The outbreak of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) has created great upheaval in the stock market and has negatively affected the financial health of the economy, as well as the economic well-being of people across the world. It has led to stressed-out shoppers racing to supermarkets. Many consumers are concerned about how they can afford their day-to-day finances as they are now facing reduced work hours or have been forced to leave their jobs.
It is natural to have financial stress. However, the first step is not to panic but to plan. Here are seven financial steps that can help you during these uncertain times.
Project Your Savings & Investment
The stock market has plunged over the past month and it is extremely stressful to watch your stocks, registered savings plan and employer-based pensions (like 410k’s) lose their percentage value significantly. However, the one thing that you do not have to do is panic. Your motto should be to buy right and sit tight. As long as your financial needs are met you do not want to sell your stocks or stock-based investments as it will impact your long-term financial health.
The history of the market has shown that though there have been numerous events that have negatively affected investments in the past, it is only in the short-term, but from a long-term perceptive they have always overcome the obstacles and soared higher. If you have about five years or more to retire then there is ample time for you to recover the losses.
Avoid Panic Buying
We are now hearing stories about store shelves going empty of essential items. Though it is reasonable to stock up and take precautions, panic buying will not help your finances. Before stocking up you need to ask yourself what will you actually need and how much. Now, would you use for example nearly 10 packages of toilet paper in a month? For most households, this is an unreasonable amount. So, you should be reasonable to buy only what you need. Additionally, you should only buy affordable, shelf-stable foods that do not spoil and long-lasting produce like onions and carrots if buying in bulk. Certain foods only have a shelf-life of a few weeks, like milk for example. Over-buying, especially with your credit card will do you more harm than good as you will wind up having more high-interest debt.
Look For Ways To Cut Expenses
If you are worried about your finances and do not have an emergency fund, then you should create a “leaner” budget that is a much stricter one than your normal budget. You can cut your costs in various ways without denying yourself too badly. You can pause all fun budget categories like going out to eat or shopping for clothes, because of the virus, considering the amount of money you can save by doing so can give you added motivation. Also, set a realistic budget for your grocery and utilities. Reducing your monthly budget should be relatively easy in the current circumstances given so many of us are not leaving our residences except for necessary purchases.
Prioritize Your Payments
If you are living paycheck to paycheck, even missing one paycheck can lead to financial stress. Now is the time to be strategic about paying your bills if you cannot pay them all. The top on your priority list should be your day to day expenses like food, utilities, and housing. Everything else can wait. Skipping some payments will damage your credit score but that can be built up when the crisis is over.
Avail The Benefits Of Various Community & Government Assistance Programs
If you have problems and are struggling to pay your student, loans, credit card balances and utilities in the coming months you could contact your banks and other creditors now to make them aware of your situation. They will have some procedures in place that can help you in this unique emergency, like increasing your available credit, place your loan temporarily in forbearance (i.e. you get some grace period where you need not make full payments for your credit obligations) or set up a temporary deferred payment plan. Banks like Wells Fargo, Capital One and Citigroup are encouraging costumers facing financial hardship to contact them to see what they can work out. Credit Unions are also offering to help people with their loans.
Besides these private-sector options, the government is working to implement certain policies that can help cash-strapped citizens during this crisis like lowering interest rates, temporarily differing student loans for payments, and providing the cash.
Take A Personal Loan
If you are finding it difficult to manage your finances, do not use your credit card but take out a personal loan which can be a better option, especially now that the interest rates have fallen. You can research what different banks, online lenders and credit unions have to offer and if you have a good relationship with your bank then you may get more competitive terms. Even a few percentage points can help you save a lot.
Use A Credit Card With The Lowest Interest Rate
If you do not qualify for a personal loan and have to use your credit card, then you should use the card with the lowest interest rate so that you will have less interest to pay.
As interest rates have been lowered you can look for low-interest offers on a credit card or a line of credit with a 0% APR for a short period of say 12-18 months. This gives you some respite if you are having trouble with your finances in the weeks to come. You may also want to explore opening new lines of credit now and transferring balances from other credit cards because new credit cards typically have incentives for balance transfers with no or low interest rates for a certain time. Make sure you fully understand the terms of any new credit cards, but this may be able to help some people.
A Final Thought
It is important to understand that this phase will also pass. So resist the urge to panic, as it will lead to poor financial decisions. The coronavirus is a pandemic so it is uncertain as to how bad it will get and for how long it will last so focus on what is important and make smart financial decisions.