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4 Financial Steps to Take After a Natural Disaster

Leslie Tayne

As unfortunate as they may be, natural disasters do occur. In the event you're affected by a catastrophic storm or other natural tragedy, you may find yourself struggling to keep track of your finances. Thankfully, there are some steps you can take to smoothly return to financial stability after a natural disaster.

1. Get Your Insurance in Order

In the event of a natural disaster, the possibility of having your property damaged is very real. Whether it's your car or home, you're going to want to make sure your major possessions are covered. Contacting your insurance provider promptly after the storm has passed might help to expedite the process and give you some peace of mind.

When speaking with your insurer, it might be in your best interest to request a physical copy of your policy (providing you don't have one on hand already). This can help you verify your coverage and ensure you're getting the proper amount of assistance. Additionally, you may want to avoid signing any document or letter from your insurance company that indicates a final interaction or payment. Damages from disasters can appear over a period of weeks or months, so it might be best to hedge your bet.

2. Assess Your Financial Standing

Natural disasters can bring about all sorts of financial complications, so take some time to assess your financial standing. Go over your bills and set priorities so you can manage your fiscal responsibilities while money is tight. This can be especially helpful if your income is interrupted and you think you're going to have issues paying credit cards or other loans.

One way you can start your assessment is by outlining your necessary expenses. Things like mortgage/rent, insurance payments and basic necessities (food, water and other utilities) will probably rank high on your list. Once that's determined, you can start cutting back on less important expenditures (cable TV, home internet, subscription services, etc.). If you're concerned you might not be able to make payments on credit cards or other loans, contact your lenders and explain your situation. You may be able to negotiate a temporary payment plan or grace period, providing you notify them quickly and can give a date for when you think you should be able to make normal payments again.

Missed payments are not uncommon after a natural disaster strikes, as affected consumers have many more things on their mind than they normally do. Unfortunately, a missed payment can make a major impact on your credit. You can monitor your credit regularly to catch any damage the disaster may have subsequently caused your credit score by pulling your free annual credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com and checking your score for free each month on Credit.com.

3. Apply for Disaster Assistance

If you find yourself within a presidentially declared disaster area, you might qualify for federally funded disaster assistance. To find out, check with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) by visiting its website at Fema.gov. As with insurance, the sooner you contact them, the better.

You may also want to consider soliciting the services of a case manager from a nonprofit agency like the American Red Cross for extra assistance. These folks can provide a variety of services to help make the recovery process a little less stressful. They can keep you updated on your assistance status, advocate for you as you go through the recovery process, and can provide you with helpful information and resources.

4. Start the Rebuilding Process

Chances are a natural disaster will force you to use up a lot, if not all, of your emergency savings. Having an emergency fund can be monumentally helpful in maintaining financial stability, so it might be in your best interest to build it back up as soon as possible. While it might be difficult at first, setting reasonable, consistent savings goals can help you restore your emergency fund in no time.

One way you can help expedite the rebuilding process is by discovering ways to boost your cash flow. Ideally, you'd want to find a little side job that, while not taking up too much of your time, can provide some extra cash. Additionally, diligently and consistently tracking your expenses can help you uncover a variety of new opportunities to save more money.

Once you've finally found firm footing again, you might want to start preparing financially for the next big storm. While it might be hard to imagine enduring another disaster, conventional wisdom tends to suggest that it's better to be safe than sorry. Taking the time to plan ahead could do a lot to prevent further stress and financial hardship.

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