A recession may still be in the forecast. How you can prepare

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Shoppers along the Magnificent Mile shopping district in Chicago on Aug. 15, 2023.

Jamie Kelter Davis | Bloomberg | Getty Images

A recession has been in the forecast for much of 2023.

Yet an economic downturn — formally defined as two consecutive quarters of declining GDP growth — has yet to happen.

“A recession is obviously going to happen at some point,” said Jack Manley, global market strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management. “But the timing of that is not set in stone.”

Most economists — 61% — put a recession at a less than 50% probability in the next 12 months, according to the latest report from the National Association for Business Economics released this week.

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Yet 39% of respondents put the risk of a formal downturn within that time period at more than 50%, the survey found. Of those who expect a recession, half said they would expect it to begin in the first quarter.

“We are still expecting the economy to slow down considerably and then get into a recession in the first two quarters of next year,” said Eugenio Aleman, chief economist at Raymond James.

That outlook is based on expectations consumers may pull back on spending while the housing market may face stress, Aleman said. In addition, new conflict in the Middle East may affect both oil prices and the supply chain.

Those factors may prompt the Federal Reserve to keep interest rates higher for longer, Aleman said.

It will feel like a recession for the consumer, says Macquarie Group’s Thierry Wizman

The probability of a recession has crept up in the past few months along with negative headlines, Manley said, citing the autoworkers strike, a looming federal government shutdown that was temporarily averted, uncertainty around the Federal Reserve and broader geopolitical issues.

Those worries may prompt consumers to pull back heading into the biggest spending time of the year, Manley said.

“Our confidence is so crushed because of all of these bad headlines, because of this wall of worry,” Manley said.

“There is the chance that we don’t spend as much as we probably would have been planning on before all of these bad headlines,” he said.

A recession is obviously going to happen at some point. But the timing of that is not set in stone.

Jack Manley

global market strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management

For many consumers, elevated price growth has made it feel like a recession is already here, surveys show.

Whether a recession is coming or not, these are financial advisors’ top tips for how to prepare now.

1. Stress-test your finances

Much of how a recession may affect you comes down to whether you still have a job, Barry Glassman, a certified financial planner and founder and president of Glassman Wealth Services, told CNBC.com earlier this year. Glassman is also a member of CNBC’s Financial Advisor Council.

An economic downturn may also create a situation where even those who are still employed earn less, he noted.

As such, it’s a good idea to evaluate how well you could handle an income drop. Consider how long, if you were to lose your job, you could keep up with bills, based on savings and other resources available to you.

“Stress-test your income against your ongoing obligations,” Glassman said. “Make sure you have some sort of safety net.”

Notably, job growth was strong in September, according to the latest government data.

2. Boost emergency savings

Akinbostanci | E+ | Getty Images

Even having just a little more cash set aside can help ensure an unforeseen event like a car repair or unexpected bill does not sink your budget.

Yet surveys show many Americans would be hard pressed to cover a $400 expense in cash.

Experts say the key is to automate your savings so you do not even see the money in your paycheck.

“Even if we do get through this period relatively unscathed, that’s all the more reason to be saving,” Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate, recently told CNBC.com.

“I have yet to meet anybody who saved too much money,” he added.

Another advantage to saving now: Rising interest rates mean the potential returns on that money are the highest they have been in 15 years.

3. Reduce your debt balances

If you have credit card debt, you’re not alone.

Balances topped $1 trillion for the first time in the second quarter.

While higher interest rates are pushing up how much you fork over for debts, you can control that by paying down your balances, Matt Schulz, chief credit analyst at LendingTree, previously told CNBC.com.

“For inflation to grow this quickly is something that is really rattling to people,” Schulz said.

But certain moves may help you to control your personal interest rate, he said.

If you have outstanding credit card balances you’re carrying from month to month, try to lower the costs you’re paying on that debt, either through a 0% balance transfer offer or a personal loan.

Alternatively, you may try simply asking your current credit card company for a lower interest rate.

4. Be opportunistic

Fears of an economic downturn or market turbulence can provide an opportunity for investors who are willing to take risks, according to Kamila Elliott, a CFP and co-founder and CEO of Collective Wealth Partners in Atlanta.

If you’re five years away from retirement or even closer, now is the time to sit down with a trustworthy financial planner to make sure you’re on track, Elliott, who is a member of the CNBC Advisor Council, told CNBC.com earlier this year.

For those who are further away from retirement — with that goal 10 to 30 years from now — this may be a time to take more risks because you have time to ride out any market volatility, Elliott said.

The average market return tends to bounce back, which can result in meaningful progress over time.

Elliott said it reminds her of a famous quote from legendary investor Warren Buffett: “Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.”

“We take that philosophy looking at our investments whenever there’s fear and there’s risk there’s also, oftentimes, opportunity,” Elliott said.

Join CNBC’s Financial Advisor Summit on Oct. 12, where we’ll talk with top advisors, investors, market experts, technologists and economists about what advisors can do now to position their clients for the best possible outcomes as we head into the last quarter of 2023 and face the unknown in 2024. Learn more and get your ticket today.

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