FORT LEE, Va. – Being financially prepared for a large-scale emergency or natural disaster means a lot more than having a stash of cash set aside.
Laying the groundwork that ensures easy access to and the effectiveness of several categories of personal and home care information can be an enormous benefit when the unexpected happens and community members face the daunting task of putting their lives back together.
Experts from the national home mortgage company Freddie Mac offer the following tips for getting organized and preparing for worst-case situations.
• Compile information. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, www.fema.gov, offers a 44-page “Emergency Financial First Aid Kit” that includes fillable checklists and preparation tips. It is a handy and free way to compile important information such as driver’s license numbers, birth certificates, insurance policy details, mortgage statements, Social Security numbers, bank account and credit card data, health insurance cards, medication and health records, as well as household contact information including landlords, doctors, schools, employers, contractors, lawyers and insurance agents.
Most insurance companies also advise thorough documentation of high-dollar valuables. This includes capturing photos or video of those items and maintaining a record of costs (including original receipts if available), condition, identifying characteristics and other details that attest to the value of the item.
• Review your paperwork. Examine your insurance policies and financial paperwork to be sure they’re current and meet expected needs. If updates or additions are required, get that done as soon as possible so you’re not put in a situation where time slips away and coverage is inadequate when it’s needed most.
Set up an appointment with your insurance agent to discuss policies and find out what you can expect. For example, many homeowner’s plans cover alternative living expenses that can help provide an individual or family with temporary housing needs, meals and other life necessities if displaced. Conversely, most plans do not cover “acts of God,” which could include flooding, tree damage, lightning strikes and other natural maladies. Setting up that additional coverage usually requires an implementation period, which further supports the argument to get it done sooner rather than later.
• Include mortgage documents. In the event of an emergency, having access to your mortgage information can be critical, as you may be eligible for mortgage relief.
“When FEMA announces that individual assistance programs have been extended in major disaster areas, we quickly respond by offering mortgage relief options for those effected individuals,” a senior official of Freddie Mac recently reported. “This includes suspending mortgage payments for up to 12 months so victims of natural disasters can focus on what’s important: their own safety and that of their families.”
It is important to know whom to contact and when, the spokesperson noted in acknowledgement of the recommendation to prepare paperwork and collect data early. Having an “information arsenal” makes it possible for individuals in crisis to begin reaching out for help as soon as it is safe to do so.
• Get secured. It’s wise to invest in the best protection possible for your vital information. Consider storing the documents you would need immediate access to following an emergency in a home safe that offers protection from damaging natural elements, fire and, if evacuating, potential vandalism from intruders.
Safety deposit boxes at banks are another good option for protecting valuables, but keep in mind they may not be accessible if the facility is closed due to power failure. Making arrangements for trusted family members to have access to the boxes is smart also in the event the owner is incapacitated or dies.
• Stay aware. Unfortunately, crises tend to bring out scam artists. Be wary of post-disaster rip-offs and anyone offering to provide you with immediate assistance for money. Government officials will never ask for money and will always show their ID badges. Army CID advisories about these types of scams can be found at www.cid.army.mil.