The economic stimulus package signed into law in February includes some nuggets that can directly affect your family finances.
• Cheaper health insurance for people who are laid off. If you lose your job between September 1, 2008, and December 31, 2009, and your employer is covered by COBRA, the federal government may now subsidize 65 percent of the cost of your health insurance premiums for up to nine months. Under the old COBRA rules, firms with at least 20 employees had to allow any laid-off worker to stay on the company health plan, but the employee had to pay 100 percent of the premium cost and could also be charged an extra 2 percent administration fee. Under the new act, you can stay on your company plan and pay just 35 percent of the total cost for up to nine months. But you should shop around for private coverage; it may be more affordable than even a subsidized COBRA policy. Start your search at ehealthinsurance.com .
• Increased unemployment benefits. The stimulus package extends the period for claiming federally funded unemployment benefits through the end of the year. Eligible individuals can collect an additional 20 to 33 weeks of benefits beyond their regular state coverage of 26 weeks. In addition, $25 a week will be added to all benefit payments. Moreover, the first $2,400 of unemployment benefits you receive in 2009 will be federal-tax-free.
• Help for first-time homebuyers. Those with adjusted gross incomes below $75,000 (if you're single) or $150,000 (if you're married and filing jointly) are eligible for an $8,000 tax credit toward a first-time home purchase (this also applies to those who have not owned a home for the past three years). Given today's low interest rates and generally lower home prices, this could well be worth taking advantage of.
Suze Orman's most recent book is her 2009 Action Plan: Keeping Your Money Safe & Sound (Spiegel & Grau).