If you’ve been laid off as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and are unsure how you’ll get through it, you’re not alone. There have been 26 million jobless claims as stay-at-home orders and social distancing mandates have forced businesses to shut down.
If you’ve been impacted, it is understandable to feel overwhelmed if you’re unemployed and can’t pay bills. There is a lot happening in the world—and at home—right now. However, the best thing you can do is to create a game plan. Here’s how to manage debt when unemployed:
Contact your lenders right away
Lenders and credit card companies understand that we’re at the start of a financial crisis and millions of people are unemployed and can’t pay bills. Many have promised to work with borrowers who have been laid off and are struggling to make payments through the COVID-19 pandemic, so don’t delay in contacting your lenders as soon as you know you’ll be out of work. They may have hardship programs in place to help you through this difficult time.
File for unemployment
Unemployment claims are high right now and many states are finding their systems taxed. While processors work to push through claims, it may take longer than usual to get approved so file as soon as possible. And remember, under expanded benefit rules, workers who usually don’t qualify for unemployment—such as contractors and gig economy workers—may be eligible now. If you’ve lost income from any source, visit USA.gov’s Unemployment Help to see if you qualify.
Find out if you’re eligible for severance or earned sick days
If your company offers severance pay, claim it if you’re eligible (the benefit is usually determined by how long you’ve worked there). You also may be able to claim cash payments for any paid time off or sick days you’ve accrued. Contact your former employer’s human resources department to see what you’re eligible for. But keep in mind, those payments count as income, so you may not be eligible for unemployment right away if you take those options.
Reassess your monthly budget
When you know how much you’ll receive from unemployment, assess your budget based on that number, plus any emergency savings you have. Look for opportunities to trim your budget, such as canceling subscription boxes or eliminating a streaming service or two. Those expenses add up and cutting them may enable you to keep making the minimum payments on your debts.
Prioritize expenses such as groceries, insurance premiums, mortgage or rent and your car payment, and then look at how much is left over to put toward your debts. If you can keep paying, it’s best to continue chipping away at your balances. But if you’re concerned about running out of money for essentials, speak with your lender about payment options.
Bear in mind that you want to prioritize secured debts, such as your mortgage or auto loan, before credit card or unsecured personal loan payments. Falling behind on any payments can negatively affect your credit score, but if you default on secured loans, you could lose your home or car.
Ask your employer whether you will be hired back
Because no one knows exactly when stay-at-home orders will be lifted or when the pandemic will be declared over, many businesses are probably unsure when they’ll reopen or whom they’ll be able to hire back. Still, it’s worth talking with your boss about the likelihood that you’ll still have a job when the business is up and running at full capacity again. It may be a tough conversation, but it will help you get a sense of whether your job will be waiting for you and how quickly you’ll be able to get back on your feet financially.
Update your resume and LinkedIn profile
Even if you’re likely to be rehired after the crisis, it’s a good idea to spruce up your resume and make sure your LinkedIn profile is current. Financial crisis or not, some companies will still be hiring, and you want to keep your presence sharp in case you see a great opening. In the unfortunate event that you aren’t rehired at your current company, you’ll still be ready to submit applications to potential new employers when hiring picks up again.
Consider applying for a temporary job
Companies such as Amazon, Kroger, Instacart, and Walmart are aggressively hiring new employees as they face sustained demand for groceries and other essential products. If you’re struggling financially, you might consider taking on a temporary job with one of these companies to make ends meet.
However, as The Muse points out, workers at these companies have raised the alarm in recent weeks about a lack of sick or hazard pay as well as concerns about having to work without sufficient masks, hand sanitizer or gloves. Taking a job in which you’re shopping and delivering groceries or working in-store or in a warehouse could increase your chances of contracting COVID-19, so it’s important to weigh your risks and discuss them with your family.
Reach out to your community for help
Life during this pandemic can be frightening and uncertain, and being laid off can exacerbate your stresses. However, stress and anxiety weaken your immune system and make it more difficult to think through tough financial decisions.
Although talking about money can be challenging, don’t feel you have to go through this alone. Share your struggles with friends and family, and reach out to organizations that are providing food and other resources to people who are suffering from layoffs.
Simply talking with other people — many of whom are in the same position— can make you feel less alone and enable you to learn about new resources or jobs that are available. Most important, you’ll maintain a sense of connection and community, which are critical to maintaining your mental and physical health during this crisis and beyond.