If disaster strikes your family, you don’t want to be left without access to money or credit cards. Experts say to take these steps before hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes, tornadoes or other natural disasters hit:
- Keep some cash handy.
- List account numbers, institution phone numbers.
- Flood-proof important papers.
- Use cellphone and email as backup record-keepers.
- Create a fire-safe records box.
- Spread the wealth.
- Set aside emergency-only credit card.
- Inform credit card issuers in advance, if possible.
(Download a printer-friendly PDF version of this pre-disaster financial checklist).
Keep some cash handy.
Have some emergency cash or travelers checks set aside in a safe, secure place. How much you need depends on your family’s circumstances, but a few hundred dollars may be a good start. It should be easily accessible. Remember that banks and ATMs may be inaccessible if there are power outages, curfews or mandatory evacuations. Be careful with that cash, and put it back in the bank once the danger passes, because if it’s lost or stolen, your homeowners insurance policy will cover only a limited amount.
List account numbers, institution phone numbers.
Keep a log of account numbers and toll-free telephone numbers for all of your banks, credit unions and lending institutions for credit cards and mortgage and car loans. You can make photocopies of the front and back of the cards or type up a list and e-mail it to yourself. This information should be kept in a secure but accessible place. The Federal Trade Commission has more tips to help keep financial documents up to date and portable for emergencies.
Use cellphone and email as backup record-keepers.
Save the toll-free telephone numbers to your credit card issuers in your cellphone contact list or email the list to yourself in an encrypted, password-protected file. If cards are lost or stolen, you will be able to quickly alert credit card companies. But beware: Cellphones and Internet access may be limited or completely shut down following a disaster — as may your ability to recharge your phone. Don’t make them your only recourse for retrieving your information.
Create a fire-safe records box.
Place important financial documents in a fire-safe box, but keep in mind that if mandatory evacuations are ordered and your neighborhood is inaccessible for any reason, you may not be able to get to the box.
Set aside emergency-only credit card.
Designate one credit card for emergency use only. It should have enough available credit to accommodate purchases of food and supplies for a week or more. Making purchases on a credit card will help you document disaster-related expenses, which may be reimbursed by your insurance company or other assistance program. If you don’t use this card very often, you may want to call the credit card issuer and let them know you will be using the card. Making several large purchases on a card that has been inactive or suddenly making transactions in a location away from your home may trigger a fraud alert and a freeze on the account.
Inform card issuers in advance, if possible.
Call the credit card issuers and alert them that you may be inaccessible and give them alternative numbers where you can be reached. Ask about your available credit limit and if you can increase it during the crisis, have late fees and finance charges waived temporarily or work out alternative payment plans.