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Proper preparation can help soften the blow from an unexpected financial setback

Experts say an emergency fund is useful in case of financial setbacks. (Kindel Media) Experts say an emergency fund is useful in case of financial setbacks. (Kindel Media)

You can rarely predict them; the best you can do is prepare for them.

Financial setbacks can be devastating, whether it's a job loss or divorce, injury and illness or long-term disability.

More than one in six Canadians are worried about job loss in the next year, according to a Harris Poll and NerdWallet survey. But it also found roughly two-thirds don't have an emergency fund, which many experts consider a critical tool in the face of a financial crisis.

“A lot of people suggest having enough set aside for three months of expenses which will keep paying for your housing, keep paying for your essentials, and also just take a lot of that emotional weight off," said Clay Jarvis, NerdWallet Canada spokesperson and financial expert.

"It can kind of clear your mind a little bit to look at the next phase of your life.”

Kate Childerhose advocates for more, if possible.

An emergency fund covering four to six months of expenses is ideal, said the Edward Jones financial adviser based in London, Ont. But the savings only buy you time — you also need a plan.

If the financial setback is job loss, Childerhose said the first step is to “just pause and take a deep breath.”

“You just went through something that’s really unsettling, can be very frightening, and brings up a lot of emotions and feelings,” she said.

Usually, decisions made under duress or extreme emotion are not the best ones, she added.

Layoff advice

For your next step, Childerhose recommended letting your financial adviser know about the layoff, as advisers can connect you to legal help to review your termination, as well as an accountant to help with the severance and tax implications.

“Your financial adviser can then figure out what they need to do with assets that are transferring from a group plan, or what to do with some of the funds that are coming,” Childerhose said. “And they can assist with an income stream for the next period of time.”

Jarvis agreed that a recent layoff is a good time for expert advice, even if you’ve never worked with finance professionals before. Tapping into your savings and liquidating investments can have longer-term impacts that might not be fully understood.

“It's definitely better to get some professional help,” Jarvis said, “even if it’s just a one-shot deal.”

During this tumultuous time, he added, it’s also critical to keep making minimum payments on your debt, so your credit score isn’t destroyed.

Divorce complications

If the financial crisis is a divorce, joint accounts can be tricky, Childerhose said. Ideally, if you sense an upcoming breakdown in the relationship, you should put aside some money for lawyers and living expenses in your own bank account.

"If someone starts withdrawing lots of money from the joint account, then that gets looked at with the lawyers, and it brings a lot of complications to the table,” she explained.

Creating a budget for a single income will help with planning, Jarvis said, and it’s best to stay civil in divorce proceedings. Acrimonious splits can get costly.

According to insurance company Canada Life, citing a 2021 survey, legal fees for uncontested divorces average $2,000 or less — but contested divorces can run up to $25,000.

“I think in the current economic climate, going from a two-income family to a one-income household, it is going to be a huge strain on both of you,” Jarvis said.

Planning for worst-case scenarios

As for injury, long-term illness or disability, planning for worst-case scenarios can include buying insurance, Childerhose said. This is particularly appropriate for single parents or single-income families. Insurance premiums can feel expensive, she added, until you actually need the help.

“I’ve had a couple of clients in the last few years that have been in significant car accidents, and we’re still three, four or five years out, and their car accident cases haven’t been settled,” Childerhose said.

“They had been unable to return to work because of brain injuries caused from their accidents. That’s not just one particular client case — I have multiple client cases like that right now.”

Whether the income loss is from a layoff or disability, Jarvis advised reaching out to your landlord or lender if your savings start running low.

Once paying your rent or mortgage becomes challenging, it’s better to keep everyone informed, he explained. Tell them that you’re working to make your payments, and they are a priority.

“Let them know early on in the process, because being proactive will make a world of difference here,” Jarvis said.

“You don’t want to catch anyone off guard with a last-minute phone call or text saying that you won’t be able to pay them, because that's going to put them in a position where they might not be quite as willing to help you.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 30, 2024. Top Stories

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