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LEARNLUX GUIDE

How to Financially Navigate COVID-19

How do you adjust your financial plan for COVID-19...and beyond? 

LearnLux has you covered. With answers to your money questions, recent updates on all things Coronavirus & Money, and guidance from financial experts - this guide has everything you need to keep your financial health in great shape!

We’re also opening the LearnLux app for free to anyone who needs it. That means digital tools, lessons, and expert financial guidance in your pocket. Click Here to Try LearnLux.  

-- LearnLux Team

Updated on 5/20/20 

Table of Contents

 

HOW LEARNLUX CAN HELP

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FINANCIAL RELIEF OPTIONS AVAILABLE TO YOU

  • Where’s your stimulus check? Check the status of when your check will be mailed or deposited in your bank account on the IRS’s ‘Get My Payment’ webpage. 
  • The CARES Act: Details about this historic relief package and how it affects your finances can be found in this New York Times guide.
  • Stimulus checks: This Business Insider article lays out important details about these one-time payments of up to $1,200 per person.   
  • Student loans: Federal student loan payments and interest have been paused through September 30, 2020. Official announcement details can be found at studentaid.gov.
  • Unemployment: Learn how to apply for unemployment benefits, continuation of health coverage, short-term disability, and more at usa.gov. 
  • Small businesses: guidance and loan resources for small businesses can be found at sba.gov
  • Retirement accounts: Details about how the CARE act impacts your retirement accounts (including penalty-free withdrawals and extended deadlines for 2019 contributions) can be found in this Forbes article.  

MANAGING YOUR FINANCES DURING THIS CRISIS

What should I do if my paycheck is at risk?  

  • Ask your employer for help. Many companies are offering emergency relief to employees in addition to normal benefits, including things like paid sick leave and one-time “catastrophe" paychecks. Contact your HR department to learn how your company is responding to COVID-19. 
  • Look into government benefits. Your state and local government will have a COVID-19 page on their website. For federal benefits details (including unemployment and paid sick leave), check out this New York Times article. 

How should I adjust my budget in the short-term? 

  • Put non-essentials on pause and reduce expenses where you can to preserve cash for now. Non-essentials might include a gym membership, subway pass, and delaying travel & large expenses that can wait a few months. 
  • Hold off on extra debt payments for now. Keep making minimum payments if you can, and put the cash you save into your emergency savings. And remember; federal student loan payments are paused through September 2020.  
  • Plan for spending changes. With changes to your income and expenses, it’s smart to review your budget for the next few months to make sure you can pay the bills. If you can’t, look for ways to earn extra income and rely on savings in the meantime if possible.  
  • Look to your FSA/HSA. These tax-advantaged accounts can help you cover upcoming medical care or supplies. Here’s an updated list of eligible expenses. 
  • Capture “found money” in your emergency savings. If you find room in your budget and reduce expenses, keep this “found money" in a safe place in case you need it - like a high-yield savings account

Is now the time to use my emergency savings? 

  • Stock up on cash. If you still have a steady paycheck and aren’t worried about covering the bills, that’s great! It’s still smart to check your emergency savings, and make sure it’s fully stocked with 3-6 months of income.
  • Ways to boost your emergency savings:
      • Reduce non-essential expenses for now
      • Use your tax refund if you expect to get one
      • Use the stimulus checks from the gov't
      • Use money you save from federal student loans being paused
  • If your emergency savings isn’t full, look to next best places for cash: 
    • Use your emergency savings first
    • Next, use low interest debt, like home equity lines of credit and personal loans
    • If you still need cash to cover expenses, use Roth IRA contributions (penalty & tax-free)
    • As a last resort, look to credit cards, retirement plan loans, or retirement withdrawals to cover expenses

How should I handle my investments right now? 

  • Strategically staying invested: Stock market ups and downs will likely continue for awhile. Instead of feeling helpless and watching your account balance fall, remind yourself that it’s smart to stay invested for the long term since markets have always recovered and risen higher after a serious drop.   
  • Is the stock market on sale? If you have all your bases covered - a full emergency fund and money to pay the bills - you may be wondering if it’s a good time to invest some extra cash. At LearnLux, we believe investing is a great tool to reach long-term goals (i.e. 5+ years away). Before you invest, get clarity on your goal, time horizon, and how much fluctuation you can handle with your investments. If you’re feeling ready to invest, consider dollar-cost-averaging into the market by investing a set amount each month over the next several months into a diversified portfolio. 
  • Stay up to date on stock market news: Robinhood Snacks is a short, daily newsletter with important headlines about what’s happening in the stock market. 
  • The problem with market timing: If you’re wondering when’s the right time to get in and out of the stock market - read this article first.  

