At the time of writing, the shutdown of the United States government is still in full effect. Over 800,000 federal workers are currently out of work, and while many are being promised back pay once the shutdown ends, that’s not much of a comfort in the meantime.
What’s more, many government workers considered “essential,” like TSA employees, are being expected to continue working without pay. And government contractors and other unsalaried workers are unlikely to receive any back pay at all.
Particularly for government workers who live month-to-month and whose security depends entirely on receiving regular paychecks, this can be a scary time, and it’s still unclear precisely when the shutdown is going to end.
For that reason, we wanted to pull together a few tips for those who may be struggling during this time. It can be easy to feel out of control of events during situations like this, but there are a few things you can do to help mitigate some of the shutdown’s effects.
The primary concern of lenders and creditors is that they will eventually be paid back. As a result, many banks, credit unions, and other loan sources are understanding during situations like the shutdown. But not if you fail to communicate with them ahead of time.
As this Vox article by Emily Stewart details, many large banks have made public offers of help to shutdown-affected workers, even if the precise details of how they’re helping remain somewhat unclear. One of the largest American banks, Wells Fargo, has set aside $250,000 for a coalition to assist furloughed or unpaid government workers and has vowed to work with their users one-on-one by reversing credit card fees, among other promises. Meanwhile, Bank of America has simply announced their intention to help customers on a “case-by-case” basis, but have promised similar help to those that they think have been affected by the shutdown, including waiving or refunding fees.
Given the differences in clarity between all these different creditor responses to affected government workers, if you believe your debt repayments will be affected by the shutdown, it’s best to contact your creditors individually to see if they’re willing and able to work with you, and hopefully make your situation just a little bit more tolerable.
For the most part, smaller banks and credit unions are more likely than big banks to provide help during this time, but again, it’s important to check with representatives of whatever bank you personally use to see what’s possible and what’s not.
Whatever else happens, you need food, and water, and heat, and light. If you rely on your car for transportation, you need gas, and if you work from home, you need wifi. And if you have rent or a mortgage, it’s critical that be covered as well.
It seems obvious to say, and it can be more than a little patronizing to hear, but it can be easy to overlook the essentials when you’re budgeting for your month -- particularly if you already have difficulty budgeting when the longest-ever government shutdown isn’t looming over you.
It can be overwhelming, but if you start by paying or at least setting aside money for the barest, most critical essentials, it can go a long way toward helping you feel a little more secure in your situation. Doing so can also give you a clearer idea of the exact amount of money you’re going to need this month to pay for things, a number which can otherwise be a little unclear and scary.
It can be tempting to put some of your expenses from this time period onto a credit card, as you likely already have access to one. And for many people, credit cards will be a crucial piece of assistance during this time.
But bear in mind that credit cards are typically high-interest loan options -- if you need a loan to cover some or all of your expenses during this time, it will be better in the long run if you’re able to find something at either low interest or at no interest at all.
One good option may be to once again check in with your bank or credit union. As part of their promises to help affected workers during this time, some (including US Bancorp) are offering quick, low-rate loans.
However, a better option may be to simply borrow from a family member or a close friend. Particularly if you know that you’ll be receiving back pay, taking a loan from someone you know can help ensure that you won’t be taken advantage of during this time, and many who do family and friends lending are willing to lend at no interest at all.
Family and friends lending sites (including this one) can help you facilitate loans of this type, and LoanWell, in particular, allows you to set up a crowdfunding campaign where people from your entire network can come together and contribute to a loan.
If you can afford an accountant, then obviously that person can be a pretty big help to you at this time. But if you’re having to budget or locate emergency funds in the first place, then odds are that that kind of professional help is probably beyond the scope of what you have access to.
Fortunately, there are plenty of non-profit groups out there that are able to help workers budget or provide other kinds of financial counseling during this time. That includes groups like:
In particular, the last two organizations are good resources to explore if you’re looking to shop around and find a financial counseling organization that works for you.
Importantly, while it does eventually cost money to have an ongoing relationship with most of these organizations, nearly all of them have a free introductory session in which you can receive some help, and the rest will still be more affordable and helpful than any for-profit credit assistance groups you’re likely to find.
We wish you the best of luck during this trying time and hope that anyone struggling will be able to find the help they need while the shutdown wears on.