Welcome back to CollegeSurfing.com Insider’s series, From Laid Off to Learning series.  This week, we focus on how to handle money matters and health insurance questions in the wake of a layoff.

Be sure to check in each Monday for some additional expert tips and inspiring stories of layoff survivors heading back to the classroom. Even easier, subscribe now.

health-insuranceMoney Matters >>

The most frightening aspect of being laid off for many people, especially those supporting families, is losing your financial stability. Start taking measures right away to curb spending, generate income, and protect your investments.

* Your rainy day has arrived. If you haven’t thought about how to reduce expenses before, now is the time to start implementing some frugal living. Start by talking with your family about cutting expenses; call companies like your utilities and credit card companies to negotiate better rates; etc., says Susan Steinbrecher, an executive coach who specializes in leadership, operations, human resources and training. “Try conserving gas, do less driving, lower your thermostat, cut coupons, cancel unnecessary services like cable, housecleaning, and more,” she adds.

* Contact your financial advisor. Wondering what will happen to your 401K? Chances are your former company isn’t going to offer you any advice in that regard. Your best bet is to call your financial advisor, or the company that maintains your portfolio, to discuss your options. These can include rolling it over into an IRA, or simply leaving it be. Unless you’re in severe dire straights, you’ll want to try to avoid cashing it out since you’ll be assessed a hefty tax penalty, and may never get around to replenishing it.

* File for unemployment – don’t hesitate! “The process could take an extended period of time and that lag could mean not having any revenue coming in,” warns Linda Amaro, co-founder of NextWork Services. Important to note: You qualify for unemployment even if you are receiving severance pay. If you’re in a high unemployment state, the recent economic stimulus package has added up to 20 additional weeks of unemployment benefits. Click here for a directory of state umemployment offices – many of which allow you to apply right online.

Health Insurance >>

Second to not having your steady income is losing your health benefits. How can you ensure that you’ll be covered — and be able to afford that coverage?

* Get a COBRA clue. Here are the facts: If you had health insurance with your employer, you will be offered the option to continue those benefits up to 18 months through COBRA. The good news is that with last year’s stimulus package, you may be eligible for government subsidized COBRA rates.  Check it out, and review the costs of COBRA versus obtaining an independent plan through a local HMO or PPO provider.

* Get some spousal support. If your spouse is still employed and the employer offers insurance, the loss of your job is a triggering event which would enable you to enroll in your spouse’s insurance plan as long as you do so within 30 days of the date your job ended, notes Q. VanBenschoten, director of human resources at North America for Intertek.  “If you chose to enroll in your spouse’s plan, your benefits should be retroactive to the date you lost coverage.”

* Check up time. One of the first things you should ask about if you’re laid off is if your health coverage will extend via your severance package. That way, you’ll know just how long you have to play catch up on all of the doctor appointments and checkups you’ve been putting off. If you’re due for your yearly physical or have prescriptions to fill, get going before your coverage expires.

Be sure to check in next Monday when we’ll meet another layoff survivor who’s hitting the books.

-Dawn Papandrea

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