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Consumer
Financial tips to weather the storm
MADISON, Wis. (8/31/12)--If you're in a flood-ravaged community, develop a plan and be familiar with the many resources available to you.

The Treasury Department's Office of Financial Education offers these tips, compiled from a variety of organizations including American Red Cross, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Federal Trade Commission, Internal Revenue Service, and the National Credit Union Administration:

  • Assess the damage. If it's safe to enter the house, make a list and take photographs of damaged items. If possible, gather receipts for affected items.

  • Contact your insurance company. Notify your agent of any loss and ask about making emergency repairs. If you're unable to live in your house, ask if you're eligible for living expenses for motel and food. When dealing with the claims adjuster, take notes in case you need to appeal a settlement offer.
  • Apply for federal government assistance. Register through FEMA at 800-621-3362 or fema.gov. Search federal disaster declarations by state at fema.gov/disasters.
  • Check with the Small Business Adminstration (SBA). As a homeowner, renter, and/or personal-property owner, you may apply to the SBA for a loan to help you recover from a disaster--even if you don't own a business. Call 800-659-2955 or visit sba.gov/services/disasterassistance.
  • Contact creditors. If your employment is disrupted, ask creditors if they will defer loan payments, waive late fees, or temporarily raise your credit limit. To help identify creditors, order your free credit reports at 877-322-8228 or visit annualcreditreport.com.
  • Take stock of your credit cards. If you cannot locate them, call the issuers immediately to report them missing. Be cautious when using them--you may not have the means to repay large balances in the near future. Remember that cash advances typically have higher interest rates than purchases.

  • Avoid scams. Be suspicious of door-to-door contractors asking for work. Get at least three estimates from licensed, bonded contractors and check complaint histories with the Better Business Bureau at bbb.org. Ask for and check references, and never pay the full amount up front. A common practice is to pay no more than 30% initially, with the final payment after the job is done satisfactorily. Get a permit for any work that requires one.
  • Create a budget for the weeks and months ahead. Free food, clothing and furniture may be available from agencies providing relief.

  • Conduct finances online. Use online banking to continue to pay bills and to manage and monitor your accounts.
  • Seek help from online resources. Valuable information and advice about recovering from a flood is available from: American Red Cross; FEMA; and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Use the resource links.
For related information, read "Avoid Buying a Flood-Damaged Used Car" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.
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