3 Steps to Financial Planning if You're Affected by the Shutdown
Updated 1/14/2019 with content specific to the 2018-2019 government shutdown
If you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of government employees going without pay during the shutdown, the following article outlines a 3 step process and resources to weather the storm.
1. Know your numbers
2. Eliminate/Reduce expenses (where possible)
3. Get cash (we show you how)
Step 1: Know your numbers
Write out exactly what you need for the next 30 days. You just need a pen and pad for this, no need to over-complicate it. The goal is to understand how much cash you need.
You’re in survival mode now, eliminate non-essential expenses. Many companies, like Hulu and Spotify, allow your subscription to be placed on hold for a few weeks. (Don’t worry, you can restart these things once your paycheck comes back.)
Here's an example to help you get started.
Start by listing out your bills:
|Food & Gas||– $600|
|Student Loan Payment||– $500|
|Car Loan Payment||– $300|
Now, list them by their due dates and adjust your account balance after each expense.
|Food & Gas Budget||– $600||$2,000||1/25 to 2/24|
|Student Loan Payment||– $500||$1,500||1/25|
|Car Loan Payment||– $300||$200||2/2|
|Childcare||– $800||- $800||2/15|
|Spouses Income||+ $1,800||$1,000||2/24|
|Food & Gas Budget||– $600||$400||2/25 to 3/24|
In this example, they need to find a way to cover the $800 negative balance between 2/15 and 2/24.
Once your list is complete, you’ll know exactly how much you need and by when. See step 2 below to see how you can reduce your expenses.
Step 2: Eliminate/Reduce expenses
For example, the Atlanta Community Food Bank has an agency locator that helps you find where your local pantries and community kitchens are located.
Some local businesses are offering free food on specific days to those affected by the shutdown.
Call your utility companies to see if they can offer a 30-day delay on your bill. Be sure to get any agreements in writing (or emailed to you) and write down the date and time you called, names of representatives you speak to and reference numbers. If you’re approved this would reduce the cash you need right now to survive, but be sure to include the extra payments you’ll have to make later on.
In a comment to USA Today, AT&T stated: "as long as the shutdown is in effect, our customer service team will waive late fees, provide extensions and coordinate with you on revised payment schedules." Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon have also made similar statements and are ready to assist those affected by the shutdown.
Forbearance is normally offered for mortgages and student loans, but it’s worth a phone call to see if your other debts can be deferred or placed in a temporary forbearance due to financial hardship.
Important contact information
These are phone numbers and links to assistance programs not mentioned above:
Bank of America (844) 219-0690
Chase (888) 356-0023
Discover (800) 347-2683
Wells Fargo (800) TO-WELLS
Sprint (888) 211-4727
T-Mobile (877) 746-0909
Verizon: (866) 266-1445
The United Way Atlanta has an online resource searching tool.
Step 3: Get cash
If your account went negative or too close to zero for comfort in the exercise above, it’s time to tap your sources of cash. We recommend tapping them in this order:
Apply for unemployment benefits if you’re eligible
Essential employees who are required to continue working are not eligible for unemployment. For instance, if you live in Georgia and believe you are eligible, you can submit a claim here. Georgia benefits range from $44 to $330 a week. If you receive back pay later, you will have to pay back the unemployment benefits you receive.
Find other work
Most government workers don’t need to ask for permission to work a second job. Contact local restaurants and retail stores to see if they are hiring. You may be able to find a job waiting tables or in customer service.
The gig economy offers quick cash for “easy” work. Consider giving rides for Uber or Lyft, or see if you can offer your services through the Steady app.
If you’re a government attorney, you may need a get a waiver signed by the Deputy Attorney General before you can do legal work outside of your employer.
Use checking and savings
In step 1 you already accounted for the cash sitting in your checking account. If you have cash in an emergency fund, general savings or money market account, now’s the time to use it. You can make a plan to refill it after you get a paycheck.
