Many Americans will soon be getting their COVID-19 stimulus checks. These $1200 checks are meant to help those who have been financially impacted by the virus. What should you do with your stimulus check when you receive it? Here are some of our recommendations for people in different financial situations:
Use your stimulus check for the necessities.
If you’ve been laid off or had your hours cut and you’re struggling to get by, then use this stimulus check for your necessities. Prioritize your expenses, putting housing, food, and medicine at the top of your list. Make the check go even further by saving money on groceries by using coupons, buying in bulk (if possible) for items you use often, and buying the cheaper store brand instead of pricier name brands. If your rent is taking up a large portion of your check and not leaving you with much for other necessities, talk to your landlord. They may temporarily reduce your rent for the next couple of months. Also, many states have some sort of eviction moratorium in place, so do your research and know your rights.
You may be wondering what to do about your other bills that you can’t afford. Paying off unsecured credit card debt is probably not in your budget right now, even with the stimulus check. However, that doesn’t mean that you can just ignore your credit card bills. Missing a payment is one of the worst things you can do for your credit score. Contact your creditors before you miss a payment to see if they can help you with a payment plan. Creditors are aware that people are struggling, so they should be able to work with you. Keep in mind that because millions of people are affected, you may have to wait a while on the phone.
Put it in an emergency fund.
If COVID-19 has taught us anything about personal finance, it’s that emergency funds are extremely important. If you have been deemed an essential worker and have been able to continue going to work or working from home, you probably aren’t relying on the stimulus check to survive. For the lucky ones that have not had their income reduced, use this as an opportunity to bulk up your emergency fund. Just because you are employed now does not necessarily guarantee that you will be in the coming months. You will need to have a safety net in case your worst case scenario becomes your reality. Most financial experts recommend having 3 to 6 months’ worth of expenses saved in your emergency fund. The stimulus check can go a long way in helping you reach that target!
Pay down debt.
Only pay down debt with your stimulus check if you are not struggling to afford the necessities and you have a reasonable amount of emergency savings. If you’re overwhelmed by your credit card debt, the stimulus check can be an important opportunity for you to get your debt under control. You might also want to contact a nonprofit credit counseling agency if you feel you need outside help. They can help you figure out a budget to help you pay off debt. They can also enroll you in a debt management program.
Save for retirement.
Again, this is an option for those who have continued working and have not had their income reduced because of COVID-19. This stimulus check can help people who struggle to save for retirement to start saving. If you have an IRA, but you haven’t been able to put much money in it, use that extra $1200 can supplement your contributions. Keep in mind that the maximum amount you can contribute to an IRA in 2020 is $6,000.
You might think it’s a bad time to invest in an IRA or any other retirement plan that includes stocks. Yes, the market looks bad right now. However, when it starts to recover, you’ll be glad you used this opportunity to get closer to your retirement goals!
What you choose to do with your stimulus check depends largely on your current financial situation. Are you employed? Do you have enough in savings? Do you have a lot of debt? Have you been saving for retirement? The answers to these questions will help you to determine how you spend (or save) your check.