Short on Cash? Here's Some Advice For Families Stretching Their Budgets
Updated on April 13 at 5:06 p.m. ET
Forget living paycheck to paycheck. Many families have lost work during the pandemic and are running out of cash as they wait for unemployment checks and government rescue money to arrive.
These are highly unusual times, and family budgeting recommendations are also unconventional.
Kathy Hauer, a financial planner based in Aiken, S.C., says she's telling people to do things she has never recommended before: "Defer as many payments as possible and worry about it later."
But, she says, don't just ignore all the bills. Make sure to call all the companies and ask for forbearance — either a delayed payment or a new payment plan.
This is an especially hard time for lower-income families who don't have a lot of wiggle room in their budgets, Hauer says. They may not be able to borrow money from other family members. If they have bad credit, they can't qualify for personal loans from banks. Many also don't have credit cards or are close to maxing those out.
Normally, personal finance experts tell people to avoid credit cards — and their high interest rates — like the plague.
But these days Greg McBride, a chief financial analyst with Bankrate.com, says, "This is the one time where it's OK to make minimum payments on your credit card." At least that will buy consumers some time for their bills and allow them to take care of necessities.
Here is some of their advice:
Make a list of all bills coming due in the next two months. Call each company and ask if they can delay your payment or put you on a more affordable payment plan.
On Housing, Student And Medical Loans
For Other Monthly Services And Bills
Candace Grenier, a dental hygienist hunkering down in Anchorage, Alaska, lost her job last month. Both she and her son applied for unemployment benefits but haven't gotten them. "That's been kind of a struggle," she says. Unemployment offices "have been so overloaded with requests because there's been so many layoffs," Grenier says. The long list of services she has cut from her budget include cable TV and plowing her snowy driveway.
In Orlando, Fla., this is a worry for Andrea Delacruz and her husband, both of whom have been out of work since last month. Her husband lost his job as a bus driver before they became eligible for health insurance benefits. To tide them over, her husband thinks about driving for Uber or Lyft. His wife worries that will expose the family to the coronavirus. "I'd rather not have money and owe a whole bunch of money [and] when everything is over, talk to people and try to see what they can do, [rather] than me risking my life," Delacruz says.
Shoring Up Cash
For those with retirement accounts, tapping them is a last resort because there are potential tax penalties for doing so. The new CARE Act allows borrowers to avoid penalties for withdrawing money from retirement savings, if the money is returned in three years. Still, experts say, it's a risky option.
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