As coronavirus leaves more than 20 million Americans unemployed and even more with reduced wages, it seems there are more questions than answers. Do I qualify for unemployment? Will I get a stimulus check? Is now a good time to buy a house or start investing?
In this post, we want to answer some common questions we’ve heard from people who are early in their careers or in college.
Job and career questions
At what point can I file for unemployment?
You can file as soon as you know you’ve been laid off, furloughed or that your hours have been cut.
Isaac Cooper, CEO of IMC Financial Consulting in Birmingham she he encourages anyone who has been impacted in any way by coronavirus to apply.
“Anyone who thinks they could potentially qualify for unemployment benefits, even if there’s even a 1 percent chance you’ll qualify, you should apply,” Cooper said.
Once you file a claim, you can track the status of your claim here.
What do students who are graduating need to know about finding a job now?
First and foremost, do not be discouraged, Dr. Damion McIntosh, a finance professor at Auburn University said. There are companies that are still hiring essential workers or making offers on a deferred basis or work-from-home basis. Some are making offers with the right to withdraw — “I expect in the event that they do not necessarily recover in time or may no longer need that particular position.” Continue to apply so that you can be shortlisted and interviewed. Also consider whether graduate school is an alternative.
“Please don’t hold off on looking,” Addye Buckley-Burnell, the associate director of Auburn’s career center, said.
Some of the positions may look different or it may not be the employer you were hoping, but there are options out there. This website tracks how different employers are handling things.
Networking is going to be even more important at this time. It will help students find out about more positions and to have an advantage when applying. Career fairs are still occurring virtually. You should also work with your school’s career center. Many work with recent graduates as well.
My company cut my wages. Will they stay cut? At what point will it go back up? Can I get government assistance because they were cut?
It’s hard to know exactly what your employer will do. However, the CARES Act does provide assistance for people whose wages have been cut due to COVID-19, and you may also qualify for a stimulus check based on your income and tax filing status.
It’s most likely that your wages will stay cut until the company or the market feels it has recovered. If the company does not feel it has recovered enough but the market has, then the market will drive general wage levels up, pressuring the company to respond so that it can retain its workforce.
What will the job market look like in the coming months?
“The job market will continue to contract over the next couple of months despite the economic fuel intended by the CARES Act,” McIntosh said. Looking at the longer term, like the last quarter of the year (September-December), the job market will remain tight because there will be an oversupply of labor and companies will still be trying to figure out what strategies and models they need to implement to combat the adverse impact of the pandemic.
However, some economists aren’t comfortable trying to predict what will happen in the future.
I’m starting a job in another state. Will I make enough money to relocate? Is that a smart choice?
Relocating is a decision not to be taken lightly. Cooper encouraged people looking to move or buy a home to consider the long-term future of their employment. If you’re comfortable with your situation, now is a great time to take advantage of low interest rates. But don’t rush to buy a house just because interest rates are low. Like any time, be sure to weigh not just your present finances, but your future when choosing to make a large purchase, like a home.
McIntosh said people should look at the decision from both a financial and health perspective. If the job pays much more than what you’re earning now or you’re a young graduate without a job to compare it to, then you should go ahead. When looking at how much you’d make, factor in the cost of living. Now, if that spot is recognized as a hotspot for the coronavirus, then you should consider if you can take that risk. You can also ask to work from home. Your employer should be understanding. If not, then that may be cause to rethink if you want to work for that company.
What kind of government aid will I receive from the stimulus package as a young professional?
The stimulus provides $1,200 for individuals earning up to $75,000 and $2,400 for married couples filing jointly who earn up to $150,000. Recipients who earn more than those amounts will see their payments reduced by $5 for each $100 above the income threshold. Single filers who earn more than $99,000 and joint filers who earn more than $198,000 are not eligible. The stimulus also provides $500 for each qualifying child.
You may also be entitled to unemployment benefits or the Paycheck Protection Program if you operate a small business.
I’m an Uber driver or other gig worker and don’t have business right now. Can I file for unemployment?
The CARES Act expanded unemployment benefits for self-employed individuals. Freelancers, independent contractors and gig workers (such as Uber drivers) don’t typically qualify for unemployment benefits when they lose their jobs. The CARES act established a new program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which provides unemployment benefits for these workers.
However, the Alabama Department of Labor said some claims made by self-employed workers were denied. However, ADOL officials say those people should continue filing weekly claims. Because of the CARES Act, those claims should be approved. Once they’re approved, those claims will be paid retroactively, according to ADOL.
When filing a claim, self-employed people should enter their name as their employer and use either their own address or business address.
How much should I be saving? Should I be increasing the amount? And to what accounts, 401(k)s, IRAs, CDs, general growth accounts?
