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Ask Us Your Money Questions. We Answer Them Here.

By Ellevest Team

As the coronavirus pandemic rolls through the US, life has been changing very quickly. For so many of us, a big part of that uncertainty has to do with money — our income, our jobs, and our savings and investment accounts.

We’re here to help. The Ellevest team will be here all day, every day, continuously answering your money questions — in the order we get them, right here on this page. Questions that other people have asked are listed below, anonymously, in case they help you too. Bookmark this page and check back regularly for new entries.

If you don’t see your question below, email us at questions@ellevest.com, and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

Our team is also hosting webinars and “office hours” from our various homes on Instagram Live to answer your questions over the coming weeks. You can see the upcoming schedule here.

Jump to a question:

I have no idea what to pursue as a career. How do I figure out what I’m passionate about?
If I get a new job while I’m furloughed, do I still give two weeks’ notice?
Should I keep contributing to my 401(k) if my employer match gets suspended?
Should I build an emergency fund or save for retirement?
What’s your advice for someone job-searching while pregnant?
If I rebalance my portfolio, would I be “locking in my losses”?
Do you have any advice on leading a team of people who are older than me?
Do you recommend working with a debt relief or debt management company?
Will accepting freelance jobs affect my unemployment benefits?
If I’m on severance pay, can I apply for unemployment?
How can I improve my LinkedIn profile?
How long should I try looking for a job in a new industry before going back to what I have more experience in?
What should I do, career-wise, if I’ve been furloughed?
Should I get a personal loan to help build my credit?
Will coronavirus-related forbearance on federal student loans affect my progress toward public service loan forgiveness?
Is it worth it to pay a balance transfer fee?
Am I eligible for unemployment if I lost my second job?
If I’m only partially unemployed, am I still eligible for the extra $600/week?
Is the $1,200 stimulus check an “advance” on next year’s tax refund?
Do you need to file your 2019 taxes before you can receive a stimulus check?
What’s considered “long term” in investing?
Are 1099 employees eligible for unemployment?
What kinds of skills should I learn right now to best help my career?
I’m applying for a job. What should I do if my contact there stops replying?
Are there any negative consequences of receiving unemployment?
Am I eligible for the new benefits under the stimulus package?
How soon will we receive the stimulus check, and will it be mailed to us?
Is now a good time to try to fix your credit?
Is now the right time to take enhanced severance or early retirement, if it’s offered?
How should new grads approach their job search?
Should I request forbearance on my mortgage?

We’re still not done with questions! Read part two here.

I have no idea what to pursue as a career. How do I figure out what I’m passionate about?

From Stephenie Girard, lead career coach: There are many ways to explore and discover what you might want to pursue. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Take an assessment that matches your profile with careers that might be a good fit.

  2. Make a list of 20 people in your network (family, friends, friends of friends, alumni, people on Linkedin who inspire you...) from all different industries and professions. Ask for a virtual coffee chat to interview and learn more about their career path. When you meet, pay attention to what energizes or excites you.

  3. Work with a career coach!

  4. Find a book or journal that offers exercises to help you reflect and connect the dots. In the past, I’ve recommended Designing Your Life Workbook, but anything that works for you is great.

  5. Ask trusted friends and family members what they believe your strengths are and what jobs they could imagine you pursuing.

I hope this brainstorm helps! Wishing you tons of happiness and success.

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If I get a new job while I’m furloughed, do I still give two weeks’ notice?

From Stephenie Girard, lead career coach: I recommend it, yes. I would also encourage you to set up a one-on-one meeting with your manager to tell them about your decision.

In “normal” times, this meeting would be an opportunity to provide them with your last expected day in your current role, tasks you plan to complete before your last day, etc. You may have also worked together to build a transition plan for your teammates. Today, while the conversation may look different, I encourage you to go into the meeting with the same intentions. You might be able to assist with the transition throughout your remaining time with the company.

If you have a good relationship with your manager, I also encourage you to ask for a reflection on your time reporting to them. What were your strengths? What advice do they have that you can carry into your next role? (Later, do some reflecting on your own, too: How have you grown, and what have you learned throughout your first job?)

