MONEY FIX: Playbook to manage finances during COVID-19 crisis

CHICAGO (WLS) -- As people across the Chicago area remain in survival mode during the COVID-19 crisis, securing your finances can seem nearly impossible. But there are ways you can stretch the money you have.

In this time of great uncertainty, financial experts say the effects of COVID-19 may be out of your control, but you can bounce back if you have a game plan.

Even for the most successful people, money management has been a significant challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic as unemployment soars and the stock market dips to historic lows.

"We're in uncharted territory right now," certified financial planner Brian Gilder said. "It's unreal."

Gilder said the average American doesn't have a strategy when it comes to finances, even on a normal day.

"There's a lot of unknown and unfortunately finance 101 isn't taught in school so we need to kind of give trash courses," Gilder explained.

So today, you're getting that crash course for free with tips from Gilder's latest playbook, "A Coronavirus Checklist."

ESTABLISH AN EMERGENCY FUND
First, establish an emergency fund. Look at your credit card and bank statements to see where you can cut any non-essential expenses.

"Look, right now is about survival mode and being less panicked," Gilder said. "Making sure we have food on our table and a roof over our head."

Money you may normally spend on trips to the salon or gym can be saved and put into an emergency fund.

CONTACT YOUR CREDIT CARD COMPANY
Next, contact your credit card company immediately if you're having trouble paying your balance.

"You want to get ahead of this and talk to the credit card company," Gilder said. "Many people are afraid, if I call and I owe all this money...but if you don't do anything, they're going to assume you're going to pay."

Many credit card companies are offering relief from interest and late fees, but you need to call and speak up if you need help.

CAN'T PAY YOUR MORTGAGE OR RENT?
Those same rules apply if you can't pay your mortgage or rent. The federal government has suspended all foreclosures and evictions through the end of April. But you'll still want to speak with your lender or landlord.

"Many of them are letting you have a 90-120 day deferment of making the payment," Gilder added.

You're still going to have to pay what you owe, so inquire about payment plans to avoid facing a big lump sum.

FILE YOUR TAXES NOW, IF YOU CAN
The IRS extended the deadline to file to July 15, but if you're expecting a refund, waiting could be a mistake.

"Right now, that cash could really help people out," Gilder said.

A tax refund, a stimulus check and unemployment benefits for those out of work can create a cushion to get you by for the next few months.

KEEP CONTRIBUTING TO YOUR 401K
Finally, are you wondering if you should still contribute to your 401K when that money can be used for something else?

Gilder said your 401K is one of the best ways to build wealth. It's for the long term, not an emergency. He advises not to touch it unless you absolutely have to.
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