As the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. continues to grow each day, you may be wondering what practical steps you can take to protect yourself financially.
Coronavirus: Prepare Financially With These Steps
Money expert Clark Howard is taking the coronavirus seriously — and he says you should be, too.
This article is going to cover what you need to know about the effects of the virus when it comes to federal aid, the stock market, travel, looking out for scams and protecting your overall financial well-being.
You can find all of the latest official announcements and policies from the government at https://www.usa.gov/coronavirus.
Table of Contents
Government Aid Measures
Friday afternoon, President Trump signed into law the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to help the country through the coronavirus pandemic.
The legislation includes:
- DIRECT PAYMENTS: Many Americans will receive one-time checks of $1,200 for adults and $500 per child
- UNEMPLOYMENT ASSISTANCE: Laid off and furloughed workers will receive an additional $600 a week on top of state benefits for four months and gig workers will be covered for the first time
- RELIEF FOR STUDENT LOAN BORROWERS: All federal student loan payments and interest will be suspended through September. This does not apply to private student loans
- HELP FOR BUSINESSES: A $367 billion loan program will be established to help small businesses, $500 billion will be set aside in a fund for big industries, states and cities, and hospitals would get significant assistance
So far, the federal government has announced a number of other measures intended to curb the negative impact the coronavirus will have on the U.S. economy. These include:
- Last week, Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin announced that the deadline to file federal tax returns and pay your tax obligations has been extended three months to July 15
- President Trump announced that he’s instructing the Department of Housing and Urban Development to immediately halt “all foreclosures and evictions” through April
- The government has declared a national emergency, which in turn provides up to $50 billion in funding and waives certain requirements to accelerate coronavirus testing and care
More measures are likely to be announced in the coming days and weeks, so stay tuned to reputable news sources and the government’s official coronavirus site for the most up-to-date information.
If you’re an investor, you’re likely watching the markets very closely. You may be understandably concerned about the way things have been going. But Clark says it’s important to have some perspective about the volatility.
“Until the dust clears from coronavirus, the market’s going to be bumpy,” he says. “As long as you are invested for the right reasons — saving for the long term — and your money is diversified as it should be, appropriate to your age, you will be fine,” he says.
Here’s what Clark recommends:
“Just ignore the headlines and hang in there. Markets — even after a painful decline — eventually recover.”
The good thing about all of this is that the younger you are and the bigger decline in the market, the more money you can potentially make down the road.
“That’s because you’re buying everything on sale,” he says.
Travel plans around the world are in flux right now, but that does not mean you can’t have a plan of action.
The most important thing is to stay abreast of the latest government advisories regarding travel in light of the coronavirus. You can find the latest official announcements here.
Let’s talk about what to do if you already have airline travel or a cruise booked, then discuss the considerations if you’re in the process of planning a trip for a later date.
If You Already Have a Trip Planned
The U.S. State Department has advised U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the impacts of the coronavirus and for U.S. citizens abroad to return immediately if they are able.
Travel Advisory: Level 4 – The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of #COVID19. In countries where commercial departure options remain available, U.S. citizens who live in the US should arrange for immediate return. pic.twitter.com/MydSzFffYd
— Travel – State Dept (@TravelGov) March 19, 2020
If you already have a trip booked, Clark says it’s important that you assess your particular needs and how you feel about travel right now. Here’s Clark’s overall advice on travel you’ve already booked:
“You need to make your own decision now that rebooking policies have become more favorable from most travel suppliers. And that means making your own decision in terms of your health and how you feel about traveling. Traveling is about fun and getting away from it all, but if you’re going to feel a wall of worry, don’t go right now.”
As far as air travel goes, Clark says the airlines are reacting to coronavirus differently. As a result, the rules are complicated right now and are subject to change quickly. “The airlines keep changing their policies and rolling the dates forward,” he says.
That’s why Clark says you may want to hold on to your tickets, but only if you feel comfortable with air travel right now.
If the situation gets worse, the airlines may end up suspending your flight, which will likely trigger a full refund.
For peace of mind, here’s what you should do: Reach out to your airline to get their specific policy as it relates to your ticket so you make an informed decision.
