10 Things You Can Do During Quarantine to Protect Your Financial Future
The economy may be uncertain, but you can still take action.
As if the quick spread of coronavirus and the strain of social distancing weren’t enough, there’s a third factor of this pandemic that has many people worried: the economic impact. Businesses around the globe have shuttered, millions have lost their jobs, and stock markets are plunging. Even with stimulus packages such as the U.S. CARES Act, there’s certain to be a long road to economic recovery once the health crisis is managed.
Observing all this economic uncertainty can be frustrating and even frightening, even if you’re fortunate enough to have not lost a job or source of income. According to a new survey from SoFi, 14 percent of people say the stock market is causing them the most anxiety in 2020, and 12 percent say job security is. (Covid-19 is the top anxiety-causer for almost 65 percent of people.) A survey from Bankrate found that 52 percent of people have reduced their spending because of concerns about the economy or stock market, but beyond reducing spending, it’s hard to see what actions you can take to protect your finances.
Fortunately, there are moves you can make now—while you’re stuck at home under quarantine—to protect your finances, even with an uncertain economic future. Hopefully the coming months won’t mean job losses or cutbacks for you and your family (if they haven’t already happened), but if they do, smart financial planning can provide a small cushion for you. And now’s the time to plan, too, while you’re sitting at home with a less hectic schedule than usual. Take these actions now, and you’ll thank yourself later.
Create a budget
Regardless of whether you already have one, now is an excellent time to take a close look at your spending. If you expect (or have already experienced) loss of income, adjust your budgeted spending accordingly wherever possible. Money may be tight going forward, so saving wherever possible will only help you in the future.
If you have the time and interest, you can even consider making a quarantine budget to help guide your spending during lockdown or social distancing. With so many common sources of spending currently unavailable—think travel, eating out, and entertainment—your household spending is likely to climb once businesses begin reopening, so plan accordingly.
Establish an emergency fund
If you don’t already have an emergency fund, now’s the time to make one. If you have money set aside for travel or non-essential spending, consider earmarking it for emergencies instead. Any amount you can tuck aside now specifically to help support you and your household during an emergency will help you later.
Research balance transfers
Money-saving expert Andrea Woroch suggests transferring any credit card balances you may be carrying to a card that offers 0 percent interest on balance transfers for the first 12 to 18 months. “This will give you some time to pay down the balance interest free so you can keep more cash on hand for the unexpected,” she says.
High-interest debt (often credit card debt) can be the most difficult to pay down because of the quick rate at which interest accumulates, adding to the overall balance. Low or no interest rates mean you’ll pay less overall, so if you do have high-interest debt or are carrying a balance on your credit card, consider a balance transfer. To ensure it actually saves you money overall—or extends the time you have to pay off the debt without excessive interest—look for no- or low-fee transfers and do your research on any new credit cards before committing.
Pay down high-interest debt
Beyond credit card debt, if you have any high-interest debt—a personal loan, say—and your income has not yet decreased, consider paying off that debt now, even if it means a small financial squeeze in the short-term, if you are able.
If something happens to your income later on (you or your partner lose your job or you experience a pay or hours cut, for example), you may not be able to make regular payments to reduce that debt, and it will continue to accumulate interest at a high rate. By the time you are able to make payments again, the amount you owe may be much higher than you expect, especially if you’re penalized for missing any payments. Paying down that debt as much as possible now—even if you can’t pay it off entirely—can help you down the line.
File your taxes
Tax season has been extended until July, but now’s a good a time as any to file your 2019 taxes. Any changes to your tax status now won’t affect your 2019 taxes, so file away! If you expect to receive a stimulus check from the IRS, this will also give you an opportunity to update your direct deposit information if necessary.
Look at your investments
The key word here is look: Don’t touch (for the most part). “When the market is falling, the natural human instinct is to get out. It sounds counterintuitive, but for mid- to long-term time horizons, it is extremely important to stay the course,” says Scott Cohen, a certified financial planner with Northwestern Mutual. “No one can predict what will happen short term, but over the long run, the economy and markets will come roaring back.”
If you do have investments, they’ve likely lost value recently. Fight the urge to take a loss and withdraw all your money from the market, particularly if you’re investing for the long-term and have a cushion to live off of while your investments are down. If you work with a financial planner, talk with them about any particular investments you’re concerned about, but try to stay calm.
If you have extra money to invest, consider adding diversity to your portfolio now, when purchasing bonds and stocks is relatively low-cost. “Make sure your portfolio has a healthy mix of bonds to stocks as they tend to act inversely: When one’s down the other is up,” says Ashley Russo, a financial advisor at Northwestern Mutual. “This will help smooth out the ride in the market.”
Consider insurance options
Some insurance rates may have fallen, and some car insurance providers are offering discounted rates now that people are on the road much less. Contact your insurance providers to see if you can get a discount or lower rate, or compare rates at different providers.
If you have time on your hands, consider purchasing new insurance now, as well. Life or long-term care insurance can take a lot of time to be approved for, depending on which provider you use, so starting now while you have the time can help the process feel less stressful. It’s also possible to get life insurance quickly with companies such as Ladder, so you can easily check another thing off your quarantine to-do list.
You may not want to abandon your current bank entirely, but now is a great opportunity to research other banking options, particularly if you’re seeking a high-interest savings account or are currently paying fees on your checking or savings account. Interest rates may have fallen everywhere, but some online banks (such as Ally and Marcus by Goldman Sachs) are still offering savings accounts with interest rates much higher than those at traditional banks. Do some research to see if moving your savings to one of these accounts will pay off for you.
Talk about money with your family
Money stress is real, especially now, but learning how to talk about money while you have time to sit down as a family can help you manage financial stress better in the future. With younger kids, explain how market fluctuations are normal; with older kids, be frank about any negative financial impacts you may experience and discuss ways you can save as a family.
Get your credit reports
If your lockdown is putting more time in your hands than usual, check another financial to-do off your list and request your credit reports. You can get all three or just one or two, depending on the last time you checked your reports, for free at AnnualCreditReport.com. Read over your reports carefully for any suspicious activity, and if they reveal some less-than-ideal borrowing habits in your past, brainstorm ways to rectify them and improve your score.