Friday, December 03, 2010

Money and disasters: What to know to be ready to go

If you had to run out the door right now with only what’s in your purse or wallet to keep you going for the next few weeks or months, how would you do? Would you have enough cash to get by if your ATM card or credit cards didn’t work? Would you be able to access your financial information online without your passwords or account numbers?

In the event of a disaster or emergency, it’s important to think about not only the safety of yourself, your family and your property, but also your ability to access financial information. Chances are, though, you may not have time to look for your checkbook (if you even have one) or make copies of your records. That’s why you should organize your financial information beforehand. Some of the most important things you can do to prepare yourself for an emergency are to gather these important items in a safe, secure place:

• Forms of identification: If you have to evacuate, make sure you have your driver's license, insurance card, Social Security card, passport and birth certificate. Such documents will be crucial if you or your family need to rebuild lost records or otherwise prove to a government agency, a bank or other business that you are who you claim to be.

• Cash: In times of disaster, ATMs and banks can be affected, and many times ATMs may not be functioning, especially if there is widespread power loss. So it’s important to have some cash stored away in a safe place.

• ATM cards, debit cards and credit cards: If ATMs and electronic payment systems are working during a disaster, these cards can give you access to cash and help you pay your bills — or buy food, gas and shelter. ATM and credit cards usually require personal identification numbers, so make sure you know those numbers even in times of high stress.

• Important account numbers: Also key to bring with you are important account numbers, including bank and brokerage account numbers, credit card numbers and homeowner's or renter's insurance policy numbers. It’s also a good idea to copy the front and back of your credit cards. If you have phone numbers for customer service on your accounts, make a copy of those as well.

After you've gathered your most important financial items and documents and made backup copies, put them in a safe, secure place that you can easily access in a hurry. Consider giving copies to trusted friends or family, or at least let them know where to find your records in an emergency.

Knowing what’s in your wallet — and ensuring access to important personal and financial information — could save you a bundle of worries should disaster strike.

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