invest Smarter with The Motley Fool

Join Over 1 Million Premium Members Receiving…

  • New Stock Picks Each Month
  • Detailed Analysis of Companies
  • Model Portfolios
  • Live Streaming During Market Hours
  • And Much More
Get Started Now

Related Articles

Motley Fool Returns

Motley Fool Stock Advisor

Market-beating stocks from our award-winning analyst team.

Stock Advisor Returns
S&P 500 Returns

Calculated by average return of all stock recommendations since inception of the Stock Advisor service in February of 2002. Returns as of 06/26/2022.

Discounted offers are only available to new members. Stock Advisor list price is $199 per year.

Premium Investing Services

Invest better with The Motley Fool. Get stock recommendations, portfolio guidance, and more from The Motley Fool's premium services.