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4 steps to take if you're among the 50% of Americans who have taken a financial hit from the coronavirus

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While some Americans are riding out the coronavirus pandemic relatively unscathed, many are struggling. So far, at least 30 million people have lost their jobs, and millions more are seeing their paychecks and hours reduced.

Overall, half of Americans say that they or someone in their household has lost their job or otherwise lost income due to the pandemic, according to a recently released NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll. That is up from 32% one month ago. 

And even though so many people have already lost their jobs, there's "a lot of concern about what's going to happen to the economy going forward," too, says Kathy Carey, director of research for Baird's Private Wealth Management group.

Still, if you're unemployed or are worried that you be may soon, there are several things you can do right now that can help you get through the coming months or until the economy starts to improve. "We've been telling clients that they should have a financial plan," says Carey, and to use this time to define "what their personal goals are."

With that in mind, here are four smart moves you can make to help mitigate the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on your finances.

1. Revisit your budget

If your job situation or income has changed, revisiting your budget is the first thing you should do. Sit down, prioritize your bills, and make sure you have the essentials covered, like food and shelter. If you can, try and make all of your payments — and if you can't, make some phone calls to see which creditors will work with you. Many landlords, utility companies, and banks are giving customers some leeway in response to the pandemic.

"The goal is to stay on track," Justin Halverson, a financial advisor with Great Waters Financial in Minnesota, recently told Grow. "If possible, stay on top of your payments. That's priority No. 1."

The goal is to stay on track. If possible, stay on top of your payments. That's priority No. 1.
Justin Halverson
Financial advisor, Great Waters Financial

You can also try a new budgeting method if you haven't been able to stick to one in the past. One example, the "start from scratch" method, will have you build your budget from the ground up, helping you identify and cut wasteful spending. You can also try the "reverse" budget, or even try budgeting around certain events or holidays to help you get the hang of it.

The important thing to do, though, is to make sure you know how much money you have coming in and where it needs to go.

2. Apply for benefits

If you've lost your job or even just some of your hours, don't hesitate: Apply for unemployment benefits right away. Congress beefed-up unemployment protections as a part of the $2.2 trillion stimulus package passed last month, allowing some workers to access an extra $600 per week for the next few months.

Unemployment eligibility requirements are also looser, so even if you're unsure if you qualify, you should try to apply through your state's portal.

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You're likely eligible for unemployment benefits if:

  • You were let go as part of a round of layoffs or "downsized"
  • You were furloughed
  • You were fired because you didn't fulfill the job qualifications, or your performance didn't meet company expectations
  • You're a gig worker, freelancer, or contractor

You may not be eligible if:

  • You were fired for misconduct, meaning you violated a company rule or policy
  • You quit your job

3. Look for ways to make more money

Making some extra money may be difficult right now, considering that many parts of the country are or have been effectively shut down for months now. But some well-paid side hustles and jobs can be done remotely and are still in demand.

For example, if you're a musician, you can teach online lessons for up to $60 per hour. Some sellers pull in hundreds of dollars a month offering secondhand goods in online marketplaces.

Some of the remote jobs in demand include accountants, executive assistants, and customer service representatives. "Because so much of customer interaction now is happening online," Brie Weiler Reynolds, career development manager and coach at FlexJobs, recently told Grow, "we're seeing an increased demand for [remote] customer service representatives and similar types of positions."

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4. Invest in yourself and your career

Finally, you can use this time to invest in yourself. That can be as simple as updating your resume, spending some time learning new skills, continuing your education, or checking in with and expanding your professional network.

If you want to learn something new, there are myriad online courses and classes out there, many of which offer certificates or credentials that you can add to your resume. You might get up to speed on new software or programs that can help you in your industry or shift gears and learn something completely new that may open up exciting opportunities.

"There are few things you can't learn online if you put your mind to it," Jocelyn Kung, a leadership coach and founder of The Kung Group, tells Grow. There are online programs focused on helping you learn more about almost any topic or improve at almost any skill, and many of them are cheap or free.

There are few things you can't learn online if you put your mind to it.
Jocelyn Kung
Leadership coach and founder of The Kung Group

Don't forget to touch base with your network, too. Email contacts to check in, monitor what's happening in your industry on LinkedIn, and maybe even pop in for a virtual happy hour — that can be a great way to socialize and mingle while you're stuck at home.

"I've seen virtual happy hours popping up, as well as Instagram Live sessions and webinars," Angelina Darrisaw, a career coach and founder and CEO of New York-based C-Suite Coach, told Grow last week. "Use those as opportunities not just to be on the viewing end, but also to contribute and build new relationships during this time."

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