FORT KNOX, Ky. — Take a minute and think about where you were financially seven months ago. Were you financially stable pre-pandemic or has your pocketbook been impacted by the coronavirus?For many, the virus has created a financial nightmare.The Washington Post recently stated the “pandemic has turned people’s financial lives upside down.” Few had a good financial plan pre-crisis.Prudential reported that “most Americans claim personal financial wellness has been the key obstacle during the pandemic and they just weren’t prepared.” Financially, this will go down as one of the worse times in the history of our country.How has this impacted us? Well, I’m sure you have listened to television news and read the newspapers, but let’s break it down.· Unemployment has been at an all-time high. The Labor Department states more than 22 million people have lost their jobs since April. Many were forced to wait several months for unemployment benefits to begin; thus impacting one’s ability to repay their financial obligations.· Having cash on hand certainly gives one peace of mind when unexpected financial things pop up. Statistics reveal financial reserves, once set aside for emergencies, have been depleted. Financial planners tell us we need 3 to 6 months of expenses set aside to revert to during a crisis. But for most, three months reserves was on the high end.· The stock market has taken significant hits making the road for retirement planning hard to navigate. By the way, using investment savings may sound like a good idea now, but be sure to consider the tax implications and penalties you will pay. Maybe it’s time to rethink how and what we are saving … one writer said “we should start saving for security vs. flexibility.”· Businesses (small and large) are trying to determine if the costs outweighs the positives … that is, to stay in business or close.· And what about our grocery expenses? Many products have been unavailable for purchase and if are available, it’s amazing how much costs have increased during this crisis.Who would have thought a year ago we would be experiencing such a financial crisis? The coronavirus has certainly taken its toll on us financially. Millions have begun to feel the financial effects of this outbreak — facing challenges and inability to pay their basic financial responsibilities. These include one’s mortgage payment, rent, credit cards or loans, to name a few. Obviously, many have made long overdue changes to better their financial situation.Yes, I’m sure this sounds all doom and gloom, but despite the financial impacts of the virus, there is “a light at the end of the tunnel.” If you are facing financial difficulties this might be a good time to reevaluate where you are financially and where you need to be. Consider these financial steps.· Develop a plan of action (spending plan) to help you stay on track. “Work toward regaining financial stability.” Consider changes you can implement to free up income within your budget to work with.a. Prioritize what bills you should pay first. What bills are most important; what takes precedence over others?i. Basic necessities should include: Food, mortgage and car payments, utilities, phone and or internet if you are working from home or have children attending school, and insurance are the essentials.b. Track your spending. It’s a good idea to know your income and what your total expenses are. Knowing this will help prevent overspending.c. Reduce your expenses. Look for areas in your budget you can live without. This will allow more money to pay the bills. For example:i. Eating out, clothing, TV/Internet, membershipsii. Fees – ATM, overdraft, debit card, annual credit card and late feesiii. Food – comparative shop where you can get the most for your money, couponing, buying store brands, buy in bulk and make a list of needs BEFORE you go to the store.iv. Home – keep lights off if you are not in that room, adjust thermostat, unplug appliances when not in use, and call about energy assistance programs or discounted utility rates such as budget billing.v. Phone – call the provider to see what can be reduced in your package (they may have lower costs plans), consider prepaid or fixed rate plans. Or it may be a good time to tell mother in law or adult children it is time to set up and pay their own plan.vi. Use cash vs. credit … need I say more?· Call your creditors or lenders and explain your financial hardship. They may offer other financial repayment options such as: delaying, adjusting or skipping payments. Let them know what you can afford to pay and when you can begin making regular payments again.· Make minimum payments vs. applying extra (power payments). Obviously, this should only be considered as a temporary solution. Making minimum payments allows interest to accrue for a longer period of time, taking longer to pay off.· Set up automatic payments to ensure your priorities continue to be paid on time and “avoid using designated money for something unplanned.”· Determine who you owe, how much you owe and what you are paying monthly.Debt is anything you owe. Unpaid debt is money you owe and have not paid that could resort to collection calls, lowering one’s credit score (from late or skipped payments), and making a big difference in feeling in control or being controlled. Unwise spending choices make the ability to pay one’s finances less manageable.· Debt relief organizations are also a good option. Make sure the agency is reputable and accredited thru the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. A credit counselor will help you make a budget and work out a repayment plan with your creditors. They will combine unsecured debt into one monthly payment that is distributed among all your creditors usually at a reduced interest rate.· If you think you are going to have trouble paying your mortgage, contact your mortgage servicer ASAP. This is the one item you want to remain current on. It is VERY important to keep the line of communication open with your servicer. Defaulting on your mortgage will add fees (late fees, default related fees) to the amount you already owe. Options could include: refinancing, loan modifications, repayment plans or a temporary reduction in your payment. “The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act is available to help you understand forbearance options and avoid foreclosure during this crisis. Or consider calling HOPE NOW for free guidance – https://www.hopenow.com/ 888-995-HOPE.”· Check your credit. Your credit should be checked routinely to ensure accuracy. “Your credit score plays an important role in your financial future opportunities.” You can pull a free credit report from all or one of the three major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and Trans Union through https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action. This can be requested by mail, phone (877-322-8228) or online.By now many of you have already made adjustments to your finances. Whether you are unemployed, lost your job, are on furlough, or just unable to pay your bills, consider what changes you can make to improve how you are managing your personal finances.To help in advancing your knowledge on financial matters, The Office of Financial Readiness at https://finred.usalearning.gov/ has a wide variety of information at your fingertips, and Soldiers don’t forget about your military financial milestones financial literacy resources available at www.financialfrontline.org/milestones/.The Financial Milestones include career touchpoints at these markers: PCS, Promotion, TSP Vesting, pre- and post-deployment, marriage, birth of a new child and divorce, among others. The link provides training videos, checklists, budget sheets and useful tools in helping link “your career and life milestones,” making the most of financial knowledge.For those who have personal financial questions or need assistance, call the Financial Readiness department at Army Community Service. Financial counselors are available to provide financial education and individual counseling to the Fort Knox military community.For more detailed information about our services or to schedule an appointment, call 502-624-5989.