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Life Events

The Ultimate Layoff Survival Guide

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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Paul Catala, a 53-year-old entertainment reporter in Lakeland, Fla., knows firsthand about the struggles of unemployment. He was the victim of massive layoffs at a Tampa-area newspaper in December 2012. The result? A severance package of about $1,500.

“I was pretty much financially panicked,” Catala told MagnifyMoney, who also lost his health insurance. “All I had was my severance and nothing more than a couple thousand dollars in savings.”

As a single guy, he didn’t have a spouse’s salary to fall back on, but he made it work. During the year and a half that followed, he patched together a steady income by picking up a string of odd jobs and side gigs (more on this in a bit) before eventually securing a full-time job.

In 2017 alone, at least 255,000 planned job cuts have been announced, according to a report put out by the firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. (The bright spot, however, is that the report also found that job cuts are on the decline.)

If you’re newly unemployed and not sure how to move forward, this ultimate layoff survival kit is for you. Here’s everything you need to know about weathering the storm.

What to do when you lose your job

Step one: Don’t freak out

If the financial implications and the stress of having to find a new job have your head spinning, you’re not alone. The longer you’re unemployed, the more likely it is to take a toll on your psychological well-being. According to a 2013 Gallup survey, roughly 20 percent of Americans who’ve been unemployed for a year or more have been affected by depression.

But while it’s certainly wise to make a plan, don’t take such a long view that you’re overwhelmed by the enormity of unemployment. As the old saying goes: “Inch by inch, life’s a cinch. Yard by yard, life’s hard.”

Do one thing at a time to avoid “analysis paralysis” (aka feeling so overwhelmed that you take no action at all).

Step two: Exit your current job with grace

Getting laid off hurts, but think twice before storming out in a blaze of glory.

“Anything you can do to leave on a good note is a good idea,” career coach Angela Copeland tells MagnifyMoney. “Thank-you notes and goodbye lunches all help to give positive closure.”

The last thing you want to do is burn bridges on your way out. When applying for new jobs, Copeland says you’ll be asked for references the hiring manager can call, which will likely include your previous employer. It’s in your best interest to keep these relationships positive.
Negotiating your severance package before hitting the road may also be on your to-do list.

“Some people have been able to negotiate an extra month of severance because they’ve been there longer and can quantify what they’ve brought to the job,” said Shannah Compton Game, certified financial planner and host of the “Millennial Money” podcast.

“Try and correlate it to something positive, like revenue or growth you’ve been able to do for the company,” she said. “Keep good records of the successes you’ve had because you just never know when you’ll be able to use that.”

On a similar note, you might be able to use rumors of impending layoffs to your advantage. Game says that it’s usually the people in the early rounds of layoffs who get the better severance packages. If you’re likely to be on the chopping block, volunteering to be let go sooner rather than later could be used as a bargaining chip to secure a better severance package.

Step three: Get your finances in order

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Before you panic, sit down and do a thorough audit of your financial situation. List all your monthly expenses, from fixed costs like rent and utilities to discretionary spending like entertainment costs. Then factor in any income you still have, like unemployment benefits (we’ll dive into how to apply in a minute), a severance package, and any cash you have coming from side gigs or passive income streams.

Now for the obvious question: What does your savings account look like?

“The goal marker is to have three to six months’ worth of fixed expenses saved in your emergency fund,” said Game.

To help curb temptation, she recommends parking it in an interest-bearing savings account that’s separate from your regular bank. (We’ve rounded up the best online savings accounts here.) If you’ve got an emergency fund, getting laid off is as good a time as any to dip into it — that’s what it’s there for. Of course, the idea is to make your savings last as long as possible. This is why Game suggests retooling your budget right out the gate.

“Is there anything in there you can cut, or at least make better?” she asked. “Can you negotiate a better cellphone or internet plan? Are you overpaying in some areas? When you’re unemployed, every dollar helps.”

Another thing to think about is your 401(k). Getting laid off makes you ineligible to take out a 401(k) loan, according to Game, but you can withdraw from it — for a hefty price.

“If you pull out of your 401(k) and you’re under 59½, you’ll have a 10-percent penalty, plus whatever you take out is added to your taxable income, so it could shock people if they took out a sizeable amount,” warned Game, who also recognizes that sometimes you don’t have any other choice.

