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FDIC Consumer News - Summer 2018
25th Anniversary Edition

[2006] Fires, Floods and Other Misfortunes: Are You Prepared Financially?

Excerpted and updated from “Fires, Floods and Other Misfortunes: Are You Prepared Financially?” Winter 2005/2006

Natural or man-made disasters strike without warning and can happen to anyone. They can also seriously impair victims' ability to conduct essential financial transactions. If you had only a few moments to evacuate your home — and were away for several days or even weeks — would you have access to cash, banking services and the personal identification you need to conduct your day-to-day financial life? Here are some tips from the FDIC.

What to Have Ready

Forms of identification: These primarily include driver's licenses (or state ID cards for non-drivers), insurance cards, Social Security cards, passports and birth certificates. These documents will be crucial if you or your family needs to rebuild lost records or otherwise prove to a government agency, a bank or other business that you are who you claim to be. It's best to have the originals, but it's also important to have photocopies in case originals are misplaced or destroyed.

Your checkbook with enough blank checks and deposit slips to last a month or so: Even if you rarely or never write checks, at least consider having a copy of a check or your checking account number handy because, in an emergency, you can authorize an important payment by providing your checking account number over the phone.

Automated teller machine (ATM) cards, debit cards (for use at ATMs and merchants) and credit cards: These cards give you access to cash and the ability to make payments on outstanding bills. Most ATM and debit cards require personal identification numbers (PINs), so make sure you know those numbers. Don't write your PINs on or near your cards in case they are lost or stolen.

Cash: The amount you should have available will depend on several factors, including the number of people in your family and your ability to use ATM, debit and credit cards to get more cash or make purchases. But remember that cash in your house or wallet and not in your bank account can easily be lost or stolen.

Phone numbers for your financial services providers: These include local and toll-free numbers for your bank, credit card companies, brokerage firms (for stocks, bonds or mutual funds) and insurance companies. Why? You may need to defer a payment, replace lost cards or documents, open new accounts or otherwise request assistance.

Important account numbers: These include bank and brokerage account numbers, credit card numbers and homeowner's or renter's insurance policy numbers.

The key to your safe deposit box: You can't get into your safe deposit box at the bank without your key, no matter how many forms of identification you have. Also, while many banks issue two keys when a box is rented, simply giving someone else a key doesn't allow that person access to a box in an emergency. He or she also must be designated in the bank's records as someone who has access to your box. Contact your bank about the proper arrangements.

What to Keep Where

Determine what to keep at home and what to store in a safe deposit box at your bank. A safe deposit box is best for protecting certain papers that could be difficult or impossible to replace (such as birth certificates and originals of important contracts) but not anything you might need to access quickly. For example, your passport and medical-care directives may be better left safely at home because you might need these on short notice. Consult your attorney for advice on the best place to store your will.

Seal the most important original documents in airtight and waterproof plastic bags or containers to prevent water damage. Be aware that safe deposit boxes are water resistant, not waterproof.

Prepare one or more emergency evacuation bags. Most of what you're likely to pack inside will be related to personal safety, but also keep some essential financial items and documents there, such as cash, checks, copies of your credit cards and identification cards, and a key to your safe deposit box. Make sure each evacuation bag is waterproof and easy to carry, and that it's kept in a secure place at home.

What Else to Consider

Arrange for automatic bill payments from your bank account. This service enables you to make scheduled payments for your phone bill, insurance premiums, loan payments and other essential bills.

Review your insurance coverage. Make sure you have enough insurance to cover the cost to replace or repair your home, car and other valuable property.