Prepare for that meeting ahead of time by deciding on what you’ll say, and be prepared to reach out to HR with the details of your resignation as well. That way, you’ll be ready for any topics that may come up — no need to think on your feet. Good luck, you’ve got this!

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Should I keep contributing to my 401(k) if my employer match gets suspended?

If you can, it usually still makes sense to continue contributing to your 401(k) even without an employer match.

One exception: If you have any debt with an interest rate greater than 10%. In that case, since there’s no free money you’d otherwise be giving up with an employer match, we recommend temporarily pausing your 401(k) contributions and putting that money toward your expensive debt instead. Once it’s paid off, you can go back to contributing to your 401(k).

If you have debt with interest rates between 5 and 10%, or you don’t have any money saved for emergencies, you could choose to redirect some of your 401(k) contributions toward those goals for a little while. But we typically recommend going back to your full contributions as soon as you can.

If you have emergency savings and no debt, you might even consider increasing your contributions to help make up for the lost match. One great thing about a 401(k) is that they have high contribution limits — you can invest up to $19,500 a year ($26,000 if you are over 50).

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Should I build an emergency fund or save for retirement?

Question: I’m currently working to build my emergency fund but am worried that I’m waiting too long to prepare for retirement. Is it possible (or smart) to build an emergency fund and contribute to a retirement account at the same time?

From Rachel Rabinovich, financial planner: This is a great question! We do typically suggest that you build an emergency fund of 3–6 months’ of take-home pay in a liquid, guaranteed savings account (think FDIC- or NCUA-insured) before you consider investing for your long-term goals — especially during this time of uncertainty.

The exception to that advice is if you have a 401(k) employer match available. In that case, unless you think your job is in jeopardy (in which case saving is probably your best bet), we recommend investing at least enough to get the full match as soon as you can. That’s free money.

With all that said, it is true that the earlier you get started, the better chance your money has to grow. If you think your source of income is safe and really want to get going on retirement ASAP, you might decide to start with directing some of the money you’re contributing to your emergency fund to your retirement savings. Then, when you have fully built out the emergency fund, you can direct more to your retirement.

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What’s your advice for someone job-searching while pregnant?

From Stephenie Girard, lead career coach: Congratulations! Here is what I would encourage you to do:

  1. Treat this job search, for the most part, as you would if you were not expecting. The same general approaches and best practices for a job search still apply to you.

  2. Find a company whose culture aligns as closely to your values as possible. I think this is a key element of success for a working mom.

  3. Learn about health and maternity benefits before accepting an offer. Make sure they meet your needs.

Wishing you much health, happiness and success!

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If I rebalance my portfolio, would I be “locking in my losses”?

Rebalancing is selling some investments and buying others in order to adjust the ratio of stocks, bonds, and alternative investments that make up your investment portfolio. That wouldn’t be considered “locking in your losses.” Generally, we’d say you lock in your losses if you were to sell your investments for cash and not reinvest that money. Rebalancing is a risk management strategy that we do for our clients on a regular basis.

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Do you have any advice on leading a team of people who are older than me?

From Stephenie Girard, lead career coach: I imagine you were offered this job based on your experience, education, and knowledge, and because you are a good fit for the job — remember this in your moments of doubt. The fact that you are even asking for advice on how to lead in a way that builds trust and respect shows me that you care. This will go a long way.

The most impactful leaders I know lead from a balance of heart and head. You can build trust by coming in with the confidence that you are the right person for the job, the humility that you could not possibly know all of the answers, and the will to share your ideas and vision with your team while asking them to share their ideas as well.

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Do you recommend working with a debt relief or debt management company?

From Rachel Rabinovich, financial planner: I would hesitate to recommend working with a debt relief (or debt settlement) company, like the well-known National Debt Relief. It can be expensive, and your credit can take a significant hit. Generally, they require you to close your existing lines of credit, which could dramatically increase your credit utilization ratio. That makes up nearly a third your credit score — you want to keep the ratio under 30% ideally.

Organizations like www.nfcc.org are a good resource for debt management. They can provide counseling and, potentially, a debt management plan. We recommend working with an organization like this instead of working with a debt settlement company.

