Laid off due to coronavirus? Take these 6 steps
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Laid off due to coronavirus? Take these 6 steps

From the Life hacks: Tips for adjusting to a socially distanced lifestyle series
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There are steps you can take to help keep your head above water.

An estimated 1.5 million Americans are suddenly unemployed as businesses lay off their workforce in massive numbers or shutter completely in the midst of the rapidly evolving coronavirus pandemic.

Losing your job is stressful under normal circumstances, but alongside a global pandemic and predicted recession, things can seem especially bleak. Meanwhile, you still need to put food on the table, a roof over your head and manage other financial obligations.

While it may feel like everything is out of your control, there are steps you can take to manage your finances and programs in place to help you keep your head above water.

It’s important to remember: Scores of people are in the same position as you right now. Calling the same banks, lenders and government agencies. Be prepared for long hold times; don’t let that discourage you from getting the relief you need.

Step 1: Apply for unemployment benefits

In most cases, you can file online, but contact your state’s unemployment office if you need help applying for benefits. Some workers who don’t qualify for unemployment under normal circumstances — including contractors and people who file a 1099 form — may qualify now (or will soon) as some states expand unemployment benefits and Congress works on legislation to cover a wider swath of workers.

Be warned: State unemployment offices are overwhelmed by the dramatic rise in claims. It may take several attempts to file your claim via phone or online, and benefits could be delayed as state agencies try to keep up with demand. All the more reason to file your claim as soon as possible.

Step 2: Contact your banks and lenders

“Contact any company you pay regularly and see if they can waive or reduce fees for a while,” says Tara Unverzagt, a financial planner and founder of South Bay Financial Partners in California.

Be proactive and ask for the help, stating specifically that you are financially impacted by the coronavirus. Many financial institutions are deferring payments on personal loans, auto loans, home loans and credit card payments for those who were laid off or are sick and can’t work.

If you have a mortgage backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, for example, you can reduce or suspend your payments for up to 12 months if you’ve lost income because of the outbreak. That covers about half of all home loans in the U.S. Other banks and lenders are doing the same, albeit for a shorter time frame (typically 60 to 90 days).

Federal student loan borrowers can now suspend payments for up to 60 days with no penalty or added interest. But it’s not automatic. You have to call your loan servicer.

Suspending the payments can help free up cash for the things you can’t delay, like food and possibly rent.

Step 3: Triage your finances

Cut out any nonessential spending for the time being. That may mean canceling or suspending gym memberships and subscription services, and even paring down your cable package. You can tap free resources to keep you entertained during this period of unemployment and social distancing.

Remember that these cuts are temporary. The goal here is to free up as much room in your budget as possible for the things that can’t be paused.

Step 4: Tap into community resources

Communities are pulling together to help those hardest hit by the pandemic. Now is the time to take advantage of those resources.

Schools may be closed, but some districts are providing free breakfast and lunches for students. Check your local district to see if there is a meal-pickup program.

Other community groups and industry associations are banding together to help those in the service, entertainment and hospitality sectors, which have been hit particularly hard by mandatory closures.

Community kitchens and food pantries in most areas are also stocked and ready to help.

Step 5: Apply for short-term help, if you need it

Some banks and credit unions are offering emergency loans to help cover the gap between the time you’re laid off and when unemployment checks come in or you are able to return to work. These loans are typically for a few thousand dollars, maximum, with no payments for 60 to 90 days.

Step 6: Keep tabs on the stimulus

The Senate is expected to pass a $2 trillion stimulus package soon, which will likely include a one-time payment of $1,200 to many Americans, though the exact amount a person receives may be based on income. Any payments issued by the government will likely take a few weeks to arrive.

The stimulus package will also include relief for small businesses and a temporary boost to unemployment benefits, including for workers not traditionally covered by them.

If passed, the bill will still need approval by the House and President Trump before it is finalized. The details and timing could change along the way, so keep an eye on how things progress.

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Kelsey Sheehy is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: ksheehy@nerdwallet.com.

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