7 tips to get through a coronavirus furlough

Matthew Goldberg

It doesn’t matter the industry or the occupation, a furlough can happen to just about anyone.

That’s why it’s important for those dealing with the financial difficulties of a recent coronavirus-driven furlough to know there are a number of ways to try and stay afloat when you’re not receiving your normal pay.

Even if you’re lucky enough to still have your job today, it may be in your best interest to take some proactive steps to plan ahead in the event a furlough, or lay off, impacts you in the near future. Facing the economic uncertainties of a pandemic, it’s entirely possible that you could potentially be the victim of an employment interruption at some point.

Here are seven tips for surviving a furlough in these tough times.

1. See if you’re eligible for unemployment insurance

Take advantage of benefits available through the CARES Act or unemployment insurance benefits. The U.S. Department of Labor has answers to some of your eligibility questions.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) may be an option for those who wouldn’t normally qualify for regular unemployment compensation.

“The Federal supplement to the state unemployment benefits now makes a big difference,” says Mark Meredith, certified financial planner at Meredith Wealth Planning in Maryville, Illinois.

States give an additional $600 weekly payment to eligible individuals receiving other benefits under Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC).

2. Your bank or lender may provide short-term savings options

Many banks are waiving certain fees or allowing borrowers to defer making payments.

For homeowners, a monthly mortgage payment is usually one of the highest expenses. A mortgage forbearance takes a big expense, temporarily, off of a person’s plate if they’re eligible.

“This could be a good way that you could potentially reduce your monthly outflow towards living costs,” says Amar Shah, CFA, certified financial planner and founder of Client First Capital in San Diego.

Those with federal student loans can take advantage of the CARES Act, which automatically stops student loan payments until Sept. 30. During this time interest is being temporarily set at 0 percent.

Unfortunately, private student loans aren’t covered under the CARES Act.

Bankrate is tracking how many of the largest banks are helping their customers. See if there’s a way that your bank can help you during this emergency.

3. Set a furlough budget

Cut back on spending now to either survive your furlough or prepare for one. Budgeting is the best way to see where your money is being spent.

“Take a close look at your monthly budget,” says Greg McBride, CFA, Bankrate chief financial analyst. “Identify which items you could cut back or eliminate right now. And identify those items you could cut back or eliminate if conditions get even worse.”

Making meals at home, instead of getting delivery or takeout can save you money. Also, you may be able to cut costs by analyzing your subscription services, gym memberships and other expenses that are on autopilot.

Also, reevaluate your fixed expenses. It’s not uncommon to switch auto insurance and homeowners insurance providers and save $500-$1,000 a year, Meredith says. Your cell phone bill might be another area of opportunity.

“I think people, when they’re so ingrained in their work lives they rarely have the time or desire to look into it very deeply,” Meredith says.

4. Balance transfer credit cards can buy time

This emergency can be a little easier to handle if you have more time. More time can help you save, cut your budget and hopefully find a steady income. There are a few lending tools that can do this.

Consider using a balance transfer credit card, a 0 percent introductory offer or a balance transfer offer on an existing credit card.

One caveat is that part of a new credit card application will likely be based on your income. So those who still are employed may be in a better position to take advantage of a low or no-interest period. Some banks may charge an upfront fee of 3 to 5 percent to take part in these offers. If you don’t have the best credit, a personal loan is another option for getting the funds you need.

Be aware of what you’re charging on this credit card and have a plan for how to pay it back — preferably before the favorable interest period ends.

“Limit it to essential spending only,” McBride says.

Keep in mind, losing your paycheck is an emergency.

“So, somebody who’s already been laid off, this is a time when it’s OK to make the minimum payment on your credit card,” McBride says.

5. Try to avoid touching your retirement savings

You may qualify to take a penalty-free withdrawal from an eligible retirement plan, such as a 401(k). But these withdrawals should only be an absolute last resort. Some coronavirus-related withdrawals won’t have a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty if they’re made in 2020. But keep in mind that you’ll still have to pay taxes on these withdrawals, though you may be able to spread these payments out. Also, you could use a Roth IRA as an emergency option if other options aren’t available. Contributions from a Roth IRA can be withdrawn at any time.

A $10,000 withdrawal from your retirement account today could be $57,000 in lost retirement savings 30 years from now, McBride says. That’s based on a six percent annual rate of return.

Annual contribution limits and the fact that you might never replenish these retirement funds are also reasons to avoid this route if possible. A per

6. Find saving opportunities

Try to keep adding to your emergency fund, if you have one, and are still working.

“Do that with any stimulus check you may be receiving, your tax refund and with the discretionary spending you’re not doing,” McBride says. “It’s the money that’s not being spent in restaurants, at movie theaters or ball games — is money that you can be putting into savings to pad your cushion.”

Look for other ways to try and replace income, if necessary. It’s OK to dip into your emergency savings if you’re furloughed right now, since this is an emergency.

Even if you entered this furlough without an emergency fund, hopefully spending cuts can help you create one on the fly. Consider keeping these funds separate from your normal checking account. Keeping it separate can prevent it being spent and may help you earn more interest. (Compare savings accounts on Bankrate to find the right one for you.)

7. Achieve a goal during furlough

You’d rather be receiving paid time off or be working. But you can’t control being furloughed, so it makes sense to use this time wisely. This could be a good time to complete a project around the house or achieve a career or personal goal. These items could help you improve the value of your house or improve yourself for a future job. You might be able to find an interesting (and possibly free) webinar, virtual learning experience or online group related to your professional development. Also, look into finding organizations or societies related to your career, if applicable. The organization, or some of its members, might be going through the same situation and could offer helpful advice.

Perhaps it’s also a good time to update your resume in case the furlough turns into a layoff down the road. It might also be a good time to reconnect with old colleagues, your professional network or your alma mater. Catching up virtually or on the phone seems more commonplace with at least parts of the U.S. on pause and under stay-at-home orders.

“Now [that] you have this extra time,” Shah says. “Make sure you’re capitalizing on it.”

Prepare for future furloughs or a permanent job loss

Spending every cent wisely has never been more important. Keep your spending to the essentials as much as possible.

“None of us knows exactly what the road ahead entails,” McBride says.

Those that are still employed or are only furloughed with reduced hours or pay should use budgeting to save even more.

This article was published at Bank Rate on April 23, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Matthew Goldberg is a consumer banking reporter at Bankrate. He graduated from Illinois State University with a bachelor’s degree in mass communication and earned an MBA at William Paterson University.

He began his writing career in 1998 at Sun Publications in Crystal Lake, Illinois. He was sports editor at The Daily Vidette, a sports reporter at The Journal Standard and a sports writer at The Quincy Herald-Whig. His work has also appeared in Sports Illustrated On Campus. He has been honored by both the Illinois Associated Press Editors Association and the Illinois Press Association.

He also has more than seven years of financial services experience, in both banking and insurance.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.