If you don’t already have savings, Cooper encourages those who are still working to look at their expenses, cut where they can and then start saving a small amount each month.
“Even if it’s $25, the fact that you completed that action is good. You can adjust the amount you save later. It’s like working out. I won’t be able to pick up the 50 pound weight at first, but will pick up the 10 pound weight,” Cooper said.
McIntosh also believes you should always have an emergency fund, separate from the investment fund you may have for retirement. Now, if your income level remains the same, you should maintain a similar saving pattern and direct the excess from reduced expenses into the emergency fund. If you didn’t already have an emergency fund, you should be creating one with the excess money you have from reduced expenses. If you haven’t reduced your expenses, look at what you can cut and start that emergency fund.
With low interest rates, you should be focused on wealth accumulation rather than income generation to help protect yourself in the event of an emergency.
“Once we have exited this emergency, then you can now be focused on which are the best accounts that will allow me to maximize my return?” McIntosh said.
Auburn’s career center recommends you save five to ten percent of your income. It also recommends the 50-30-20 plan. Fifty percent should go to your needs — housing, utilities, etcetera. Thirty percent should go into your spending down to pay off debts, student loans and credit card debts. The rest should go to your savings, investments and retirement funds, although in this situation your savings account is the most important. You should put that money into your savings when you first get it because if you wait until the end of the money, it’s likely you’ll have less leftover than you planned.
Should I be investing in anything?
McIntosh offered the professional disclaimer that he cannot give financial or investment advice.
People should always be looking for opportunities to invest, no matter the situation McIntosh said. He provided a professional disclaimer that he cannot give financial or investment advice. And as young people, the fluctuation of the stock market should not make too much of a difference. Young investors are going for capital accumulation purposes, especially for retirement. Over the time between when they start investing and when they need the money, the market will fluctuate many times.
“That should be irrelevant to you because you’re investing long term,” McIntosh said.
Right now, the market is performing at a significantly lower place, so young people will have the advantage of buying cheaper stocks. The low pace should not be a trigger to sell because the market will rebound eventually. Young people should look for companies they believe will rebound well or take advantage of new markets. However, it is best to speak with a financial advisor if you decide to proceed. He or she will be able to develop an investment profile and then recommend investment products.
How much should I be giving to help others versus saving and being safe?
It’s all about balance. When deciding how much to spend versus save, you need to consider your current and future needs first. The local economy needs to survive, but so do you. Be mindful how much money comes from the excess you have from reduced spending after you’ve covered all your essential expenses and saving objectives.
“I think it’s best to find that right balance. So it might be once per week you choose a local restaurant or a local business that you support in that endeavor,” McIntosh said. He also mentioned that your charity does not have to be monetary. You can also give time or items.
If you’re able to pay all your bills and want to give some of your remaining funds, Cooper encourages people to give to their local nonprofit or small business.
Is it a good idea to have kids right now?
This is a very personal decision, so McIntosh addressed it from a financial perspective. He said that couples should recognize the costs that go with raising kids and make sure they can cover them. Those costs also increase in extenuating circumstances, like these. The expenses associated with raising children are not sensitive to a crisis and cannot be cut out of a budget.
“I am aware of parents now who are shocked at how much their kids eat because now they’re home with them,” McIntosh said.
According to the USDA, the average cost per year of caring for a child 2 years old and younger was $12,680 in 2015, the most recent data year available. The actual birth costs an average of $5,230.46 in Alabama if there are no complications and you have health insurance, according to an article Business Insider released in 2019.
Beyond that, if you have lost your job or are furloughed, then the elevated costs will become more difficult to cover. The decision should not just be an emotional one. It should include an element of financial planning.
I’m a college student. I have a job and pay several of my own bills, but I’m still listed as a dependent on my parents’ tax returns. Will I get a check?
If you are claimed as a dependent or if you qualify for dependent status, you are not eligible for a stimulus check. If your parents qualify for the stimulus and you are 17 or younger, your parents will get an additional $500. If you’re over the age of 17, your parents will not get the additional $500, even if you are a dependent or live in their home.
Knowing if you qualify as a dependent can seem complicated. Here are some general guidelines:
You may qualify as a dependent if you are under 19 or a full-time student under the age of 24
· If your parent(s) or guardian(s) provide more than half of your income
· If you’ve lived with your parent(s) or guardian(s) more than half the year, though exceptions apply
However, being eligible to receive a stimulus check doesn’t all depend on your age. If, for example, you are 22, married and work and file joint tax returns with your spouse, you are not eligible to be claimed as a dependent, even if you are a full time student. In that scenario you would be a potential candidate for a stimulus check.
If you are 23, a full time student, and rely on your parent(s) or guardian(s) for more than half of your annual income, you are eligible to be claimed as a dependent and are likely not a potential candidate for a stimulus check.