Fortunately, in response to the crisis, many credit card issuers are offering assistance to those who are experiencing financial hardship. Some issuers are waiving late fees, lowering interest rates, or even allowing some customers to skip payments. Each company is offering their own specific program and has their own guidelines about who qualifies. You can check in your online account or call the customer service line for your company to find out what you may qualify for.

If you need more help, check out this information by the Federal Trade Commission on credit counseling, which could help you as well.

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Will accepting freelance jobs affect my unemployment benefits?

Taking freelance work can affect your benefits, but it depends on how much you make from week to week. Each state has its own limits and formula for figuring that out. Your state’s website should be able to give you the answer. This link will provide you with your state’s resources, including COVID-19 benefits. (By the way: Even if you are eligible for $1 in weekly benefits, you should still be able to get the extra $600 from the CARES Act.)

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If I’m on severance pay, can I apply for unemployment?

If you get severance pay that comes in one big payment, it wouldn’t typically disqualify you from receiving unemployment going forward, since you are no longer on the payroll after it comes. But if you receive a regular severance paycheck (similar to when you were actually working), you may have to wait for severance to end — because you are technically still on the payroll. That said, every company and state has particular ways of handling this, so your best bet is to check in with your old HR department and your state’s unemployment site.

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How can I improve my LinkedIn profile?

From Stephenie Girard, lead career coach: A great first step toward creating a strong Linkedin Profile is to make sure your resume is complete and updated — your LinkedIn profile should be a reflection of your resume. Add a short summary to the top of your profile that includes your unique skill set and magic. Only include work experience that’s relevant to the type of work you’re seeking. Finally, do some research to find others in your profession or the field you want to pursue. What keywords are they using in their profile? Try to incorporate some of those in your profile.

Also very important: Proofread your profile for spelling and grammar mistakes several times. Also, use a high-quality profile photo that looks professional — even if your friend or roommate actually takes it — and dress professionally or appropriately for your profession.

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How long should I try looking for a job in a new industry before going back to what I have more experience in?

From Stephenie Girard, lead career coach: The answer to that question depends a lot on how long you can continue to make ends meet financially before you need to start working again. But it’s also a decision based on your unique tolerance, patience, passion, and dedication. Trust your gut instincts and sense when you have given this dream everything you have in you. If you feel that you’ve exhausted all efforts, check out this recent article for more advice on widening your search.

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What should I do, career-wise, if I’ve been furloughed?

From Stephenie Girard, lead career coach: Given that we are in such uncertain times, I recommend laying the foundation for different pathways and opportunities just in case you’re furloughed for longer than you can financially sustain or eventually laid off.

First, maintain your hope and optimistic outlook — this is important, because it can help you stay resilient on a daily basis. Next, take this time to update your resume, craft your narrative, create a cover letter template, and update your LinkedIn profile. Just like we clean out our kitchen drawers or email inbox from time to time, this maintenance is super helpful and important. And finally, use this time to connect with people: check in, ask how they are doing, set up a virtual coffee chat, and learn about what is happening with their teams, company culture, etc. Reestablish professional relationships that perhaps haven't received the attention they could have in your normally busy life. Research which organizations might be hiring, what jobs are open, etc. Keep on top of news and information in your industry and profession.

This way, if you need to step into a job search, you’ll be well ahead of the game, and if you do end up stepping back into your previous role, you’ll have your files up-to-date, your relationships reestablished, and good information on what’s happening in your industry.

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Should I get a personal loan to help build my credit?

We feel the idea of getting a loan just to build credit is a tricky one, because you are essentially paying (via interest payments) in order to raise your score. It's also possible that the loan could have a high interest rate. This article can help you think about other ways to build your credit

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Will coronavirus-related forbearance on federal student loans affect my progress toward public service loan forgiveness?

The Department of Education has stated that through the CARES Act:

“If you have a Direct Loan, were on a qualifying repayment plan prior to the suspension, and work full-time for a qualifying employer during the suspension, then you will receive credit toward PSLF [public service loan forgiveness] for the period of suspension as though you made on-time monthly payments.”

