Here's what you need to do immediately if you lose your job

By Jackie Lam

Reviewed by Kimberly Rotter

Jun 14, 2023

Read time: 3 min

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Job loss and the financial unknown are scary, yes. But losing your job is a temporary setback. 

Cry a little if you want to, and then focus on your next move. There are actions you can take to help ease the blow and financially protect yourself. 

If you lose your job, here are 8 steps to take ASAP: 

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1. File for unemployment

Even if you think you’ll get a new job in no time, file for unemployment benefits. In some states, the first couple of weeks are an unpaid waiting period, so it’s in your best interest to apply as soon as possible.

2. Conserve

If you get unemployment or severance pay, the money you have in hand won’t last forever. Use as little of it as possible. Drastically reduce your spending and conserve funds while you look for your next position.

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3. Prioritize your bills

Get out a pencil (or a spreadsheet) and make a list of all the bills you normally pay. You’re going to rank them.

We know that when there’s a disruption to income—such as a job loss—many people have to let some bills go unpaid to make ends meet. Prioritize your bills so that you’ll know what you’ll do if you don’t have enough money to pay them all.

Housing goes at the top of the list. Treat it like a sacred cow. If you run into trouble keeping up with your mortgage or rent, be proactive. Let your mortgage servicer or landlord know what’s going on and ask what options are available. They might offer assistance or give you some ways to get back on track and stay on top of your payments. 

4. Keep the lights on

Next, pay your utilities—electricity, water, gas, phones, and internet. Your family needs these (even if you’re a family of one).

Reach out to your service providers, loop them in on your situation, and ask if they have any hardship plans or special rates for those who are in financial need. 

For instance, major cable and internet providers have income-based "affordable connectivity programs (ACPs)" where you can get a discount on your plan—or even free internet! Utility companies often have hardship payment plans, where they break up your outstanding balance into smaller, more manageable chunks over several months.

These programs do have certain eligibility hoops you need to jump through. But at this point you have some extra time in your day, so why not try? If you put in the effort, you could get “paid” in the form of financial benefits, starting with next month’s bill.  

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5. Stay covered

Check on the health insurance that you got through your employer and find out your options for staying covered. You might be eligible for COBRA coverage. COBRA is a federal law that gives you the right to continue your health insurance after you get laid off or your hours are cut (you’ll have to pay the premiums). Some states have their own COBRA benefit that kicks in after federal COBRA benefits expire. 

You might also be able to get your own coverage on the health insurance marketplace (healthcare.gov). Losing your job is a qualifying event that might allow you to enroll outside the normal enrollment period.  

6. Roll over your 401(k) 

Find out what'll happen to your retirement account, if you have one. The clock might be ticking. You might be able to leave it where it is, but not in all cases. If they don’t allow it, you have 60 days to roll your 401(k) or other employer-sponsored retirement plan to another qualifying retirement account. If you miss the 60-day deadline, the IRS may treat the entire account as a withdrawal. Then you’ll owe taxes and penalties. 

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7. Deal with your debt

Manage your debts carefully, especially if you don’t know when you’ll have income again. If you can, make the minimum monthly payments. If you can’t, reach out to your creditors to let them know you can’t afford to pay. Unemployment is a valid financial hardship, and they might temporarily reduce what you have to pay, or even let you skip a month. Most want to work with you before you get very far behind. 

If your income is reduced for an extended period of time, you may have to take additional steps, like seeking out public assistance. It’s entirely possible to get out of debt even if you have a low income. You might not be familiar with all of the strategies—like negotiating with creditors—but a debt advisor can help you understand your options.

8. Don’t beat yourself up

Everyone has bad times sometimes. It’s nothing to freak out over. But don’t do nothing. Your new job is looking for a new job. While you’re doing that, take care of your money matters as best you can.

Jackie Lam - Author

Jackie is an Achieve contributor. She is an accredited financial coach (AFC®) who has written for Business Insider, BuzzFeed, CNET, USA Today's Blueprint, and others. She coaches artists and freelancers.

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Kimberly is Achieve’s senior editor. She is a financial counselor accredited by the Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education®, and a mortgage expert for The Motley Fool. She owns and manages a 350-writer content agency.

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