Financial check ups more important than ever during turbulent times like these

OTTAWA — As governments roll out plans to reopen the economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, experts say individual Canadians need to update their own financial plan to move forward too.

The stock market crash in March and the plunge in interest rates left many investors feeling uncertain and vulnerable, while still more have been left without work.

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Tina Cheung, a wealth adviser at Vancity, says it is always important to review your financial plan on a regular basis, but a review can be especially important during times like these.

"During these times of uncertainty it is important to have peace of mind, and to have that peace of mind, to achieve it, is to get a financial check up," she said.

Investors who were shocked at the state of their investment portfolios at the end of the first quarter might breathe a sigh of relief when checking their statements for the second quarter as stock markets have rallied off their lows seen near the end of March.

However, Canada's main stock index is still down from where it was a year ago and well off the highs it hit in February before the pandemic struck the markets.

"The effects of the pandemic on the market will eventually pass, like the global financial crisis did, but if these few months created any stress or loss of sleep, we need to go back and talk about your risk appetite," Cheung says.

But she says if your risk appetite has not changed and your goal hasn't changed, then it is critical to think long term and stick to your plan.

Before heading into a meeting with your adviser, it is important to have a firm grip of your budget and what your goals are for the meeting.

Cheung says you need to be prepared to have an open discussion and be ready with information like your monthly income and expenses.

For some, reviewing their financial plan may mean difficult decisions, facing depleted emergency funds due to the loss of a job and little prospect for a return to work at a level seen before the pandemic.

A poll done for TD Bank found that 38 per cent of those surveyed identified as financially vulnerable in April 2020 compared with 15 per cent in November last year. The poll also found that 13 per cent of those asked in April felt confident in their financial future compared with 20 per cent in November 2019.

If you have taken advantage of the payment deferrals offered by many lenders, you need to have a clear plan for when those deferral periods come to an end and you need to resume making payments.

Gio Bazile, a district vice-president at TD Bank, says some borrowers may start to struggle once the deferrals come to an end if their income hasn't picked back up again.

"Part of what is going to be really critical is understanding what your future cash flow is going to look like and how do you work with your financial adviser with an impending financial hardship, how do you best balance your wants and needs," he said.

Bazile says everyone is going to face their own situation, but it's key to have a candid conversation with your partner or family to understand where you are financially.

"If your cash flow is low or if you are kind of over-leveraged from a debt perspective, then that's probably a time to actually spend some time with your financial adviser," he said.

"If you're looking at your savings account and realizing, wait a minute, I may not be able to get through this next two, three months and beyond, that's probably another really big trigger."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 9, 2020.

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