The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 400,000 Americans, robbed millions of workers of their jobs and pushed companies to file for bankruptcy protection. It’s driven us into our homes and put distance between us and those we love.
While little good can be salvaged from this grueling, miserable time, there have been a few silver linings. Seizing them can improve your life greatly.
Here are some of the biggest upsides of this strange era and how to use each to your advantage.
Silver lining No. 1: Super-low interest rates
What to do: Refinance your mortgage
Listen up, homeowners. In July 2020, when the average interest rate on a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage was 3.01%, we pointed readers to the historically low rate.
Here’s what happened next: Rates just kept on falling. And falling. By Jan. 28, 2021, the rate for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage was 2.73%.
Refinancing can shrink your monthly payments, helping with cash flow, provided that the savings would outweigh the refinancing costs. Refinancing into another 30-year mortgage isn’t necessarily ideal. It’s important to calculate when you’ll break even on the deal and the total amount you’ll save over the life of the loan.
Better: If you can manage a larger monthly payment, refinance into a shorter-term mortgage. The average rate for a 15-year mortgage was 2.2% in late January. A shorter term minimizes interest costs.
To get an idea of the interest rates you could qualify for, or to start shopping rates, check out Money Talks News’ free refinancing rate search tool.
What to do: Score a lower credit card APR
If you’re carrying credit card debt, today’s low rates may mean you can lower the annual percentage rate, or APR, on your balance and pay it off faster. This process could be as simple as calling your credit card company and asking for a lower APR.
Or, you can transfer your balance to a no-interest credit card, which also would save you on interest payments during an introductory period so you can pay the debt off faster.
Even if you pay credit card interest only occasionally, shopping for a lower-APR card is smart, since any credit card interest you pay is too much.
Silver lining No. 2: Less spending
What to do: Divert spare cash
Many people are finding that the limitations of quarantining at home mean they have money left at month’s end. Smart ways to use it include:
- Paying down debt. Here are free and cheap apps that help.
- Starting or building up an emergency fund. That way, you won’t have to go into debt the next time you face economic hardship.
- Build retirement savings. The Social Security system’s woes are accelerating due to the pandemic, just one more reason why it’s important to save everything you can for retirement. Avoid perfectionism. Starting small is great. Just take action.
Silver lining No. 3: More free time
Many of us are stuck at home. Working from home — or being unable to work at all — can mean extra time on your hands. Not everyone gets to enjoy this spare-time bonus, of course. But if you do, use some of the time to improve your life.
Some of the next few projects are big. There’s no need to tackle them all at once. Pick one up and put it down as time permits. When you finish something, revel in the satisfaction. And keep going.
What to do: Make a spending plan
Don’t call it a budget. Call it a smart way to plan your spending. And making a plan isn’t hard at all. In fact, once you get into it, it can be kind of fun.
Some of us at Money Talks News use YNAB (short for "You Need A Budget"), a partner company whose program helps you automatically track and manage your spending and build savings.
What to do: Comparison shop for your insurance
In fact, they do the bulk of the work for you by gathering rate quotes for various types of insurance, including auto and home. Then, about all that’s left is for you to pick the policy you like best.
Of course, if you prefer to gather quotes the old-fashioned way, spend an afternoon on the phone talking with insurance salespeople.
What to do: Update (or write) your will
Some people don’t need a will. Many do, though, and resistance to wills is understandable since it requires facing mortality and digging up documents.
Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson lays out the basics in “Ask Stacy: Can I Put Together My Own Will?”
What to do: Update your retirement plan
It’s not enough these days to simply have an IRA or 401(k) plan. You’ll want to figure out how to maximize your accounts and set savings goals so you’ll have enough money when you stop working. How to get started? “5 Simple Steps to an Awesome Retirement” will put you on the path.
Or, if you’re ready for a retirement planning boot camp, check out Money Talks News’ course The Only Retirement Guide You’ll Ever Need.