Below you’ll find links to major airlines’ ticket change policies, including fees, and their customer service phone numbers:
- American Airlines: 1-800-433-7300
- Delta Air Lines: 1-800-455-2720
- United Airlines: 1-800-864-8331
- Southwest Airlines: 1-800-435-9792
Clark says, again, you need to understand the policy of the specific cruise line you’re booked with in order to make an informed decision about whether to cancel a cruise that has not already been cancelled for you or not.
We should note that as of right now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends deferring all cruise travel worldwide to a later date, especially for those with underlying health issues.
Below you’ll find helpful links to major cruise lines’ change/refund policies and their customer service phone numbers:
- Carnival: 1-800-764-7419
- Royal Caribbean: 1-800-256-6649
- Norwegian: 1-866-234-7350
- Princess: 1-800-774-6237
When you do call either the airlines or the cruise lines, Clark has some advice on improving your chances for getting a refund or other accommodations:
- Never call on the weekend: You’re more likely to get a contracted call center worker who may not know all of the company’s policies.
- Never call at night: You’ll typically get low-seniority employees who may not be able to make special arrangements for you.
“And if you’re told ‘No’ the first time, you just call back again,” Clark says.
If You Are in the Process of Planning a Trip
If you haven’t booked yet but are in the process, Clark says now’s the time to compare the different policies of the travel providers to make a decision about air travel and cruises based on your comfort level.
If you do decide to fly, Clark has long recommended that you book Southwest Airlines because they have a no-fee change policy, which is the most flexible in the airline industry.
However, in light of the coronavirus, most other major airlines have temporarily adapted their policies to be more in line with Southwest’s. With so many people canceling or delaying travel plans, there are some major fare sales going on right now — something to consider if you do need to fly later in the year.
Clark says he’s in the process of booking travel right now. Here’s how he’s going about it:
“I’ve been looking at the calendar,” he says. “I’m going to buy a number of the deals that are appearing depending on what the policies are when I book and if the policy is liberal enough.”
Here’s what Clark recommends you do if you are also interested in booking air travel right now:
- Print out the change and cancellation policy when you book the ticket: Get a hard copy so that later on, if you decide it’s not a good time to go or if the airline has amnesia about what the policies were at the time that you booked, you’ll have proof.
- Take a picture of it: Clark says having a photo on your phone will help time-stamp the information, as well.
“I want to make sure my money is protected if later it doesn’t make sense that I go [on the trip],” he says.
If you see deals that you like but can’t get the protection you want from the carrier’s policy, consider buying travel insurance with a cancel for any reason policy. Note: A cancel for any reason policy is typically only available if it’s purchased within between 10 and 21 days of the first payment on your travel arrangements.
If you’re thinking about booking a cruise but haven’t paid yet, Clark wants you to take the CDC’s advice to heart and postpone that travel.
This is especially prudent for older travelers with underlying health issues.
Clark says hotel rates are going to be pretty variable right now. Here’s what he suggests:
“This is more important than it normally is: Book a refundable room early and keep watching the prices,” Clark says.
Clark says this will allow you some flexibility if prices go down later.
Clark says you also want to be aware of coronavirus scams, which the Federal Trade Commission says are on the rise. Here are two particular schemes criminals are using to trick people:
- Phony emails: Scammers are circulating bogus emails claiming that companies have developed cures or treatments for coronavirus. In some cases, they are asking you to invest in these “magic” cures.
Clark says now’s the time to “be very wary of anybody who contacts you and says they have an incredible opportunity for you to score money.”
- Fake charities: Crooks are contacting people and soliciting them to provide “relief” to coronavirus victims
“Only give to organizations that you know,” Clark says. If you are familiar with the work a group actually does, this will help you to avoid scams.
When it comes to your overall financial preparedness, Clark says these are the most important things to do right now because of the uncertainties involved:
- Reduce your discretionary spending: It’s time to cut out extra spending. Use this guide to reduce your expenses.
- Aggressively pay down debt: Get serious about your bottom line. Make a plan to attack your debt.
- Avoid making large purchases with credit, if possible: If you can hold off, now’s not the time to put yourself further into debt.
Now is the time to take action to protect yourself from the potential financial impacts of coronavirus — but you don’t need to panic. Keeping a calm head in stressful situations is the key to making good decisions.
Watch Clark to learn what you can do to protect your wallet now:
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