Even before the novel coronavirus pandemic hit, two out of every three American families lacked an emergency fund. With the pandemic still spreading, money is tighter than ever for many, with people of all income levels facing challenges and uncertainties around their jobs and their finances.

“Financial preparedness for difficult times or unexpected life events is within reach,” says Kelli Nielsen, executive vice president of retail banking and marketing at 1st Security Bank, a community bank based in Mountlake Terrace. According to Nielsen, a key part of building up financial health is furthering one’s own financial education, and also partnering with trustworthy financial partners.

Here are her top five tips for financial preparedness for challenging times.

1. Gather copies of your important documents and keep them safe and accessible

When unexpected expenses arise, acting quickly and with all of the correct information is key. The last thing anyone wants to do in a stressful situation is search through paperwork.

Ready.gov suggests gathering copies of critical financial, household, and medical information and keeping it all in a safe place — such as a safe deposit box or uploading electronic copies to the cloud, so they are easily accessible in the case of an unexpected event. 

2. Find a banker you can build a relationship with and whose knowledge and expertise will help you meet your personal financial objectives

Some folks look for a deep menu of services and financial products when looking for a bank. In these times of uncertainty though, many are seeking bankers that live and work nearby and know the local community well.

“Banks have been instrumental in facilitating a healthy economy, providing capital to small businesses, taking deposits, cashing checks, and other critical services, says Glen Simecek, president of the Washington Bankers Association. “Recognizing that the industry is part of our nation’s critical infrastructure, banks and bankers have had to adapt as best they could to the new reality while continuing to fulfill their critical role.”

Community banks are well-positioned to serve the unique needs of their communities. “The advantage of a community bank is that they have the nimbleness to go to you, to come to your place of business or do Zoom meetings,” says Nielsen. “They really care about you and your local community, and can tailor financial solutions to meet your needs.”

3. Schedule financial health checkups with your banker

Financial goals are always changing and multiplying. At any given time, those goals could include wanting to move into a new home, saving for retirement, or trying to build up an emergency fund. Having a financial health checkup with a trusted banker is an important practice to schedule on an annual basis.

“There are times when people don’t understand what is available to them and they feel overwhelmed,” says Nielsen. “Maybe they don’t know what the 401(k) match program is with their employer. They may have questions about other deposit products or ways to earn more interest, or seek advice to help them save for the future. We consider ourselves financial partners, and these are things that we can help with.”

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4. Consider resources outside of a lender, such as government benefits, grants and loans, as well as resources you may already have

While getting a loan from a bank may be the first thought of many who face an unexpected expense, it is good to remember that there are different kinds of resources available to help alleviate financial burdens. For instance, individuals may qualify for federal funding or grants, depending on the situation. 1st Security Bank’ s COVID-19 page is updated regularly with current resources. Additionally, usa.gov is a good online resource.

“In late March, banks quickly implemented the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) despite uncertain procedures and while working remotely, resulting in 107,287 loans worth $12.38 billion to businesses across Washington,” says Simecek.  “Banks also implemented proactive forbearance programs to assist their borrowers struggling to make mortgage and other payments during the crisis.”

5. Ensure you can access your money virtually

There are times when it’s unrealistic to physically get to the bank, so it’s important to ensure that banking can be done virtually and online.

Nielsen says she’s seen a lift in 1st Security Bank’s mobile and online banking activity in the last six months with COVID-19. She also says that customers who feel intimidated by technology needn’t worry about learning the app by themselves. “We have resources in our Customer Relationship Center to support and help both consumers and businesses [bank virtually]. We will walk you through it, helping you feel confident using the tools available to support your financial needs when coming to the bank may not be an option.”

At 1st Security Bank of Washington, we take a customized and personal approach to your financial well-being. We live in the communities we serve, so our branches offer tailored solutions to their communities. We believe relationships make the difference, and that sets 1st Security Bank apart.