When you think of financial preparedness, do you immediately think about your emergency savings fund? While having emergency savings is absolutely essential, that’s just one small part of what’s required to make sure your money is truly prepared for a disaster.
For example, are you prepared:
- for what happens if you can’t access a physical bank?
- to exit your home quickly with all of your medical, insurance, and personal paperwork?
- to provide documentation of everything in your home as part of an insurance claim?
- to avoid damage to your credit if you can’t pay your bills following a disaster?
Another way to check your financial preparedness is to walk through your common daily tasks. For financial prep, you should extend this exercise to weekly and monthly tasks as well. Pull up your calendar and take a look at your past tasks and appointments. If you left the home in a hurry, would you have everything you need to do each of those things?
Believe it or not, these are all things you can prepare for well ahead of time. With some advanced planning, you can make it through a disaster feeling (relatively) financially secure and with your credit intact. If you haven’t done a full preparedness audit on your finances recently, these are a few things you should do as soon as possible.
Go Paperless (for Everything)
At any given time, you should have the confidence of knowing your entire home could disappear and you would have access to all of the documentation you need for everything. That means you should:
Receive all bills via email. Email-only is better for the environment, but at the very least you should have access to copies of your paper bills online.
Pay all bills online. Even if you prefer to pay your bills by mail, you should set up your online account and go through the steps required to pay your bill digitally at least once. Online platforms frequently require some setup that can take a few days to authenticate, so you cannot wait until after an emergency to get your account set up.
Have copies of all important paperwork stored on the cloud. Google Drive, iCloud and Dropbox all offer at least some storage capacity for free. You don’t need to go through the trouble of using a scanner — you can simply take photos of your documents and upload .jpg files. Alternatively, you can download an app like CamScanner or Genius Scan, which allows you to take cell phone photos of documents and convert them to PDFs.
Have photos of all of your valuables stored on the cloud. Check your insurance’s claim filing requirements, then document everything you would want to be reimbursed for in case you lost your home. Keep these photos organized in a folder on the cloud. Be sure to include model and serial numbers.
Set Up Mobile Banking
In the same way that you shouldn’t be relying on paper bills and documents, you shouldn’t rely on having access to your physical bank or mailed paperwork. Make sure that you:
- Have your bank’s mobile app downloaded and your account set up. Be sure you’ve performed any necessary authentication processes. If you need your bank to be connected to another account or card, set that up in advance — typically this requires a few days to verify.
- Make sure you can make mobile check deposits. While you can’t rely on paper checks, you may receive them while away from your physical bank location. Be sure your mobile banking app allows you to deposit checks from your phone.
- Set up direct deposit. If you’re employed and receive checks in person or via mail, set up direct deposit in case you need to evacuate and can continue working remotely. Even if your job is not remote-compatible, you may need to evacuate before receiving your final paycheck and will want it to be deposited directly.
- Make sure you have a current debit card. If you don’t regularly use a debit card, you may not realize it when your debit card expires. If you need to evacuate, a debit card will ensure you have emergency access to cash via any ATM.
Prepare for Emergency Bill Pay
When an emergency strikes, your bills won’t automatically pause themselves. However, in many cases you can contact your creditors and request that they be paused without any penalties. The key here is that you must proactively request this assistance. (For example, the CARES Act included provisions to help those financially impacted by coronavirus, but none were automatic — users needed to contact their creditors directly.) If you don’t, your unpaid bills will continue to accrue interest and late fees.
- Put your bills on auto-pay. If a disaster strikes and you are able to pay your bills, you should still anticipate the stress of the emergency impacting your ability to remember due dates and keep your filing systems organized. Put your bills on auto-pay so that you don’t accrue unnecessary fees.
- Document all of your creditors’ information in one place. If you do need to contact your creditors about emergency assistance, you’ll want to have all of that information in one place to simplify the process. If you’re overwhelmed by the effects of a disaster, something simple like making a handful of calls can feel insurmountable if you need to remember who you need to call and track down each number first. Having this information centralized will be incredibly valuable.
If you prep these things ahead of time, the aftermath of a disaster will be much easier to endure. When your body is filled with adrenaline, making decisions will be difficult but following sets of instructions left for yourself will be simple. The more you can streamline your emergency plan, the easier it will be to follow!
If you want more information on what to do financially after an emergency, you can check out the full guide where the graphics above originally appeared.