To qualify as a full-time student according to the IRS, the person must be, during some part of five months of the year be a full-time student at a college or university or be a student taking a full-time, on-farm training course given by a school or by a state, county, or local government agency. The five months do not have to be consecutive.
“It’s also important to be aware that a parent can’t just choose NOT to claim a child as a dependent in order to let the child claim himself, if he qualifies under the rules for dependents below age of 24. In other words, parents of a child under 24 they support can’t just say ‘we release you,’” said Brad Garland, a certified public accountant at Brand Blackwell & Co. in Huntsville.
However, everyone should take the time to check their own status using the “Get My Payment” tool provided by the IRS.
If you’re still unsure about your dependent status, talk to a tax professional.
I’m in my early 20s and this is my first year working. I haven’t filed a tax return based on my current income. Will I be able to get adequate unemployment? Will I get a stimulus check?
Typically, unemployment is based on your past income, but you may be able to receive unemployment benefits based on the limited work history you have if you meet the eligibility requirements. That also applies if you are now partially employed or unable to work because of COVID-19-related issues, McIntosh said.
For the stimulus checks, you should meet the requirements if you have a valid social security number and are not claimed as a dependent. If you didn’t file a 2019 tax return because you didn’t make enough to file taxes in 2019 (under $12,200 for individuals or under $24,400 for couples) or for some other reason aren’t required to file taxes and can’t be claimed as a dependent, you can report your income and bank information through the IRS website. Garland said you should be eligible for a stimulus check, even if you made zero income last year. You’ll ultimately qualify for the relief credit based on your 2020 income tax situation, he said.
Garland is urging people to only submit income and bank information through the IRS website. He said the IRS will never initiate a phone call with you.
“[You] want to be sure you do everything through irs.gov. Don’t use a third party website.”
My parents still support me but I have a job. Should I file independently to get a check?
If you are eligible for dependent status (see above for more on dependent status), you are not eligible for a stimulus check. However, you may be eligible for unemployment. Alabama residents can file unemployment claims at labor.alabama.gov.
If you could file independently or as a dependent, you should consider how much your parents’ tax liability will increase.
“If their tax liability increases more than what their kids will get as their stimulus check, then it makes no sense that their children file independently,” McIntosh said.
What if I’m not making enough to file a tax return? What do I do?
For the stimulus checks, if you didn’t file a 2019 tax return because you didn’t make enough to pay taxes in 2019 (under $12,200 for individuals or under $24,400 for couples) or for some other reason aren’t required to pay taxes and can’t be claimed as a dependent, you can use the “Get My Payment” IRS tool to submit your information. You should be eligible for a stimulus check, even if you made zero income last year.
My parents claimed me as a dependent already for 2019. But I have a job now because I just graduated. Can I still get a check?
If you no longer qualify for dependent status (see question #12 and #13), you may qualify for a stimulus check. However, Garland said he’s not received any further guidance from the IRS on eligibility for individuals whose dependent status has changed this year. Check with a tax professional for guidance on dependent status.
Does it make sense to get married right now? Does it make sense to file jointly?
If a couple marries by December 31, tax law will recognize the couple as being married all year. In that case, the couple will have the option to file jointly or separately. When deciding which way to file, couples should compute their tax liability and refund if they were to file jointly and if they were to file separately and then choose the option that minimizes their tax liability and maximizes their tax refund. If filing jointly is the better option, it makes sense to marry sooner. If filing separately is more beneficial, then it doesn’t matter when they marry. However, with government assistance during the pandemic, it may not make as much of a difference in the future.
“From a tax perspective, because of the extent to which the pandemic is affecting everything, irrespective of marital status, if there are tax credits, tax exemptions that are going to be granted by the federal government, everyone is going to benefit,” McIntosh said.
From a financial perspective, McIntosh believes it’s better to wait. That will both defer the expense of a wedding as well as allow the couple time to decide if a wedding is the right choice.
I was just furloughed, but I have student loans. Can I defer my loans? How long can I defer them?
You typically have the choice to defer student loans, Buckley-Burnel said, although it is entirely up to the lender. Normally, if they agree to allow you to defer your payments, the loans will still accrue interest, so that’s a serious decision you need to make. Students and recent graduates are recommended to talk to their university’s financial services to make the best decision.
Because of the coronavirus, many student loan companies are offering deferments until September, and all federal student loan borrowers have been granted automatic forbearance (the loans will not accrue interest) through September because of the CARES Act. Borrowers are still allowed to make payments during the forbearance period.
However, you should check with your loan company to be sure of what your options are, Cooper said. “You don’t want to skip a payment because you assumed it was deferred.”
I’m a college student and work for my school. Can I file for unemployment? Will I get a check?
