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How to Organize Your Finances in Times of Disaster

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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 personal and financial documents are up to date, in one place, and portable can make a big difference at a tense time. Learn how to identify and organize important papers before a disaster strikes. Here are some steps to help you get started.

Conduct a Household Inventory

Make a list of your physical possessions. Document them with photos or a video. This can help if you have to file insurance claims. Then gather your inventory, along with other important documents and information, such as:

  • Social Security cards, health insurance cards, and a list of current prescriptions
  • insurance policy numbers and contact information for those companies
  • copies of important financial and family records, including deeds, titles, wills, birth, adoption, and marriage certificates, passports, military records, and employee benefit and retirement documents. NOTE: Except for wills, keep originals in a safe deposit box or at some other location. If you have a will, ask your attorney to keep the original.
  • ownership records for your home, cars, RVs, or boats
  • contact information for your creditors
  • a list of bank, loan, credit card, mortgage, debit and ATM, and investment account numbers
  • backups of the financial information you keep on your computer
  • information on your pets: medical, prescription and vaccination records, along with current photos and ID chip numbers, in case you’re separated

Keep It Safe and Accessible

Keep your information safe, using a combination of available options:

Buy a lockable, fireproof file box. Put important documents in the box; keep it in a secure, accessible location in your home so you can “grab it and go.” Include some cash, since ATMs or banks may be closed, an extra set of keys for your house and car, and the key to your safe deposit box, if you have one.

Rent a safe deposit box. Think about renting a safe deposit box to store important documents.

Take advantage of technology.  Technology offers tools to protect your important documents. It also can make it easier to get to your records when you need to, and more convenient to update them.

  • Online bill-pay. Paying your bills online lets you stay current, even if you can’t get mail and don’t have your checkbook. Contact your bank for more information.
  • Personal cloud storage. Online storage is available for 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 a thumb drive, 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. You might also want to keep a copy 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 let you store your usernames and passwords. You have to remember only one master password to access the list.

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.

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.

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