Tapping your nest egg should be an absolute last resort. If it comes to that, Roth IRAs are a little more appealing because you can pull out your contributions at any time without tax or penalty (It’s just the appreciation you can’t touch until you’re over 59½). If you’re financially stuck between a rock and a hard place, a Roth IRA could serve as an extra backup emergency fund.

As for a 401(k) from your old job, Game says you have a couple of options. Some companies will let you do a direct rollover, which is a hands-off option that’s way easier than rolling it over yourself. This way, you won’t get a check for that cash.

“If you do, you have to have it deposited into your new account in a short time period so you don’t get taxed on that amount, which is why it’s better to do these things electronically whenever possible,” said Game.

No emergency fund or Roth IRA to tap into? You’re not out of options. Read on for more ways to access cash during unemployment.

Step four: Rev up your job hunting efforts

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“One of the biggest mistakes I see from people who’ve been recently laid off is that the experience is so stressful that they want to take a break,” said Copeland. “They think, ‘I need a few months to take some time for myself.’ What they don’t understand is that the longer you wait, the harder it becomes.”

Begin by dusting off your resume and updating it with any relevant new skills, accomplishments, and/or trainings you’ve completed. Do the same for your LinkedIn profile, which includes adding keywords that potential employers may be searching for (To get an idea of what these are, Copeland suggests browsing job postings you’re interested in). You’ll also want to follow companies on LinkedIn and connect with influencers within those organizations.

When it comes to references, Copeland adds that asking folks to leave you a written, public recommendation on LinkedIn can do wonders. Future employers are going to be looking at your profile. Seeing that people you’ve worked with have positive things to say is going to make them much less suspicious that something negative happened at your old job.

One other thing: Fine tune your elevator pitch so you’re ready to comfortably, and confidently, talk about yourself at a moment’s notice. After that, step away from your computer and get yourself out there (literally).

“A lot of people are told to apply online — ‘If you’re a good fit, we’ll call you ‘— but very rarely is that true,” said Copeland.

“It’s one-on-one personal connections that are going to help you find a job, and those people will be most helpful and empathetic very soon after you’ve been laid off.”

Let your network know you’re actively looking for work, attend industry events, and reach out to people for informational interviews. In some cases, this might mean cold emailing a colleague of a colleague and asking to pick their brain over coffee. They could always say no, or even ignore you, but Copeland says that when up against unemployment, this isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Step five: Protect yourself against the worst-case scenario

If your job hunt stretches past the one-month mark, you could end up draining your emergency fund faster than anticipated. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the number of long-term unemployed workers (i.e. people who’ve been out of work for at least 27 weeks) held steady at 1.5 million as of December 2017. This makes up 22.9 percent of the unemployed.
If you find yourself in this boat, you’ll need to go beyond cutting cable and scaling back your entertainment budget to make ends meet.

“Can you call your student loan servicer and defer your loans for a few months?” suggested Game. “Remember, you’ll still be accruing interest when you do this, but it might help you out for a few months.”

Looking for other high-impact ways to free up cash? Game also suggests considering:

  • Taking on a roommate or renting out a room on Airbnb.
  • Getting a part-time job.
  • Taking out a short-term loan from a family member.
  • Using balance transfer offers to lower your credit card interest rates by moving debt to a 0% APR card.
  • Researching a personal loan. Going into debt is never advised, but if your situation’s getting dire, it may be your best worst option (It’s sure better than getting evicted or defaulting on your car payment).

This is precisely why Game says it’s so important to get your financial house in order while your career is going well. Flash forward to being laid off: Having a solid credit score is what’s going to enable you to get the best rate on a personal loan. The same goes for locking down a low-interest credit card, if it comes to that.

4 tips to help stretch your finances when you’re unemployed

How to apply for unemployment

Taking advantage of unemployment insurance can help stretch your savings and soften the financial blow of a layoff. Whether you qualify depends on a number of factors, one of the top ones being where you live; every state is different.

As long as you’re looking for work — and meet the qualifying criteria below — most states allow participants to collect benefits for up to 26 weeks (about six months). Just keep in mind that a severance package could impact how much you qualify for, depending on the state you live in.

  • Losing your job was out of your control: Being laid off generally ticks this box, but if you were fired or quit voluntarily, you’ll be ineligible.
  • You worked long enough and earned enough wages to qualify in your state: Every state’s threshold is different, but applicants must meet requirements for wages earned or time worked during an established time period in order to collect unemployment. You can research your state’s rules here.
  • You were laid off from a W2 job: In other words, you weren’t a freelancer or independent contractor. Since employers don’t pay unemployment taxes for these folks, benefits are typically off the table.

