Are You Ready If Disaster Strikes?

It’s springtime, which often brings threats of violent weather. In a matter of minutes, a disaster could turn your life upside down. Do you have a financial emergency kit ready?

When tornados, flooding, hurricanes or earthquakes hit, victims often get little warning. You may be forced to scurry out quickly and leave behind almost everything – including computers, records, checkbooks, credit cards, financial account numbers, passwords, and important identification docs.

So when it’s time to put your life back together, how do you get financial records – and even money – if you don’t have enough account info and identification? You need a financial emergency kit.  

What’s a Financial Emergency Kit?

Having a financial emergency kit should be part of your overall disaster or evacuation plan, ready on a moment’s notice. Make it a plastic tub or duffle bag (waterproof is great) that can be easily taken with you. This simple kit can save you plenty of headaches if you have to reconstruct your finances later. Include these items in it:

  1. Cash. Put enough smaller bills in a resealable plastic bag to pay for a tank of gas, lodging, some supplies, necessities and/or a couple of meals. ATMs or credit processing may be out of order, or you may not have immediate access to a bank account or credit cards.
  2. Spare keys. Include keys to vehicles you drive, but also other keys you use – place of employment, post office box or mailboxes, safe deposit box at your bank, off-site storage facilities you may have, security gates, rental property, vacation homes, RVs or boats docked in marinas.
  3. Personal identification. Make photocopies of your driver’s license(s), medical insurance cards, and ID card for your place of employment, including name of supervisor. If you have dependent kids or are a caregiver, include these photocopied docs for them as well. (You should be storing other important documents in a safe deposit box at a bank or credit union –  passports, Social Security cards, marriage and birth certificates, rental agreements, real estate deeds/titles, proof of citizenship.) You should also have emergency contact info of relative(s) or a close friend.
  4. Copies for everyday needs. Make copies of medical prescriptions you take, prescriptions for contacts or glasses, codes for your in-home Wi-Fi, phone number for your family doctor.
  5. Info for key contacts. When you need professionals who can help you in the aftermath, it’s often  a stand-in-line or first-come, first-served deal. So having immediate access to phone numbers is in your favor to get on top of that list. Keep a notebook that includes contact information – phone numbers, emails and physical addresses (phones might be down) as well as pertinent account numbers. Include your insurance providers, medical providers, bankers or lenders, cell phone servicer, financial advisor(s), CPA, attorney, landlord, and services you might have contracts with such as the gas company, phone company, cable or DSL provider, electricity provider, AAA, On-Star.
  6. Disaster recovery contacts. Also in your contact notebook, jot down info for a several local disaster recovery specialists you likely may need – for home clean-up, computer data recovery, towing company, car leasing company, local lumberyard, fix-it store that rents equipment. (You’d be surprised how quickly things like large fans are snatched up, and being on a waiting list for a couple days stinks when you only have a matter of hours to dry out carpet.) Include your trusted plumber, electrician, HVAC pro, favorite handyman, or even relatives.
  7. Copies of financial records. Include proof of government benefits, income sources (like a pay stub) and financial liabilities in case you need proof for extended credit. Make copies of home loans/title, vehicle titles/VIN numbers, insurance policies, lease agreements, financial account numbers/statements, maybe even a tax return if you need to resurrect data for costs, basis, proof of ownership. In case you need to notify vendors or lenders about late or missed payments, take copies of statements or account numbers for your routine services (utilities, cell phone, credit cards, landlord, lenders for mortgages and vehicles). If you are an independent contractor or business owner, include copies of those financial records as well, especially client data you may need to prove money owed. 
  8. Inventory of valuables. If your home is destroyed or you are off-site, it can be difficult to remember what you own. Keep an inventory list of items you have, perhaps with the year purchased or price paid. For ease, you might list items room by room. Don’t forget things like jewelry, pet micro-chips, certification for service animals, and household items that may be stored in your garage or outside.
  9. Pictures. If you are trying to reconstruct or identify what you own, pictures can be worth 1,000 words. Include photos or video of the inside/outside of your home, household belongings, and recent photos of family members and pets.
  10. Passwords. Include a list of updated passwords. Many of us rely on electronic records and apps, which can be accessed despite a lost computer or damaged cell phone. That’s the good news. Unfortunately, you also may have lost your records for passwords and access codes. (Since identity theft, fraud and scams are often heightened after a disaster, here’s a list of tips to keep your personal data safe as well.

For details relating to specific disasters and emergencies, check the IRS Disaster Resource Guide, Publication 2194 or Ready.gov.

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