When you have overcome the shock of losing your job — and, likely, your main source of income — organizing your finances can have a calming effect. The sooner you make a plan, the easier it will be to cope with your change of circumstances.
Despite being near the top of the list of life's biggest stressors, being fired, being demoted or seeing a change in your financial state does not have to spell doom and gloom. Recent jobs numbers from the U.S. Department of Labor show a marked decline in unemployment, a signal that opportunities do exist for you to reclaim your space in the work force.
In the meantime, use these tactics to deal with short-term demands on your wallet and longer-term financial obligations and ease this stressful financial situation.
File for Unemployment Insurance Payments
This action item belongs at the top of your To Do list. There is a two-to-three week time lapse between the time you file for unemployment and when you receive your first payment, so don't delay contacting your state unemployment office.
The amount you receive is based on a percentage of your earnings over the last year, and there is a top limit determined separately by each state. While the payments are unlikely to completely replace your income, they can make a big difference in your ability to pay critical bills on time.
Mark your calendar to file again every week, or bi-weekly in some states. This can often be done by phone or online, but it can't be missed or the payments will stop abruptly.
Make Adjustments to Your Health Insurance Coverage
If you've been on your employer's healthcare plan, you might qualify for a COBRA extension of benefits. But be aware that it's pricey. You'll pay your portion and the employer portion of the premiums, plus an additional percentage for administration fees.
An insurance agent can help you find more affordable healthcare options. Losing a job is considered a "special enrollment event," so you have leeway to enroll in a spouse's plan or sign up for plan through the Health Insurance Marketplace and take advantage of tax credits and reduced out-of-pocket expenses.
Put this on your action plan right away. You have 60 days to make a decision on a new Marketplace policy or COBRA, but you only have 30 days if you sign up for another employment-based plan, such as your spouse's coverage.
Decide What to do With Your 401k
It might be tempting to simply cash out your 401k when you're feeling the financial pressure of unemployment, but don't make a hasty move until you know all your options. Cashing out the retirement savings before you're 59.5 years old means you'll have to pay income taxes on the money as well as a hefty penalty for early withdrawal.
Although it seems counterproductive to spend money when you don't have an income, paying for a financial advisor's input is a smart investment in your future financial well-being. The wisest choice might be to roll over your retirement fund into an individual retirement account or a Roth IRA or to leave the account active within your previous employer's program.
Plan to take action within 30 days of your change in employment status.
Apply for a Different Student Loan Payment Plan
Just because you no longer have the cash flow to make your standard student loan payments does not mean you should default on your student loans. Four income-based payment plans are available to help you weather the disruption of wages that have disappeared or been reduced.
Completing the application process at studentloan.gov takes about 10 minutes, but before you do it, use the repayment calculator to determine the plan most suitable for your situation. In some circumstances, you could qualify for a $0 per month payment.
You will need to recertify your income and family size each year, which might result in a payment rate adjustment. As you consider new job offers, insert the proposed compensation into the repayment calculator for a look at how it affects your student load payment schedule.
Take a (Free) Crash Course on How to Budget Your Money
Whether you need to brush up on your budgeting skills or have never felt the need to create a budget before, now is the time to sharpen your pencil and figure out how to balance your outgo with your (reduced) income. Free resources can help you achieve that goal.
Budgeting forms available for download at DaveRamsey.com will give you a jump start on creating a money plan that works for you. Extra motivation and ideas are available via the author and media personality's YouTube channel, radio show and podcasts.
For budgeting and tracking at your fingertips, free LevelMoney and Mint apps are available for your mobile devices. Check with your local community college, library and parks and recreation department for free and low-cost budgeting seminars with the personal touch.
Set Aside Money to Spend on Your Job Search
Paying a professional resume writer to review and present your skills, education and experience on a single page for scanning into prospective employers' applicant tracking systems is an investment in your future. Because rates vary widely depending on the writer's experience and areas of expertise, do your research and get quotes before you hire. A good place to start is by contacting members of the National Resume Writers' Association.
You'll also need funds to pay for transportation, dry cleaning, hairdresser appointments and incidentals when you go to interviews. Employer trends in 2017 are toward direct hiring rather than using recruitment firms, so plan on making a good first impression at your potential new company without the buffer of meeting a recruiting agent first.
Rein in Entertainment Expenditures
It can be tedious to go through recent debit and credit card statements line by line, but it's an efficient way to identify what you spend on entertainment. The average for American consumers is nearly $240 per month, an amount that you could reallocate toward truly necessary payments until you have a new job.
Some items like restaurants and movie theaters will be obvious, but look carefully for automatic deductions you've set up for subscriptions, memberships and services. Canceling two or three video streaming subscriptions, memberships to forums you rarely visit and payments for snack-of-the-month deliveries might not seem like a big deal, but the savings add up quickly if you've been a prolific subscriber.
Be persistent. Some services are notoriously difficult to cancel, and you might need to get your credit card company involved to stop the automatic deductions.
Thinking Ahead: How to Prepare Your Finances for a Job Change