4 Ways to Prepare for a Personal Financial Crisis and Keep Goals on Track

An unexpected loss can send you spinning, but knowing where you stand and where to turn financially if something happens could ease some of the stress.

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As an adviser, I stress the importance of a well-thought-out, long-term plan to keep financial goals and objectives “on track,” especially during a personal financial crisis.

Even the best-laid plans can, and likely will, evolve given unpredicted setbacks or unforeseen hurdles. Experiencing a loss – be it a job loss, loss of a spouse or partner or an unexpected, significant financial loss (say a medical bill or lawsuit) – is undeniably difficult to navigate, but it does not mean that dreams, hopes or goals have to be derailed.

The more prepared a financial plan is for common scenarios, the better off one’s financial future will fare through these challenges. Below are preparation steps to alleviate financial worries in an otherwise challenging season of life.

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1. Assess Your Budget and Categorize Crucial Spending Needs.

The ability to quickly access liquid assets will be foundational if an individual or family is faced with a setback. I recommend that individuals have six to 12 months of cash reserves held in an emergency fund. In the event of a job loss, for example, take stock of how funded this account may be and assess the timeframe that the funds will provide cover for.

Research (opens in new tab) shows that, on average, one can be out of the workforce after an unexpected job loss for one to four months, meaning that a quick pivot to re-evaluate a short-term budget is paramount.

Mission critical is maintaining expenses such as the mortgage, groceries, utility bills and continuing to pay down any credit card debt or student loan debt. Often overlooked, but of critical importance, is to weigh health care benefit needs and what alternative coverage plans might look like. Do not let this go by the wayside – if an unexpected medical issue strikes while an individual does not have coverage, this could drastically sideline the short-term financial rebuild state that someone was in while they were looking for another job.

From a preparatory standpoint, evaluate discretionary expenses to see what might be able to be pared back to free up more funds for short-term needs. This may look like cutting back on expenses tied to hobbies, clothing or dining out. While these may be challenging to cut in the short term, take solace in knowing they will be temporary tactics to keep on track for long-term aspirations.

2. Have Easy Access to All Monetary Accounts.

This sounds easy, but sometimes only one person in a couple may know the true extent of their financial picture. To pre-emptively alleviate stress on a partner, both parties should be fully aware of all income streams, cash-flow projections, bill management and where this cash lives or accounts are held.

In the event that a spouse or partner passes, having full accountability of assets, access to account passwords and knowledge of where every asset lives will make any transferring of funds and the transition of plans immensely easier.

3. Identify and Tap Alternative Funds or Action Plans, if Necessary.

Robustly funding an emergency account to use in the event of a financial loss may not be achievable for everyone, but that doesn’t mean preparedness can go by the wayside. In some circumstances, assess what alternative accounts could be pulled from to bridge a short-term monetary gap. Between liquid assets available and an understanding of month-to-month expenses, calculate how much might be needed to fill a financial gap.

Alternative funding solutions might look like the selling of investments, taking out a home equity line of credit or perhaps taking on a personal loan. Of course, understand these likely are last-resort options given the myriad potential penalty, tax or interest rate implications.

Be ready to also be an advocate for yourself when/if faced with a challenging financial situation – if an individual is facing job loss, ask for a severance or advocate for more money or longer health insurance coverage. If an individual is hit with a large unexpected medical bill, negotiate rates and inquire about payment options over the course of a year. These transactions are often much more flexible than individuals expect.

4. Lean in on a Financial Adviser.

In terms of preparedness, it’s a financial adviser’s job to provide guidance well before, during and after any kind of financial setback. Align oneself with a trusted professional who can develop a financial plan that can weather a financial storm. Leveraging the guidance of a financial adviser when a setback does occur can provide the reassurance, advice and direction to getting back on financial track as quickly as possible during what can be a highly emotional time.

No one wants to face a financial loss or setback, so planning for a range of events can keep individuals, couples and families on their financial footing when and if a hurdle does arise.

This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC (opens in new tab) or with FINRA (opens in new tab).

Julie Virta, CFP®, CFA, CTFA
Senior Financial Adviser, Vanguard

Julie Virta, CFP®, CFA, CTFA is a senior financial adviser with Vanguard Personal Advisor Services (opens in new tab). She specializes in creating customized investment and financial planning solutions for her clients and is particularly well-versed on comprehensive wealth management and legacy planning for multi-generational families. A Boston College graduate, Virta has over 25 years of industry experience and is a member of the CFA Society of Philadelphia and Boston College Alumni Association.