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What should I do after a disaster to protect my finances and property?

After a disaster, your first priority is your safety and meeting your day-to-day needs. There are organizations to reach out to right away, after that focus on the bills you have to pay first.

Starting over after a disaster involves a lot of complicated choices, uncertainty, and expenses. While your day-to-day priorities and even your income may have changed, you can’t forget about ongoing financial responsibilities like utilities, credit card bills, and loan payments. Your lenders may be willing to work with you, but be proactive to avoid extra expenses, fees, and actions that could negatively impact your credit score. 

After a natural disaster, nonprofits and government agencies may be available to provide assistance. It may take some work to apply, but it may be worth it if you qualify for assistance. 

Organizations that can help you immediately after a disaster

If you are in a presidentially-declared disaster area

  • Go to DisasterAssistance.gov to find out whether your area has been presidentially-declared. If it is, you’ll be able to fill out an application for assistance. The application is available in both English and Spanish.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) manages that site. FEMA is only a resource in presidentially declared areas. The site can help you find shelters and up–to-date emergency resources and information. After the disaster has passed, they’ll have more information about recovery including potential scams and rumors related to disasters. 

In all situations

  • Contact your state emergency management office for assistance. They may be able to assist or provide resources whether or not you are in a presidentially-declared disaster area.
  • The Red Cross (800) RED-CROS can help you find aid and shelters. Local organizations will establish shelters and provide vouchers for meals, clothing, and some personal goods.

Steps to take to handle your finances after a disaster

Step 1: Contact your insurance company if your home, car, or other property was damaged to start the claims process. 

Why: Your policy may require you to file a claim within a certain period of time after a disaster or other incident.

What to do:

  • You may have multiple insurance policies. You’ll want to contact the ones that cover your property that was damaged. For example you may have car, flood , home, earthquake, and fire insurance. 
  • Ask for a copy of your insurance policy if you don’t have one available. It will help you verify what damage is covered. 
  • Take pictures or videos of the damage if you can. This will help with your insurance claim. Do this before and after you perform any repairs yourself.
  • Once the insurance company receives your claim, they may send out an adjuster to look at the property damage and help you through the claims process. Your state law may set deadlines for insurance companies to act on your claim. Check with your state insurance commissioner or department of insurance
  • If your insurance company denies coverage or doesn’t pay you what you believe you’re owed, ask the company for the reasons in writing and if there is an appeals process. If you believe your claim was wrongfully denied, consider filing a claim with your state insurance department or commissioner .
Learn more about what to expect from the insurance companies, and how to work with contractors to help you rebuild.

Step 2: Apply for assistance. 

Why: If assistance is available it can help pay for the repairs to your home, car, or other property.

What to do: 

  • If you’re in a presidentially-declared area start with FEMA. FEMA provides assistance for various types of damage not covered by insurance. Applying online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov is the quickest way. You can also call (800) 621-3362 or (800) 462-7585 (TTY).
  • You can also contact your state emergency management office for assistance. This office may have resources even if you’re not in a presidentially-declared disaster area

Step 3: Contact your mortgage loan servicer, if you own your home. 

Why: While damage to your home doesn’t stop your responsibility to pay your mortgage, there may be options to help you make or change your payments while you don’t have a steady income, or have other financial difficulties. These options include forbearance or a foreclosure moratorium.

What to do: 

  • Call your servicer and tell them about your situation, and ask what relief they offer for disaster victims. 
  • If you have trouble or need help understanding your options contact a housing counseling agency.  Use our “Find a Housing Counselor” tool to find HUD-approved counseling agencies in your area. You can also call (855) 411-CFPB (2372) to be connected with a HUD-approved housing counselor. 

The options available to you depend on your mortgage lender.  If you’re concerned you aren’t being offered all the applicable options, you can find out who your lender is and contact them. 

Step 4: Contact your utility companies if you own or rent your home. 

Why: If your home is damaged to the point that you can’t live in it, suspend your service so you’re not paying for unused services. This could help free up money in your budget for other expenses.

What to do: 

  • Call your utility companies like your electric company or heating service provider and ask them to suspend your service.

Step 5: Contact your auto loan lender if your ability to make your payments is affected by the disaster.

Why: While damage to your car doesn’t stop your responsibility to pay your auto loan, there may be options to help you.

What to do: Call your auto lender and tell them about your situation. Ask if they offer a hardship or forbearance program for disaster victims.

Step 6: Contact your credit card companies and other lenders before your next payment is due if the disaster has affected your ability to make payments. 

Why: Some companies will waive interest and late fees; others may allow you to stretch out or pause monthly payments. 

What to do: Explain your situation and when you might be able to resume normal payments. Ask your creditor to work with you. There may be options to help you, ask about disaster hardship or forbearance programs.

Step 7: Contact your student loan servicer and request “disaster forbearance.” 

Why: If you work or live in a federally-declared disaster area and have a federal student loan, you may qualify for disaster forbearance for up to 90 days. During the forbearance time, you don’t have to make payments, although interest will continue to accrue and you will have to make up these amounts eventually. 

What to do: If you are a federal student loan borrower, contact your lender or loan servicer. The Department of Education has more information . If you don’t have a federal student loan, you should contact your student loan servicer to see if they have a forbearance or hardship program. 

Step 8: Take a look at your bills and set priorities. 

Why: If your income is impacted you’ll need to make a plan to manage your financial obligations to avoid missing payments and accumulating debt.

What to do: It’s important to set up a budget and understand when your bills will be due. We have a booklet of tools to help people manage their day-to-day finances

Step 9: Keep an eye on your credit. 

Why: You may be making alternative arrangements, like forbearance or a reduction of your interest rate, with your creditors. You want to make sure the arrangement isn’t misreported on your credit report. For example, if your creditor agreed to let you skip one month’s payment, make sure they didn’t report it as delinquent or a missed payment.

What to do: 

Check your credit report for free at AnnualCreditReport.com. Each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies- Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian-allow you to check your report for free once every 12 months. 

  • Check for any errors. These may include errors in the information identifying you, accounts belonging to someone else with a similar name, incorrect account status, or other errors. 
  • Dispute and report any inaccurate information. You have the right to dispute errors for free with the credit reporting company as well as the company that provided the information.

Even after following the above steps, a natural disaster can impact your finances in ways you may not expect or aren’t prepared for. Learn more about financial problems after a natural disaster –and what you can do about them.



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