Editor’s Note: MainStreet personal finance expert Farnoosh Torabi was live on CNN Headline News (Stock Quote: TWX) discussing this very issue.
Getting laid off can be a very emotional experience, but you shouldn’t let your feelings get in the way of protecting your finances. Here is a working list of actions – some that need to be done quickly - to help secure your financial affairs.
1. KNOW YOUR RIGHTS. Many companies offer severance packages – which you can negotiate – and legally workers must receive any accrued vacation. Dust off your employee guide book to learn your entitlements and be prepared at your final meeting with human resources. As for any vested stock options you own, you typically have 90 days after the date you got laid off to exercise those options. Some companies may even extend that period. Next, if you had a contract with the company, go through the write-up to see what you’re entitled to receive. Perhaps you had a two-year contract and you only worked at the company for six months. The contract may have a clause that protects you from early termination and you may be able to earn compensation for the remaining time on your contract.
2. APPLY FOR UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS. Do this as soon as possible. Benefits are drying up in some states and overall there is a wait (which may be three or more weeks) from when you apply to when you actually receive your benefits. Rest assured that once you start collecting unemployment, the payout is retroactive from the date you applied. In most states you can apply over the phone or online. Visit the department of labor’s web site for details on eligibility requirements, as well as where to apply for benefits.
3. SECURE YOUR HEALTH INSURANCE. If you were getting health insurance at your old job and your old employer is still offering health insurance to existing employees then you can apply for COBRA, which provides up to 18 months of health insurance to those being laid off or leaving voluntarily under good terms. If you got laid off because your company went bankrupt, you won’t be eligible for COBRA.
You need to tell your health care provider that you want to enroll in COBRA within 30 days of getting laid off. Your company’s human resources department should have the application information or you can go to the Department of Labor’s web site. COBRA can be pricey, since you have to pay the entire cost your employer pays plus a 2% administrative fee. Monthly COBRA premiums can easily run up to $400 for single coverage and $1,200 for family coverage.
Some more affordable alternatives: Check with your spouse. If your wife or husband is getting is getting insurance from his or her employer, see if you can piggyback. Or if you’re single, still young and healthy, consider an individual policy by shopping online and comparing rates. Beyond that there are ways to get health insurance with group discounts through union membership or by going through a professional organization. Still others have been known to take courses part-time at a local school, where you may be able to get group health insurance. If you have kids, contact your state’s children’s health insurance program (SCHIP) to see if they are eligible for coverage.
4. HOLD ONTO YOUR 401(k). You may be tempted to cash it out, but remember your 401(k) is for retirement, not to pay for your living expenses now. There are major tax penalties associated with an early withdrawal from your 401(k) before age 59 ½. The best thing to do is to either leave your money in the existing account until you get another job and roll the money into your new employer’s 401(k) plan, or roll that money penalty-free through a direct transfer into your individual retirement account or IRA.
5. TRIM THE FAT FROM YOUR BUDGET. If you don’t have at least nine months of living expenses stashed in a savings account, you need to pare down your monthly spending to get to that level of financial security. Check out this video for cash-saving advice.
6. KEEP JOB HUNTING-RELATED RECEIPTS. Collect receipts that reflect your job searching status. If you printed out your resumes, the ink and the paper is tax deductible. The same goes for relocation costs and any mileage you rack up on interviews.
7. REFRESH YOUR RESUME & TAP INTO YOUR SOCIAL NETWORK. For the first time we are experiencing major unemployment in the social network era. Now there are more Twitter posts and Facebook status updates saying things like “looking for a new gig” or “know anyone in marketing who’s hiring?” Take advantage of that. Know that there is nothing to be ashamed of if you got laid off. It’s not personal. Job losses are happening to a lot of qualified, experienced talented workers. You need to do your best to get the word out to inform others that you’re looking.
8. THANK YOUR BOSS. This may seem crazy - but send your old manager or previous boss a thank you card, assuming there were no fights or hard feelings when you were let go. Let management know that you are grateful to have had the work experience. Although your job is over now, you never know where your boss will end up down the road. If he or she is looking to recruit some people later, you’ll be in mind. Separately ask your former employer for references to help with your job hunt. Don’t be shy!
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