Tip Content Provided By: Financial Finesse
I’ll never forget the first day I saw the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It looked like something out of a sci-fi movie — homes smashed together like accordions and cars upside down throughout the streets. Not only were the cars upside down, but a lot of the people I talked to felt like their lives were also turned upside down. They all said that they were initially shell shocked, not sure what to do. I can only imagine.
If you find yourself in a similar situation after one of our recent natural disasters, consider using financial toolkits like the one on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s website to map out a game plan. Beyond that, here are 5 steps you can take to begin the process of getting your life turned right side up again:
1. As soon as you can, contact any of the following organizations for assistance:
- FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) — They can provide the latest information and resources specific to your area.
- Call 2-1-1 — This is a free service offered by the United Way to help people find local resources. They can provide information about shelter and housing options along with utility assistance and disaster relief support.
- Your local chapter of the Red Cross — They can help you find shelter, and in some cases, aid and vouchers.
- Local places of worship — When I volunteered after Hurricane Katrina, my group (I went with my local church) went to other local places of worship to find out who had contacted them for help. We divided up the assignments by skill set and availability, then attempted to help everyone on the list. We helped with everything from cleanup and moving people’s possessions to actually repairing homes (this may vary depending on the volunteer skill level.)
- Disaster Assistance Improvement Program — You can use this website to see if your area has been declared eligible for individual assistance.
2. Contact your insurance company. Verify your coverage and if you do not already have a copy of your policy, ask for an electronic copy. Consider taking pictures and videos of any damages before you start cleanup to document any claims you are making. Use the Insurance Information Institute website to walk you through how to settle an insurance claim.
3. Contact your creditors. Even if you think you have it financially together, contact ALL of your creditors and inform them that you have been affected by a natural disaster. At a minimum, they will have it on record, so if you run into problems, you’re good to go. The key is to contact them BEFORE you miss a payment. If your income has been impacted, you can ask your creditors to work with you.
4. Beware of scammers and verify everything before working with a contractor. I was blown away by the amount of contractors going door to door offering their services (for a fee) during my volunteer time after Hurricane Katrina. Many were honest, but a few were scammers. Before agreeing to any type of work, get everything in writing and do not pay in cash and do not pay up front. Make sure you go online to read reviews of your potential contractor. And before you just sign up with someone who knocks on your door, try asking for referrals for local contractors, preferably one that has already worked with someone in your area.
5. Take care of yourself. You and your family have been through major trauma. If you are struggling to sleep or feel yourself slipping into depression, contact your company’s Employee Assistance Program for guidance. Don’t forget to talk to your kids — oftentimes they may need your help to express how they are feeling. Be patient; tempers may be shorter than average and your kids may be extra clingy. As you contact organizations for relief, consider also asking for counseling for you and your family, if needed.
Remember, recovering from a natural disaster takes time and often persistence. Consider using the steps above as a guide to get on the path to recovery.
Have a financial question? Send it to Ask Financial Finesse.