There’s a misconception that only those who live above their means are the only ones who experience severe financial problems. One in three households, however, reported struggling to make ends meet in a study by Harvard University, George Washington University, and the University of Oxford.
And that was before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. In addition, 40% of Americans said they could not cover a $400 unexpected bill without selling something or taking on debt, according to a Federal Reserve report from 2018.
What’s most concerning about the figure above? The figure was taken while the country was experiencing its longest economic expansion in history and low unemployment. It just goes to show that most people are teetering on the edge of financial disaster due to lost income, medical bills, or home repairs; that’s also not taking into account the mountain of debt that most people are buried under as well.
According to a survey by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health published in October 2021, almost 40% of US households have encountered severe financial problems. The number includes struggling to pay for medical care and food.
However, when earning less than $50,000, serious financial problems were reported by 59% of Americans. In addition, 30% of these low-income households reported losing their entire savings due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
When you’re facing financial hardship, if you don’t have enough income to cover all of your expenses, it can be a stressful time — to say the very least. But, unfortunately, a lot of the pleasures and comforts you enjoy must also be put on the back burner too. After all, you must address priorities like food and shelter before anything else.
If there is any semblance of good news is that there are ways to relieve your financial burden. For some, it could be as little as organizing and controlling your money, like creating and following a budget. For others, they may require further assistance. In either case, here’s where you can find help if you’re in financial trouble.
When there is a financial crisis, you should always stop the bleeding of money. For example, buying a cup of coffee each day on the way to work or not packing your lunch. Unfortunately, when left unchecked, these small everyday expenses can become costly habits.
Of course, there are also much bigger problems than enjoying a daily latte. And that’s because you may not have basic money management skills. Basic money skills include not knowing where your money goes, curbing unnecessary expenses, and how to pau-off debt.
Thankfully, there is an abundance of tools and resources that can help strengthen your financial literacy. Best of all? Most of these are free.
- Financial blogs, such as Due, share expert advice on everything from debt management to planning for your retirement.
- In addition to blogs, financial forums like Saving Advice Forum can connect you with others in a similar situation.
- You can also head over to your local library and check out books, or buy them used, like You’re So Money: Live Rich, Even When You’re Not by Farnoosh Torabi or The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated by Helaine Olen and Harold Pollack.
- There are also informative personal finance podcasts like Bad With Money With Gaby Dunn and DIY Money.
- If you’re more of a visual learner, head over to YouTube and subscribe to channels like Debt Free Millennials.
- You can also enroll in a financial course, as long as you have the time. Believe it or not, Khan Academy’s personal finance classes are 100% free.
- And, finally, there is no shortage of free online budgeting tools for you to try. These tools can track your spending, automate savings, and help you achieve your financial goals. Some devices can even make intelligent suggestions, find better utility rates, or cancel unwanted expenses.
Friends and Family
“There is never a right time to ask for a loan,” Michelle Singletary, author of What To Do With Your Money When Crisis Hits: A Survival Guide, told NPR. “If you’re in a financial crisis, go to the people who love you and care for you and say, ‘I’ve lost my job. I don’t know when I can pay you back. I don’t want to make a promise that I’m going to break and hurt our relationship.’’
“People will be surprised at the number of folks in their life that would be absolutely willing to help,” adds Singletary.
In the same breath, borrowing from close friends and relatives can also be risky. “Failing to follow through on paying back your loan could result in hurt feelings and a damaged relationship,” states Marianne Hayes for Experian. “Here are five ways to make sure you’re taking the proper steps when borrowing money from friends and family.”
Look at the bigger financial picture.
“Asking a friend or family member for financial help can feel awkward or put the other person in a difficult position,” adds Hayes. “Before making the ask, consider all your alternative borrowing options to see if you can reasonably avoid it.” Examples would be taking out a personal loan or withdrawing funds from your savings, 401(k), or annuity.
Be realistic about how much you need.
“Run the numbers to get a ballpark idea of how much money you really need to borrow,” Hayes suggests. Take into account unemployment benefits in your budget if you’ve lost your job, for example. As a result, the amount you need to borrow may be less than you initially calculated.
Know you (and how) to ask, says Hayes.
Identify the people in your life who might be able to provide you with financial assistance when you know how much money you need to borrow. Parents who are retired, for example, may receive a fixed income or have to draw from taxable accounts to support you, she states. Alternatively, a relative or friend with a good job may have enough savings to lend.
Create a loan contract.
