The COVID-19 pandemic is upending nearly every aspect of our lives. Every day, news headlines seem to bring more questions than answers. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed amidst the uncertainty, but you shouldn’t let these set back your financial success.
Consider these four steps to stretch your budget, so you have a better chance of shoring up your budget, even if you’ve lost income because of a furlough, layoff, or reduced hours at work.
1. Look into refinancing
The Federal Reserve has cut rates to nearly zero, which makes it an appealing time to refinance. In other words, you may be able to replace a loan, such as your mortgage, private student loan, or personal loan, with another loan that has a lower interest rate. Refinancing can help you lower your bills by reducing what you have to pay for a loan.
Refinancing isn’t always a good idea, though. For example, so many people are looking to refinance their mortgages that some lenders are actually increasing their rates. Plus, many loans come with closing costs, which could eat up some of your precious cash. Before you apply, talk to an expert or use an online mortgage refinance calculator to see whether refinancing will save you money.
Time estimate: It depends on what you’re trying to refinance. Mortgages, which are usually the most complicated, could take hours as you usually need to send the lender a ton of documents, get your place appraised, and more. However, refinancing other loans, such as your car or credit card debt, should take less time.
2. Apply for unemployment
If your employer reduced your hours or shut down completely, apply for unemployment as soon as you can. Government programs, including from Congress’ CARES Act, greatly expanded unemployment coverage, including:
- Extended benefits by 13 weeks
- Added an extra $600 a week for four months on top of state benefits
- Extended to those who don’t qualify for regular state employment, including self-employed people and part-time workers
Check with your state government to see if you’re eligible and to apply. You can also check out this guide from the Department of Labor to learn more about your state’s program.
Time estimate: Many states let you apply online, and the application is usually pretty straightforward — you just need to have the right information on hand, like your former employer’s contact information, dates of employment, and latest pay stubs.
3. Take up a side-hustle
With the time you would’ve spent commuting, you can also try to make some extra cash. Companies like Upwork allow you to complete tasks from home, whether you want to design, write, or be a virtual assistant. Delivery apps and grocery stores are also ramping up hiring to keep up with the increased demand now that everyone is leaving the home less often.
Time estimate: It’s up to you! Some of these gigs can take minutes, while others can span hours — it depends on your schedule and what you’re looking for.
4. Talk to a professional
If you’re feeling overwhelmed (who isn’t?), reach out to a professional. Many can talk you through your situation and help evaluate your options for little or no cost.
Be careful, though — there are a lot of untrustworthy companies and scams out there. We recommend using a housing counselor or credit counseling organization recommended by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Jenna Lee is a content marketer, Oxford comma enthusiast, and cat lover living in the Bay Area.