Staying on top of your personal finances during a pandemic may be causing you more anxiety than usual. We’ve put together some ideas for a 2020 mid-year financial checkup to help you focus on some key areas, and be better prepared for whatever’s in store for the remainder of the year.
Halfway through the year is a good time to re-examine where you’re at financially, and make any adjustments needed to put yourself back on track. This year is a bit different, let’s get started.
If you’re receiving unemployment benefits, changes are coming (if not already here). Unless a Congressional extension is approved, the extra $600-per-week federal pandemic unemployment benefit (on top of your standard state unemployment benefit) is set to expire July 31. If you haven’t broken down what portion of your benefits comes from your state unemployment assistance versus the enhanced federal benefits (there’s a difference), do so now so you’ll be prepared for the change in income.
You also want to check on your state expiration, as many states (such as Arizona) have decided to extend their benefits. By knowing what options are available to you, you can maximize your benefits.
If you feel stressed about making rent again this month, you’re not alone. Recent surveys have shown that as of May, roughly one third of tenants didn’t pay rent on time, with likely more to come. While this is not an ideal situation for renters or landlords alike, there is some common ground to be found in negotiating your lease. (This is especially true in major cities like New York where new lease signings are down as much as 36% compared to this time last year.)
Start by looking at similar listings to your rental online. Some markets have seen a drop in rent rates, so this may help make the case to your landlord. Also, consider how much you can afford and whether you feel comfortable about offering to extend your lease. Your landlord is likely stressed as well. Knowing they won’t have to advertise and find a new tenant right now could be a great incentive.
Once you know what you want to ask for, talk to your landlord about it. Many people report having a better experience when the meeting is face-to-face (even if it’s FaceTime or Zoom), and being completely open and honest about their financial situation.
In addition to negotiating rent, it’s important you know your eviction rights as a tenant. As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, many states currently have temporary moratoriums on evictions (see a full list by state here). Even if your state is not covered, it’s still worth checking your city’s housing website, as many large municipalities have enacted local moratoriums on evictions. This is especially true for those living in subsidized housing. For additional assistance, check the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s options for mortgage and rent payment relief, or the National Low-Income Housing Coalition’s list of rent assistance programs by state.
If you’ve been furloughed or laid off over the last couple of months, it’s crucial you check the status of your health insurance, and sign up for coverage. Those who want to continue to enroll in their employer’s health plan through COBRA, can elect to do so through August 28. Those wanting to sign up for a new individual plan will need to check to see if they qualify for a special enrollment period. Many states have extended deadlines ending in July, so you’ll definitely want to get a jump on this.
Your budget should be a top priority for any financial checkup. As money gets tighter, it makes sense to create a new budget, one that might be an “essentials only” or “emergency budget”. Like all budgets, this starts with taking a total inventory of expenses and income, then seeing what expenses you can cut (for instance you may have forgotten to cancel your gym membership, even if it’s closed).
In these unprecedented times, some have also had success renegotiating recurring contracts like cell phone plans, internet bills, and car insurance. If you’ve switched to remote work, ask your employer if they will cover your internet expenses. Finally, if you can’t get out of an annual contract, there’s also an option to “pause” many monthly charges on services you’re not able to use right now.
After you’ve cut, paused, or renegotiated necessary recurring expenses, you can practice the age-tested budget savers of buying food in bulk and home cooked meals. Commuting expenses, in particular, may also be reduced as stay-at-home orders remain in place. The key is to consider how every expense may be reduced—especially if you wouldn’t have thought it possible before. Just about everything is on the table now.
While unemployment is still high, recent figures from May and June suggest jobs are rebounding (though this varies by state and industry). However, the nature of work itself is also changing, with both remote and contract work becoming much more common.
A good strategy now is to build up your online presence, and look at contract work you might previously not have considered. Keep in mind, jobs of all levels are shifting to shorter term and out of office, as the economy continues to swing unpredictably. Whether you’re currently working or job hunting, get started by beefing up your resume and networking consistently through sites like LinkedIn.
Uncertain financial times are one of the primary reasons people seek out credit—whether in the form of new credit cards, personal loans, or lines of credit. A great pressure release valve, various forms of credit all have one thing in common: borrowing money is less expensive with good credit.
Even if you’re not actively seeking more credit, checking on your credit report is important right now as scams are on the rise due to the pandemic. In response, some creditors have imposed credit limit reductions, lowering your credit balance, often without warning. You can stay ahead of these practices by requesting a copy of your credit reports once a week at AnnualCreditReport.com through April 2021.
While doing an annual financial review is a year-end must do, examining your finances halfway through is also a smart way to assess how you’re progressing toward your spending and savings plans, as well as your short- and long-term financial goals. These checkups, combined with our financial health tips for every month of the year, are a sure way to help you keep your personal finances on track, no matter what life may throw your way.
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