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Here's a question you probably never considered until now--what happens if I'm quarantined away from home? If you plan to, or need to travel soon, these tips will help you manage your expenses if you get stuck in a quarantined area.
The outbreak of COVID-19 coronavirus has already had massive impacts around the globe despite the first infection happening just three months ago. Given its quick spread, people are understandably concerned about how to handle the situation.

One of the most effective strategies for reducing the spread of the virus is to reduce contact that potential carriers of the disease have with other people. To this end, health officials have recommended quarantines for those who have, or who may have, contracted coronavirus. Already cruise ships, hotels, towns, and countries have been placed in quarantine with residents unable to leave.

While the top priority during a public health crisis is making sure that you remain healthy and take care of yourself, there are other real concerns to consider. One is simply how you should manage your money if you’re quarantined. Depending on your situation, the cost of your self-isolation could fall on you.

When Would You Have to Cover Quarantine Expenses?

One reason this is a tricky situation is because there are a ton of factors. Whether you’ll have to cover your quarantine costs depends on where, when, and why you isolate yourself.

For example, many people quarantined on cruise ships or in hotels haven’t been asked to pay during their quarantines. It seems that the hotels and cruise companies have been covering the costs, though it is unclear who will ultimately foot the bill.

People quarantined in their own homes have had to cover their expenses during their isolation. This can be difficult for many people, especially those who work in the gig economy or who don’t have paid time off.

If you’re asked to pay for your quarantine expenses, what should you do?

Having an Emergency Fund is Important

If you’re asked to quarantine yourself, it’s too late to start building an emergency fund. Still, the situation is a perfect example of why building an emergency fund is so important, and you should start now if at all possible.

Almost 40% of Americans could not cover a $400 expense without borrowing money. If you have to quarantine for fourteen days and can’t work, you likely will need more than $400 to cover your costs. Building up a savings account with even one or two months’ worth of expenses could help protect you from this type of situation or other financial emergencies in the future.

Related: Find more tips on how to budget for emergency scenarios in this article How Will the Government Shutdown Affect Your Wallet?

If you have to go into quarantine and don’t have savings you can use to cover your costs, there are other options available to you.

Ask for Help

One of the first things that you should do is ask for help. If you’re on vacation, reach out to your airline, cruise company, or hotel and see if they can help you during your quarantine period. If you’re quarantined in a hotel or on a ship, they may cover your costs during your isolation period. Asking for clarification as to who will pay the final bill can give you time to make arrangements if you have to pay some of the costs.

Also, try reaching out to your employer. Ask if they can provide any assistance, such as additional paid time off during your quarantine period. Coronavirus’ massive impact has led many businesses to encourage employees to work from home and to increase their flexibility regarding paid time off. Working with your employer to make sure you continue receiving income during your quarantine can help you pay the bills.

If you have a social safety net, like family and friends who live nearby, they may be able to help you, especially if they haven’t been quarantined themselves. Having someone who can bring necessities, like food to your home, means you can remain in quarantine and don’t have to pay for expensive delivery services.

Also, try reaching out to your landlord or bank to ask for help with your housing payment. See if they’d be willing to defer your rent or mortgage for a month to give you a chance to finish your quarantine period and return to work. Many will be able to work with you.

Monitor Government Programs

While the coronavirus shutters schools and closes businesses, state and federal government is looking for ways to bolster the economy. Follow both national and local politicians to see what measures pass that could provide you with a bit of financial relief that could help make it easier if you are quarantined.

On Saturday, the House passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Among the list of relief efforts the bill seeks to provide is free coronavirus testing, expanding food assistance programs and paying workers for sick leave.

President Trump wants Congress to approve a payroll tax (in essence, workers would halt paying into social security through the end of the year, boosting take home pay) though both parties have expressed opposition to the idea.

State and local governments may have other programs to help during this time. California looks to have the most comprehensive assistance: Governor Newsom is encouraging workers who are sick or quarantined because of coronavirus (and have proof from a medical professional) to file for disability insurance. Similarly, those who can’t work because they are providing care for an ill or quarantined family member can file for paid family leave. And if your employer has reduced your hours or closed operations due to coronavirus, you can file an unemployment insurance claim.

Apply for a Loan

If you don’t have savings and don’t have paid time off or another form of income for your quarantine, you may need to apply for a loan to cover the costs of your quarantine. Many banks and online businesses offer personal loans to help with unexpected expenses. If you have good credit, you should be able to get a loan with low fees and a reasonable interest rate. Some lenders will let you borrow as little as $1,000, so you won’t have to go into massive amounts of debt. Lenders like Prosper.com can get money to you in as little as a few days.

Credible is another great lender to work with. It offers APRs as low as 5.95% (with autopay)* for personal loans.

*Read rates and terms at Credible.com.

If you have a credit card, you can also use your card to cover your expenses. The downside of this is credit cards have much higher interest rates than personal loans. You may pay three times as much interest or more if you use a card instead of a personal loan.

If you do have a credit card with a reasonable credit limit, you can try reaching out to your card issuer to ask for help. You might be able to get assistance from your lender, reducing your interest rate, or giving you an extra month to make a payment.

Some great card issuers to work with are American Express and Chase. Many American Express cards, like the Gold Card offer great perks and no foreign transaction fees. Chase’s premium cards, like the Sapphire Preferred, are similar.

Set a Budget

If you can’t work and receive a regular income during your quarantine, resources will be limited. That makes budgeting essential for managing your costs.

Once you’ve reached out to your employer and lenders to ask about arrangements to get extra paid time off and defer loan payments, take stock of your situation. How much cash do you have available? How much do you spend each week? Are there any non-essential costs that you can cut, such as entertainment or meals out?

Try to build a budget that covers your essential living expenses, like food and rent that doesn’t exhaust your funds during your quarantine period. As a bonus, if this is your first time building a budget, you can use it as a base for a new budget once you finish your quarantine and return to routine work.

An app like Mint or You Need a Budget is a great way to build a budget and track your spending. If you mostly use cash for your spending, you can try the envelope method, putting cash in envelopes marked for certain types of expenses.

Read more: 10 Online Budget Tools

Bottom Line

The situation with coronavirus can be stressful, even if you haven’t been affected by it personally. If you have the chance, try to build a small emergency fund and remember your resources. Preparing financially for the possibility that you might be affected–or asked to quarantine–can help reduce that stress.

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