How to plan financially for an extended leave

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PORTLAND — Workers are human. That means sometimes they have needs that take them away from work for extended periods of time. Babies, illnesses and even sabbaticals can mean a long time away from a job and a paycheck, too.

So how can you cope financially if you take an extended leave? According to most experts, it’s a tricky balance of preparation and innovation.

There are some departures that are anticipated — a sabbatical is typically planned ahead of time, and a baby affords about nine months to plan. But there are many situations that are not expected, such as the illness of a family member or yourself.

Regardless of your situation, here are a few things to consider if you take a temporary departure:

• PLAN: The first thing you can do is find out what benefits are afforded to you under the law or your company’s policies.

In many cases you will encounter the Family and Medical Leave Act. This is a federal law that guarantees eligible employees 12 weeks of unpaid and job-protected leave during any 12-month period for an employee’s serious medical condition or to care for a parent, spouse or child.

Employees retain their benefits during this time. They are also entitled to return to their same or an equivalent job at the end.

There are caveats. FMLA applies only if you work at a public agency or company with 50 or more employees. You also must have been employed there at least a year and worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months before your leave.

Federal law does not require FMLA leave to be paid, but the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2013 Employee Benefits Survey found that 21 percent of organizations did offer paid family leave. Additionally, 26 percent of organizations offered family leave above FMLA’s requirements.

Some states also have employer requirements that go beyond FMLA’s terms.

• SAVE: It seems obvious, but setting money aside ahead of time can pay off later.

A number of experts, like Nancy Bearg, co-author of the book “Reboot Your Life: Energize Your Career and Life by Taking a Break,” suggest creating a new account or slush fund that is dedicated solely for your time off.

Don’t touch this account until you are on leave. And as you lead up to your departure, take time to really consider your needs versus your wants and trim wherever possible to set aside extra cash.

• BUDGET: Cut costs wherever you can — cancel cable, club memberships or other recurring costs that you might not even use during leave. Sell extra items around the house for cash. And if possible, pay down debts beforehand so you have one less expense to manage, Bearg suggests.

• TAX BREAKS: Taxes may be the last thing on your mind, but there are some benefits to consider.

Some employers offer flexible spending accounts, which allow employees to put cash aside pre-tax to help cover medical costs. Tapping this could help lower your costs.

There are similar accounts you can set up for dependent care costs, such as for elder care or child care. This may help ease some of the sting from expenses either during your leave or upon your return.