That said, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to how much money you’ll actually get. What you were earning, where you live, and whether or not you received a severance package may all come into play. Your best bet is to contact your state unemployment office to start untangling the details.

How to apply for food stamps

Applying for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), aka food stamps, is also a state-specific process. In order to qualify, you must meet resource and income requirements (SNAP provides this handy pre-screening eligibility tool to help clarify whether or not you qualify). Eligibility varies from state to state but is largely determined by your:

  • Resources: Things like bank accounts and vehicles fall into this camp. Some resources are generally off limits, like retirement plans and your home.
  • Income: You have to meet the income requirements outlined here. Some exceptions — like having an elderly or disabled person in your household, for example — may make it easier to qualify. Just keep in mind that any unemployment benefits you’re collecting will be factored in here.
  • Employment status: If you’ve been recently laid off, this one’s a biggie since SNAP eligibility is hinged, in part, on meeting work requirements. They include:
    • Registering for work
    • Not voluntarily quitting a job or reducing your hours
    • Taking a job if one is offered
    • Participating in your state’s employment training programs
    • If you’re an able-bodied adult without kids, you’ll also be required to either work or participate in a work program for a minimum of 20 hours per week to receive SNAP benefits for longer than three months in a 36-month period.

Ready to apply? Find your state here to get the ball rolling.

How to get help with a job search

There are a number of federal government programs in place to help see you through a stint of unemployment. CareerOneStop (backed by the U.S. Department of Labor) is packed with free job search assistance and training resources. Here you’ll find everything from job openings and resume guides to salary data and interview and negotiation tips.

COBRA might also make sense for newly unemployed folks. The program allows you to keep your employer-sponsored health plan after getting laid off. Before pulling the trigger on enrolling in a new health plan, be sure to check if COBRA makes sense for your health care needs and budget.

Pick up part-time work

Another way to unlock cash is to think of out-of-the-box ways to make money. Before Catala secured a new full-time job, he picked up a ton of side hustles to fill in the missing income. This included everything from tutoring at a local community college to cutting lawns to booking music gigs (He happens to be a pianist.). The takeaway? Look beyond your 9-to-5 skill set to pay your bills.

“At one point, I was doing like five different things and just making money,” said Catala, who earned too much from the gigs to collect unemployment.

“If you’re creative and willing to hustle, you’ll be fine. Even if it’s just $50 a week, that’s better than nothing.”

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Marianne Hayes
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Marianne Hayes is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Marianne here

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Life Events, Mortgage

How Credit Report Disputes Can Sabotage Your Chance for a Mortgage

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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Mortgage underwriting can feel like it’s taking a lifetime when it’s standing between you and your dream home. But your lender wants to make sure that you’ll be able to repay the loan, so they’ll take the time to go over your credit history with a proverbial magnifying glass.

Before you get to underwriting, you’ll want to make sure you’re a creditworthy borrower. This means maintaining a good payment history, paying down debt and disputing any errors on your credit report.

However, credit report disputes can impact your ability to get a mortgage if they’re still pending when you’re applying for a loan. This guide will explain how and why.

Why your credit reports and scores matter

One of the first things lenders look at is your credit report, which provides information about your credit history. It details whether you’ve made on-time payments on credit cards, loans and other accounts.

The information included in this report is summed up by a credit score that generally ranges between 300 and 850. The higher your score, the more creditworthy you are perceived to be.

Although credit scores aren’t the only factor that determines whether you’ll qualify for a mortgage, your credit score heavily influences the mortgage interest rate you receive. The highest scores qualify borrowers for the best mortgage rates.

Before you begin the homebuying process, it’s smart to review your credit report and have a copy handy. You can request a free credit report once a year from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, at AnnualCreditReport.com.

It’s critical to arm yourself with this information in advance. That gives you the opportunity to dispute any inaccuracies you’ve discovered and clean up your report.

What is a credit report dispute?

Credit report inaccuracies are relatively common. Inaccurate information can happen for a variety of reasons — a credit card payment being applied to the wrong account or duplicate accounts in your report giving the impression that you carry more debt than you actually do, for example.

Not only can errors harm your credit score, but they can prevent you from qualifying for a new credit account, such as an auto or home loan. That’s why it’s important to regularly keep track of the information found in your credit reports.

When you review your credit report and find an error, you have the opportunity to formally dispute it under the Fair Credit Reporting Act This is the first step to take to get the error corrected or removed.

Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to file a credit dispute with all three credit reporting agencies online.

How to file a credit report dispute

If you’ve found an error on your credit report, take the following steps to dispute it:

  1. Provide your contact information.
  2. Identify the items in your credit report that are inaccurate.
  3. Explain why you’re disputing the info and include documentation to support your dispute.
  4. Request a correction or deletion.

You’ll also want to reach out to the creditor that is reporting inaccurate information to the credit bureaus. Let them know you’re disputing the information and provide them the same documentation you’re giving to the bureaus.

In many cases, the credit bureaus investigate disputes within 30 days, according to myFICO.com.

However, many disputes can go unresolved for long periods of time, which can be troublesome for consumers applying for a mortgage. Many loan applicants don’t realize an open credit report dispute can raise a red flag to lenders and may even prevent mortgage approval.

When to file a credit report dispute

You’ll want to file a dispute as soon as you spot an error on any of your credit reports, but if you’re thinking about buying a home in the near future, it’s best to exercise caution when filing disputes, especially right before you apply for a mortgage.

Although the dispute investigation can wrap up in 30 days, it could last as long as 90 days, so it’s best to avoid filing new disputes a few months prior to starting the homebuying process.

How mortgage lenders view credit disputes

When a dispute is filed, credit reporting agencies are required to label the item as “in dispute.” The dispute itself doesn’t impact your FICO Score. However, your score may temporarily deflate or inflate while the disputed items are being investigated.

Mortgage lenders know credit reports with disputed items don’t paint the most accurate picture of a consumer’s creditworthiness and many require this status be removed before approving a mortgage application. This leaves some consumers with a difficult decision to make — accept costly credit report errors or delay applying for a loan until disputes have been resolved.

Here’s how lenders who provide conventional and FHA loans consider credit report disputes when determining whether a consumer qualifies for a mortgage.

Conventional loans

Both government-sponsored enterprises, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, have automated underwriting systems that alert lenders to existing credit report disputes. These entities don’t issue loans, but buy mortgages from lenders that follow their rules.

Fannie Mae’s system initially reviews all accounts on a borrower’s credit report, even those that are being disputed. If the borrower would be approved for the loan even with the account in question, the loan moves forward. But if the disputed account would push the borrower into the “rejection” category, the system will direct the lender to investigate whether the dispute is valid.

Lenders using Freddie Mac’s system are required to confirm the accuracy of disputed accounts. The borrower would need to have the accounts corrected before the loan can move forward.

FHA loans

FHA-approved lenders require borrowers with disputed delinquent accounts on their credit report to provide an explanation and supporting documentation about their dispute. If the account has an outstanding balance of more than $1,000, the loan must be manually underwritten, which means the loan officer has to review the loan application and supporting documents outside of the automated system.

The loan officer goes over the paperwork included in the borrower’s file very closely to determine their risk of mortgage default and whether they qualify for the loan program that they’re applying.

Disputed medical accounts are excluded from consideration, but disputed accounts that are paid on time must be factored into the borrower’s debt-to-income ratio.

How to remove a lingering credit report dispute

Gaining access to a new credit report with updated information is not an option for the borrower if the creditor won’t correct the information. And when a consumer files a complaint with the credit reporting agencies, the agencies will often defer to the creditor.

Just as you’ve reached out to your creditor and the credit reporting bureaus to file your dispute, you’ll want to take the same action to remove it. Contact the creditor directly and request that they update the account information to show that it’s no longer being disputed.

You may also want to reach out to Equifax, Experian and TransUnion to request dispute removal, but keep in mind they may also reach out to the creditor who is reporting the disputed account. See the FICO website for more information about contacting each bureau’s dispute department.

The bottom line

Dealing with an unresolved credit report dispute can turn into a consumer nightmare. Even if you’ve followed best practices, you may still be unhappy with the results.

Fortunately, you can still submit a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. They will forward your complaint directly to the company in dispute and work to get a response from them. Another option is to seek guidance from a consumer advocate or an attorney. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling may be a helpful place to start.

Credit reports and scores have such a strong influence on lifelong financial health, so the most effective defense is to be proactive about making sure yours are in the best shape possible. Regularly monitoring your credit profile and working to fix inaccuracies before applying for a mortgage is a good game plan to prevent major problems as you embark on the homebuying process.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Crissinda Ponder
Crissinda Ponder |

Crissinda Ponder is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Crissinda here

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