So it seems you would get credit for the months you spend in forbearance due to the pandemic, as long as all the other qualifiers are still in place.

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Is it worth it to pay a balance transfer fee?

Question: I currently have some credit card debt with a 21% interest rate. I’m considering taking advantage of a balance transfer offer for 0% interest for 12 months, but it has a 3% balance transfer fee. Does it make sense to pay that fee and avoid the interest?

Probably yes. While it isn’t much fun to pay a balance transfer fee, it’s almost always going to be less expensive than paying off credit card debt at its current (high) interest rate.

Just note that the 0% rate can jump to a pretty high rate when the promo period is over — and may even be charged retroactively. (Read the fine print or call the card company to confirm these details.) So if you decide to use a balance transfer, calculate how much you would have to pay each month to pay down the balance by the date the 0% rate expires. For example, if you have a $10,000 balance and the 0% rate lasts for 12 months, you would want to pay $12,000/12 = $1,000 per month.

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Am I eligible for unemployment if I lost my second job?

It's not likely that you would qualify for unemployment benefits if you are still being paid for a primary full-time job. The best thing for you to do is to check out your state’s unemployment website for more information about what you may be eligible for. This link can guide you to your state's resources, including new COVID-19 benefits.

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If I’m only partially unemployed, am I still eligible for the extra $600/week?

The Department of Labor recently issued some guidance on this. If you’re eligible to receive even just $1 of unemployment benefits per your state’s guidelines, you will automatically get the other $600 extra dollars of benefits too.

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Is the $1,200 stimulus check an “advance” on next year’s tax refund?

Nope — the stimulus check is a tax-free payment made to eligible people under the CARES Act. It’s not an advance on your 2020 taxes. It’s simply extra money in your pocket (if you’re eligible).

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Do you need to file your 2019 taxes before you can receive a stimulus check?

If you have not filed your 2019 taxes by the time the stimulus checks go out (which could still take a couple of weeks), the IRS will determine your eligibility based on your 2018 tax returns. Here’s more info on the check and how we recommend you think about spending it. Also check out this news release from the IRS to learn more.

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What’s considered “long term” in investing?

Good question. When we talk about “investing for the long term,” often with your retirement, for example, we typically mean 10 to 15+ years. For those goals, we’ll recommend more stocks than bonds for your portfolio when you start out. But as you get closer to your goal date, our investment recommendations will include less stock and more bonds in order to lower your portfolio’s overall risk.

At Ellevest, we still generally recommend investing instead of saving if you’re just getting started on that goal and have at least a year or two until you’re going to need the money.

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Are 1099 employees eligible for unemployment?

Yes. Under the CARES Act, gig workers and anyone else who receives a 1099 for their income are eligible for unemployment if they were unable to work due to reasons related to the coronavirus pandemic. The amount you might receive will depend on your state and how they determine your benefit. You will also be eligible for the extra $600 a week benefit that was part of the CARES Act.

Just note that many states’ unemployment offices are overwhelmed at the moment, and some have not yet updated their online systems to account for the new law. You may not see it as an option to file as “self employed” yet. If that’s the case, if you’re able to get through on the phone to your unemployment office, you still may be able to file.

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What kinds of skills should I learn right now to best help my career?

Question: I’m hoping to make the most of my time in quarantine by investing in myself by learning new skills that can help move my career forward. Do you have advice on the kinds of skills (soft skills included) I could focus on?

From Stephenie Girard, lead career coach: As a starting point, I invite you to think of two or three people from your chosen industry who inspire you. Look around you in your current role, too. What skills does your boss have? What about your boss’s boss? For well-known figures, what traits do they have that you admire, and what skills might give them that trait? For example, if they’re a great leader, they probably have great public speaking or writing skills.

How do your skills match up against those that you’ve identified? What skill could have the biggest impact on connecting the dots from here to there? That is the skill to develop first.

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I’m applying for a job. What should I do if my contact there stops replying?

From Stephenie Girard, lead career coach: Things are moving more slowly right now, and several companies have begun hiring freezes. That doesn’t negate any relationship you’ve established or any interest you’ve expressed in this potential role.

