COVID-19 Financial Survival Strategies

By Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®, AFC® boneill@njaes.rutgers.edu.

Personal Finance Manager’s offices are on the front lines helping military families cope with the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Below are six tips to consider personally and share with clients:

  1. Know the Terms: Words like “waived,” “suspended,” and “deferred” are being used frequently when payments are delayed. They are not the same. “Waived” refers to fees that are temporarily not being charged (e.g., late fees on cell phone plans). “Suspended” means the clock stops on payments for a period of time (e.g., student loan payments through September 30, 2020). “Deferred” means that payments are paused temporarily but are expected to be fully repaid later, possibly all at once (e.g., three months of skipped mortgage payments).
    Woman sitting at desk
    Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels
  2. Increase Your Resilience: COVID-19 has shown how fragile systems (e.g., websites to apply for state unemployment benefits) and people (e.g., families living from paycheck to (no) paycheck) are. This is a good opportunity to focus on your client’s resiliency. Start by assessing your own personal resiliency resources with this online quiz and then develop an action plan to strengthen your client’s capacity to respond to economic shocks.

  3. Acknowledge Loss and Grief: Big changes have happened in client’s lives and they may not be returning to an “old normal” anytime soon. As a result, many clients who view change as a loss are in various stages of the grief process (i.e., shock and denial, anger, depression and detachment, dialogue and bargaining, and acceptance), not necessarily in a linear order. The University of Minnesota Extension publication Change: Loss, Opportunity, and Resilience is a good resource to understand various emotions related to change.

  4. Identify Things You Can Control: In general, people may have improvements in well-being, health, and performance when they focus on things that they can control and let go of things that they cannot. The Coronavirus Anxiety Workbook includes a useful activity to identify things within your control (e.g., diet, exercise, cultivating connections, and establishing routines) and things outside your control (e.g., other people’s decisions, the news, the healthcare system, aging, and weather).

  5. Practice Flexible Foresight: COVID-19 halted so many plans: job changes, house sales, moves, graduations, travel. To add insult to injury, people are looking for an “end date,” which does not exist, and uncertainty is making everything worse. We know there is “light at the end of the tunnel,” but nobody knows how long the tunnel is. What are overwhelmed clients to do? Clients can write down possible future scenarios and how they will respond, i.e., “if X happens, we will do Y.” Clients can line up resources in case they are needed. 
  1. Maximize Government Stimulus Payments: Make a plan for this money. Clients and spouses can make good uses of stimulus benefits and $600 a week of federal unemployment benefits (through July 2020) by adding to emergency and other savings, paying down debt, investing, charitable gifting, setting aside money for postponed payments, and making a needed purchase. Advise setting aside at least 25% of unemployment benefits for federal income taxes.

For additional information to assist clients in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, visit the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station COVID-19 resources website and for the most current COVID-19 resources for the military community: https://finred.usalearning.gov/News/COVID19-Resources

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