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Personal Finance FAQ

What Should I Do If I Lost My Job Because of the Coronavirus Pandemic?

This article is part of a series on personal finance during the coronavirus pandemic. Please check out the Coronavirus and Your Finances Series (link will open in a new window).

There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.
–Willa Cather

If you lost your job as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, first off, I am sorry that you are facing this situation. It’s scary and it’s unnerving. When I am writing this, on March 26, 2020, we don’t know when this is going to end. So, it’s a challenging time.

Know that you are not alone. On March 26, 2020, 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment.

It’s going to be tempting to feel sorry for yourself. Give in to that feeling for 15 minutes so that you can properly grieve what has happened. Then, take some actions. As Dr. Anne Eyre researched, recovering from a disaster involves planning for and acting on that plan for recovery in phases.

So, you need a plan, and then you need to act on your plan. Finding a new job is a full-time job in and of itself, so treat it as such.

Steps to Take If You Lost Your Job Because of the Coronavirus Pandemic

  • File for unemployment. If you are eligible for unemployment, then you should file for it. Normally, unemployment checks are $300 a week, but the coronavirus stimulus bill, otherwise known as the Final Cares Act, increased the unemployment compensation to $900 a week for 4 months. You can find your state’s unemployment assistance center contact information here.
  • Stop all unnecessary subscriptions and other payments. If you have a Netflix account, cancel it. If you have Hulu, cancel it. If you have Spotify, cancel it. Yes, you’re probably, like I am in Dallas, Texas, in a shelter-in-place situation where you need to stay home as much as possible, and it sucks, as you’re going to lose a lot of your entertainment. The library should offer downloadable books. Pandora is free with ads. Pluto TV is free. You can keep yourself entertained when you’re not looking for a job. How do you find all of your subscriptions?
    • Download your past 12 months worth of credit card bills
    • Scan through each of them to see if there are irregular or recurring payments (e.g. a gym, subscriptions, etc.)
    • Contact each provider to cancel. You can always restart later
    • Monitor next month’s credit card bill and dispute any charges where the provider did not honor your request
  • Create a budget. You should go through the exercises in “Money Comes and Money Goes” and “Cracking the Whip on Your Money” to help you with your budget. This is not the time for frivolities. You do not need Starbucks. You need to make your money last as long as possible.
  • If you have a mortgage and an untapped HELOC, tap your HELOC. You need to buy time to get another job before your money runs out, and drawing down your home equity line of credit during this COVID-19 crisis will help buy you runway.
  • Start networking. Your close friends and family probably know what’s happened already. It’s the people with whom you’re not as close who are, statistically speaking, most likely to help you out. Sure, you can’t meet them for a coffee right now, but you can still use a free Zoom account, Skype, or Google Hangouts. If you both have an iPhone, you can use FaceTime. Make sure you look professional!

    Look good, dawg!
  • Look for temporary employment to fill the gap. Several companies are hiring because they are experiencing a surge in demand due to the coronavirus pandemic. Apply for one of them. Sign up for delivery services, like Uber Eats, DoorDash, or Favor.
  • Maintain contact with your old employer. This may be a temporary issue, as demand dropped because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, and once life normalizes, so may your employer. Make sure you’re keeping in touch on a weekly basis and keeping those connections warm so that, when hiring returns, you’re top of mind. Even if you’re bitter about the situation, don’t let it show with your old employer, as you do not want to burn that bridge right now.
  • Call your credit card company, phone provider, and Internet provider to negotiate new rates or a delay in payments. If you’re proactive with them, they’re much more likely to work with you. Ramit Sethi has an excellent example and script for you to use.
  • Keep the faith and stay connected. The University of Denver’s Daniel McIntosh, along with the University of California-Irvine’s Roxane Cohen Silver and SUNY-Stony Brook’s Camille Wortman studied how religion helps with loss, and
    while you may or may not be religious, there are takeaways that apply too all who have suffered a loss (which you have, having lost your job):

    • The perception of social support helps. If you feel like you have people around you who care and who can help you work through the grieving, your recovery period will be shorter.
    • Cognitive processing of the loss. The best way to deal with grief is to, as the researchers state, “actively…process the information.”
    • Finding meaning. In Christianity, the meaning of death is perceived to be a passage to Heaven (in reference to the research, which was parents grieving for the loss of a child). In your situation, you need to find some other meaning, some new purpose for what to do in the interim time period between now and whenever you get another job or get your old job back.

This is a tough time. It’s not easy to lose your job in any situation, but particularly during the time of uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. Use your support network. Create a scorecard for your daily and weekly activities so that you know that you are keeping on target. Tighten your spending to the bare minimum. Stay connected with those whom you love and love you for support. While we do not know when this will pass, we know it will.

By Jason Hull, CFP®

Jason Hull, CFP®, was the co-founder of Broadtree Partners, a firm that acquires $1-5MM EBITDA companies. He also was the co-founder of open source search consultancy OpenSource Connections, a premier Solr and ElasticSearch firm. He and his wife FIREd (financial independence retire early) at 46 and 45, respectively. He has a BS from the United States Military Academy at West Point and a MBA from the University of Virginia Darden Graduate School of Business.

You can read more about him in the About Page.

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