We’re here to help. It’s a promise we made when we introduced Acorns + CNBC this week, and we want to start things off by reaching out to the government workers starting to recover from the partial shutdown. Even if you didn’t just go through this challenging experience, there are lessons here for all of us. The shutdown shows how easily events that are out of our control—losing a job, getting sick—can have a big impact on our financial safety net. Could you survive 35 days without a paycheck?
Today, we’re sharing ideas for catching up on bills and building back up your savings, plus experts you can reach out to for free one-on-one advice.
At CNBC, we’ve been reporting on the big-picture story of the shutdown:
Those are significant numbers, but we know it might have hit you even more personally—not just your wallet but your spirit.
Most Americans live paycheck to paycheck and so going without two paychecks is more than enough to shake the stability of your life. To pay for essentials like rent and food, many of you dug deep to stretch every dollar. Some of you sought side jobs and filed for unemployment. A few of you even went without medical care.
As you’re waiting for a deposit in your bank account, it’s important to know that some of you may see more financial relief than others. During the shutdown, lawmakers passed a bill guaranteeing back pay to furloughed federal employees, and that money should arrive in the coming days as each agency’s payroll operations start back up. Government contractors will see their paychecks resume but won’t necessarily get back pay.
Since navigating the right financial moves depends on a lot of personal details, it’s helpful to reach out to a professional who can help you find the best course of action for you. They can work with you on a budget and help you make a payment plan for debts and bills, to put you on the fastest path to recovery.
The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) offers free and low-cost sessions at agencies around the country for consumers experiencing all kinds of hardship. Another free resource specifically for recently furloughed workers is the XY Planning Network (XYPN), which has more than 60 financial planners ready to help.
In the meantime, here are some general guidelines to help you get your finances back on track as your income starts flowing again:
Zero out pricey debt. If you took out a short-term loan with a high interest rate (a.k.a. a payday loan) to cover expenses during an income gap like the shutdown, that should be one of the first debts you repay, says Billy Hensley, president of the National Endowment for Financial Education. Knocking this debt out will prevent you from getting trapped in a hole where interest and fees pile up faster than you can dig out.
Catch up on crucial bills. If you can’t get up to date with all your expenses immediately, prioritize. First, make your car payment, especially if you need that vehicle to get to work, says Kevin Mahoney, a certified financial planner based in Washington, D.C., who started the XYPN initiative to help furloughed workers. Your rent/mortgage and utilities should also top the list to make sure your basic needs are secure. This is a rare exception to the rule that you should make every effort to pay your credit card bill in full. Compared with the risk of losing your car or having your heat shut off, being charged credit card interest is small potatoes, he says.
Negotiate payments. Call up the companies you owe money to, says Bruce McClary, a spokesman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. Banks and utilities often have hardship programs to help struggling customers by giving them extra time or a break on payments. (A credit counselor can help you script that conversation so you know exactly what to ask for, he says.) That extra effort may help you save dollars that can be used for other expenses.
Get back to saving. Though you may feel pressure to catch up on your bills, be careful to save something from your paycheck. There’s the chance of another government shutdown on Feb. 15. When life throws you something unexpected, cash is important in helping you weather the storm, says McClary. “Then you can get through these difficult times knowing you’ll have some stability at the end.”
A moment of mindfulness.
“The knowledge that you have emerged wise and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive.” — J.K. Rowling