No one knows what will happen in the new year, but with a new president promising to bring different economic policies it may pay to prepare for the worst as well as the better.
Even if the economy flourishes, your employer could make changes or give you a boss who doesn't like you. So what should one do to prepare for a stint of unemployment? It always makes sense to have an emergency plan.
Deborah Meyer, a planner at WorthyNest in St. Charles, Missouri, says she needed to take her own advice after her husband lost his job in June. Though he'd seen the writing on the wall, was ready and did find a new job quickly, the experience drove home some lessons.
"Prior to unemployment, secure a long-term disability policy outside of your employer," he suggests. "If your health takes a turn for the worse, you should be able to have at least a small supplemental policy that avoids financial disaster."
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A spouse who opts to stay home should try to maintain professional skills. "Leadership roles, even with volunteer positions, will be helpful to show to prospective employers," she says.
She recommends frugality at all times , allowing the household to save in good times and minimizing costs in bad ones. "Review or prepare a budget based on the last three to six months of data. Spot big ticket items that could impact your bottom line first," she says.
"In my case, childcare is the biggest expense. We opted out of full-time care provided by an au pair and secured part-time childcare instead. Put any vacation not yet paid for on hold until the employment situation has stabilized. If you have some advance notice of unemployment, live as if the earner is already out of work."
Small expenses like lunches out and entertainment can add up to real money – and a real opportunity to save – so track them to see where you can cut back. Ongoing expenses like car insurance, cell phone service and cable can often be found more cheaply, especially if you've had your contracts for some time. Big items like car payments should be re-examined too, but don't unload the second car if you'll need it for job hunting or a new job.
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Most experts recommend a rainy-day fund large enough to cover expenses for three months for a couple, six months or longer for a single person. This should be separate from long-term investments for college and retirement, and it should be in low-risk holdings that can be tapped quickly.
"These funds should be held in a highly liquid account only," says John F. Knolle, a planner with Saranap Wealth Advisors in Walnut Creek, California. "Liquid, by definition, means not only is the investment easily converted to cash but it is also stable in value. Examples of liquid instruments are savings and checking accounts, or a money market account."
Before losing your job, be sure your credit history is accurate and shop for credit cards with the best combination of high credit limit and low interest rate you can find. Focus on the interest rate, not perks like airline miles.
Also look at whether your life insurance has a cash value that can be tapped. When shopping for life insurance, consider a cheap term-life policy rather than an expensive permanent policy with an investment feature.
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Homeowners can be wise to set up a home equity line of credit while still employed, as it may not be possible to qualify after a job loss. With this credit, you borrow against the equity in the home, and there are no interest charges until you tap the account. Interest rates are lower than on a credit card, but can be reset frequently, so don't plan to carry a large balance for a long period.
Many people find jobs through professional contacts, friends, family and classmates, so it can pay to keep those contacts fresh. Social media has made it much easier to track people down and keep in touch without seeming too self-serving. Services like LinkedIn (ticker: LNKD ) are designed for maintaining professional contacts, developing new ones and job seeking. If you're looking for work, make sure people know, as opportunities can come from unexpected corners. Keep your resume and support materials up to date.
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Of course, if a job loss occurs, be sure to study any benefits offered by the employer such as severance, health care, retraining or job-hunting services. Check on your state's unemployment insurance program on the internet at fileunemployment.org.
You also may be able to find a supplemental unemployment insurance policy that would help make ends meet while you're out of work. One such policy is designed to add to state unemployment insurance benefits to bring total income to half of what had been earned. But it can be a serious expense. A worker earning $100,000 a year in Pennsylvania, for instance, would be charged nearly $90 a month for a policy that would pay $389 a week for 24 weeks.
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Because you'd need to have the policy in force for at least six months before filing a claim, there's no telling how long you'd pay those premiums. The policy pays only if you qualify for state unemployment benefits, which generally require an involuntary job loss not involving a firing for cause.
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