Furthermore, writing things down ensures that both parties are honest and helps prevent future finger-pointing that could ultimately damage a relationship. Loan agreements, also known as promissory notes, define the terms and conditions of a loan, like an amount you’re borrowing and repayment timeline.
Prioritize your loan payments.
Paying back your loan, whether it’s from a bank or a loved one, on time should be a priority, notes Hayes. She recommends that this be a regular line item on your budget. Don’t be afraid to let them know if you run into a snag along the way, primarily if they depend on your monthly payment.
People often shy away from asking for assistance from the government when suddenly faced with a financial crisis. However, this is a mistake. Don’t let your ego get in your way of receiving the help you desperately need during difficult times.
Furthermore, we can access government assistance because we have paid into it. Let’s take income tax as an example. Your taxes have also provided assistance to others, like education, healthcare, and social security benefits. After all, this is the foundation of how our government functions.
In short, it’s important to remember that the same system you’ve contributed to in the past can provide assistance to you as long as you qualify.
Are you eligible for any government assistance programs? Visit www. Benefits.gov to find out. This government website includes resources you can use to access everything from food, housing, healthcare, and childcare.
Just note that you’re more likely to qualify for these programs if your income is lower. Also, if you believe that financial troubles are approaching, you must begin as soon as possible. Why? Because the approval process can take a very long time.
Some of these government programs you might want to consider include;
- Unemployment insurance. The qualifications and benefits vary from state to state, but if you lost your job without your fault or cannot work, you may qualify. Here’s a handy how-to guide from the New York Times.
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). People who have fallen on temporary hard times due to job loss, illness, or other setbacks can receive nutrition assistance through SNAP.
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. If you’ve become homeless, or need affordable housing, you find assistance through HUD.
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The TANF program, or welfare, is used by states to assist families in overcoming financial obstacles. Families who qualify for TANF can receive housing, food, and child care assistance, as well as job training.
- Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The LIHEAP program may be able to assist with heating, cooling, or utility bills.
Also offered by the government are grants, scholarships, and loans for students who qualify. For small business owners, you may be able to secure a grant via Grants.gov. There’s also SCORE which connects you with a mentor to provide you guidance.
Credit Counseling Services
These services are available free of charge or at a low price at;
- Credit unions
- Extension offices
- Religious organizations
- Non-profit agencies
You can tap into these sources to assist you with general budgeting, debt management, student loan counseling, housing guidance, or bankruptcy advice.
Accreditation with one of these two organizations is crucial when searching for credit counseling;
Charities and Non-Profit Organizations
While funding is limited, if you find yourself in a financial crisis, these charities and non-profits may be able to lend a hand;
- Community action organizations. These provide a wide range of assistance and help, from utility bill assistance to job training. Learn more about community action agencies by clicking here.
- Catholic Charities. In a crisis, this charity organization can provide financial assistance, cash assistance, or other resources no matter your background or religion.
- Gradient Gives Back. To ensure that families who have fallen on hard times won’t lose their homes, the Gradient Gives Back Foundation was founded. It assists families across the country with mortgage and lease payments.
- Jewish Federation of North America. The organization distributes funds to non-profits across the country. In addition to assisting needy families with rent or energy bills, job training is also offered.
- Ministries from UMC – United Methodist Church. The church-based charity offers a variety of programs. Examples include providing transportation or meals.
- National Assistance League. Although the Assistance League operates across the country, it focuses on meeting the needs of local communities. Chapters offer meals, social services, childcare, school necessities.
- Net Wish. Founded by a private individual as a non-profit organization in 2002. In an emergency situation, the organization offers cash grants and free money to assist qualified individuals in paying critical bills, mainly to children and the elderly.
- Operation Round-Up. Many utilities and gas companies offer an assistance program called Operation Round-Up. Through this organization and the aid they provide, families and individuals in need of assistance can receive energy assistance and grants.
- Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. The non-profit’s mission is to end poverty by offering social services and financial help to people in need. Their services include housing, food, health care, transportation, and utilities.
If your business requires alternative financing, crowdfunding is a great option. Basically, it accomplishes two things: it provides a large group of early adopters and term-free cash for growth. You can make your business grow exponentially by running a successful campaign.
But, when in dire straights financially, you may also be able to use crowdfunding for assistance.
For people who are struggling to get back on their feet, a fundraiser is a great way to ask for help. Fundraising also provides faster access to funds than government programs. Sites like GoFundMe, for example, allow you to use your money during your campaign and not just after it’s finished.