While some student workers may qualify for unemployment, students who are part of the federal work-study program or financial aid job programs may not be eligible for unemployment benefits. If you’re not sure, ask your manager at your university job or check with the university human resources office.
“Students currently enrolled in a program … might find it difficult proving to the Department of Labor that they are available to work and are actively seeking employment as this will likely conflict with their status as a student,” McIntosh said.
However, those workers would still be entitled to a check if they have a valid social security number and can’t be claimed as a dependent by another taxpayer.
Some universities, such as Auburn, are still paying their student workers, so those students would not qualify.
Should I keep paying my student loans while there’s no interest or save that money?
If you can afford to keep paying those loans, then do so, McIntosh said. Since there’s no interest, each payment will reduce the principal by 100 percent of the payment amount. In the long run, that will be more helpful than saving the money you typically put towards loans. Any extra money you put into your emergency fund should come from the excess you may have from reduced spending rather than from dipping into the money set aside for paying off debt.
“Interest rates are so low right now that the return you will get from saving that money is significantly less than the cost of interest on the student loan,” McIntosh said. “It’s not worth it. Keep paying!”
Will colleges waive tuition next year? Will there be a payment plan? Will my loans be adjusted / will the government help me based on what I’m making now?
No one has heard any conversation about colleges waiving tuition. It is unlikely because many colleges couldn’t afford to do that. Payment plans are more likely, but the advisors we spoke to have not heard about that. However, if universities stick to online classes, students will save money in other areas like rent, transportation and food. McIntosh has also heard of textbook companies that plan to offer free access online, which could save students hundreds of dollars.
I was going to hold off on grad school. Is now the time to go while the job market may be down?
If that was a debate you were having, and you have the means, then start applying. You’d have to be flexible about completing grad school online since there hasn’t been a decision about upcoming semesters, but it’s a good time to start the process.
“Now is the time to go ahead and do that if the job market is down because when it picks back up, it might be just around the time when you are graduating,” McIntosh said. “Not only will you be better placed in 2 years’ time but your earning capacity would have improved as well.”
On top of that, many schools have waived the entrance exam requirement for upcoming application days, Buckley-Burnell said. The guidelines are a bit vague, and it’s based on the program, so you should check with the specific programs you are interested in.
If you’re about to begin graduate school or if you are considering going to graduate school, now is a good time to reevaluate the “why,” Cooper said.
“Be honest with yourself about how that degree or added skill set will develop or refine and if that career will exist post-pandemic,” he said. “A number of industries are being challenged as we speak.”
Cooper said you should also consider if you have a good financial plan to make loan payments before any expected salary increase from getting a graduate degree.
My internship was delayed. How will that affect me?
Every employer is handling internships differently. Some have cancelled, some have delayed and some are paying students for any costs they may have accrued when preparing for the upcoming internship. No matter what happens, it won’t harm you because so many students are experiencing the same thing. It will look different for students depending on if they were taking it for course credits or not.
“Many of the programs are working with students because it’s not as if it’s the students’ fault in any way that all this is going on,” Buckley-Burnell said. “Any kind of blips on your resume, in your employment, that are going on right now are going to pretty much be forgiven.”
Other advice and information
McIntosh: Most of his students are asking these same questions, about job markets, savings and investments. His most important advice, which he said is always difficult to say amidst a crisis, is not to be anxious because that makes the crisis worse.
“Try to be calm,” McIntosh said. “Try to think. How can we manage this? How can we get out of this? And one of the things is always make yourself available to information. But not too much information. Be able to filter nonsense in that information.”
It’s also important to remember things will continue to change. The stock market will react to triggers such as other stimulus packages and medical discoveries. The market is a cycle, and it will rebound at some point. Once it does, that will create more opportunities and expand existing ones.
“So even though it appears to be a crisis right now, riding out that crisis and what we do during the crisis is going to be extremely important in dictating how we position ourselves when the recovery takes place,” McIntosh said.
Buckley-Burnell: Three things dominate Buckley-Burnell’s advice: get creative, be flexible and brush up on new and old skills. It’s important to realize that your job search will not look the same as it did several months ago. Your interviews are going to be virtual obviously, and you’re going to have to put more effort into reaching out to companies. Buckley-Burnell encourages those seeking work to reach out to companies they want to work for and come up with ways they’d be valuable even if they have to work from home. With everything being virtual, it’s also important to brush up on email and online etiquette. There are also lots of options to learn new skills, such as Adobe or Microsoft programs, because many services and online tutorials are being offered for free. Finally, reach out for help. Buckley-Burnell has talked to career centers around the state, and she can confidently say everyone she’s talked to is doing great things.
“Make sure no one is panicking,” Buckley-Burnell said. “Meet with your career counselors. Meet with your advisors. Meet with your faculty. We’re all in this together.”