Figuring out how to handle unexpected expenses is difficult if you don’t have an emergency fund you can rely on. And many people who need emergency funds don’t have them: CNBC reports that 62 percent of Americans surveyed about their finances didn’t have sufficient funds to cover unexpected expenses like a $500 car repair. Some people cope with unexpected expenses by taking out a new loan or getting a cash advance from a credit card, but those options can be expensive and further damage your financial stability as the interest you owe adds up. If you’re thinking about using a credit card to cover a bill you weren’t planning on, first consider these other ideas for how to handle unexpected expenses.
Cut Back on Other Spending
See if you can cut back on your usual expenses to make room in your budget for the unexpected bill. For example, you might be able to perform some home and garden maintenance yourself instead of hiring others, prepare your own food instead of eating in restaurants, and cancel subscriptions for services like cable TV that you can go without. Even if you can’t cut enough to cover the full cost of your unexpected expense, it’s a good idea to cut as much as possible so you can minimize the amount that you have to raise through other means like borrowing.
Borrow From Friends or Family
If you do have to borrow to meet your unexpected expense, you may have friends or family members who are willing to help you. They may be more understanding than a bank about giving you enough time to recover financially before requiring you to repay the loan, and if they want to help, they probably won’t charge you the high rates you have to pay on credit cards. It’s better to address expenses without adding to your debt if possible, but if you must borrow, you might be better off getting a loan from someone you know than opening a new credit card that charges high interest and fees.
Withdraw From Investments
Do you have any money invested in a money market or mutual fund? If it’s not in a tax-advantaged account like a 401(k), you can sell some of that investment to cover your unexpected expense. Taking money from an IRA or 401(k) is usually not recommended because you pay a very large penalty to withdraw from these accounts before retirement age. However, as Bankrate explains, you don’t have to pay this penalty to withdraw for certain medical emergencies and a few other specific hardships. If your situation qualifies for a penalty-free withdrawal under your retirement plan, this is an option for covering your unexpected bill. Note that depending on the type of plan you have, you may still owe income tax on the money you withdraw.
Once your unexpected expenses are resolved, make it a high priority to establish an emergency fund. Then the next time you incur an expense you didn’t anticipate, you can simply draw on that fund.
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