After a natural disaster, it takes time to reconstruct and recover what was lost. Some of your recovery efforts can wait until you're completely on your feet and resettled. But the one area in which recovery can and should begin, whatever your current situation, is your financial life. You'll want to begin to access your bank accounts and credit lines, and prevent harm to your finances and credit report. The information in this article will help you get back on your feet economically in these special circumstances.
Steps to take right away
A hurricane may have forced you to evacuate without IDs, checks, credit and debit cards, and other documents needed to conduct your everyday finances. If you've lost important documents, you'll want to get started replacing them as soon as possible.
- Replace your driver's license, credit cards, and ATM cards. If you've lost your license or ID as the result of a natural disaster, you can go to your state's department of motor vehicles and get a replacement license or ID card. For information to help you identify and contact your state's department of motor vehicle services, you can visit the USA.gov Driver's License site. Get in touch with your bank to replace your lost credit and ATM cards.
- Replace automobile ownership documents. You can get a reissued vehicle title or registration from your state's department of motor vehicle services. For contact information visit the USA.gov Motor Vehicles site.
- Replace your mortgage papers or deed. Contact the bank or mortgage company to which you send your monthly mortgage payment. For deed information, contact your local government. Contact information can be found by visiting the USA.gov Local Government site.
- Check to be sure all the electronic processes your bank accounts are still operating. Are your paychecks being direct-deposited? Are your bills or other payments still being made electronically on a regular basis?
- Guard against identity theft. If you've been separated from vital documents that confirm your identity, then you may have reason to be concerned about identity theft if those articles fall into the wrong hands. Consider placing a fraud alert or credit freeze on your credit file. Contact the Federal Trade Commission for more information. You may also want to get a copy of your credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com.
Immediate and long-term cash needs
You'll need cash on hand for your immediate day-to-day basics, and also for the long-term expenses of rebuilding your life. Disaster assistance is available to individuals, families, and businesses to help with critical expenses that cannot be covered in other ways, like through your insurance.
- Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) - You can apply for immediate disaster assistance by calling (800) 621-3362 (TTY (800) 462-7585) or by applying online at DisasterAssistance.gov.
- Your Service branch's relief society - The Army Emergency Relief, Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society and Air Force Aid Society can provide emergency loans to service members and their families.
- Disaster loans - The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers low-interest loans to eligible individuals and businesses to repair or replace damaged property and personal belongings not covered by insurance. You can apply for these loans by contacting FEMA.
- Your insurer - Contact your homeowners' insurance company to see if they will pay for temporary shelter or other needs. Many insurers provide emergency funds as advances against their insured's final settlements.
- Wire transfers - Family and friends in other locations can wire funds to you. Some money transfer services reduce fees for money transfers to areas affected by a natural disaster.
- Your credit card - Look into your options for cash advances on your credit card, but be aware that the interest rate on this type of advance may be very high. It's worth a call to your credit card issuer to see if there might be an interest rate reduction, given your situation.
- Social Security benefits - If you receive or are entitled to Social Security benefits, contact the Social Security Administration for instructions. To find the nearest open Social Security office, visit the Social Security Office Locator. If you experience any difficulty in getting a Social Security payment, you can go to any open Social Security Office and request an emergency payment.
Missed payments and bills in the next few months
Right now your regular loan payments are probably the last thing you want to think about. However, in most cases you are still responsible for these payments. Here's what you should know and do to keep bills from piling up and to protect your credit rating:
- Mortgages loans can probably be deferred for several months. Many institutional lenders provide relief on monthly payments for the survivors of natural disasters. Mortgage bankers are likely to re-evaluate their policies periodically for appropriateness in view of the progress of disaster recovery. Contact the institution that you've been sending payments to and let them know about your situation.
- Automobile financing deferrals are also available. If you have a vehicle loan through the financing arm of an automobile company, check with them to see if they'll defer payments. It's important that you contact your finance company soon, because you may have to register for this benefit within a limited time period.
- Communicate with your creditors and service providers. Contact your creditors, including credit card issuers and utility companies, and insurance providers, as soon as you can. Let them know if you will be unable to make payments due to a natural disaster. Many can put programs in place to defer payments, waive late fees, or raise credit limits temporarily while you get back on your feet.
- Cancel or suspend services that you're not using. If you have been displaced from your home, notify your utilities, telephone, cable, and other service companies so they can stop billing immediately.
Your long-term financial recovery
Even after you've settled once again into a regular daily routine, it's likely to take several more months before you're able to become and stay up-to-date on your bills and obligations. Here are steps you can take to avoid problems:
- Review your taxes. Special tax provisions may help taxpayers recover financially. To find out about any federal tax breaks that may be available to you, visit the IRS Tax Relief in Disaster Situations site.
- Review your credit report. Make a note on your calendar several months from now to check your credit report. If you've already received, within the past twelve months, a free copy of your credit report from one of the three major credit reporting bureaus, you can obtain a free copy from one of the other bureaus.
- Communicate with your creditors. Creditors may continue to be willing to make accommodations for natural disaster survivors.
- Prioritize your bills. Your essential bills, like your rent or mortgage, utilities, insurance premiums, and vehicle payments are all examples of bills that should be made a priority.
- Get financial and tax advice. If you find your financial obligations to be overwhelming, it's a good idea to seek professional advice. Contact Military OneSource or your installation's Family Support Center to talk with a financial counselor.
You've been through a life-changing event and it will likely take a long time to recover. You may find yourself in circumstances that you never before dreamed you'd be in. As you move forward, it's important to guard against despair so that you can meet new challenges with the energy they require. Remember that there are many sources of help available to you. Don't hesitate to call on them.