The COVID-19 crisis has cost millions of Americans their jobs, and many people are struggling financially -- including those who have already received their stimulus checks. As such, investing just isn't in the cards for a lot of people right now.
But what if you've mostly managed to get through the past five or six weeks unscathed? What if your income has held steady and you're not expecting a layoff anytime soon? Should you invest your money?
It's certainly not a bad idea. But before you do, check these key items off your list.
1. Make sure your near-term needs are covered
Many Americans were living paycheck to paycheck before the pandemic, and are continuing to do so today. If that's your situation, then investing isn't a great idea. Instead, you should take any extra money you may be privy to -- say, your newly arrived stimulus cash -- and stick it directly into a savings account so you have a cushion in case a few upcoming bills cost more than expected. Of course, another option is to rethink your budget so that you're spending less each month on a whole. But at a time like this, you may not want to make too many drastic changes. And moving to a cheaper home, which could be a huge money-saver, is likely not in the cards, which means your best bet may be to boost your savings for added protection.
2. Fill up your emergency fund
You may be employed today, but the longer the COVID-19 crisis drags out, the greater our risk of having a full-fledged recession on our hands, complete with widespread job loss. As such, it's crucial to have a solid emergency fund -- one with enough money to pay anywhere from three to six months' worth of living expenses (and in today's climate, sticking to the latter end of that range isn't a bad idea). Before you invest your money, see if your emergency fund could use a boost. Your savings account won't generate the same growth you might get by buying up great stocks at a good price, but you'll gain something else -- more peace of mind.
3. Pay off unhealthy debt
You don't need to be completely debt-free to put some money into the stock market. Many people hang onto a mortgage for the majority of their adult lives, while auto loans can also take time to repay. But if you're carrying a credit card balance, it makes sense to knock it out before putting money into the stock market. The longer you hang onto that balance, the more you'll throw away on interest, and if you do lose your job in the coming months, having one less recurring payment to deal with will be helpful.
Let's be clear: Investing is a smart thing to do in general, and right now, there are plenty of quality stocks it could really pay to snatch up. Just make sure you're in a solid enough financial position to go that route.