The COVID-19 outbreak has spurred an economic crisis as well as a health-related one. Millions of Americans are now unemployed, frightened, and wondering how they'll pay their bills in the coming weeks or months. And while it's a scary time to be living through, there are a few moves you can make to protect yourself financially.
1. Boost your emergency fund
Having emergency savings is crucial at all times, but it's especially important during periods like this, when unemployment is rampant and economic uncertainty abounds. A solid emergency fund is one with enough money to cover three to six months of essential living expenses, and right now, it certainly wouldn't hurt to hit the higher end of that range. If you're still working, use your paycheck to pad your savings -- especially if you don't have three months of expenses in the bank.
2. Leave your stock portfolio alone
The stock market has been swinging lately, and while it may be tempting to cash out investments to avoid further losses, doing so will only lock in any losses you're already looking at. Rather than go that route, remind yourself that if you sit back and ride things out, the stock market is likely to recover in time. That said, you don't have to leave your stock portfolio alone if what you're doing is buying more stocks. Now's a great time to invest in quality companies whose stock is on sale, so if you're good on the emergency savings front, you can use your spare cash to add to or diversify your portfolio.
3. Keep putting money away for retirement
When the prospect of unemployment looms over you, you may not give a hoot about what your finances will look like 20, 30, or 40 years from now. But just as now's a good time to add to your stock portfolio, so too is it a good time to keep funding your 401(k) or IRA, provided you're financially able to do so. The money you invest in that account now can be used to score discounted investments that could grow exponentially over time.
4. Apply for a home equity line of credit
Even if you're still working today, you never know whether the ongoing crisis will force you out of a job. And if you're already unemployed, it could take quite a long time to secure a paycheck again. As such, having access to extra money is crucial, so if you're low on emergency savings but own a home, it could pay to apply for a home equity line of credit. That way, you're not borrowing money you immediately accrue interest on, as would be the case with a home equity loan. Rather, you're giving yourself the option to borrow as you need to.
5. File your taxes sooner rather than later
The deadline to file your 2019 taxes has been pushed back to July 15, 2020, but if you're due a refund, it pays to send your return in sooner. That way, the IRS can work on getting you your money. Another thing: If your adjusted gross income in 2019 is lower than it was in 2018, that could spell the difference between getting a full stimulus payment in the coming weeks or having that payment reduced or taken away altogether, as higher earnings can render you ineligible.
Many Americans are struggling right now -- physically, emotionally, and financially. And while the first two may be hard to address, you can at least do your part to alleviate some of the money-related concerns you may be facing by making smart decisions that serve you well in the long run.