If you or someone else in your family is going off to college in the fall, you may be surprised to know that your student loan amounts and related interest rates are not yet set in stone. If Uncle Sam is your employer, then your paycheck could soon be hit by an unanticipated furlough. These and other personal financial challenges facing Americans right now can be traced back to an economic move known as “sequestration.”
Originally passed as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011, the sequester cuts spending to both domestic and defense programs and includes a total of $85.4 billion in spending reductions. The impact of the cuts have yet to be measured but according to Bloomberg Businessweek’s “The Sequester's Hidden Risks for the U.S. Economy,” the drop in government spending will result in 750,000 fewer jobs and a 0.6 percent contraction in the U.S. economy.
If your job and/or checkbook are — or, are expected to be — impacted by the sequester, here are five ways to manage the challenges:
Stay in the know. This isn’t the time to bury your head in the sand and hope sequestration follows the same route as the fiscal cliff. You can use news sites like BET.com, Google News and Yahoo! News to keep on top of what’s going on and adjust accordingly. Use keywords related to your job or specific situation to drill down further and keep yourself informed on the sequester’s impact and future course.
Look beyond student loans for college money. Some federal student loan recipients will be paying increased fees this year due to the sequester. People who get Direct PLUS loans, which go to graduate students and parents of dependent undergraduates, for example, have already been alerted to the 0.2 percentage point (from 4.0 percent to 4.204 percent) increases for their new loans. With Americans now holding about $1 trillion in student loan debt, according to the Federal Reserve, now may be the time to cut back on the borrowing to offset the higher rate and find alternate sources (friends, family, part-time summer jobs, etc.) of college financing.
Seek out alternate childcare arrangements. Both the Child Care Development Block Fund, which helps states provide child care subsidies for low-income working parents, and Head Start, which awards grants to public and private agencies to increase school readiness, are in danger of losing funding due to the sequester. If your young children benefit from either of these programs it may be time to start looking for good alternatives. Parents, grandparents, home-based daycare providers, or even a consortium of parents (those also affected by the cuts) can all help pick up where these government programs leave off.
Don’t wait until the furlough hits your inbox. Federal workers and contractors who are worried about sequester-related furloughs and layoffs should start planning for the lean times today. The Certified Financial Planning Board suggests devoting your free time to finding ways to effectively manage on a smaller paycheck; cutting approximately 2 percent from your expenses for every week on furlough; and then setting aside what you’ll save on commuting, lunches out, and child care.
Brace for the unexpected. Even consumers who don’t work for the government, rely on student loans, or take advantage of federally-supported childcare programs should brace for the impact of sequestration. The CFP Board says now is the time to take more responsibility for your health, retirement security, and readiness to respond to a tough economy. Update your resume and keep your skills sharp and current in case the cumulative effect of the sequestration results in another economic recession—and necessitates a job search. Finally, as always, it’s important to make savings a priority and establish an emergency fund, just in case.
This article has been prepared for informational purposes only. The accuracy and completeness of this information is not guaranteed and is subject to change. Since each individual’s financial situation is unique, you need to review your financial objectives to determine which approaches might work best for you.
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(Photo: Alex Slobodkin / Getty Images)