Financial Readiness in Times of Disaster

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Safety is priority one when it comes to dealing with a weather emergency or natural disaster. Sometimes that means you have to pack up and leave home, not knowing when — or if — you’ll be able to return.

When it comes to preparing for weather emergencies, financial readiness is as important as a flashlight with fully charged batteries. Leaving your home can be stressful, but knowing that your financial documents are up-to-date, in one place, and portable can make a big difference at a tense time.

Identifying and preparing key documents before calamity strikes can help you avoid unnecessary damage to your personal finances in the aftermath of a fire, flood, hurricane or other disaster.

Here are some steps to help get started.

Conduct a Household Inventory

Make a list of your possessions and document it with photos or a video. This could help if you are filing insurance claims. Keep one copy of your inventory in your home in a lockable, fireproof file box; keep another in a safe deposit box or on an external hard drive kept at an off-site secure location.

 Take Advantage of Technology

Technology offers tools for safeguarding your important documents. It also can make it easier to access your records when you need to, and more convenient to update them.

Online bill-pay. Getting and paying your bills online makes it possible to stay current even if you can’t get mail and don't have your checkbook. Contact your bank for more information.

Personal Web space. Some online storage is provided free with many email accounts. Use your space to upload PDFs of important documents you’ve scanned. Make sure access requires a password.

Virtual safe deposit boxes. Some banks offer this online service to protect documents, photos and videos.

USB flash drive. Also known as thumb drives, these portable hard drives offer a lot of storage space in a small package. Copy your important computer files onto the flash drive and keep it with you. Consider keeping a duplicate in your safe deposit box or with a friend or relative. Be sure to password protect your flash drive, in case you lose it.

Online password manager. Sites and software are available that let you store your usernames and passwords. You have to remember only one master password to access the list.

Buy a Lockable, Fireproof File Box

Place important documents in the box; keep the box in a secure, accessible location on a shelf in your home so you can “grab it and go” if the need arises. Among the contents:

  • your household inventory

  • a list of emergency contacts, including family members who live outside your area
  • copies of current prescriptions
  • health insurance cards or information
  • policy numbers for auto, flood, renter’s, or homeowner’s insurance, and a list of telephone numbers of your insurance companies
  • copies of other important financial and family records — or notes about where they are — including deeds, titles, wills, birth and marriage certificates, passports, and relevant employee benefit and retirement documents. Except for wills, keep originals in a safe deposit box or some other location. If you have a will, ask your attorney to keep the original document.
  • a list of phone numbers or email addresses of your creditors, financial institutions, landlords, and utility companies (sewer, water, gas, electric, telephone, cable)
  • a list of bank, loan, credit card, mortgage, lease, debit and ATM, and investment account numbers
  • Social Security cards
  • Medical, prescription and vaccination records for pets, along with current photos and ID chip numbers in case you are separated
  • backups of financial data you keep on your computer
  • an extra set of keys for your house and car
  • the key to your safe deposit box
  • a small amount of cash. ATMs or financial institutions may be closed.

Rent a Safe Deposit Box

Consider renting a safe deposit box for storage of important documents. Some banks offer virtual safe deposit boxes online, to protect documents, photos and videos. Documents to store might include:

  • property leases, deeds, titles, and other ownership records for your home, cars, RVs, or boats
  • credit, lease, and other financial and payment agreements
  • birth, adoption and death certificates, naturalization papers, and Social Security cards
  • marriage license/divorce papers, and child custody papers
  • passports and military papers (if you need these regularly, you could place the originals in your fireproof box and a copy in your safe deposit box)
  • appraisals of expensive jewelry and heirlooms
  • certificates for stocks, bonds, and other investments and retirement accounts
  • trust agreements
  • living wills, powers of attorney, and health care powers of attorney
  • insurance policies
  • home improvement records
  • household inventory documentation
  • a copy of your will

Choose an Out-of-Town Contact

Ask an out-of-town friend or relative to be the point of contact for your family. Make sure everyone in your family has the information. After some emergencies, it can be easier to make a long distance call than a local one.

Update Your Information

Review the contents of your household inventory, your fireproof box, safe deposit box, and the information for your out-of-town contact at least once a year.

For More Information

For more financial readiness tips, download FEMA’s Emergency Financial First Aid Kit.

For more information to help you prepare for, deal with, and recover from a natural disaster or a weather emergency, visit ftc.gov/weatheremergencies.