The economic effects of the COVID-19 crisis are rippling through communities across the country, and Alabama is no exception. Millions are out of work, and countless others are looking into the future and wondering how they will make ends meet.
Getting sick, losing a job or facing a reduction in income often presents immediate problems to solve, like paying for a home, food, utilities and healthcare.
If these are your concerns, your first steps could be to apply for unemployment and explore community and government resources. But no matter your situation, you may be able to start making plans and shifting priorities to weather the tough economic times ahead, even if you aren’t in crisis.
As banks work with customers every day, we see people make smart adjustments and plans for the future in some inventive ways. With this in mind, here are some financial tips that could be of help as you navigate this challenging time.
• Embrace digital banking. Banks are constantly adding resources to their websites and mobile apps, so there’s a lot you can do with your finances, even though you may not be able to go to your bank branch. For example, you may be able to increase your credit limit; seek a payment deferment; or make other changes to your accounts. Your banker should also be available to advise you over the phone or via email.
• Take a hard look at your budget. I have a 15-year-old daughter, and money usually seems to just fly out the door. As everything has been closed now, we’ve been seeing where our money has been going. Use this time as a chance to cut unnecessary expenses and make the most of your money. Do you subscribe to services like Audible or Netflix that you aren’t using? Consider canceling those and cutting out impulse spending. It’s a really good time to look at your budget.
• Protect your money from scams. At the bank, we are always looking out for people who are trying to take advantage of our customers, and in times like this, we know the chance of fraud is even higher. With stimulus checks arriving, criminals may be trying new ways to get access to accounts. Scammers may try contacting you via email, on Facebook or over the phone, claiming to be a relative in trouble or using some other excuse to ask for your personal financial information. In some cases, they may solicit donations for a charity that doesn’t exist. The best thing to do if you even suspect fraud is to call your bank yourself and ask about the situation.
• Save or donate. I think that now, more than ever, as Americans, we’re learning about saving money. My grandparents told me, “Save three months of your salary,” which is great advice. If you can afford to set aside more money than usual, take advantage of that luxury to prepare for what’s ahead. Also, some of us didn’t need the stimulus money as much as others, so if you can, consider donating to a food pantry, shelter or clinic to help people in crisis in the community.
• Get the most out of your money. Interest rates are extremely low right now, so it could be a relatively easy decision to make your funds more available if you think you don’t want too much money tied up in certificates of deposit. Money-market accounts can be very appealing while offering flexibility for you. Check with your banker to work through all your options.
• Don’t panic. When banks started reducing hours and closing lobbies, some customers got nervous. But know that your money is safe in the bank. The FDIC insures deposits up to $250,000, and this economic situation is not like the recession that began in 2008 because the banks are not in trouble. Check whether you should move money that you have invested, but don’t frantically pull your money out of long-term investments.
Lori Harrell has spent the last nine years as market manager of the Mill Square branch of Valley Bank in Alexander City. In April, Lori also was named market manager for the Dadeville Valley Bank branch. Lori will split her time between the two branches and is looking forward to serving the Dadeville community.