The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, was passed at the end of March 2020 to assist families, individuals, small business owners and medical facilities across America amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.1 As part of this legislation, certain individuals and families became eligible to receive stimulus checks of up to $1,200 per person.1 Many Americans have received their checks already, while some are preparing to receive theirs shortly. If you, or you and your spouse, received a check, here are six things you may want to consider doing with it.
#1: Cover the Essentials
These stimulus checks are designed to help Americans who may be financially struggling due to COVID-19. Whether you’ve been furloughed, forced to reduce hours or otherwise face a financial uphill battle, use this money to cover any immediate, necessary expenses - rent, utilities, groceries, internet and the like.
Consider this check a one-time, mini emergency fund. Take a look at your bills over the coming weeks and determine how you can best be strategic in utilizing these funds. If you’re currently receiving unemployment payments from the government, remember to account for this income when making your financial strategy as well. And if you’re still finding yourself coming up short, remember to check with companies (power companies, insurers, gyms, cable companies, etc.) regarding any relief efforts or forgiveness policies they may have enacted amidst the global pandemic.
#2: Fill Your Emergency Fund
According to a recent study conducted by the Federal Reserve, four out of 10 adults would have difficulty covering an unexpected $400 expense.2 With so many living paycheck to paycheck, this extra bump in funds could be the cushion needed to prepare for such financial obstacles.
Whether your income remains unaffected by the pandemic or you find yourself with some additional dollars leftover, it’s never a bad idea to tuck some away for a rainy day. If you don’t have an emergency fund, saving any surplus from your stimulus check is a good way to start one.
Ideally, an emergency fund should have three to six months’ salary to help cover unexpected expenses such as job loss, medical bills, home damage, car repairs, etc.
#3: Address High-Interest Debt
Total non-housing household debt in America sits at $4.2 trillion, as of the end of 2019.3 While some of these debts include lower-interest debts like auto loans or student loans, $930 billion of that amount is attributed to credit card debt.3
If you’re currently facing any amount of high-interest debt, such as credit cards or personal loans, paying this down should be a top financial priority. If your current financial situation allows it, use your stimulus check to make a dent in (or pay off completely) any high-interest debt your family may have.
#4: Support Local Businesses
If you’re able to, it’s important to patronize local shops in your community. This may include ordering food from local restaurants, buying gift cards from your favorite boutique or frequenting your local coffee shop for take-out. Small business owners have been some of the hardest hit during these times, meaning your business could make a big difference in their ability to continue operations.
Remember, most of these owners don’t have the backing of a larger corporation or franchise. They’re local people experiencing a severe drop in revenue that could jeopardize their position in your community over the coming months.
#5: Donate it
If you find yourself in the fortunate position of feeling financially comfortable during the COVID-19 pandemic, you may want to consider giving to those most affected - medical facilities, food banks, shelters, etc. With these groups stretched thin under normal circumstances, the devastating impact of COVID-19 means assistance is needed now more than ever before.
While the ability to make physical donations (such as clothing, toys, pantry items, etc.) may be limited right now, you can still use your stimulus check to provide crucial monetary relief.
#6: Fund Your Future Retirement
No matter how far off from retirement you are, putting any excess income into a retirement savings account can be a rewarding move. If you’re able, consider using your stimulus check to pad your IRA or 401(k). With the power of compounding interest, that $1,200 could turn into a couple thousand or more by the time retirement rolls around.
These are unprecedented times, meaning many of us are left wondering what’s the best next move for our stimulus checks. Whatever you choose to do, be intentional with these additional dollars. If you’re unsure of what to do next, get in touch with your financial advisor right away. Together, you can discuss the best plan of action moving forward.