From blazing wildfires in Colorado to Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast, natural disasters have been front-page news in 2012. Less headline-worthy are the financial repercussions that follow, which tens of thousands of people are dealing with right now. These types of tragedies are unavoidable — the most you can do is prepare to minimize the time it takes to put the pieces of your life back together. Creating a plan that addresses your finances and insurance beforehand can make it easier to recover from a devastating event.
“What’s going on in the country right now should serve as a wake-up call for a lot of people,” says Paul Golden, spokesperson for the Denver-based National Endowment for Financial Education. “If people haven’t come up with a plan yet, then they should do so now.”
To prevent a natural disaster from becoming a financial catastrophe, consider the following steps:
1. Stockpile savings. An emergency fund with three to six months’ worth of savings is a key part of any household financial plan. But it’s also important in an emergency: Funds that you can draw on quickly and easily can be a lifesaver in the wake of a natural disaster. Also consider keeping a few hundred dollars in cash on hand to see you through if your area loses power or banks and ATMs are out of commission.
2. Gather key documents. Make sure you have important legal and financial documents with you if you have to evacuate. These may include copies of insurance policies and even bank account numbers. Keep these documents easily accessible, as you would flashlights and spare batteries. That way you’re less likely to leave them behind — even if you have to abandon your house quickly.
3. Protect your credit. Part of protecting your finances involves protecting your credit. Include the contact information for your creditors — such as your mortgage lender, credit card companies and utilities — in your financial preparedness kit. If you have to evacuate, reach out to your creditors as soon as possible to request a temporary reprieve from payments.
“If you are proactive about approaching creditors, many of them may be willing to work with you about suspending payments,” Golden says. “That can help keep your credit intact if the disaster turns out to be a prolonged affair.” Make sure you reach out to your employer as well, to provide as much warning as possible if you won’t be able to work in the aftermath of a disaster.
4. Review your insurance. Your insurance policies can help you recover financially from a disaster, provided you have the right coverage. Golden suggests reviewing your property, flood, life and disability insurance policies once a year when you receive the new documents from your insurer. And don’t focus only on your deductibles and coverage amounts. “You need to pay attention to the riders as well,” Golden says.
For instance, does your property insurance cover temporary food and housing costs if you’ve had to evacuate but your home is undamaged? If you miss work for a week because you’ve had to evacuate, will your disability policy cover your lost income? Talk to your agent about covering any gaps in your policies, and make sure you know who to contact and what documentation you’ll need to file a claim.
5. Use a checklist. Include your financial preparations in your overall disaster recovery plan. Review the Wells Fargo Advisors emergency preparedness checklist to make sure you are giving yourself the best chance of recovering from a natural disaster. The list suggests a range of critical first-response tactics, from stockpiling fresh drinking water to recording possessions as proof of ownership. Just remember that the more you prepare now, the less you’ll have to do if disaster strikes.
• This article was written by Wells Fargo Advisors and provided courtesy of Ahwatukee Financial Advisor S. Kim DeVoss, CFP. Reach her at (480) 940-5519. Investments in securities and insurance products are: NOT FDIC-INSURED/NOT BANK-GUARANTEED/MAY LOSE VALUE. Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC, Member SIPC, is a registered broker-dealer and a separate non-bank affiliate of Wells Fargo & Company.