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.
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.