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Checklist to rebuild your finances

Americans up and down the East Coast are still coping with the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. Power outages, food shortages, and long lines at the gas pump are affecting millions of families.

In the days following a disaster of this magnitude, your first priorities are the safety of you and your family, and meeting your day-to-day needs. But as help arrives and rebuilding begins, it is important to take smart and decisive steps to start putting your life back together.

The checklist below will help guide you through some of the financial decisions you will need to make in the coming weeks.

As soon as possible

  •  If your home, car or property was damaged by the storm, contact your insurance company to start the claims process.
  • Ask for a copy of your insurance policy if you don’t have one available. It will help you verify your coverage.
  • Damage to your home does not stop your responsibility to pay your mortgage. However, many mortgage servicers have been told they can help homeowners affected by the storm. So you should contact your mortgage servicer and tell them about your situation.
  • If you don’t have a monthly mortgage statement or coupon book with you, search the Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (MERS) or call them toll-free at (888) 679-6377 to find the company that services your mortgage.
  • Take a look at your income and savings and determine how much money you have available to pay bills and creditors.
  • If your income is interrupted and you don’t think you will be able to pay your credit cards or other loans, be sure to contact your lenders as soon as possible. Explain your situation and when you think you will be able to resume normal payments. The important thing is to make the calls before your next payments are due.
  • If you are in a presidentially declared disaster area, you may qualify for disaster assistance . Check with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for more information.
  • If your home is damaged to the point that you can’t live in it, contact your utility companies and ask to suspend your service. This could help free up money in your budget for other expenses
  • Take a look at your bills and set priorities. Your mortgage, rent and insurance payments should stay high on your list.

As you rebuild

  • Be careful if you choose to hire a public adjuster to help with your insurance claim. Be sure the adjuster is licensed to do business in your state . Also watch out for these red flags:
    • Big upfront fees. Don’t pay a lot before you know if the adjuster is going to help you. Many states put a limit on fees.
    • References to contractors who can help. Dishonest adjusters will sometimes work with contractors that give them kickbacks.
    • False or inflated claims. This is fraud against the insurance company.
    • Asks for a suspicious amount of personal information. Some con artists may pose as adjusters to steal your personal information.
  • Get bids from several local, established contractors. And avoid contractors who:
    • Are working door to door
    • Come from out of state
    • Don’t provide an address and phone number, or refuse to show identification
  • Ask if the contractor has the required licenses, and get license numbers.
  • Check with your state licensing agency’s website or hotline to make sure the licenses are valid.
  • Ask the licensing agencies if the contractor has a history of complaints.

Contractor don’ts

  • Don’t pay in advance.
  • Don’t pay in cash.
  • Don’t sign anything before carefully reading it.
  • Don’t provide personal financial information, such as your checking account, credit card or debit card numbers.
  • If you have to borrow to pay for repairs, don’t let the contractor steer you toward a particular lender.

For more details, including tips to avoid other forms of fraud, learn how to protect and rebuild after a disaster.

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