The world-wide coronavirus (which causes COVID-19 illness) pandemic has everyone thinking about emergencies. We are all worried about how to manage not only our immediate health and safety, but the long term well-being of ourselves and our families. This includes our money, because we can’t build a future without it.
Everyone uses physical first aid kits during emergencies, but what about an emergency financial first aid kit? Is there any such thing? There is, and getting a financial emergency kit in order can help you protect your family’s finances right now, and for the years to come.
What is a Financial Emergency Kit?
Getting your financial information together in an emergency is something you might not have thought about. Beyond the current coronavirus pandemic, if you survived the 2019 wildfires in California, Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, or coped with the government shutdown in 2018-19, you know that emergency situations happen fast, and come in all forms. No matter what you are facing, here are some of the key actions that FEMA lists in its Emergency Financial First Aid Kit that can help.
Step 1: Get your legal, ID, medical, and financial documents together
Make sure you have copies of all documents that identify you, family members, and ownership rights to your important property. You should organize both hard copies and electronic copies of all these documents. FEMA suggests you make a checklist of all documents, including:
- Legal: Wills and trusts, powers of attorney (POAs), adoption certificates, marriage licenses, child support or custody agreements. Ownership and insurance documents also fall in this category. Have copies of: insurance policies (car, home, health, life, etc.), deed, mortgage, rental/lease agreement.
- Identity: Any documents that can prove the identity of all family members. This includes Social Security cards, birth certificates, driver’s licenses/state ID cards, passports/green cards, naturalization documents, military ID, and any pet ownership or microchip documentation.
- Medical: Doctor contacts, prescriptions, emergency contacts, health insurance/Medicare cards, and medical equipment documents.
- Financial: Last tax returns, government benefits statements, list of bank accounts, and credit and debit cards. Include loan documentation for outstanding debts like student, auto, and property loans.
Make sure you know how to contact your bank and any creditors in case you need money or can’t pay bills for a period of time. Having a full list of your current financial obligations will help you keep your debts in order when you are under stress.
Step 2: Make sure your documents are safe and accessible
You should have hard copies of your most important documents in a fire and waterproof safe in your home or in your safe deposit box at a local bank. You will also want to keep electronic copies on an external drive or stored in the cloud. Due to online security risks, make sure your passwords are updated regularly and meet safety standards.
Do you have an Emergency Fund?
An emergency fund is an easily accessible savings account of money you can draw on if you have a sudden need and is an important part your emergency financial first aid kit. A survey by Freedom Financial Network in 2019 showed most Americans have less than $5,000 saved, and only 53% have any kind of emergency fund. If you have the means, build or add to your emergency fund now.
You can use an automatic payment plan from your bank to put away a portion of each paycheck, or you can physically set aside cash each month. Pay into it like you would pay any other monthly bill. Even if you start by saving just $5 a day, you’ll have $1,825 by the end of the year. One small step can get you on a better path, faster than you expect. The best goal is to save at least 6 months of living expenses such as rent/mortgage, utilities, food, and fuel.
One last thing you may not have thought about – that old fashioned green stuff – cash. Keep a small amount of cash handy for an immediate need. In a large-scale natural disaster, you may not be able to use a debit or credit card.
Do you know how much you need this month?
One way to get your emergency financial kit together is to understand how much you need to live each month. Sit down and calculate how much you need, grouping fixed amounts (like rent or mortgage), variable amounts (like utilities,) and extras (like cable) together. It might look like this:
In the case of a pandemic, where school and work closures are common, keep in mind that some expenses will go down (less driving means less gas), but some expenses will go up (more time at home means more electricity and water). You may need to add new expenses like childcare if schools are closed but you still need to go to work.
You should also know you can apply for hardship exceptions and help from the following:
- Forbearance for your mortgage
- Forbearance from your credit card company
- Pull funds from your 401k under a hardship exception
Keep calm and manage on
Surviving a natural disaster like an earthquake or living through a global pandemic like the coronavirus is hard – there is no way around that. But there are steps you can take to make sure you and your family do the best you can during difficult times, including getting your financial emergency kit together.
Remember that government agencies like FEMA, the CDC and NGOs like the Red Cross are here to assist. But we can help each other as well. If you are safe, maybe you’ll want to raise money for others with a GoFundMe campaign. But more importantly, just look out for each other. It will take a global village.