Investment or brokerage accounts
When cashing out a portion of your investment accounts you may incur fees and create a taxable event, but if you need cash to survive these costs may be worth it. If you sell securities you've held less than 1 year, it's ordinary income. If more than 1 year, it's capital gains.
Local churches and foundations
Even if you don’t attend a church, they may be able to offer financial assistance in your time of need. Here are 2 steps you can take to see if this is an option for you: (1) call a local church and make an appointment with the benevolence minister or pastor; (2) during your appointment, explain your need and fill out any forms requested.
The Georgia Power Foundation just donated $50,000 to St. Vincent de Paul Georgia to assist furloughed and unpaid federal workers and contractors in Georgia impacted by the partial government shutdown. You can ask for assistance by emailing: email@example.com. You will need to provide your name, contact information (address, email and phone number), and a brief summary of your situation.
The first option for tapping your home equity is a Home Equity Line of Credit, also known as a HELOC. HELOCs are the most flexible option because you can draw upon it as needed. They normally have an upfront initial withdraw requirement, but after that, they are very similar to a credit card, with significantly lower interest.
You could apply for a home equity loan (HEL), also known as a second mortgage. These loans typically have a higher rate than the first mortgage, and you will probably have to pay closing costs.
With all home equity tapping options, there may be a delay or hold on underwriting due to the shutdown.
Friends and family
Asking for money from friends and family is uncomfortable for everyone involved, but it doesn’t need to be. Your loved ones should understand your situation and may be able to help in your time of need. Don’t go into the conversation expecting an outright gift, instead, ask for a short-term no or low-interest loan that you will begin paying back once you’re paid again.
You have a few options with retirement accounts - withdrawals or loans. If your plan offers a loan, you'll need to understand the options during this shutdown. Normally, the payment would come out of your check. If not, a spouse's account could be used.
You can withdraw from a Roth IRA without paying taxes or penalties at any age up to the amount you contributed. If you withdraw from earnings and are not at least 59½, you could potentially pay penalties and will be responsible for taxes. As a last resort, you could withdraw from a traditional retirement account and potentially incur a 10% penalty and tax consequence.
Navy federal credit union is offering a one-time zero percent APR loan up to $6,000 for federal employees. Contact Navy federal or visit this page for more information and to see if you qualify.
The Congressional federal credit union is also offering a “Relief Line of Credit” with an introductory APR of 0.00% for a 60-day draw period; after the initial draw period the APR is 4.00% and your balance can be paid over a 36 month period.
If you find other offers for short-term loans be sure to fully understand their repayment plan and rates. Many payday loans have extremely high-interest rates and hidden fees.
If you plan on using your credit cards for relief, set a limit and have a clear view of how long it will take to pay off. For example, if you plan to run up $5,000 of credit card debt and can budget to pay around $265/month, this is a 24-month loan. Sure, this is the last resort but it’s still a source of cash.
We assumed a 25% APR.
Payday, title, and other high-interest loans
We hardly ever recommend someone to consider getting a payday or title loan because of their extremely high-interest rates and fees. If you have exhausted all other options and reduced your bills as much as possible, but still need cash, a high-interest loan may help fill the gap. Before taking a high-interest loan review the contract extensively, and be sure to budget to pay it off in full as soon as possible once you’re paid.
Surviving the shutdown (or any financial emergency) is about weathering the storm. Hunker down and focus on what you can control to limit the impact. Yes, you may need to take on additional debt or pull from savings accounts. This is temporary. Your long term financial health will not be defined by this setback. You got this!
This article is provided for educational and informational purposes only. Nothing described is or should be construed as, specific advice for you, as your situation is undoubtedly nuanced. There are no guarantees that any of the options described above will be extended to you. We do not know when the shutdown will end and when unpaid workers will be paid again. Asking for 30-day extensions on bills and/or debts, as mentioned above, may or may not be enough time in your situation. Before withdrawing funds from any retirement account, please consult a tax advisor.