How to Prioritize Bills, What to Do If You Expect a Layoff & More

“The Money Coach” Lynnette Khalfani-Cox breaks down what you need to know about getting ahead of your finances during COVID-19.

How to Prioritize Bills, What to Do If You Expect a Layoff & More

Nov. 30, 2020 — 6 a.m. EST

It’s been nearly 10 months since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the U.S. into different levels of quarantine and shut-down — and the financial struggles Americans are facing have been growing ever since. It’s hard to keep up with the latest rules for rent, student loans, and stimulus packages, so The Dr. Oz Show hosted “The Money Coach,” Lynnette Khalfani-Cox to help you figure out where to begin when it comes to tackling your financial problems. 

Here’s what Khalfani-Cox had to say about which bills to tackle first, how to work with companies on lower rates, and what to do about high medical bills and medication costs. 

First Thing’s First, Manage Your Anxiety

This is a difficult time for anyone facing uncertainty due to COVID-19. Khalfani-Cox says now’s not the time to do nothing and hope for the best. Don’t be afraid to start small and get a hold on your money problems. She says to focus on what you can control. “Everything does seem out of control, but focus on your own habits like tackling one financial chore per day. Focus on being smart, be practical and prudent,” she says. People feel financial stress when they have no clue how to take care of it or where to start. Start by taking on one task at a time. 

What to Do If You & Your Spouse Are Out of Work

Khalfani-Cox says to find out what state and federal programs are available to you in your area. “Now’s not the time to let your pride stop you from feeding your family,” she says. The average middle class family may not qualify for state benefits, but if two people in a family are out of work, you should qualify. You can call 2-1-1 to find out what programs and aid are available to you in your area.

How to afford medications or procedures

According to Khalfani-Cox, there are three things you can do right now if you can’t afford your medications:

  • 1. Be candid with your doctor. Ask your doctor if they have samples of your medication that can last you a few weeks. “You’d be surprised at how many doctors actually do have samples up to 30 days’ worth of some medications,” says Khalfani-Cox.
  • 2. Reach out to medical advocate organizations. “Their job is to scrutinize your bill and work on your behalf to make sure you are not overpaying,” she says. There are websites that help you find medical advocates that specify in your particular need and your budget. Right now many are willing to work with you on budget/price.
  • 3. Learn reimbursement rates. Ask in advance the cost of the procedure, do some research to see the typical rates for your procedure and use that info to negotiate. Khalfani-Cox notes that this works especially well with dental procedures.

You can also visit Sharecare RX to compare medication prices, source coupons, and save up to 80% at your local pharmacy. A little research can go a long way when it comes to medical costs. 

What to Do If You Suspect Layoffs Are Coming

Many companies are struggling to keep up with typical salary rates or the cost of employees. If your company has been experiencing layoffs and you suspect you might be next, start evaluating your finances now. Khalfani-Cox notes that under the CARES Act, if you have a 401(k) you can withdraw up to $100,000 without penalty. 

No 401(k)? Start here:

  • Give yourself a stress test: If you had 50% less income or 100% less income how long would you survive?
  • Next, build cash reserves. This is for people who have a small amount of savings but need to grow it, or need to establish it. 
  • If you have no savings: Don’t be afraid to make some tough changes. Can you get a roommate to save on rent, or live with family or friends? Can you move to a less expensive area of town? Start strategizing. This will help you avoid panic mistakes that compound the situation.

How to Prioritize Mounting Bills

Khalfani-Cox says that as a general rule, you should always take care of housing first, since it’s most essential. Then food and medicine. Then look at what else you need to get by on a day-to-day basis, like a car payment. Utility bills and credit card bills should be your last priority because those companies will generally work with you on payment plans. For car insurance, try calling your company to see what rebates may be available to you if you’re no longer commuting to an office every day.

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