This article was written by Karen Slunecka, former SDSU Extension Family Resource Management Field Specialist.
With the fires out west and tornadoes earlier this year, it makes you think hard that if you had to leave your home in an emergency, and only had minutes to choose what stays and what goes, your financial records may be one of the last things on your mind. So, collecting and organizing your financial information now could help you avoid problems and recover faster.
Keep your account information and important documents in a water-tight container or fire safe, and keep copies somewhere else, like a safe deposit box, a secure place at work, or, with a trusted relative or friend. Here is an outline of the items you should gather.
If your house is destroyed, missing a credit card payment may not seem like a big deal. However, ignoring credit card or loan payments could cause your interest rate to jump, costing you more money, and could damage your credit score when you will need access to credit the most.
If you are affected by a disaster, you need to contact your creditors as soon as possible and let them know your situation. Most of them will have ways to help. If you are unable to live in your home, check with the utility companies (electric, gas, cable) to see if you can suspend your utilities to add extra money to your budget.
Make a list of account and service numbers for your checking and savings accounts; credit cards; mortgage and home equity loans; auto loans; student loans; personal loans; cable, telephone and utility companies. Put these in your container.
Personal records can be replaced, but it can take time. See the publication on Replacing Legal and Financial Documents in SD. You may need some of these documents to verify you are the owner of the property that was damaged to receive insurance or assistance. Gather and make copies of personal identification; social security cards; birth certificates; marriage certificates and divorce decrees; and titles, deeds, and car registrations.
Most of these can be replaced also but can also be time consuming. Keeping this information safe will also help you avoid questions that could arise later about your investments, taxes or workplace benefits. Gather and make copies of insurance policies; household inventory; investment records; income tax information; pay stubs and employer benefits; wills, trusts, and powers of attorney.
If you keep financial records, passwords, family photos on the computer, consider backing up the information to a secure cloud storage service, or back up your data regularly and keep the backups somewhere safe.
After the Disaster
Americans tend to come together in times of crisis. There will be a lot of people and organizations who will want to help you. And unfortunately there will be criminals who will want to exploit the trauma. Watch out for up-front fees to help you claim services, benefits or get loans. No government agency will ask you for money to claim a benefit or service. Watch for organizations with names similar to government agencies. Beware of contractors offering door to door repairs or require payments up front.
To find more information and answers to questions about consumer financial protection issues go to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau website.
- Replacing Legal and Financial Documents in SD by SDSU Extension