Tens of thousands of families and individuals are picking up the pieces after losing nearly everything during the 2017 hurricane season.
Harvey and Irma’s paths of devastation and destruction will have a lasting impact on the neighborhoods, communities, and cities they hit. For many, it will take years to rebuild their lives. Some may never fully recover.
Unfortunately, disasters -- natural or otherwise -- can strike at any time. Consider the forest fires raging on the west coast this year and past floods, tornados and winter storms. All can wipe out homes and lives in an instant.
When all you have are the clothes on your back, trying to rebuild your finances may seem impossible. But there are tips and strategies that will help you recover financially more quickly.
1. Cancel and prioritize: The American Red Cross recommends ending any unnecessary expenses. If you can’t live in your house, for instance, you don’t need power, water or service for your land line. Contact utility companies as soon as possible so they stop charging you for services you can’t use. Then, prioritize your bills based on what you can afford. The Red Cross says your top priorities should be paying your insurance premiums and rent or mortgage -- even if you can’t live in your home.
2. Contact your creditors: Don’t wait on this one, says the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Contact your lenders as soon as possible and explain your situation and when you think you’ll be able to resume normal payments, the federal agency says. “Most creditors will try to find a way to work with you,” according to the agency’s website. “The important thing is to make the call before your next payments are due. Late or missing payments could damage your credit score at a time when you need access to credit most.”
3. Find out if you qualify for any federal assistance: You could be eligible for federal assistance if your home is in a declared disaster area. DisasterAssistance.gov lets you simply enter your address to find out if you qualify. If you do, you can apply for help online.
4. Don’t be a victim -- again: You’ve already lost everything in a disaster. Now, scam artists are after what little you have left. Common scams after a natural disaster include “unscrupulous operators who persuade disaster fraud victims to claim more damages than actually occurred, contractors who collect money to repair damaged property but never complete the work and homeowners who increase damage estimates for personal gain,” according to the FBI. AARP offers more tips to avoid these con artists.
5. Recover your paperwork: You may have left your home with literally nothing. And now, you need your driver’s license or passport, marriage certificate or divorce decree to rebuild your life and finances. USA.gov offers detailed information about how to replace vital documents. To avoid losing them in the next disaster, keep those documents safe by securing them in a fireproof lock box, safe, safety deposit box or even a three-ring binder with plastic sleeves, which you can grab quickly on your way out the door.
The 2017 hurricane season reminded all of us of a few things: Natural disasters can be brutal, life-shaping events. It is, however, possible to take control and recover financially as you try to get your life back on track.
Consumer Education Services, Inc. (CESI) is a non-profit committed to empowering and inspiring consumers nationwide to make wise financial decisions and live debt free. Speak with a certified counselor for a free debt analysis today
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