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If we were to manage our finances like the US government, we'd pay our utility bills just hours before service was shut off. Sometimes, only after we're sitting in the dark.
Congress avoided a government shutdown hours before an Oct. 1 deadline, allocating funds just in time to pay existing bills. The stopgap bill funds federal agencies until this Friday, Nov. 17, leaving the nation facing another possible shutdown.
These persistent standoffs don't lower the national debt. They simply delay the payment of salaries, operational expenses and services — and are likely to continue because that's how Washington works.
Here's how a government shutdown might affect you personally.
A government shutdown can have a major impact on student loan borrowers. The government may temporarily lay off employees — including a majority of those working for the Department of Education.
In 2021, the DOE released a contingency plan in the event of a government shutdown, which said the DOE would "phase in employees only as necessary to support and prevent significant damage." At most, it said, "not more than 11 percent of the total staff would be called back to work during a longer interruption."
The operations that would come to a halt largely affect grants – specifically, review of grant applications and awarding of grant funds.
DOE programs with mandatory funding, such as the Pell Grant and Federal Direct Student Loan programs, can still make payments during a shutdown. However, it may only be for a limited time — as long as funds are still available.
Having fewer federal employees on the clock could make it more difficult to ask questions or resolve issues related to your student loans.
Federal programs and Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid
Social Security checks and electronic payments would still be delivered even if the government shuts down. Medicare and Medicaid programs are also protected from federal funding shortfalls.
We’ll repeat that for those in the back: Retirees will still get their monthly Social Security checks and healthcare benefits will not be disrupted.
SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) and WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children) benefits can continue if the funding shutdown is not for an extended time. Operating on a tight budget, WIC may be the most vulnerable.
Many federal workers, including airport security and air traffic control, are considered essential and required to continue furloughed work during a government shutdown. But you should still be prepared for potential delays and slower wait times at the airport.
During the last shutdown, travelers experienced longer lines at TSA checkpoints, flight delays, and other disruptions to their travel.
Other services may differ. If you need to update your passport or obtain a visa before travel, the US State Department says services will be operational as long as fees are available to support them. Still, issuance of passports could be delayed. Additionally, it’s possible national parks and museums could close, or offer only limited services.
In short: The longer a potential shutdown drags on, the more disruptive it could be to your travel plans.
If you’re concerned about long security lines, consider signing up for TSA PreCheck now. Several credit cards offer a credit toward your application fee, including the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, and Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card.
You may not qualify for coverage if you miss your flight due to long security lines, but travel insurance could also be useful in the case of a flight delay or cancellation. Some credit cards with travel insurance include the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and The Platinum Card® from American Express (see rates and fees). Always read the fine print to ensure a policy covers what you need, and don’t forget to check your airline or hotel’s flexible cancellation policies.
The economy and your investments
The impact on the economy, including your investments, will depend on the length of a government shutdown. Since government payments are delayed, not diminished, the effect may be minor if congressional leaders resolve the matter quickly.
During the 2013 government shutdown, which lasted a little over two weeks, 40% of Americans cut their consumer spending, according to a Goldman Sachs survey.
For the stock and bond markets, investor sentiment may be jarred over the short term. That could mean temporary market volatility. In other words, you might not want to check your 401(k) retirement balance or mutual fund statements quite so often. Remember, your long-term investments will likely weather any week-to-week losses if you don't sell during a shutdown fluster.
Interest payments on Treasurys would continue.
In the event of a government shutdown, nonessential federal employees won't be paid until the government reopens. Contractors and private companies serving the government may institute temporary employment cutbacks.
"Troops would go without pay. Military families would be impacted, of course," Deputy Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh said in a statement to the press. "For folks that are not getting paychecks, that impacts how and when [they] can buy groceries, child care, all of these things."
Commissaries would be closed on most US military bases, however, while some regional offices of the Department of Veterans Affairs may be temporarily closed, benefits and VA hospitals are unaffected.
Here are more federal services and how they’re touched by a potential shutdown:
Post office and mail delivery: Unaffected
Federal courts: They will remain open.
The IRS and tax collections: The agency will likely reduce staff, so the phones may not be answered — but payments will be collected.
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