FDIC Consumer News - Summer 2016
Preparing Your Finances for a Flood, Fire or Other Disaster: Having a Plan
Photo: Federal Emergency Management Agency
Without warning, a flood, fire or other disaster could leave you with a severely damaged home, destroyed belongings and barriers to managing your finances.
Many people think of disaster preparedness as having a stockpile of water, canned food, and flashlights, but people also need access to cash and financial services. That’s why it is important to include financial preparedness in your disaster plans. Here is our latest summary of important preparations.
Periodically review your insurance coverage. You should have enough insurance to cover the cost to replace or repair your home, car and other valuable property, as well as temporary housing if you are displaced from your home. Those who do not own a home should have renters insurance. Also, make sure that you have the right kind of coverage for the types of disasters likely to occur in your area. For example, homeowner’s insurance does not typically cover events such as flooding or earthquakes, so you may want to consider whether you need additional coverage.
Build and maintain an emergency savings fund. While your personal hazard insurance should cover most or all of the damage to your home and property, an emergency savings fund deposited in an insured financial institution can provide for immediate expenses and help fill the gaps.
Sign up for direct deposit of your paycheck or government benefits. “In a disaster, taking care of simple things like depositing a check can be overwhelming,” said Surge Sen, chief of the Supervisory Policy Section in the FDIC’s Division of Depositor and Consumer Protection. “Direct deposit will help you avoid missing out on important income during a disaster.”
Consider arranging for online and/or mobile banking. Your bank branch may be temporarily inaccessible after a disaster. Most bank accounts enable you to pay bills online and deposit checks and conduct other transactions using your smartphone or other mobile device. (See How Do You Deposit a Check with Your Smartphone or Tablet?)
Gather and organize important documentation. Here are suggestions for what to collect, followed by where to keep these items:
- A list of phone numbers, web addresses and other contact information for your bank, brokerage firms and insurance companies.
- Originals and copies of identification documents such as your driver’s license, passport, Social Security card and birth certificate. These will be helpful if you have to prove you are who you say you are. While it is best to have originals, it is important to have copies in case the originals are lost or destroyed.
- Copies of credit and debit cards (front and back) and a check (front). During an emergency, you may need your account information from these documents to authorize payments over the phone.
- Originals and copies of insurance cards and documentation of health, homeowner/renter, auto and life insurance coverage.
- An inventory of valuable personal property. “It’s fairly easy to take a video of your property, but you should also separately document the value of the items by keeping receipts, written appraisals, and documentation of any home improvements,” Sen noted.
- Records of property ownership, such as a copy of your most recent property tax bill.
Think about what to keep where. The following are options to consider.
- Digital storage: Many documents can be kept electronically. When deciding which documents to keep electronically, security and access are major considerations. Among other things, consider whether and how to access the documents using your smartphone or a computer. Be sure to encrypt the sensitive material and set your phone security to require a PIN, a password, your thumbprint or another option recommended by your phone manufacturer to unlock your screen.
- A safe deposit box at your bank: This may be the best place for important documents that will be difficult or impossible to replace, and that you won’t need to access. In case there’s a flood or other water damage, seal these items in waterproof plastic bags or containers. Some states do not allow immediate access to a safe deposit box after death, so talk to a lawyer before deciding whether to leave your original will in your safe deposit box.
- A waterproof emergency evacuation bag: In addition to personal safety items, it should include copies of some of the important documents discussed above (except perhaps a copy of your Social Security card or number in case your bag is lost or stolen) and a small amount of cash (large amounts of cash are better off in your FDIC-insured bank account). Keep your evacuation bag in a safe and secure place in your home.
For more information, including how to assemble a preparedness kit to grab and go if you had only a few moments to evacuate your home, read tips from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.