Dealing with a Weather Emergency: Getting Back on Your Feet Financially
A weather emergency may have forced you to leave your home without IDs, checks, credit and debit cards, and other documents you need for everyday life. You also may be without access to a bank account or paycheck for some time. If you need to get money, understand your options for paying bills or replace important documents, this list of contacts and practical steps may help you regain your financial footing.
No matter where you are, you may be able to use checks, credit and debit cards, ATMs, or wire transfers from family and friends in other locations.
If your credit, ATM, or debit cards are lost or stolen, call the card issuer as soon as possible to report the loss and get new accounts. If you don't have the phone number, call 1-800-555-1212, a toll-free phone number for US-based companies. NOTE: Federal law protects you from loss for unauthorized use of credit and debit cards. For debit cards, your protection depends on how quickly you report the loss.
Stay in contact with your employer. Ask if you can continue to get your paycheck and health insurance, and for how long. If you are in another location due to the situation, ask if you can access your direct deposit paycheck from a branch of the bank in the temporary location, or if you need to redirect it to a bank in the new location.
Contact your retirement company, social services office, the Social Security Administration (1-800-772-1213), the Veterans Benefits Administration (1-800-827-1000), or other benefits office. Tell the offices your new location, and find out if benefit payments are made available by check, direct deposit, or payment card. The Department of Labor (1-866-4-USA-DOL) works with state and local governments to issue unemployment insurance and other assistance.
Find out if any home, health or other insurance policy you have will pay for temporary shelter, replacement clothing, furniture or other items.
If you've lost your financial records and need help identifying your creditors — or if you want to check on possible tampering with your accounts — get your credit report. It's free from annualcreditreport.com or 1-877-322-8228.
Credit card companies, lenders, financial institutions, landlords, utilities and others may offer help to people affected by disasters. Contact them, and ask for help. They may be willing to: defer your payments or offer extended repayment plans; extend grace periods; waive late fees; raise your credit limit; refrain from reporting delinquency; and postpone collection, repossessions and foreclosures. For example:
- Ask your creditors for short-term loans for living expenses, increases in your credit limits, or cash advance limits until you get insurance or disaster relief funds.
- If you applied for funds to make repairs on your property, ask your home insurance or mortgage company about the status. If your application hasn't yet been approved, ask if the company needs any more information to finish the process. If your application has been approved, find out how much money can be released — and when — so you can begin to make the necessary repairs. Find out what you and your contractor must do during the repairs to be sure further payments — and the repairs — stay on schedule. If your property is so severely damaged that you believe repairs cannot be made, ask if any available home insurance funds can be used to pay off your mortgage. You should receive any home insurance funds that remain after paying off your mortgage, as well as any other insurance funds that cover your personal property. Your mortgage loan and insurance contract likely spell out the process.
- Contact your utility companies, including your wireless phone services and financial institutions to make sure they know you have lost your belongings in the disaster. When you call, ask them to waive their fees and allow you to defer your payments, or put you on a different payment schedule.
- Contact your financial institutions. Ask them to waive ATM fees, overdraft fees and their reporting on your overdrafts to the credit reporting companies. Ask them to waive any penalties on early withdrawal of certificates of deposit.
- Contact your credit card companies. If possible, change your billing address to your temporary address. Ask if you can defer or skip some payments in the short-term, and for a different payment schedule in the long term. Ask to waive late fees, over-limit and other fees and any increased interest rates. If you need an increased credit limit or cash advance limit, ask for it. And ask them to waive reporting any delinquency to the credit reporting companies.
- For your mortgage, auto or other loans or leases: ask to defer your payments for several months. Some companies may permit mortgage payment reductions or extended deferred payments. You may want to ask to waive any late fees and any reporting of delinquencies to the credit reporting companies, and ask for an extension on your loan to reduce or defer your payments until you are back on more solid financial footing. You also can ask to avoid any prepayment penalties if you pay off your mortgage early due to the emergency.
Of course, asking for a fee waiver or change in the terms and conditions of your account doesn't guarantee that a company will agree to it. Company policies and legal obligations can vary. Some companies have information available on their websites; others require you to contact them by telephone.
If it will take several months before you can make payments, you may want to be in touch with a credit counselor.
It’s important to replace any legal documents that have been damaged or lost. Among those documents that should be replaced — and the contacts — are:
- Deeds and recorded real estate documents: County’s Recorder of Deeds
- Mortgages and other credit: Lender or financial company
- Leases: Landlord or financial company
- Insurance policies: Insurance company/agent
- Wills: Attorney. If the will is destroyed, you’ll need another.
- Checks/Savings documents/Investment materials: Bank, investment company, or your broker.
- Auto Title/Driver’s License: Secretary of State or Department of Motor Vehicles
- Birth Certificate: Vital Statistics Office from county where you were born.
- Social Security Card: local Social Security Administration Office
- Tax Returns: IRS Center
- Other important documents, like contracts or divorce judgments: Attorney or the court