ANSWERS TO YOUR MONEY QUESTIONS

To help ease some of the financial worry, here are the top questions that our advisors have answered. If you have a question we haven't covered yet, ask it here!

How should I spend my $1,200 stimulus check from the government?

With stimulus checks hitting bank accounts and mailboxes already, here are 5 smart ways to spend your relief money from the government.

  1. Put it in your savings account. A fully stacked emergency fund is having 3-6 months of paychecks in a safe place, like a high-yield savings account. If you’re still working towards this goal, $1,200 is enough to make some solid progress!
  2. Pay off your credit card. If you’ve been swiping more than usual on extra groceries and a fancy home office, use your stimulus check to pay it off and avoid expensive, high-interest debt. 
  3. Put it in a retirement or investment account. While you can’t put your stimulus check in your 401(k), you can put it in another long-term investment account - like an IRA, Roth IRA, or brokerage account. Plus, there’s still time to make IRA contributions for 2019 since the new tax filing deadline has been extended to July 15. 
  4. Save for occasional expenses. I’m not talking about emergencies...these are the expenses that come up once or twice a year, yet we never seem to prepare for them. I’m talking about Christmas gifts, weddings & bachelorette parties, and that time your friend convinced you to go on a week-long yoga retreat. Instead of letting these expenses blow up your budget, stash some extra money in a separate savings account for later.
  5. Support local businesses. Your favorite bars and restaurants are hurting while the economy is shut down. Here’s a fun way to spend local - choose 1-2 nights a week to order takeout from your favorite neighborhood restaurant. Or better yet, send your friends or co-workers a surprise treat while everyone is WFH.
Should I sell my investments if the stock market keeps going down?

If you’re freaked out and want to stop the bleeding in your portfolio, you’re not alone. Our brains are wired to want to take action and protect us from loss.  

However, at LearnLux we continue to believe that markets will continue to act like markets... more volatility, more drops, intermittent recovery days, maybe a false recovery in there (just to mess with our heads), and ultimate recovery. Volatility and recessions are the price we pay for the potential long-term gains that the market has historically provided.

If you’re thinking about getting out of the market, we encourage you to pause and think about how that will play out and when you’ll get back in. If you get out when the Dow is at 19,000, are you going to buy back in when it hits 15,000? What if it then goes to 12,000? Are you going to get back out to stem losses or buy more? And then maybe the market eventually recovers and gets back to 30,000. Were you in on the recovery? Or did it feel too late to get back in once it was climbing? Or did it feel like a "false recovery" so you stayed out? Our emotions are notoriously terrible at driving the right investment decisions, but they're so strong! 

So instead of watching your portfolio drop and feeling like a sitting duck, remind yourself that you are strategically staying invested for the long term based on historical data that has shown the likelihood of an eventual market recovery to be very strong.

What’s going on with interest rates and how should I respond?

To soften the blow of COVID-19 on the economy, the Federal Reserve lowered interest rates to near zero. So how does this impact your finances? The first change you might notice is a drop in your savings account rate.

Even with lower interest rates, a savings account is a safe place to keep the cash you’ll need over the next few weeks/months. Here are some high-yield savings account options to pick up some extra interest if you’re not already.

Lower interest rates could also lower your credit card bill. If you have a balance on your credit card, check your account over the next few days/weeks to see if your bank automatically lowered your interest rate. Some major credit card issuers are even offering customers emergency support by increasing credit lines, offering payment flexibility, and more. 

If you have a HELOC or adjustable rate mortgage, your interest rate could adjust downward which would save you some interest. 

Finally, there have been some attractive mortgage rates available recently. Speak with your mortgage broker if you’ve been considering a refi. Now could be a good opportunity. 

Are my student loan interest payments on pause for now? 

