The $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act signed into law last month will make life for many just a little bit easier during this unprecedented time. The bill provides payments of as much as $1,200 per individual making less than $75,000 per year or $2,400 for married couples making up to $150,000 per year; plus $500 per dependent child. (To see how much you may get, try this H&R Block Stimulus Check Calculator.)
With a staggering 16.8 million unemployment claims filed between March 15 and April 4, these stimulus checks come at a pivotal moment for so many American families. And while there is no denying that these checks will offer some immediate relief, many will continue to feel the adverse effects of job loss well into the future.
So how do we plan ahead?
With so many questions still circulating in these uncertain times, it’s more important than ever to carefully consider what we do know. For instance, how this money can best serve you and your family right now.
Consider the Big Picture
Whatever you’ve begun to think about doing with the money that’s coming your way, one thing’s for sure: it will feel good to receive that stimulus check. One of the first questions we suggest asking yourself when you do receive it is this: what am I doing, or what have I been doing with my money… big picture?
Big picture thinking is particularly hard right now… Who knows when the pandemic will end, or what’s going to happen next month, next week, or even tomorrow? But taking a moment of pause to step back and reassess your financial situation is key right now.
Start small in your considerations, and move towards the big questions.
Are you still working? Do you have a significant amount in savings or an emergency fund? Can you safely say that your financial situation is not in impending danger right now?
Though there are currently talks of another stimulus package down the line, right now, these stimulus checks should be taken as a one-time boost for now. This means that the questions you ask (and answer) for yourself are key to your immediate success.
Spend, Save, or Eliminate Debt?
What you do with your stimulus money is personal and depends on your financial situation as considered above.
For those who find themselves out of work, the question of “spend, save, or eliminate debt” with this stimulus money is rather simple: spend it on essentials—rent, groceries, prescriptions, gas, and utilities.
If your income has not been heavily impacted, our suggestion is simple: save it. If you’re still getting paid and your needs are met, what our collective circumstances have shown is that an emergency fund is critical. If you don’t have one, now is a good time to open one with your bank.
If you are in a financially secure place right now and are not concerned about covering the basics—and you are eligible—we suggest putting this money into your health savings account (HSA). Whether you put the money into your HSA for health purposes in the immediate or for the long-term or are just adding to your retirement savings, your HSA is a great place to stash some extra cash.
One of the greatest financial stresses for American households today is debt. And that certainly isn’t going to change during or in the wake of this pandemic.
If you have debt from credit cards or student loans, consider paying some of it off using this money. Do this only if you are financially stable enough to pay for your essentials for at least a few months, though, and if you have money stashed away for an emergency situation should one arise.
If you’re trying to eliminate debt from student loans in particular, check out coronavirus relief programs for student loans first. Interest on student loans is frozen right now, so you may want to consider paying off other debts with high-interest rates first.
Most importantly, remember that the purpose of this money is to keep the lights on, to keep a roof over the heads of those who are struggling. You can always opt to donate some of your stimulus check money to those in need if your situation allows (you can head to the CDC Foundation here for ways to donate).
If you have money left over once the pandemic has passed, you can comfortably spend it on things that are not deemed “essentials.” But right now, we urge you to spend and/or save carefully… and of course, stay safe out there.
If you want more information about the newly-extended tax-filing deadline (we have until July 15th), what it may mean for your HSA, and more, we’ve got you covered here.