The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that is now rapidly moving through the United States requires hunkering down—quite literally—hopefully with a good streaming package and shelf-stable food at the ready. But it will also bring harm to many people’s economic lives (not to mention actual lives) as establishments close, markets are unsteady, and doing business becomes harder.
Money is going to get much tighter.
During such a turbulent period, it’s not just prudent but critical to think about your financial health, especially if you don’t have a cushy amount of wealth to fall back on. By acting strategically, you may be able to make this hard time a lot less so where your bank accounts and investments are concerned.
Some workers will be more drastically affected than others, especially those who earn hourly wages or are in especially vulnerable industries like hospitality and travel. (Cities across the country are ordering the closing of bars and restaurants.) Their needs will of course be more immediate, while others who are lucky enough to, say, do their jobs from home may have an opportunity to look inward and more broadly adjust their financial tactics for the future.
Whatever the case is, here are some sensible approaches to your money that could help guide you through the coronavirus outbreak.
Savings, savings, savings
Investing in stocks, as any financial planner will tell you, is a long game. In a national emergency while markets are volatile, it’s generally ill-advised to make any rash moves in that arena (though you should always aim to have a diversified portfolio).
You do need to focus on, well, emergency funds that you can draw from at a moment’s notice. The current coronavirus is more than enough reason to reassess this portion of your finances.
“Take the time to think about your savings, especially if you are in a job or field that doesn’t have guaranteed paid sick leave, or not too much of it,” says Allison Kade, the editorial director at Fabric, a site and app geared toward connecting parents with life insurance policies and other financial tools.
If you’re worried social distancing and other measures will strongly impede your ability to get paid, then consider radically cutting back on any unnecessary expenses (avoid the hefty bills of hoarding) and instead diverting money to a savings account. Experts recommend six weeks of pay in your savings, but the stakes of the current crisis may demand more. Any savings is better than none, but you’re best off with a high-yield savings account whose superior interest rate will make your money work slightly harder. You can also see how to save money with the best auto insurance companies HERE.
Prepare for the worst—in detail
Most people who are infected with the coronavirus get over it, but the elderly and those with underlying health conditions are most at risk. Hard as it may be, when faced with the very real possibility of death, it’s more important than ever to understand what the financial implications would be in that situation.
“Apply for life insurance,” Kade advises. “You will probably be fine, but just in case. Consider it a good excuse to finally get this done.” Life insurance of any kind promises that if you should pass, your loved ones (and designated beneficiaries) will have an easier transition.
The same goes for your will. If you don’t have one or haven’t recently updated it, the virus is an excuse to jump on it and make sure your kids or others in your life aren’t possibly left with more chaos. Formally naming a healthcare proxy, particularly if you’re older or have health issues, could similarly prove to be crucial.
Check out MONEY’s best life insurance coverage here, where we detail companies like Ladder, Health IQ, and Bestow.
Get to know your health insurance better
We can all get confused by the complicated details of health insurance plans. During a health crisis like the one the coronavirus presents, don’t wait to inspect the fine print that could be significant as the outbreak continues.
“Do you have a high-deductible plan? If so, you may want to think about setting aside room in your budget to cover that deductible just in case you or a family member needs treatment or you have to pay out of pocket for something that isn’t covered,” Kade says.
And then there’s the more serious predicament for the millions who are without health insurance in America.
“This could also be a good time to apply for health insurance on an exchange if you are currently uncovered,” Kade adds. (Even outside of open enrollment, you may still apply to sign up for a plan.)
Take advantage of optimal loan financing
There are a lot of moving parts in the government’s economic response to the coronavirus. A glimmer of hope is that you may be able to reap the benefits of more friendly policies on your debts.
For the moment, President Trump is waiving interest on federally held student loans, which could be especially helpful for those trying to pay down such loans. (Payments won’t change, but they will go to the principal amount on the loan rather than interest charges.)
“Get a handle on your student loans,” says Lauren Silbert, VP and general manager of The Balance. “You should be paying close attention to any communications (emails or otherwise) from your lenders.” Take initiative and also navigate to lenders’ websites to make sure you get the full picture, and if you’re still uncertain, communicate directly with companies.
“Be aware that interest will come back as soon as COVID-19 subsides,” Silbert notes, so this is by no means a permanent development, but you may still find some relief.
Skip unnecessary fees
As various businesses close, be sure you’re not paying for something that you’re not even getting. (You might also want to consider canceling regular payments for more frivolous pursuits.)
“Check your subscriptions, fitness classes, and travel plans,” Silbert says. “With many services suspending, social distancing, and travel restrictions you may already be receiving communications from these companies on how they are handling business and potential refunds.”
Follow up and check your statements so you don’t get gouged during this difficult time. And be on the lookout for scams engineered to exploit those in need, like deals that are indeed way too good to be real. A crisis calls for not panicking, but it also calls for extra caution.
Looking for more money tips? Read: 5 Productive Things You Can Do While In Quarantine