I encourage you to reach out to them with acknowledgment and empathy for the situation and uncertain times. Express that you are hoping to learn where the company stands in hiring for the role, because you still have a strong interest even if the timeline is extended. You can also ask when it would be the most appropriate time to follow up again — that can help you feel more confident the next time you reach out.

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Are there any negative consequences of receiving unemployment?

From Rachel Sanborn Lawrence, lead financial planner: Having been in financial services for almost 20 years (and having filed for unemployment once myself during that time period), I don’t know of any negative consequences to filing for unemployment. It doesn’t impact your credit score or future employment. The money is taxable, but you can have some of it withheld to help cover the taxes on it. I haven’t seen or heard of anything else!

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Am I eligible for the new benefits under the stimulus package?

Good question! Check out this article that breaks down the individual pieces of the stimulus bill.

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How soon will we receive the stimulus check, and will it be mailed to us?

Depending on your eligibility, you’ll automatically receive up to $1,200 directly from the government — either via your bank account if they have that information, or via check. The target timing is within three weeks from now. How much you get is based on your most recent tax filing, either from 2019 if you’ve filed it already or from 2018 if you haven’t. Here’s more info on the check and how we recommend you think about spending it.

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Is now a good time to try to fix your credit?

Question: Is now a good time to try to “fix” your credit — as in, is now a good time to open a credit card? I have a low credit score, partly because I don’t have much listed on my credit report. Or should I wait until the economy bounces back a bit to try to tackle my low credit score?

From Rachel Rabinovich, financial planner: Credit cards can be an incredibly useful tool in building your credit as long as you practice good habits, like making payments on time and paying off your bill each month (which means avoiding putting more on your card than you can afford to pay).

But they can also be risky, because if you end up building up a balance, it can become difficult and expensive to pay off, and it can hurt your credit score even more.

One thing we do recommend as you are deciding whether or not a credit card is right for you is to first make a spending plan for the month ahead. (We like the 50/30/20 rule, which is a high-level, flexible budgeting approach.) Second, keep track of your bank account’s balance. Know how much you have coming in each month, and pay attention to what you’re spending that money on. And third, don’t overdraw your account if you can help it — this is the ultimate version of not spending more than you can afford to pay.

Once you’ve successfully followed those habits for several months in a row, you might give credit cards a try. Later, if you get a credit card and find yourself overspending, you can reverse course: Hide your card in a drawer or something until you get your habits back in check, and then try again.

If you’re not comfortable getting a credit card right now, this article will provide some insight on other ways to build to your credit. But if you believe that you can use credit responsibly, then now might be a good time to explore getting a new card since the Federal Reserve slashed interest rates to nearly zero, which means that credit card rates will likely fall as well.. While you won’t likely find a credit card with a truly low (less than 5%) interest rate, rates might at least be lower than usual.

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Is now the right time to take enhanced severance or early retirement, if it’s offered?

From Rachel Rabinovich, financial planner: Without knowing the specifics of what you’ve been offered or your personal financial situation, I would encourage you to consider a few things before you make the decision.

Look at what’s included in the offer. How much severance or continuation of pay are you being offered? Are they offering to continue to pay medical insurance, if you were getting it through them? Or do you get your medical insurance somewhere else, like through a partner’s employer? Since you aren’t eligible for Medicare until you’re 65, that’s an important consideration.

Next: What happens to any retirement plan assets you have accrued through your employer? Do you get a pension, and what are the options for taking payments if so? Are you being provided outplacement services to help with a job search, or any other perks?

Take a close look at how this will affect your finances and whether you’ll have enough to make it through a longer-than-planned retirement. Depending on your age, it may be early to think about dipping into your retirement savings to cover your lost income, especially if it’s too early for you to be eligible for Social Security.

That being said, this could be your best scenario if your employer is looking for ways to cut expenses. Making the choice to accept the offer now could prevent a less attractive package a few months from now if your employer needs to make further cuts.

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How should new grads approach their job search?

