Saturday, October 25, 2008


If you were laid off and need advice, this is your thread to ask questions of the audience. Just leave a comment.

Please remember there are links on the left-hand menu to helpful sites for employment and financial advice.


Anonymous said...

A reminder: When you file for unemployment with the Texas Workforce Commission, there are TWO processes you have to complete: One for the TWC, and another -- within just three days (do it right away) where you complete a whole other registration on a "Work in Texas" site. You don't get benefits unless you do both, and so you might lose out on a few hundred dollars if you only do the one step.

Another thought: This may seem obvious, but I keep thinking of that package on the Collin County tech bust where families who, due to layoff, suddenly lost their six-figure incomes yet did not immediately adjust their expenditures, figuring another job was in the offing. Some people will get lucky and that will happen quickly. Others will have a much harder time. Adjust now, so your money will last longer if needed. (Unemployment payments come nowhere near your salary.) Right now, I understand that unemployment benefits can last up to 52 weeks if you had decent tenure at The News (I believe it’s been extended because of the economy; usually they last only 26 weeks; you’ll get a statement from TWC telling what you’re entitled to).

The choices are tough -- do you just apply for some retail sales job temporarily to have some money (but not enough, and no unemployment benefits, but maybe health insurance)? Even in our field be ready to compromise on salary – it may be better to find something fast at pay that seems low, adjust your expenses, and stash some severance for a rainy day fund later. You can always keep looking.

Freelance fees you earn will be deducted from your unemployment benefits, up to the amount of benefits you get per week (so if you earn $400 in freelance and normally get a $350 state unemployment payment, you don’t get the state payment for that week so you’re only $50 ahead, minus taxes on top of that. On the other hand, if you earn $1,000 in freelance, and the work was all performed within one benefit week, you’ll be $650 ahead minus taxes; if the work bleeds into two weeks you’ll be only $300 ahead). Given this, you may find it more beneficial to focus on securing full-time work rather than distracting yourself from the job hunt by scaring up freelance.

Also, accounting for freelance work can be a huge hassle with the Texas Workforce Commission because they treat the people who commission the freelancers as employers who hired and fired you -- so they call the HR dept. at whatever place you freelanced for to ask about your hiring/firing status. Well, HR has no idea that you “worked” there because your pay has come out of some editor’s freelance budget. Then you have to call the state (on your own dime) to straighten it all out.

This too seems obvious, but for both those who lost their jobs and those who didn't, once you get past this nightmare, do the financial things we all should have been doing all along. First, pay off credit-card and other consumer loan debt (car loans, home equity lines of credit, student loans, etc., paying those with the highest interest rate first). Accumulate 6-12 months' worth of expenses in a savings account in liquid form (CD, etc., at a bank). Then consider paying off mortgages or boosting retirement or college savings accounts.

Time is short, and it's not your father's workplace anymore.

Anonymous said...

Some 401k notes: At the outplacement services in 2004 it seemed a lot of advisers were after our 401k business, urging us to do rollovers with their company. To me it felt like sharks circling in the water, smelling the “blood” of new commissions. I have no advice on this but besides considering commissions (or going to a discount brokerage yourself) here are some considerations: 1) I believe in the past couple of years Bush signed legislation or implemented some regulation allowing 401ks to charge former employees more fees than current employees -- I don't know but it may be worth a call to Fidelity. 2) There was at least one fund in the Belo 401k that was doing quite well in recent years, and even hanging tough this year before all Wall Street hell broke loose. That fund is no longer open to new investors so you will lose it if you dump the Belo 401k (and you are not allowed to do a partial rollover). 3) Generally I’ve heard financial advisers say that rolling into an IRA at some discount brokerage like Vanguard, or even keeping it within Fidelity, is a good idea because then you have many more investment options that the Belo plan does now allow. 4) Be sure you have the rollover directed to that new brokerage or new account and not to you -- i.e., you don't want to TOUCH that check -- or the amount is subject to taxes/penalties. There's lots of advice on 401ks, funds, etc., online, so do take the time to edify yourself. You don't have to roll anything over immediately. (And a side note: although some companies require immediate 401k loan repayment, and I suppose Belo COULD this time, in 2004 immediate repayment was not required. Fidelity sent a payment book with biweekly payment stubs to mail in, until the loan was paid. Defaulting on it would have meant steep taxes and penalties.)

If you have a lot of tenure at The News, and your severance bumps your 2008 income up quite a bit, you might consider paying a mortgage payment or two in advance (before the end of the year), if you itemize on your federal income taxes, to allow you to deduct the additional interest payments. You'd have to do it as the monthly payments, not as additional payments on principal, because it’s the interest that’s deductible. (Besides, you want to be paying the expenses you HAVE to cover right now.) Also if you itemize, it's not a bad time to round up those old clothes and household items you were going to donate to charity and do it before the end of the calendar year, to further enhance your deductions.