A crisis is no time to wonder if your car payment is due.
But whether it’s a medical emergency, a job loss, a natural disaster or… let’s face it, some crisis we haven’t even imagined yet, it’s easy enough to lose track of the other priorities in our life — and that can add to our financial woes.
The coronavirus may just be among the latest calamities, but its impact was significant. In fact, 88% of Americans reported the pandemic caused stress on their personal finances, according to an April survey by the National Endowment for Financial Education.
But staying in control of your finances is essential, particularly at a time like this. An overdraft fee here, a late payment there and suddenly your initial problem is compounded by a financial hit that can haunt you for years.
If knowledge is power, then setting yourself up to have all your financial information on hand could be the difference between a one-time disaster and a lasting financial catastrophe.
One way to start protecting your money: Use the digital apps for your banks and lenders.
How to Use Phone Apps to Protect Your Finances
Downloading apps from your various financial institutions can help you during a crisis, but only if you have access to everything you need. Here’s how to make it happen in 15 minutes.
1. Create a Comprehensive List
Start by compiling a list of monthly, quarterly and annual bills — and the companies to which you send payments. Don’t trust your analog brain to remember all of them.
Instead, take a few minutes to review your budget or your bank and credit card statements from the previous year to jog your memory on regular but non-monthly expenses, like your vehicle registration renewal or credit card membership fees.
Also list your banks and all of your credit cards — even the ones you don’t regularly use. In a crisis, you may need access to a credit line you don’t typically tap, and you’ll want to have that account information handy.
2. Download the Official Apps
Whether it’s your student loan servicer or your mortgage lender, using the company’s official app offers the benefit of providing you more immediate access to your information and to assistance during a crisis.
Most lenders have added easy-access buttons that let you apply for relief plans if you’re struggling to pay your bills. That small convenience saves you the step of searching the company’s website for a customer service number.
Create logins and new passwords when you download the apps, keeping the info in a secure place. And don’t reuse passwords to mitigate the damage if a thief gains access to one of your accounts.
By downloading the app, you’ll also have easy access to your account information. That can be helpful if a crisis puts you in the hospital unexpectedly or forces you to evacuate suddenly and you need to contact a lender.
Saving those few minutes of stress by keeping the information handy could mean the difference between connecting with financial hardship assistance and letting bills go unpaid. Doing the latter could wreck your finances for long after the disaster passes.
3. Use App Features to Protect Your Money
If you haven’t set up automatic payments for monthly expenses like your mortgage and cell phone bill, do it before the next catastrophe hits. During an emergency, you don’t want the electricity turned off just because you forgot what day it is.
Additionally, you can set up spending alerts and limits for your bank accounts and credit cards, helping you avoid those nasty overdraft fees.
If you’re trying to maintain social distancing guidelines, use the check deposit feature available on most bank and credit union apps to avoid visiting a physical location.
Review the apps for other features that you may not have considered, like the ability to check your credit score. If you check your score on a regular basis and it suddenly drops unexpectedly, you can track down the problem quickly.
Most major credit card apps also allow you to lock the account and replace your card if it’s lost or stolen amid the chaos of your current situation.
You may not be able to prevent a crisis, but you can control how you prepare for one so you and your money can survive intact.
Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a staff writer/editor at Codetic. Read her bio and other work here, then catch her on Twitter @TiffanyWendeln.