Extension Educator, Consumer Economics
Extension Specialist, Consumer Economics
Extension Educator, Consumer Economics
January 29, 2009
On Monday, according to the New York Times and others, US companies announced a total of 75,000 layoffs. I'm not sure I know anyone who feels totally secure in their jobs right now.
If your job might be on the line, it would be smart to have an action plan together. It might include things to do now, and actions that would be contingent on actually getting laid off. Here are some of the things that are on my list, in case I or my husband gets the dreaded pink slip:
Find out whether you are vested. If your employer contributes to your retirement plan, you may have to work a certain number of years before you're vested - entitled to the company's money. If you aren't vested, how many more months would you need to get there, or to be vested in a higher percent of the company's contributions? If you get a layoff notice and need just a short time to be vested, you might try to negotiate.
Plan how you would handle that account if you get laid off. Will you employer let you leave it there? Would you roll it over to an IRA? If so, decide where you would set up that IRA account and find the paperwork you would need to open the account and transfer the money from your employer plan. Spending this money should be your absolute LAST RESORT. Why? Taxes and penalties for one thing. Sacrificing your future financial security is another. Plus, retirement plans are generally protected from creditors.
If your employer has 20 or more employees, Federal law will require that they offer you COBRA coverage, meaning that you can pay 102% of the actual cost of your insurance and keep it for up to 18 months after being terminated.
If your spouse's employer also offers health insurance, he or she will likely be able to add you (and your kids, if you had carried them on your insurance) even though it's outside of the open enrollment period. A family member losing health insurance is what's considered a "qualifying event" that allows an employee to add other family members to their coverage. If your spouse also has a medical flexible spending account, this qualifying event may also allow him or her to enroll or to change the contribution amount. Decreasing the contribution would give you more take-home pay. But do the math. If you know you will have medical expenses greater than the contribution amount, the tax savings of paying it from an FSA might be a smart idea. Just remember, your tax rate may go down as a result of your lost wages. But see the section about Unemployment Insurance.
Filing for unemployment should be one of the first things you do if you get laid off. Find out where to do that NOW, so that you'll be less likely to procrastinate if you get laid off. The sooner you file, the sooner the benefits will start. There is one piece of bad news about unemployment benefits: those payments are taxable income. So your tax bill may not drop as much as you'd hoped.
If you haven't been tracking your expenses, start. First, write down all the regular bills you have: rent or mortgage, car payment, utilities, cell phone, cable or satellite TV, etc. Then start tracking all the other things that take your money: groceries, clothing, haircuts, gasoline for the car, donations, gifts, subscriptions, etc. Estimate how much it costs you to live each month, and compare that with your spouse's income or your unemployment check. You'll have to cut expenses to make up the rest if you don't want to be spending down your assets or going deeper into debt.
If you can't make ends meet without dipping into your savings or selling assets, you need to know how long your cash will last if you can't find a job. What other assets might be turned into cash? There are penalties and barriers to accessing some assets, such as retirement plans and annuities. See our fact sheet for more.
These are hard decisions. Please visit Getting Through Tough Financial Times to find more tools to help you plan and survive this difficult time.
Also, click on my name below to email me and let me know how you're preparing for or dealing with a layoff. We can learn from each other.
Update: Feb. 1, 2009:
This post received an Editor's Choice rating from the Carnival of Personal Finance. View this week's Carnival hosted by Funny About Money. This week's Carnival theme is Buddy, Can Your Spare a Dime?
January 22, 2009
Now is the time of year that most Americans are preparing and filing a tax return. If you will be receiving a tax refund this year, you may be thinking about what to do with the refund. In fact, the money may already be spent. For many consumers the "extra" money is often spent on a vacation, an extra consumer item for the house or maybe to pay off last years holiday bills. Consider the ideas below as you decide what to do with your tax refund:
1. Pay off high interest debt. High interest debt for most consumers is a credit card or credit cards. While it may depress you to send your tax refund to pay only a portion of an 18% interest rate credit card balance, it can save you years of added interest payments. If you were to invest the money, you more than likely would not earn an 18% return; so paying down your debt is like receiving an 18% rate of return.
