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Preparing for the Unexpected: How you can protect yourself and your finances

Federal workers affected by the government shutdown understand how difficult life can be without a regular paycheck. And studies show many more Americans are just one unexpected event away from their own financial crisis.

While you can't safeguard against everything, there are proactive steps you can take to be better prepared should an accident, serious illness, job layoff or other emergency threaten your financial well-being.

Start an emergency fundAccording to the Federal Reserve2, 40% of Americans say they cannot cover a $400 emergency expense. If you are one of them – or your reserves are lower than you’d like – now is the time to begin putting away a set amount each week, no matter how small. Or consider using your tax refund as the down payment on an emergency fund large enough to cover your expenses for six months.

Develop a cost-cutting plan. The time to think about ways to cut costs is before a crisis hits. Prepare and prioritize a list of your expenses now so you can be prepared to cancel non-essential expenditures quickly.

Make sure you have credit available. While you should be cautious about adding debt when finances are tight, it may be necessary to help bridge gaps between missing paychecks. A home equity line of credit, for example, can provide a ready source of cash in an emergency. Just don’t wait for a crisis to apply.

Once the unexpected happens, there are additional steps you can take to maintain your financial well-being:

Communicate with your bank and creditors.
Most lenders will be more understanding if they know the challenges you are facing. If you think you may be unable to make a regular payment or need some form of assistance, reach out to your bank or other creditors early to explain what’s going on.

If you need help, ask. Don’t be afraid to call or visit your bank to ask for help. Accommodations are usually made on a case-by-case basis. Because everyone’s financial situation is unique, you are unlikely to find the answers you are seeking on a bank website.

Stay in touch. Circumstances change. Be sure to let your financial partners know if or when your situation changes. New information may help them help you.

Do your homework. It’s important for you to understand your full financial picture. Review the terms of your mortgage, credit cards and other financial agreements so you know the penalties associated with late or missed payments.

Whenever possible, pay at least the minimum amount, and call your creditor to discuss your options for future payments. Life is complicated and the unexpected can happen – often at the most inopportune times. We all know this. Look ahead and ensure you have the savings and financial plans in place to provide the cushion you might need in the future should unforeseen circumstances arise. And remember, we’re here to listen and offer solutions to help your unique situation.

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