Ask yourself the question:
Would I be able to survive four weeks without a paycheck?
Depending on your level of financial vulnerability, the answer might be no. Not to worry! We’ve compiled some ways to know if you’re financially vulnerable and what you can do about it so that a job loss, reduced hours, emergency, or unexpected expense won’t take you down.
Even before considering your financial habits, you may be able to tell if you’re financially vulnerable based on some psychological markers. Psychology Today identifies four things that might suggest you are financially vulnerable.
If you’re feeling anxious about your financial situation, you might be financially vulnerable. Financially hard times can cause your anxiety and stress levels to increase. Similarly, you may feel fearful, frustrated, or hopeless if you’re financially vulnerable, which can also lead to negative effects on your health.
Other indicators are if you’re unsure about what will happen in the future (especially if you live paycheck-to-paycheck), lack knowledge about your personal financial situation or financial literacy in general, or are feeling negative emotions such as fear, frustration, or hopelessness when it comes to finances. These are all psychological markers that you’re financially vulnerable.
While you may or may not have the psychological markers of financial vulnerability, you likely will have behavioral markers if you’re financially vulnerable. If you discover that you meet some of the characteristics, don’t worry! We’ll also include some tips on how to get yourself into a more financially stable position.
1. Income Fluctuation
Just having a job isn’t enough to suggest that you’re not financially vulnerable. If you have low or unreliable wages, you likely are financially vulnerable, especially since people with income variations tend to be twice as likely to fall behind on bills.
Maybe you pick up some additional contract-based work to supplement your main income, or work a part-time job without benefits, or perhaps rely entirely on commission for income. In any case, all of these examples are not only realistic, but can be a reason for large income fluctuations, potentially leading to financial insecurity.
If you find yourself in this position, you can work to get to a more financially stable place. If it’s possible, consider trying to find a job that offers more consistent pay. You might also be able to pick up some freelance work or a part-time job to supplement the income you have now.
Additionally, you might try to live on the average of what you earn. For example, if you’re in sales, you’re going to have high months and low months. Take the month where you earned the most and add that number to the month where you earned the least and divide the final number by 2. That can be a quick way to figure out what is a reasonable average monthly income.
Finally, don’t spend all you earn. Try to find ways to save money during the high months so that the low months don’t have to be so tight.
2. Low Credit Score
Another symptom of financial vulnerability is your credit score. If it is fair or poor (669 or below), you might find yourself in a financially tenable place. You might feel like you’re the only person who has struggled to get to a good credit score, but you’re not. As they say, credit is earned, not given, so many others may be struggling to either improve or start their credit history, just like you.
If this sounds like you, don’t worry. You can start rebuilding your credit score today. It will take time, but you can do it.
First, you should know what factors go into your credit score so that you know what area to target. The five components that contribute to your credit score are:
- Payment History (35%): how often you’ve paid on time
- Credit Utilization (30%): how much you owe
- Length of Credit History (15%): how long you’ve had your lines of credit
- New Credit (10%): how many new accounts you open
- Credit Mix (10%): how many different lines of credit you have (credit card, loan, etc.)
Next, you need to figure out a plan that will help your credit score the most. If you regularly are late on your payments—which is a large portion of your credit score— definitely target that category, as you can see the greatest increase in your score. Missing/late payments can show up for years.
Also, don’t forget to target debt. As you pay it off, lenders will know that you can responsibly use and pay off credit, making you less of a risk and thus increasing your score.
Finally, just remember to use your credit cards responsibly. If you don’t have the money, don’t put it on the credit card. Only use your credit card if you can pay it off.
3. Lack of Savings
If something unexpected happens and you find yourself looking at your savings account and seeing practically no money, you might be financially vulnerable. Lacking even modest savings can indicate that something like a government shutdown for four weeks might be a huge financial disaster for you.
Even on an income with little wiggle room, it doesn’t have to be that way. Experts recommended putting away 15 percent of your annual income for savings. That might seem like an enormous amount, but if you work your way up to it a paycheck at a time, it can become more and more manageable.
The first step is designating a portion of your income to savings. Start small so that you can keep it up. Just like experts recommend that you start small with fitness goals—start by just getting out of the house and walking instead of trying to train for a marathon right off the bat—you should start small with your financial goals as well.
If you haven’t been saving any of your income at all, try saving 5% of it to begin. If you get paid by direct deposit, have 5% automatically go to your savings account. Then it’s out of sight and out of mind. If you’ve been saving 10%, try 12% or even 15%—anything to give yourself a little more in your savings account.
Also, once you get in the habit of saving, you might also want to make sure that you have 3-6 months of income saved in an emergency fund. Like a savings account, this will help prevent you from slipping into financial vulnerability if you if you find yourself without income for a month or two.
4. High Levels of Debt
Between rising housing costs, lofty education prices, and a climbing cost of living, it’s fairly likely that you either have some debt or will incur some over the course of your life, potentially putting you in a financially vulnerable position. If you want to get yourself out of a financially vulnerable position with your high levels of debt, you’ll need to simply pay off your debt. That, of course, is easier said than done.
Obviously, the first step is to stop taking on more debt and make a plan for tackling and paying off what you currently owe.
When figuring out a plan for paying off different kinds of debt (for example, if you have a mix of student loans, car loans, credit card debt, etc.) the best way is to pay off the debt with the highest interest rate first. This will save you the most amount of money in the long run. However, if you need to start small to eat the elephant one bite at a time, pay off your smallest debt first. Then you’ll start to see your progress, and it could be easier for you to keep going.
5. Inability to Afford a Home
While there is obviously nothing wrong with renting, if you’d like to buy your own home but can’t, you might be in a financially vulnerable position. If you’re currently a renter dreaming of homeownership, it’s going to be a herculean task, but you can do it with dedication and diligence.
If it’s possible, the first thing to consider is thinking outside of the box and looking into different homes that you may not have considered before. This may mean looking into less expensive homes, homes in a different part of town, or maybe slightly older homes.
Another option is getting a roommate.
Finally, you can also see if there are any incentives for first-time home buyers or low-income families if you fit into one of those categories. For example, you may qualify for a grant as a first-time home buyer if you make below a certain income level.
In conclusion, if recent setbacks have gotten you thinking about your financial situation and you’ve concluded that you are financially vulnerable right now, don’t worry! Just by taking some of these small steps, you can target your problem areas and get yourself to a financially healthy place so that no unexpected expense or life event will threaten your financial stability!