For now, interest on federal student loans has been paused. This likely means that new interest on qualifying federal student loans will stop accruing for as long as the waiver is in effect.

This doesn’t mean your federal student loan payments will disappear or the monthly amount will decrease. It more likely means your dollars will work harder by going towards previously accrued interest or your loan’s principal instead of newly accrued interest. Check out this article for more details

What does it mean when people say this is a great time to put money in the market ?

Putting money in the market just means buying equities that are traded in the stock market. Equities include stocks, mutual funds, and ETFs. Since the stock market has gone down quite a bit in the last several weeks, some are saying it’s a good time to buy equities because they are cheaper than they were before. While it’s certainly true that equities are cheaper than they were before, investing in the stock market involves risk. If you're considering investing right now, make sure you have a well-stocked Emergency Savings first, so that if you need cash, you have it handy. At LearnLux, we believe investing is a great tool to help you reach long-term goals (i.e. five or more years away). Before you invest, get clarity on your goal, your time horizon, and how much volatility, or fluctuations, you can handle in your portfolio. 

What is a recession, how long do they normally last, and what does that mean for me and my money?

Officially, a recession is defined as “a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in GDP, real income, employment, industrial production and wholesale-retail sales." What that means is that a recession is when the economy slows down significantly, which typically involves unemployment going up, wage growth slowing down, lower consumer spending, and less economic output overall. Although we don’t quite have enough data to officially declare a recession based on the COVID 19 pandemic, we’re very likely in a recession. On average, recessions in the US last about 11 months, but this one could be shorter or longer. A recession means that your portfolio will likely drop to some extent, some employers will have layoffs, and wage growth might slow down for a bit. Recessions are part of the business cycle, and we expect them to happen periodically with an eventual recovery, but only time will tell how exactly this one will play out.  

What can I use my HSA/FSA money for right now?

Your HSA/FSA can be used for things like thermometers, but without a prescription, your HSA/FSA can’t be used for over the counter medicine. It also can’t be used for hand sanitizer. If you need to get tested for Coronavirus, the test itself is free, but your HSA/FSA can be used to cover other associated costs of medical visits and treatment. 

Check out HSA Store & FSA Store for a complete list of eligible items and care you can purchase with tax-advantaged dollars from your FSA or HSA. 

What side hustles would be good to make money in a time like this?

Delivery services, grocery stores, Amazon and Walmart, among others, are hiring if you’re looking for a side hustle.

Should I be putting more money into my emergency fund?

We’d say your Emergency Savings is fully stocked if you have 3-6 months of income set aside. That said, it’s a good idea to stock up on extra cash in times like these, especially if you think your income might be at risk. Do what you can to reduce expenses short-term and put a little extra cash in the bank. For example, if you have to cancel travel plans, you should be able to get full refunds, and you can put that cash in your Emergency Savings. Every little bit helps. If you’re no longer paying for childcare because the coronavirus shut down your daycare center, sock away those extra funds in your Emergency Savings. 

Use tax refunds to pad your Emergency Fund. And keep in mind that although the IRS has extended tax day until mid-July, your state may still require that you file and pay income taxes by April 15th. Plan to file federal and state taxes by April 15th, but know that you have a little extra time to pay if you owe the IRS.

And although there’s no need to worry, it’s a good idea to make sure your cash is FDIC insured.

How should I balance my need for cash with the opportunity to invest in a down market?

Having cash when you need it is more important than taking advantage of a down market. That said, you might be able to do some of both depending on your situation. Ensure that you have at least 3-6 months of income in your Emergency Savings. It’s a good idea to sock away additional cash given the unknowns right now, especially if your income is at risk. 

That said, continuing to invest in your 401(k) throughout a market downturn can be a great way to take advantage of some lower stock prices. 

Should I prioritize paying off debt over investing in a down stock market?

Rather than prioritizing paying off debt, I would first prioritize ensuring that you have a healthy amount of cash available. Even if it means slowing down on other goals, having cash is incredibly helpful should you potentially have an income disruption or unexpected medical expenses. If you have a healthy amount of cash already, use your employer retirement plan to invest over time. And as for when it’s best to focus more on debt vs. investing, consistently making progress on both is a great way to go since timing the market is virtually impossible. 

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