Key Takeaways

  • A job layoff is something many people will experience during their lifetime, including older working adults.

  • It's important to not panic after a job loss. One of your first priorities should be finding out if you qualify for unemployment compensation.

  • Our checklist includes practical steps that can help you ease the financial stress of being out of work.

Whether you caught wind of it early on or it took you by surprise, getting laid off or terminated from a job is never easy. But it’s nothing to be ashamed of. A sudden job loss can happen to the best of us, and often has nothing to do with your value or performance as an employee.

If you’re an older adult who has recently found yourself unemployed, don’t panic. We’ve created a practical, seven-point checklist to help you ease the financial stress of being out of work.

1. See if you qualify for unemployment benefits

Unemployment insurance provides temporary cash benefits to unemployed workers. Each state sets its own guidelines for eligibility, payment amounts, and benefit period. Generally, older workers can collect these benefits just like younger workers. In most states, you are eligible to apply for unemployment benefits if you continue to work after age 62 and then lose your job.

One factor that could impact your ability to get unemployment compensation is the "why" behind your job loss. If you were laid off through no fault of your own, such as in the case of company downsizing, you should be eligible for unemployment in most states. However, if you quit for no good cause or were fired due to misconduct, you probably will not qualify for benefits. Check with your state labor office to find out what their requirements are.

What if you currently receive Social Security payments? Can you still collect unemployment benefits? The answer is yes. If you've reached the minimum age for collecting Social Security, these benefits will be in addition to any unemployment benefits you qualify for. That said, if you received a severance package upon your layoff or draw a pension from your company, your unemployment compensation payment amount may be reduced.

If you’re eligible for unemployment, file your claim during the first week you’re out of work to ensure you don’t lose any benefits. Many states offer the convenience of filing an unemployment claim online or by phone.  

2. Make sure you have continued health coverage

If you had employer-sponsored health insurance and were laid off, you may be able to continue your coverage through COBRA for a period of time (you could, however, be required to cover the full premium amount). You can also enroll in a new health plan through federal or state health insurance marketplaces. If you're 65 or older, you have the option to apply for Original Medicare or buy a Medicare Advantage (Part C) plan through a private carrier.

3. Tally up all your monthly expenses

It sounds obvious, but many older adults don't fully understand where their money goes every month. Seeing the numbers in black and white is a critical first step in making the changes necessary to navigate a period of unemployment.

Start by going through your bank statements, check register, and other financial records and write down everything you spend money on—including rent or mortgage, groceries, insurance, utilities, and entertainment. Go back at least three months to get a solid picture of your finances.

4. Look for ways to immediately slash your spending

Even if your budget is already tight, chances are there are expenses you can cut to create more financial breathing room. Here are some ideas:

  • Food and groceries: Prune your food costs by skipping restaurant meals and takeout and preparing meals at home instead. Take advantage of senior discounts offered by many major grocery chains and learn the art of coupon clipping. Contact your local food bank and Meals on Wheels program to learn how you can access free or low-cost foods and meals.
  • Cable and internet: Whittle down your cable bill by asking your provider if there is a lower service tier available—or a slower internet speed that will suit your needs just as well as high-speed.
  • Auto insurance: Compare auto insurance plans to confirm you're getting the very best deal available. Ask about discounts for clean driving records, older vehicles, and low mileage.
  • Phone: Ask your cell phone carrier if there are lower-tier plans that will allow you to maintain service while reducing your bill. You might also consider pre-paid or pay-as-you-go plans to help you control your costs. If you have a home phone (landline) you never use, consider cancelling that service and cutting your monthly bill even further.
  • Subscriptions: Shrink your monthly subscriptions, whether they’re for magazines or that "fruit of the month" club. It's likely you're still actively paying for services you no longer use.

5. Create a budget calendar

A budget calendar is a simple money-management tool that allows you to predict and map out your cash flow each month. This makes it easier to plan expenses, adjust your spending as needed, and pay your bills on time. When you have more control over your finances, you have less anxiety about money.

Creating a budget calendar is something anyone can do at home; you don't need an accountant or even a computer. All it requires is a basic desk or wall calendar. You can find our step-by-step guide for creating a budget calendar here. Or, explore the envelope budgeting system—another low-tech method for budgeting your monthly spending.

6. Contact your credit card companies

Are you carrying credit card debt? The last thing you want to do while unemployed is fall behind on your payments, since this can negatively impact your credit score. To avoid this, determine what you can comfortably afford to pay back each month. If you can't at least cover the minimum payments, reach out to your creditors to explain your situation and ask for help.

Many creditors have special programs designed for customers experiencing financial hardship. They may allow you to make smaller payments or payments every other month. Some might even reduce your interest rate. If you agree on new terms with your creditor(s), be sure to get it in writing.

If your debt is extensive, consider contacting a credit counseling service. They can help you create a personalized debt management plan that makes it easier to meet your financial obligations. Always be sure to choose a reputable credit counseling organization with certified, trained counselors.

7. See what money-saving benefits programs you qualify for

Did you know millions of older adults are likely eligible for, but not enrolled in, benefits programs that can help them save thousands on food and groceries, housing, health care, medicine, property taxes, utilities, and more? Many of these programs are income-based and may be a good option when you’re unemployed for an extended time. They include:

Wondering what kinds of assistance you may qualify for? NCOA has a free, confidential, and easy-to-use tool to make finding out a bit easier. BenefitsCheckUp can tell you if you may be eligible for key benefits programs before you apply. Browsing benefits only takes a few minutes—and there’s no sign-up or registration required. Get started here.

You’ll get through this—and NCOA is here to help

A job layoff can be a stressful life event. But often, when one door of opportunity shuts, another swings wide open. It may be time for you to pursue a better, more lucrative role—or switch careers entirely. After you’ve gotten your finances in order and you're ready to start searching, check out our 7 Effective Job-Hunting Strategies for Older Adults.