I recently spoke to a friend who was scared of getting laid off. She asked me how she could prepare for a layoff. The following was the guidance I gave her:
Stop paying extra on debts and start stockpiling cash.
I know this may sound counter-intuitive to many people, but if you are facing a layoff, you need as much cash to live on as possible while you look for work, especially if you have less than three months of expenses saved. Consider paying your credit card debt minimum and funneling as much cash as possible to a savings account. Also, consider earmarking any tax refunds to savings.
Review the budget and trim the fat.
This fat can be a cable or cell phone package with all the bells and whistles. You can ask for a cheaper cable plan or cut the cable cord altogether. You can choose a more affordable cell phone carrier or cancel a rarely-used subscription.
Contact creditors in advance to let them know of a potential layoff.
If you talk to your creditors before there is a problem, they can be more willing to work with you. Then, take full advantage of your potential layoff and ask your creditors for a reduced interest rate.
Review workplace benefits.
If you have accrued vacation or sick leave, ask if your company will pay you for unused time if you leave involuntarily. Have you had your annual checkup or been putting off dental work? Now is the time to take care of all your medical needs. See which benefits such as life insurance, long-term care insurance, and even some legal benefits are portable, meaning you can continue them after you separate from service.
If you have outstanding 401(k) plan loans, ask your plan provider how they handle loans during a layoff. Some companies will give you a short period to pay it back, and then the remaining balance counts as taxable income with a potential 10% penalty if you are under 59 ½. Other companies allow you to continue to pay your loan balance from your checking or savings account. In addition, medical saving plans such as HSAs can go with you, and you can use the funds for healthcare premiums while receiving unemployment benefits.
The key is to prepare in advance. If you are laid off, you have done the legwork to be financially prepared. If the layoff does not happen, you have built up savings and are in a great position to start re-attacking debt.