It’s an event none of us wants to face, especially in our 50s: the day we lose our job.
The goals of that day are to determine the exact time your income stops, including the money available to you through unemployment benefits, and to resolve to cut household spending immediately. What you do on the first 24 hours will determine the amount of urgency you must adopt throughout the entire process of getting a new job.
Day Two and beyond of unemployment are simply an exercise in risk management. It’s a simple idea, but it’s also complicated, frustrating, and unnerving in its execution. It breaks down into two primary areas:
When you lose your job, you almost always lose insurance of all types. You can lose your health insurance, life insurance, disability insurance, and on a less frequent basis, long-term care insurance. Those losses are frustrating because you have to scramble to fill the gaps, and don’t forget you’re 50-something years old. Re-securing all of this insurance will be brutally expensive because of age and the health-based price points of insurance products.
From what I’ve observed, facing insurance deficiencies is easier to ignore than facing income deficiencies, although they are almost certainly linked. This is because spending money on properly covering your risks (health, death, and disability) is a choice. You can ignore a choice. Finding yourself suddenly unemployed without income is not a choice.
Health insurance continuation is likely to be your number one priority after a job loss. The program that allows you to continue your coverage is COBRA, or the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act. It’s very helpfu, although it generally feels expensive. This is because your employer is no longer subsidizing your premium. If the costs to take advantage of COBRA are too rich, take a look at Healthcare.gov for rates for the recently unemployed. Job loss is a qualifying event for securing coverage, but you have 60 days to do it through this provision. By the way, don’t wait 60 days. You should take some time to consider your options, but going uninsured when your old job’s coverage expires is a tremendously big risk, especially for someone in their 50s.
Depending on your family structure and your survivors’ needs, continuing your life insurance and disability coverage can be as important as health insurance. Determine whether your former group coverage has conversion/continuation privileges. If they don’t, talk to your insurance agent – yes, you need an insurance agent – about your options.
Watch your savings
The second major area of your financial life that needs tending are your assets and your use of them.
The reason I focused on reducing your monthly expenditures in my previous column about losing your job is because when your income stops flowing, you need to take the pressure off of your assets.
When you have reduced or no income, nearly every unfunded commitment crescendos into an emergency. You may feel as though relief can come from your savings, investments, or home equity, but an awful reality exists for people who are 50 and unemployed. You will have less time to replenish your assets, as the majority of your career is now behind you. You have to be tremendously picky when it comes to taping your savings.
I’ve long felt a person’s ability to distinguish an emergency and a non-emergency is the difference between financial stability and financial fragility. This is especially true when you find yourself 50 and unemployed.
Undoubtedly, my analysis of the financial challenges of being 50 and unemployed did not address some tangential challenges such as age discrimination when hunting for a job, or finding yourself suddenly unemployed in your sixties. However, these two additional scenarios certainly play into one of my biggest fears for anyone without work late in their career: capitulation retirement.
Capitulation retirement is when you give up on your career, justifiably or otherwise, and decide to retire. The problem with retiring when you can’t find work is just because it seems like the best option you have, doesn’t mean it’s actually a viable option. However, I have seen people pull-off this move successfully. In my estimation they are in the minority, but a sudden retirement has an outside shot at success. If you think retirement is the best option, do not make your final decision until you’ve talked to a financial adviser.
One final note. I appreciate all the emails readers have sent me about being in their 50s and unemployed. The tales were filled with advice, wins, losses, and hard-nosed resolve.
My favorite and most succinct observation, came from one reader named Rick. “Advice for folks my age? Build relationships, never say never, keep an iron in the fire, make yourself invaluable and realize you’re not.”
Sometimes the best advice stings a little.
Peter Dunn a.k.a. Pete the Planner® is an award-winning financial mind and a former comedian. He’s a USA TODAY columnist, author of ten books, and is the host of the popular radio show and podcast, The Pete the Planner Show. Pete is considered one of the foremost experts on financial wellness in the world, but he’s just as likely to talk your ear off about bass fishing.