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Do It Yourself

How to deal with a job layoff

By MSN Money staff

If you're among the hundreds of thousands of people who have lost a job in recent months, you may need to take evasive action to fend off hucksters while you execute a few practical moves to save your finances. Here's a checklist.

Here's a checklist of things to do now and later.

Things to do immediately:

  • Apply for help. Visit your state unemployment office, in person or online, to find out whether you qualify for unemployment insurance. If you do, apply immediately. You can find links to state unemployment offices, as well as a host of other programs, at GovBenefits.gov.

  • Cut your budget. If you get a job quickly, slashing discretionary expenses may prove to be overkill. If you don't, it could be a lifesaver. Play it safe and economize. (See "Your 5-minute guide to budgeting" for an overview.)

  • Hit the bricks. There's free résumé help online, as well as a profusion of job search Web sites. MSN Careers, Job Star and Resume-Resource offer free help and samples. There's also plenty of job competition. Get going.

  • Handle health. You usually get 60 days to decide whether to sign on to your former employer's health plan through a legal process called COBRA or find other insurance options. Shopping via the Web is easy, but getting coverage if you have an existing medical condition is not. One warning: Most Web-based shopping services won't let you shop unless you provide personal contact information that will be shared with brokers. If you don't want to talk to an agent, you can shop at eHealthInsurance, which provides quotes with nothing but your age, ZIP code and a few other details, such as whether you smoke. It can be a handy place to start. If you decide to go without coverage (or are forced to), read "A survival guide for the uninsured."

Things to do later:

  • Consider a rollover individual retirement account. When you have time and the inclination, look into options for your retirement plan. You can open a rollover IRA at virtually any bank, broker or mutual fund company you choose. Because the one picking the vendor is you, not your former employer, you can also get more investment choices. But there's no rush. If you have more than $5,000 in a 401(k), you can leave it with your former employer indefinitely.

  • Keep your guard up. Watch out for those who would sell you health insurance, investment products or a new job. Warning signs include a false sense of urgency, too-good-to-be-true offers and a reluctance to put claims, promises or prices in writing.

  • Investigate your advisers. If you want to hire someone to help you invest, be sure to check out his or her credentials and record. The North American Securities Administrators Association can help find your state securities department to get complaint information about a securities broker. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners provides a link to state insurance regulators offering complaint data on insurance agents and brokers.

Published Nov. 24, 2008

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