Letter to students: Steps to consider as your journey continues at home
March 26, 2020

Craig Lemoine, a clinical associate professor in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, and director of the Financial Planning Program at University of Illinois, recently shared this letter of advice and encouragement with his students during this challenging time. Lemoine teaches ACE 240, a class on personal finance.

Wonderful Students,

This is an unprecedented time in your lives. Some of you are going to move home. Others are trying to get there. So many of you have experienced a disruption to your income as so much of our lives have paused around us.

Consider these dozen steps as your journey continues at home or remotely. 

1) If your job or your parent's job was disrupted due to the virus - even if you are a part-time employee - you can file with the State for Unemployment Insurance. Illinois has passed rules this week that are designed to accommodate those temporarily affected by business closings. Unemployment insurance pays a portion of your income using premiums your employer paid in - and replaces some of the income you were making.

2) Federal Student Loan Interest is being waived. This should occur in the next week and happen automatically, and will provide some relief to those of you with unsubsidized direct loans.

3) Be the first to look for part-time work if you move home. The market of labor (students) and jobs available will quickly adjust. Be the first in the door.

4) If you find yourself without enough to get by - check out these benefit programs. From WIC, to SNAP (food stamps) to TANF benefits, these programs have been adapted for the current crisis and are intended to be a safety net. Please reach out and use these tools and share with your family as needs may arise.

5) If you fall behind on your credit card - call the company directly. During the 2008 financial crisis lenders were very willing to work with borrowers, the same is likely true now.

6) If you are in University Housing, you should expect a direct note discussing moving out options and possible refunds. If you live in a private apartment, you can always ask your landlord. The Landlord-Student relationship has two sides, and some larger companies may be willing to negotiate or work with students being asked to relocate.

7) If you have a bank account or some cash reserves, hold on to them. Do not try and time the market looking for a good buy. We are not at the worst of it yet - and buying stocks, options or digital currency now could be crippling for you later.

8) Think about having some physical cash on hand. In a quarantine this isn't a horrible idea - even in the Venmo world we live in.

9) It's ok to be sad and angry. It’s ok to mourn that the social side of your semester has ended too soon. It's not silly or a waste of time to work through feeling like this is unfair and being a little ticked off.

10) Get in a routine as soon as you can. Incorporate structure, exercise and healthy habits. Your first week at home will set the stage for the next few, and possibly next dozen. Set a schedule, budget, book time for classes and homework. Your days will pass faster if you tackle them with purpose.

11) Wash your hands, stay away from groups. Find activities that have a touch of distance and be smart about your health. There are so many unknowns right now, but one known is how COVID-19 is deadly to the elderly and those already compromised.

12) Seniors – you may have to aggressively job hunt. The economy is uncertain, and that may bring layoffs and a reluctance to make new offers. If you have an offer outstanding right now, I would urge you to give serious thought to accepting. If you are graduating in May without one, job hunting should become one of your top focuses.

Your faculty, staff and administration are here to help. Feel free to ask us questions about money, finance and benefits. We can help write letters of recommendation as appropriate and mentor you in the road ahead. Most of us were younger and experienced the last contraction (2008), some the one prior (2001). We all came out ok. Ask. Write. We are happy to help.

Craig Lemoine, CFP(r), PhD