(BPT) - From job loss and unexpected medical costs to economic swings and volatile stock markets, everyone has experienced some level of financial impact from COVID-19. It's important to know there are simple steps you can take to manage your money throughout challenging times and position yourself for a secure future.
"It's important to know you're not alone," says Jeff Richardson, Sr. Vice President of Marketing at VantageScore Solutions, a credit model developer. "Creating goals and a plan can help you feel calm and in control, particularly when there are many unknowns."
VantageScore recommends these steps for managing your personal finances throughout COVID's impact:
Self-employed and freelance workers were able to collect unemployment along with those traditionally employed under the CARES Act. Each state processes unemployment claims and has different rules regarding how long benefits last. However, the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program set by the federal government added an additional 13 weeks of benefits on top of state coverage. Visit www.dol.gov to find out more about your state's unemployment insurance program.
Budget for mortgage and rent repayments
Many people are struggling to make rent or mortgage payments during COVID-19. If you were granted a deferral or forbearance on your payments, be sure you know the rules and when payments are due. If you owe a lump sum after your payment suspension period is over, it's essential you save every month leading up to that due date. Divide how much you will owe by the amount of weeks before it's due and you'll see how much you should save each week. Then add this amount into your budget and put the money in a safe place where you won't touch it.
Start or rebuild your emergency fund
In general, it's smart to have an emergency fund to cover 3-6 months of expenses. Your emergency fund should be liquid, meaning it can easily be accessed, such as from a savings account. If you used up your emergency fund during the pandemic due to hardships, think about how you can start replenishing the amount once you’re back on your feet, even if it's adding a small weekly sum. If you don't have an emergency fund, use this time as an opportunity to get savvy with your finances.
Be proactive and educate yourself
The best way to stay on top of personal finances after the impact of COVID-19 is to be proactive. Reach out to a financial advisor; many are offering pro-bono services to those impacted by the pandemic emergency or seek advice from a free independent credit counselling service. Inform yourself by reading blogs, signing up for financial newsletters like the one available from VantageScore and listening to The VantageScore Podcast. Additionally, ask trusted people in your network for insight, such as a financially savvy friend or your employer's HR lead. Be highly skeptical of credit repair agencies. It’s key to monitor your credit score and it’s free!
Monitor your credit regularly
It's always important to be aware of your credit report, but it's particularly important during times of change. What's on your report can influence your future financial wellness, including which loans you qualify for and at which rates. Until April 2021, the three national credit reporting agencies in the United States — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — are offering free weekly credit reports to all Americans. Access yours at www.annualcreditreport.com.
A common myth is that checking your credit score can hurt your score. It won’t. However, monitoring your credit score is an important aspect to your financial health. Don't be alarmed if your score fluctuates. This is totally normal!