2. Open an emergency savings account, if you don't already have one. Most financial experts recommend having an emergency savings account with 3 – 6 months of living expenses. An emergency savings account will help if you experience a loss of income or have an unexpected expense.
3. Think about investing. Consider opening an individual retirement account or investing in a mutual fund or stock. There are many great options available that allow for small amounts to be invested each month. With as little as $25 you may be able to start a mutual fund.
4. Save for a child's education. There are numerous investment vehicles to help save for a child's education. You might consider a Roth education IRA, mutual funds, or state sponsored college savings plans.
5. Perhaps the best thing to do with your tax refund is to avoid receiving one. By getting a tax refund, you have given the government an interest-free loan, and are being repaid. Consider changing your withholdings so you have an extra amount in your paycheck each month. Even an extra $50 or $100 can make a big difference!
January 16, 2009
I don't usually get too excited about making New Year's Resolutions, but this year I felt that there were some changes I needed to make. Maybe you feel the same way.
If your goal is to get your financial house in order during 2009, I may have some tips that will help. I was recently invited to speak to a group who wanted to know how to manage their finances during the current economic situation. I shared with them what I think are the ten things everyone should do to protect themselves from major financial mistakes, prepare for the future, and keep things simple in the process.
You can scroll through the rules in the graphics window, above. If you'd like your own financial rulebook with more explanation, you can print out this downloadable file.
Happy New Year! And I wish you much success with living your new financial life.
Rule #1: Pay your bills on time.
Rule #2: Save something every payday.
Rule #3: Plan for surprises.
Rule #4: Keep track of expenses.
Rule #5: Make your credit card work for you...not the bank.
Rule #6: Know how much you owe, and how much you own.
Rule #7: Protect the important things.
Rule #8: Use your financial power wisely.
Rule #9: Write down your financial goals.
Rule #10: Get help when you need it.
January 5, 2009
Happy Birthday to the Plan Well, Retire Well Blog! One year ago my colleagues and I decided to try a new way to communicate with people about saving and investing money, and we started the Plan Well, Retire Well Blog. Our blog supplements the Plan Well, Retire Well: Your how-to guide website.
The past year has been a challenging year for finances, and our blog posts reflect these challenges. Last January, Karen Chan wrote Recession? Depression? Or just a volatile market? Here's help for your upset stomach. She was certainly proactive -- her tips for managing are still relevant. Little did we know a year ago what was ahead of us!
By March gas prices were soaring and Paul McNamara wrote, Higher Gas Prices and Staying the Course with Your Investment Plan.
As the economic situation became tougher for people, Karen wrote Preparing for a Layoff and I tried to stay upbeat with Step Down Your Expenses & Still Enjoy Life. Jennifer Hunt followed up with Have Fun Being a Cheapskate!
As the mortgage crisis revved up and banks started failing, Karen helped put it into perspective with Bank Failures, FDIC Insurance, and What the Media ISN"T Telling You.
In October stock markets fell around the world. Several blog posts encouraged people to not panic. Dow Down 370 Points Today, 777 Points Last Monday: My Take and A Historical (not hysterical) View of the Current Market: David Sinow brings back all the feelings of uncertainty and fear that I experienced then.
With the stock market volatile, we started to worry that people would be especially vulnerable to fraud. Investment Fraud Can Happen to Anyone and Madoff Investment Fraud: Could It Happen to You are our way of reminding everyone to be especially careful for fraud now.
While I'm looking forward to blogging in 2009, I'm hopeful that we will have different themes to write about! However, we are committed to providing timely, unbiased, and practical commentary about saving and investing no matter. Hold onto your hats -- I'm predicting that it will be an unpredictable year!