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Five ways to stay afloat if you lose your job

Posted Tuesday, February 24, 2009

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If you’ve joined the ranks of the unemployed, or are afraid you might soon, CRMA offers the following advice:

Collect your severance. Your total severance might be anywhere from the equivalent of two weeks’ to six months’ pay or possibly more. Companies typically let you choose to receive your severance in a lump sum or series of payments. If you think your company is still financially sound, consider taking the payments, which will allow you to keep getting a paycheck for as long as the severance lasts. If your employer is on shaky ground, a lump sum is a safer bet. But be prepared for a significant tax hit.

File for unemployment. If you’ve lost your job, don’t wait to call your state’s unemployment office to apply for benefits. Most states begin the benefit period from the day you file your claim, not the day you were let go.

Obtain health coverage. If you’re married and your spouse’s employer offers health insurance, you may be eligible to join his or her plan. If that isn’t an option, you may be eligible for coverage under COBRA, which allows terminated employees to temporarily continue insurance under their former employer’s health plan. If you’re approaching 65, plan to apply for Medicare coverage about three months before that birthday.

Decide if you need life insurance. Your employer might allow you to continue the company’s group life insurance if you pay your own premiums. But life insurance might not be worth the expense if you have no dependents or your children are grown-up and self-sufficient. If you have dependents to support, you may be able to find less-expensive term plans on your own. Go to and for quotes.

Preserve your retirement plan. Some employers will allow former employees to leave their 401(k) funds in the plan as long as they have more than $5,000 invested. Check with your human resources department to see if you’ll be charged additional fees for the privilege. If you have to move your money, you can roll it into an individual retirement account, or if you land a new job, transfer the assets directly to your new employer’s 401(k) plan. Unless you absolutely need the money, don’t cash out of your plan. If you do, you’ll have to pay income taxes on that money, and the IRS might also impose a 10 percent early-withdrawal penalty.

Consumer Reports Money Adviser is a monthly newsletter that answers tough money questions and provides expert financial advice. Its proven information and successful strategies make any financial decision an easy one. Each month, CRMA provides feature articles and helpful investment, savings, and spending advice that will prepare consumers for anything life may bring them.

Consumer Reports has no commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor appearing on this newspaper's web site.

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