Suddenly unemployed in your 50s? What to do about insurance, savings and retirement.

Editor's note: This column is the second in a two-part series on losing your job in your 50s. It was originally published in February 2019 and has been updated to reflect current news.

It's an event none of us wants to face, especially in our 50s: the day we lose our job.

The goals on that day are to determine the exact time your income stops, including the money available to you through unemployment benefits, and to resolve to cut household spending immediately. What you do in the first 24 hours will determine the amount of urgency you must adopt throughout the entire process of getting a new job.

A help wanted sign is displayed at a restaurant in Arlington Heights, Ill.
A help wanted sign is displayed at a restaurant in Arlington Heights, Ill.

Day Two of unemployment and beyond are simply an exercise in risk management. It’s a simple idea, but it's also complicated, frustrating, and unnerving in its execution. It breaks down into two primary areas:


When you lose your job, you almost always lose insurance of all types. You can lose your health insurance, life insurance, disability insurance and, less frequently, long-term care insurance. Those losses are frustrating because you have to scramble to fill the gaps, and don’t forget you’re 50-something. Re-securing all of this insurance will be brutally expensive because of age and the health-based price points of insurance products.


From what I’ve observed, facing insurance deficiencies is easier to ignore than facing income deficiencies, although they are almost certainly linked. This is because spending money on properly covering your risks (health, death, and disability) is a choice. You can ignore a choice. Finding yourself suddenly unemployed without income is not a choice.

Health insurance is likely to be your number-one priority after a job loss. The program that allows you to continue your coverage is COBRA, or the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act. It’s very helpful, although it generally feels expensive. This is because your employer is no longer subsidizing your premium. If the costs to take advantage of COBRA are too rich, take a look at for rates for the recently unemployed. Job loss is a qualifying event for securing coverage, but you have 60 days to do it through this provision. By the way, don’t wait 60 days. You should take some time to consider your options, but going uninsured when your old job’s coverage expires is a tremendously big risk, especially for someone in their 50s.

Depending on your family structure and your survivors’ needs, continuing your life insurance and disability coverage can be as important as health insurance. Determine whether your former group coverage has conversion/continuation privileges. If they don’t, talk to your insurance agent – yes, you need an insurance agent – about your options.

Watch your savings

The second major area of your financial life that needs tending is your assets and how you use them.

The reason I focused on reducing your monthly expenditures in my previous column is that when your income stops flowing, you need to take the pressure off of your assets.

When you have reduced income, or no income, nearly every unfunded commitment crescendos into an emergency. You may feel as though relief can come from your savings, investments, or home equity, but an awful reality exists for people who are 50 and unemployed. You will have less time to replenish your assets, as the majority of your career is now behind you. You have to be tremendously picky when it comes to tapping your savings.

I’ve long felt a person’s ability to distinguish an emergency from a non-emergency is the difference between financial stability and financial fragility. This is especially true when you find yourself 50 and unemployed.

Other steps when lose a job: Losing a job in your 50s is extremely tough. Here are 3 things to do.


Undoubtedly, my analysis of the financial challenges of being 50 and unemployed did not address some tangential challenges, such as age discrimination when hunting for a job, or finding yourself suddenly unemployed in your sixties.

However, these two additional scenarios certainly play into one of my biggest fears for anyone without work late in their career: capitulation retirement.

Capitulation retirement is when you give up on your career, justifiably or otherwise, and decide to retire. The fact that it seems like the best option you have doesn’t mean it’s actually a viable option. However, I have seen people pull off this move successfully. In my estimation, they are in the minority, but a sudden retirement has an outside shot at success. If you think retirement is the best option, do not make your final decision until you’ve talked to a financial adviser.

Peter Dunn is an author, speaker and radio host. The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Unemployed in your 50s: What to do about insurance and savings