Question: Can you please talk specifically to upcoming grads (I am about to finish grad school) and how to navigate the job market, with a focus on interning for low or no pay? Even though I’ll have a grad degree and I had work experience before I went back to school, I’m only seeing no-pay or low-pay internships right now. I need money and CV experience, but I don’t want to miss out on full-pay jobs, too.

From Stephenie Girard, lead career coach: Thank you for reaching out. As someone who has served as a career coach at Harvard Business School, I can really appreciate and empathize with navigating such a challenging time and landscape. Here are some insights and advice to get you started:

  1. Take full advantage of the resources at your school’s career and professional development office. They likely have well-established relationships and networks that can help connect you to jobs and internships. Uncovering those resources can take discipline and initiative. Do some digging — often, there are hidden treasures.

  2. Take networking very seriously. I would encourage you to find organizations and people that you would like to work for or with. Reach out to them and ask for a virtual coffee chat. Even if they aren’t offering a job today, you’ll be a step ahead of other candidates when a role opens in the coming months. You should be reaching out to several people a day as part of a networking initiative.

  3. Look specifically to companies that are innovative and where you see or believe there could be opportunities for those organizations during these unprecedented times. While it’s true that some companies are on a hiring freeze, other companies are seeking very specific new talent to help them shift gears. I encourage you to look out for those — and even reach out with recommendations on how you specifically could help.

It’s important to think about how you are going to set yourself apart from others. Now’s the time to be creative and bold. Take a big step out of your comfort zone to really enhance your possibilities. Wishing you so much success in your future. You’ve got this!

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Should I request forbearance on my mortgage?

Question: Would this be a wise time to ask for temporary mortgage forbearance, in a household that has lost a significant amount of its income? That would help day-to-day expenses for the next few months, but I’m concerned about not building equity with the looming idea of housing values crashing.

From Emilie Archambeault, financial planner: In times of crisis, it’s OK to reprioritize your goals! In fact, it’s often necessary. If you need the extra cash to cover day-to-day expenses, then it’s probably worth inquiring with your lender about your options. Also good to know: The new CARES Act (aka the stimulus bill) states that no foreclosures are allowed during the 60 days following March 18, 2020. If you request it because of the pandemic, all federally backed mortgage providers are required to give you a forbearance of 180 days, plus an extension of another 180 days, without any extra fees beyond normal interest. (Borrowers of multi-family property loans, aka landlords, can take up to 90 days total.)

If you do request forbearance, once your cash flow is back on track, you can choose to make extra payments toward the principal on your mortgage to catch up on building your equity in your home. (Be sure to specifically label those payments as principal payments so they don’t get applied to interest instead.)

Just know that if you go that route, your mortgage will be extended by the number of months of forbearance. Plus, if you extend your forbearance too long, there’s a risk you could end up underwater (owing more than the home is worth). That being said, if your income has taken a hit, this could be a temporary measure to help you get back on your feet.

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We’re still not done with your questions! Read part two here.


Disclosures

Calculated by Ellevest using data from Yahoo Finance.

© 2020 Ellevest, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

All opinions and views expressed by Ellevest are current as of the date of this writing, for informational purposes only, and do not constitute or imply an endorsement of any third party’s products or services.

Information was obtained from third-party sources, which we believe to be reliable but not guaranteed for accuracy or completeness.

Diversification does not ensure a profit or protect against a loss in a declining market. There is no guarantee that any particular asset allocation or mix of funds will meet your investment objectives or provide you with a given level of income.

Forecasts or projections of investment outcomes are estimates only, based upon numerous assumptions about future capital markets returns and economic factors. As estimates, they are imprecise and hypothetical in nature, do not reflect actual investment results, and are not guarantees of future results.

The information provided should not be relied upon as investment advice or recommendations, does not constitute a solicitation to buy or sell securities, and should not be considered specific legal, investment, or tax advice.

The information provided does not take into account the specific objectives, financial situation, or particular needs of any specific person.

Investing entails risk, including the possible loss of principal, and there is no assurance that the investment will provide positive performance over any period of time.

Ellevest Team

The Ellevest team is working to help women reach their financial and professional goals.