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After almost nine years of steady economic growth, Americans are starting to worry that a recession may be coming.

The risks of a global trade war and the fallout from the government shutdown are beginning to put a drag on economic growth and are partly behind the recent stock market volatility. The S&P 500 dropped 13.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2018, though it partly rebounded in January.

Still, there are other indicators that the economy is still in growth mode. More than 300,000 new jobs were created in December, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the unemployment rate is below 4 percent.

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Truth is, no one can accurately forecast the timing of the next recession, but a downturn is part of a normal economic cycle. Since the end of World War II, there have been 11 such cycles, with the last one officially ending in June 2009, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.

That's why it makes sense to factor in these downturns as part of your long-term planning. If you don’t already have a strategy in place to protect your finances, get started now.

“Reacting in the middle of a recession is going to be too late,” says Timothy Hewitt, a certified financial planner in West Conshohocken, Pa.

Here are six steps that can help you ride out an economic slump.

Boost Your Emergency Savings

Financial planners typically recommend building a rainy day fund that can cover three to six months of expenses. But in an economic slowdown, there’s a greater risk of job loss and prolonged unemployment—right now the average length of unemployment is 22 weeks. In 2011, in the wake of the Great Recession, the national average reached 29 weeks; for workers ages 55 to 64, the average was one year. 

If you are worried that your job won’t last through the next downturn, aim to build cash reserves that can cover six to 12 months of costs, Hewitt says. Look for high-yield online bank savings accounts that can help speed your savings.

Along with a robust rainy day fund, consider opening a home equity line of credit, or HELOC, if you don't already have one. With a HELOC, you have a backup source of funds, as long as you don't deplete it with other spending. Shop now, because lines of credit are harder to obtain in a recession.

Pay Off Credit Card Debt

It’s always smart to minimize credit card debt, especially if you're paying a high rate. But if you need another incentive, consider how hard it will be to pay off high-rate debt if your job and income disappear in a recession.

"Credit card debt is so toxic, I would work on getting rid of it before increasing an emergency fund beyond three months," says David Schneider, a certified financial planner in New York City.

Funnel as much as you can now into payments. For example, if you’re expecting a large tax refund this spring—the average last year was more than $2,800—consider earmarking some or all of it to shrink that balance. 

You can also seek out a zero-rate balance transfer credit card deal and use the opportunity to whittle down your debt. Don't wait too long, though. 

“In a recession, offers for zero-rate balance transfers may disappear,” Schneider says. 

Reduce Your Spending

Take the time now to scrutinize your budget and get a handle on your cash flow.

“Once you see where all your money is going, it’s easier to find big and small ways to save,” Hewitt says.

Perhaps you can cut the cable cord or skip a vacation, or raise your home or auto insurance deductible. With these moves, you will get a better understanding of how much you really need to meet essential expenses, as well as free up cash for saving and debt reduction. 

Proactive budgeting is especially important for pre-retirees and recent retirees, who may be tapping their portfolios for income. If you start out your retirement by making large withdrawals in a down market, you will lower the future growth of your portfolio, Schneider says. That raises the risk of running out of money. 

Upgrade Your Job Skills

When the next wave of downsizing hits, you don’t want to be a vulnerable target. Older workers tend to be most at risk, because they typically earn higher salaries—and are often perceived as lacking up-to-date skills. More than half of full-time workers over the age of 50 eventually suffer a job loss, according to a new study by the Urban Institute, a research group; the study was funded in part by ProPublica.

Keep your skills and knowledge up to speed by taking advantage of every on-the-job training opportunity, says Catherine Collinson, president and CEO of Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. 

More than 80 percent of employers offer some form of financial assistance for continuing education. Up to $5,250 per year that you receive in employer-provided educational benefits are exempt from federal income tax. (Amounts above that will generally be taxed.)

You should also maintain an up-to-date resume and keep networking. In the event that you have to job hunt, reaching out for leads and contacts will be a lot easier if you’re already in touch with colleagues who may be able to help.

Take Advantage of Market Losses

The stock market often heads down well before a recession strikes. That may give you an opportunity to trim your tax bill, Hewitt says. Using a strategy called tax-loss harvesting, you can use losses in your taxable accounts to offset taxable gains.

In years when the taxable losses exceed your gains, you can deduct up to $3,000 of those losses against your ordinary income on your federal tax return. Any losses above that amount can be rolled over to offset gains in future years. 

Down markets are also a good time to consider converting pretax 401(k) or IRA assets to a Roth IRA, which allows your after-tax savings to grow tax-free. Having more money in a Roth can give you greater flexibility in retirement. Plus, it minimizes future required minimum distributions.

Although you will not have to a pay an early withdrawal penalty, you will owe taxes on the amount you pull from your pretax accounts, which is why it can make sense to take advantage of market declines to do a conversion, says Joe Wirbick, a certified financial planner in Lancaster, Pa.

Still, the benefit of a conversion depends on your financial situation, as well as expectations for future returns and tax rates. Consider speaking with a financial adviser or accountant before making this move. 

Fine-Tune Your Portfolio

If you’ve kept your portfolio on autopilot for most of the past decade, it's time to take charge and review your asset allocation. The asset mix you chose years ago may carry a lot more risk than you feel comfortable with today, especially if you're worried about a recession. 

If that's the case, consider tilting your portfolio toward a slightly more conservative asset mix by shifting a portion of your stock holdings into bonds. 

As a guideline, the Schwab Target 2035 Index fund holds 76 percent in stocks and 24 percent in bonds and cash. By contrast the Schwab Target 2030 Index fund, designed for those retiring five years earlier, keeps 69 percent in stocks.

If the markets do hit a prolonged decline, don't stop investing.

"Buying shares when stocks are down is the heart of a buy-low, sell-high strategy," says Wirbick, who notes that the 2008 to 2009 meltdown helped unleash a record bull market. Even recessions can have a silver lining.

Correction: A job study by the Urban Institute was funded in part by ProPublica. A previous version of this article incorrectly said that the Urban Institute is funded by ProPublica.