Easy Steps You Can Take to Get Your Finances in Order During COVID-19

Easy Steps You Can Take to Get Your Finances in Order During Covid-19This week we welcome back guest writer and tutor Ariel Salzer to talk about staying on top of your finances during the coronavirus pandemic.

I was talking with a friend from college the other day and I asked her how she is coping with the Coronavirus lockdown. “Not so bad, actually! Now is a great time to get your finances in order.”

Wait, what? Honestly, this was the last thing on my mind. She went on to explain that she had been teaching herself more about how the stock market works and where to make investments and basically just getting her financial house in order. And, she’s a pretty savvy VP of debt and structured finance at a big commercial real estate and investment firm, so I figured she probably knew what she was talking about.

It got me thinking. With high tuition prices and hefty student loans, finances are one of those things a lot of law school and bar exam students would rather not think about—maybe if I forget about it, it will just go away, right? I wish. Unfortunately, things like taxes and loans aren’t going anywhere any time soon.

Rather than ignore your finances, you might as well take some proactive steps toward bettering your situation, even if it doesn’t involve investing in anything but your own peace of mind. I don’t know about you, but if the problem is an unknown, that’s a lot scarier to me than if I at least understand its nuts and bolts.

So, here goes! Here are some things you can do to take control of your finances now that you might have a little extra time on your hands because of self-isolation.

1. Figure you where you stand with your Loans and Credit

The first step is figuring out how much you owe and what your interest rates are. The good news is that you probably have some account statements laying around in the mail or you online inbox. I would recommend setting up online accounts if you haven’t already for any student loan provider, bank, or credit card you have.

Once you know the basics of your account, you can do things like consolidate loans, ask for lower interest rates or higher spending limits on credit cards, and make sure you’re tracking expenses.

When I was in law school, I started an email chain with myself and added to it every time I talked to my student loan company. I wrote down who I talked to, what they said, what papers I filed, etc. The nice part is, everything is automatically date stamped and all your records are in the same place. One obvious caveat? Just be careful not to accidentally send this email to anyone but yourself. If you want, you could accomplish the same thing in a Word doc. or on other platform. The important thing is that you know where you stand and what’s expected of you.

2. Check your Credit History and Score

Sure, you’ve heard of credit scores, but did you know that there are three companies keeping track of your credit and you’re entitled to a free report from each of them every year? No reason to pay for a credit report if you can get it for free, right? Here’s the link. You may not think it’s important to check your credit reports, but mistakes made by businesses and the reporting agencies themselves are not uncommon and can take years to clear up. You might as well take a peek now just to make sure there are no red flags.

The first time I ordered my credit report, I was surprised to realize that there were actually entries for someone else with a similar name—bills from so long ago that I would have been about seven years old when the incidents took place, so obviously not my bills! It took several calls and letters and a couple of years to get those errors completely erased from my history. And they weren’t even my errors! Bottom line, I’m glad I checked.

While it’s not a substitute for ordering and reviewing your own credit reports, you can also have a watchdog site like Credit Karma monitor your credit. It’s free, and they can alert you to how your credit score is doing month-to-month and whether there has been any shady actions that point to identity theft. Having access to your credit “score” can also be handy when applying for a new apartment or buying a car.

Maybe you’re still in school and these kinds of expenses feel far away at the moment. But, now is the time to get things in order. Even something simple like paying all your bills on time and not maxing out your credit cards can help you make sure your credit is ready to go once you graduate.

3. Automate your Bills

This one is a no-brainer. You don’t have time to go and manually pay your bills every month. But, did you know that through most online banking platforms, you can even send personal checks virtually? Now, I don’t remember the last time I needed a personal check, but there are entities out there that still request them, like old-school private landlords. In any case, save yourself the headache and don’t risk paying a bill late. Just go in and automate them all now.

You can also go onto your credit card websites and make sure you’re scheduled to pay the full statement amount instead of just the minimum amount due. Of course, it might not be financially feasible to do this all the time. I know a lot of students use credit cards as an emergency back-up fund and carry a balance because of this. But, since credit card companies charge outrageous interest rates, you end up paying so much more if you don’t pay off the full amount every time.

Just do what you can. I know times are tough right now, but if you have the money sitting in your bank account, and you already know you owe it on your credit card, as sad as it is to watch those dollars disappear, you will save more in the long run.

4. Make sure you know your Tax Deadlines

The Coronavirus has extended the U.S. federal income tax deadlines for 2020. You can read about that on the IRS website here. You can also make an account and check things like previous payments and look up your individual tax situation if you have questions. Of course, you can also file taxes online with companies like Turbo Tax.

5. Review your Budget and Cut Extra Expenses

Do you have a budget for yourself right now? Even things like stopping for coffee every day really add up. Obviously now that you’re probably stuck at home, you won’t be as tempted to eat at restaurants instead of packing a lunch, but there are still unnecessary expenses lurking in almost everyone’s bills. For example, do you have membership fees you can avoid? How often do you use things like your gym, Amazon Prime, Netflix—never mind, don’t cut Netflix! Wait until the lockdown is over. But, you get my point. Tally up the things you’re paying for but not actually using. Because, if you’re not even using it, it’s a waste.

And again, even taking the simple step of checking can help you. Case in point: one time in law school I realized that my internet service provider had charged me for a bunch of items that I couldn’t make heads or tails of. I called up the company and said, “I’m seeing a bunch of charges for something called ‘WWE,’ but I don’t know what that is, can you help me understand?” The lady on the other end informed me, “Oh, those are for the pay-per-view wrestling matches that you ordered.”

The what now!? Hmmm… Several problems here: (1) I had literally never watched wrestling in my life, (2) I didn’t have cable, and (3) I didn’t even own a TV. We had a laugh about it because it was so obviously a mistake, but it was a mistake I would have paid for if I hadn’t caught it—and, not that there’s anything wrong with wrestling, but I’d rather spend that money on something else.

Some students are telling me that they are busier than ever now that everything is going online because of Covid-19. But if you’re one of those (un)lucky few who is facing long stretches of boredom in your day, why not do a few quick checks into your finances. You may find something worth knowing about.


shutterstock_78784651

Concerned about your law school grades? Get the feedback and support you need to succeed.

Check out our law school tutoring options at the Law School Toolbox.

Get started, and ensure you're spending your time wisely!

Got a question? Drop us a line. We're here to help!

About ArielSalzer

Trackbacks

  1. […] This week we welcome back guest writer and tutor Ariel Salzer to talk about staying on top of your finances during the coronavirus pandemic. I was talking with a friend from college the other day and I asked her how she is coping with the Coronavirus lockdown. “Not so bad, actually! Now is a great time to get your { Continue Reading } […]

Speak Your Mind

*