After losing your job, you’re probably thinking about how to start earning money again. You might apply for unemployment benefits, pick up a side gig, or search for a position you could fill from home, at least until the coronavirus pandemic subsides.
But what do you do with the money you already have?
Now that your financial situation has changed, the cash in your bank account is precious. How should you use it until you secure another job? Consider making six money moves to take care of yourself.
1. Make sure you have health insurance
Yes, it’s important to cut costs and save money when you lose a job, but there’s actually one big purchase you should make: health insurance.
Lindsay Youngbauer, senior vice president at Woodmont Investment Counsel, says one of the most important things to do after a lay-off is check whether your company offers extended health care coverage — and if it doesn’t, get your own quickly.
If you’re under age 26, you could join your parents’ health insurance plan. If you’re married, find out if you can jump onto your spouse’s plan. Otherwise, you can look into COBRA, the healthcare marketplace, or Medicaid.
Most companies with over 20 employees are required to offer coverage through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, aka COBRA, which allows you to extend your current coverage for up to 18 months.
If you company doesn’t provide coverage through COBRA, you can shop for a plan on the healthcare marketplace.
Neither of these options will be cheap. But Youngbauer emphasizes that a global health crisis is not the time to skip out on health insurance. If you contract the coronavirus or another illness, you could end up paying thousands if you’re uninsured.
While your company probably covered a significant portion of your healthcare when you were an employee, you’re responsible for the full cost of the health plan through COBRA.
As for a plan through the healthcare marketplace, the average benchmark premium in 2020 is $462 per month.
You may be able to receive free health insurance if you qualify for Medicaid. This coverage is for people who are below a certain income threshold, are pregnant, have children, or are disabled.
2. Roll over your 401(k)
Don’t forget about any money you contributed to a 401(k) through your employer. You don’t want to leave the money sitting in the account. You could end up paying management fees for a 401(k) you aren’t contributing to anymore. You could also lose track of your account information over the years.
Experts generally advise against cashing out your 401(k), because you’ll face taxes and penalties, and you can continue investing by moving funds to another retirement account instead. Due to the current economic climate, however, the CARES Act has made it easier for you to withdraw up to $100,000 from your 401(k) without tax or penalty if you need to. Read the details here.
If you can leave your 401(k) investments alone, the best option is probably to roll your 401(k) over into an IRA. You can continue to save and invest, and you will always be able to contribute to this IRA, regardless of where you work in the future.
3. Pause bill payments where possible to spend less money
When money is tight, people may advise you to spend less money. Easier said than done, right?
Actually, many companies around the US are making it easier for Americans to spend less by pausing bill payments for those who have been financially impacted by the coronavirus.
You may be able to temporarily stop making payments toward student loans, auto loans, and credit card debt. Some companies aren’t penalizing people for missing payments toward utilities and insurance, and others aren’t evicting people for missing rent or mortgage payments.
By calling your provider or going online, you could potentially save thousands until you get back on your feet.
4. Determine which expenses are essential
If you’re able to pause some bill payments, the amount you spend on essential expenses should decrease. Now you can figure out how much you plan to spend each month from this point forward. Figure out how much you must spend each month versus how much you choose to spend.
“I think a lot of people don’t even put a lot of effort and time into knowing their expenses, first of all,” Youngbauer says, “and then knowing what’s discretionary and what’s not.”
You can make a list of all your monthly expenses, then determine which are essential and which can be temporarily cut out.
What’s considered “essential” will vary person by person. Depending on your financial situation, it could even mean temporarily halting your IRA contributions.
“You want to make sure you can afford to pay what you have to pay out there now,” Youngbauer says.
After listing essential expenses and calculating how much they cost, look at the amount you have in your checking account. Do you have enough to cover necessary costs for the next month? If not, it may be time to dip into savings.
5. Use any emergency savings before touching your retirement account
If you’re still struggling to get by after pausing bill payments and cutting out extraneous expenses, it might be time to tap into any emergency savings. After all, losing your job unexpectedly could qualify as an emergency.
“This is a perfect use for an emergency fund,” says Youngbauer. “I would look at any type of emergency fund or any type of cash vehicles … anything that you have that’s non-investment related or non-retirement related would be first to pull from.”
Maybe you have some money in an IRA, but you don’t have a savings account. Or you’ve depleted your emergency fund and need to pull money from another source. At this point, you can consider turning to your investments.
As mentioned above, the federal stimulus relief package allows Americans who have been impacted by the coronavirus to withdraw up to $100,000 from their IRAs if needed, but it probably shouldn’t be your first course of action.
“I definitely wouldn’t recommend touching retirement accounts if possible,” Youngbauer says, “but sometimes you don’t have a choice.”
6. Replace any needed life or disability insurance you had through work
If you received life insurance or disability insurance through your employer, you likely lost access to the plans once you left the company.
If you can afford it — the cost varies by person but term life insurance can be as little as $20 a month — you may want to enroll in your own life or disability insurance policies to protect your income and any dependents who rely on it.
You may be able to wait until you’re working again to get insurance policies through your new employer (assuming it’s available). But if you need the coverage in the meantime, signing up for an individual term life insurance policy that applies no matter where you work can make life easier.
Are you looking to start saving for a car, house, or rainy day? Check out our savings accounts that can help you get there.