Having a stash of emergency cash is more important than ever when your finances are feeling the sting of an economic downturn.
If you’re suddenly slapped with a big medical bill or your car breaks down, that back-up fund — which you should not never use for regular expenses — will stop you from falling into financial distress.
The amount of money you should save in an emergency fund varies depending on the individual. Financial experts suggest you should have $1,000 cash on hand at all times, and if possible, you should also stash away around three to six months of living expenses in case you suffer a long-term disruption like being laid off from your job.
Wherever you are on your emergency savings journey, you may consider stashing some cash in a high-yield savings account (HYSA). With an HYSA, you could earn more interest on your money and benefit from greater compound growth than you would with a traditional savings or checking account.
You may also want to consider using other high-yield savings products like money market deposit accounts (MMDA) or a certificate of deposit (CD) to make the most of the current high interest rates. But remember that banks and credit unions will often charge an early withdrawal penalty for taking money out of a CD before its maturity date.
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Having a single loan to pay off makes it easier to manage your payments, and you can often get a better interest rate than what you might be paying on credit cards and car loans.
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Reduce your debt as much as you can
Paying down your debt when you’re low on cash may seem like a huge mountain to climb, but your bank account will thank you in the end.
This is especially important in the current high interest rate environment. If you rack up too much high-interest debt on your credit card or other personal loans, you could fall behind on your payments, be subject to financial penalties and your balance can quickly spiral out of control, making it even harder to get debt free.
There are several methods you can use to pay down your debts. Some focus on paying off the smallest balance first, while others encourage focusing on the debt with the highest interest rate attached to it first.
Whatever method you choose, you’ll need to stick to a budget that breaks down your monthly income into necessities, wants, savings and debt repayments. You may need to revisit that budget on a regular basis, depending on how your cash reserves are looking.
Delay major purchases (if you can)
A steady stream of interest rate hikes in the U.S. have made it a lot more expensive to borrow money for major purchases like a house or a car.
The average APR for new and used vehicles in September was 7.4% and 11.4%, respectively, according to data from Edmunds. But if you have a bad credit score, you could be charged rates of up to 14.8% for a new car and 21% for used cars, according to Carsdirect.com.
Bloomberg reported recently that Americans are falling behind on their car payments at the highest rate in nearly three decades — with the percent of subprime auto borrowers at least 60 days past due on their loans rising to 6.11% in September, beating a previous high of 5.95% in January. That’s no surprise, given the cost of borrowing today.
Similar struggles are being felt in the housing market. Mortgage rates have hit their highest level since 2000, with the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate dipping slightly to 7.76% last week, from the prior week’s average of 7.79%. At the same time, house prices continue to rise, primarily due to low inventory.
Low on cash reserves and up against it from an interest rate standpoint, you may want to consider delaying any major purchases like a car or a house until the economic turbulence has died down a little.
Remember, if you’re desperate to invest in real estate, there are ways to do that without dropping a huge pile of cash on buying a home. You can invest in real estate investment trusts (REITs), which will pay you regular dividends that you can save or reinvest, or you could buy fractional shares of real estate through a crowdfunding platform. There are many options available, even for those with just a small amount of money to invest.
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