Black women were hit the hardest with income loss this year. Whether you lost a job or had to close down your business or downsize your clientele, collectively, the pandemic hit our pockets the hardest. According to U.S. News, Black women had a 6% drop in employment in 2020. That income loss affects how we manage our debt. Student loans, credit cards and medical bills are hard to pay when you are experiencing income loss. It’s also hard to manage debt when there are no savings. Four in 10 Americans say they don’t have adequate savings to cover an unexpected expense of just $400 or more, according to the Federal Reserves. With no savings, it’s challenging to manage the debt you were already trying to rid yourself of before losing a job.

You’re not alone in figuring out how to manage the debt without letting it drown you. ESSENCE.com spoke with entrepreneur and millennial money expert Tonya Rapley about managing our debt during a time of income loss. 

Know What You Can Afford

Now that you have an income loss, it’s time to manage your expectations on what you can afford. Look at your savings and what you may receive from unemployment, then look at your living expenses and debt. “If it’s just enough to keep you above water, then contact any companies that you have credit cards with or any debt with to inform them of what’s going on,” Rapley said.

Be Transparent with Creditors

Rapley shared that the most significant mistake people make is not reaching out to creditors in a time of income loss. She suggests having a conversation with the companies that you owe. “The thing about the pandemic is that it is not necessarily a personal emergency, like a lot of people might experience in the past. It’s a global crisis,” she shared. By talking to creditors, you may discover that they have programming in place to waive payments or lower payments to just interest. “They can’t even receive the help that’s available because they don’t reach out for it, or they don’t communicate that they’re in need of help,” she added.

Stabilize & Cover Your Expenses

Don’t worry about building up your savings if you can’t afford to. “If you’re in a financial emergency, you need to be focusing on stabilizing and how you can replace your income or how you can bring in additional income,” Rapley said. Instead, use your stimulus check or any unexpected money that comes your way to catch up. However, if your unemployment check covers your expenses, consider setting aside the additional income that comes your way into savings. Once your financial emergency is stabilized, Rapley says you can then focus on other opportunities. “You can play on offense instead of defense, but initially, you want to make sure you just get yourself into a relatively stable situation,” she said.

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Manage Your Medical Bills

As some of us lose our income, we often lose our healthcare benefits, too. During the pandemic, getting COVID-19, managing chronic illness or autoimmune disease or having any medical emergency during a time of income loss can be challenging. You can often seem like you’re drowning in medical bills, but Rapley says you can manage them, too. “Have a conversation with [healthcare providers], find out what your options are at the end of the day. That’s going to be one of the things you really want to do is find out what your options are,” she said. 

Have a Plan For When Unemployment Ends

As more jobs become available, unemployment benefits and other government aid may change or cease based on the economy. Rapley shared that it’s essential to be employable when the financial assistance ends and pay off as much debt as possible. “If you’re making more money on unemployment, then use that money to get ahead so that when your unemployment runs out, and you have to go back to the workforce, even if the wages aren’t as much, you’ve gotten ahead on what you need to get ahead on,” she shared. When dealing with debt, it’s always better to plan and be prepared.

Set Boundaries with Family

The “Black tax” is another debt that may be difficult to manage while looking for a new source of income. You are no longer the person people can go to for financial help, but you must get rid of the guilt. Rapley believes this is the perfect time to set those boundaries with family members. “One, people will figure out how to do what they need to do for their financial situation. Two, you have to be able to be financially stable without worrying about taking care of other people,” she said. Have honest conversations with the family members you once supported about your situation. If they can’t help you, then you can’t support their financial needs at the time. “It’s time for them to kind of stand on their own two feet and create financial solutions for themselves, but then also it underscores the need for you to fortify your financial foundation before supporting another household,” Rapley advised. 

Rapley is the new co-host for Season 2 of the Crackle Original award-winning series, Going From Broke. The series follows the transformation process of young adults navigating their financial woes to have important conversations about the relatable and timely issues around debt. You can see her in the new season on the free streaming platform.