Unemployment checklist: What to do when you’re out of work

Employers added 266,000 new jobs in November and the nation's unemployment rate dropped to 3.5 percent, the lowest it's been in 50 years.

At the same time, 203,000 people filed for new unemployment benefits last week, and are working out how to manage being out of work.

The nation's oil fields were among the losers in the monthly jobs report. The category that includes mining and logging shed 7,000 jobs. 

As NerdWallet notes in a recent article, losing a job can be a disorienting experience that still requires quick action on a handful of tasks.

First, apply for unemployment benefits. It's a critical step in getting back on your feet. Whether at a state unemployment office or online, the process can take a few weeks, so don't delay.

While waiting for benefits, take stock of what savings are available. Ideally, it's a few months worth, or it could be just a few weeks. This information can drive the next steps.

Spending should be stripped down to an emergency bare-bones budget. It may feel extreme, but it means temporarily cutting non-essentials like eating out, gym memberships, streaming services, and other subscriptions. They can come back when a paycheck returns.

Call the creditors, mortgage lenders, utility companies, and credit cards to let them know what's going on. Many have options to help, including reducing or suspending payments. It's important to be proactive with this.

Prioritize spending and decide who gets paid first. Top priorities are housing, keeping the lights on, and food on the table. Collateral loans, like a car note, need attention and credit cards can get minimum payments.

And health insurance is a final piece of the puzzle. Losing a job is considered a qualifying event that allows changes outside open-enrollment periods. Some might be young enough to join their parents' policy, maybe a spouse has benefits available, or the health insurance marketplace may be an option. As NerdWallet notes, the only thing worse than being unemployed is incurring health care costs without health insurance coverage.