American workers are continuing to experience the loss of jobs and income due to the coronavirus pandemic. While many businesses have been forced to close and lay off workers permanently, others have opted to place workers on furlough, with the anticipation they’ll return to their jobs once conditions improve. It may create a sense of security to know there’s a job to return to eventually, but that doesn’t solve the immediate income loss. Here are five steps to take if you are on furlough.
File for Unemployment
If you haven’t already, you should file for unemployment benefits right away. In addition to what you normally receive in state unemployment, the federal government will kick in another $600 per week through July 31 (as of this writing). There may be additional benefits forthcoming, as further coronavirus relief efforts continue to wind their way through the legislative process.
Be aware that state unemployment systems are experiencing record levels of filings; it may take longer than usual to begin receiving benefits. But you won’t receive anything if you don’t file.
Rework Your Budget
Whether you routinely rely on a budget or not, now is the time to start keeping track of every penny. Take a look at all the major budgeting categories and see where you can cut expenses. Keep in mind, any drastic budget cuts don’t have to be permanent, but you may find you like how much you save when you start tightening your belt. Our expenses calculator is a quick and easy way to put together a basic budget if you’re new to budgeting.
Take Advantage of Relief Programs
Many creditors and service providers, such as internet and utility companies, are offering special payment plans or deferred payments to customers whose incomes are affected by the pandemic. However, these programs are on a case-by-case basis. You will need to contact each creditor or provider individually to let them know your situation and make arrangements. Here’s a list of creditor contacts to get you started.
Maintain Your Health Insurance
You don’t want to let your health insurance lapse in the middle of a pandemic. In many instances, employers keep furloughed employees on their insurance plans (depending on state regulations). You’ll still have to pay your portion; either by sending a payment every month or by catching up with payments when the furlough ends.
If you’ve been furloughed and your spouse or partner is still fully employed, you may want to consider being covered by their insurance instead. New IRS rules allow employees to drop their insurance plans and pick up new coverage without waiting for the usual open enrollment period.
Start Looking at New Opportunities
While your employer has every intention of bringing you back following the pandemic, there are no guarantees. Use this time to start exploring other opportunities that could be an even better fit for you. Reach out to your network to let them know you’re open to new opportunities, update your LinkedIn profile, and make sure your resume is up-to-date. Although the time out of work can feel stressful, try to see it as an opportunity to take stock and envision an even better future.