A widow and a job loss

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Q:  I became a widow several years ago.  My husband handled all of the finances.  I started a new job about two months ago, and then was just told my job is being eliminated.  I am so overwhelmed, and nervous about my finances.  After losing a job, what are some of the steps that I should undertake to get my life in control?   

It sounds like you have faced several of life’s challenges in a short period of time.  If your role has been eliminated and you are now unemployed, you are likely eligible for unemployment insurance.

Regarding a more holistic approach to your finances, I consulted Deborah Cartisser, Senior Wealth Manager, Twelve Points Wealth Management.  Cartisser recommends trying to better understand your assets, the types of accounts you have, as well as how long your savings will last.

More specifically, it would be prudent to document a list of all of your accounts.  These accounts may range from checking accounts to retirement accounts.  Additionally, Cartisser suggests reviewing your debts.  Do you have a mortgage?  Credit cards?  Car payment?

Once you have all of your assets totaled, this is a summary of what you own.  You also want to understand your debts, which is what you owe to others.   The difference between the two is your net worth.  Cartisser recommends that you also include interest rates, and the minimum monthly payments.

Cartisser thinks it is especially important to review your cash accounts, and determine how many months your cash will last.  Think about essential expenses, like food, utilities, transportation and similar expenses.  There may be some unnecessary expenses that you could eliminate from your spending, like frequent meals at restaurants, a morning cup of coffee at the drive-through window, long vacations, or even items like clothing or furniture.  Banks, or other financial institutions (e.g., Fidelity or Schwab), may offer services to you to assist in answering your questions.

“If you are over 59 ½, you can withdraw from your retirement accounts.  If you have an active 401(k) account, from a former employer, you may be able to access that account earlier because of a job loss.”  Cartisser warns that many distributions from retirement accounts are taxed like ordinary income.

If you are 60 or over, contact Social Security to discuss whether you may have benefits available to you, through your deceased husband’s benefits.    They can help you determine whether it’s advisable to start accessing them now.

You also may want to begin looking for a new role, if you need benefits like health insurance.  Typically, January is an excellent time to be a job hunter.  December is a bit more sluggish because it is a month filled with holidays for some employees.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.

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