SAN MATEO, Calif., Nov. 17, 2017 /PRNewswire/ — This year, more Americans than ever are dealing with the aftereffects of fires, floods, hurricanes, accidents and acts of violence. Plus, the season of snowstorms and blizzards is not far away. For people who are trying to recover from a disaster, Andrew Housser, co-founder and CEO of Freedom Debt Relief (FDR), suggests consumers consider eight steps to regain a solid financial footing.
“The potential financial toll of a disaster cannot be overstated,” says Housser. “It is extremely important for those affected to get the financial assistance they need, avoid going into debt, and do what they can to get out of debt.” Freedom Debt Relief has first-hand experience in working with people affected by disasters, he points out, helping many people recover from disasters ranging from Superstorm Sandy to recent floods, hurricanes and fires.
Housser suggests steps including:
- Document the damage. Take photos or videos of any property damage you have sustained, and create a detailed list of everything lost or damaged. If possible, hold onto damaged items until the insurance company has completed its review. Keep detailed records of email, postal mail and conversations with insurance companies, health care providers and any government agency.
- Know what your insurance covers. Often, one of the first steps after securing your family’s safety and security is to speak to your insurance company. If you are like others, you now may be learning that your homeowners’ or renters’ policy does not cover all damages. Storm coverage typically includes only water damage when the water enters your home because of wind or other above-ground causes. Reimbursement for water damage caused by flooding – such as from this year’s hurricanes – usually requires special flood insurance coverage. If you have purchased flood insurance from the government, you can file a claim. If you don’t have flood insurance, but live in or near a possible flood zone, check into purchasing it through the National Flood Insurance Program. It also is a good idea for all consumers to do an annual check with their insurance agent or broker to make sure they understand coverages.
- Find help from FEMA. The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) manages funding for those affected by a declared disaster. If you already filed for assistance and have received a FEMA determination letter, read it carefully to understand what financial help you may receive. If FEMA has allocated funds to reimburse losses, make sure to keep receipts that document how you spent those funds. FEMA can audit your spending for three years.
- Beware of fraud. Federal officials suspect tens of thousands of fraudulent claims filed for disaster relief following the recent wildfires in Northern California, while FEMA has cited thousands of fraudulent claims. Housser reminds consumers to be especially mindful of anyone claiming to be an inspector who represents FEMA or the Small Business Administration. Legitimate inspectors always will have an applicant’s registration number. Any government employee also will have, and be happy to display, an identification badge. No FEMA or state officials will ask for private information, such as Social Security or bank account numbers. Nor will government workers ask for money or accept payment.
- Rebuild carefully. While you may be anxious to handle any repairs or rebuilding quickly, the Freedom Debt Relief executive advises consumers to on the lookout for predatory contractors and other service providers. Avoid working with a provider who promises a “disaster grant” and asks for cash or advance payment in full. Remember that FEMA does not authorize contractors to contact consumers, and does not hire or endorse particular contractors. If you are unsure of a contractor’s identity, or suspect fraud, contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud at 866-720-5721 or email@example.com.
- Contact creditors. Some people may have a hard time making on-time payments after a disaster strikes. Job loss, time off from work and expensive repairs all can have an impact in your ability to pay on time. If you are in this situation, contact your mortgage company, credit card issuers, student loan company or other lenders. These businesses often will offer extensions, waive penalties or provide other concessions for people struck by a disaster.
- Avoid identity theft. Check accounts often for any unauthorized charges or activity. If you suspect someone is using your identity – whether you are applying for disaster relief or not – contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud at 866-720-5721 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Get help with debt. Many disaster victims end up turning to credit cards to handle expenses from lodging, medical care, repairs and more. If you are facing unmanageable credit card debt, do not be afraid to seek help. One good place to begin searching for a credible debt relief firm is on the website of the American Fair Credit Council. Members must meet strict standards, including complying with Federal Trade Commission regulations.
“The way to move forward after a disaster is to take one step at a time,” says Housser. “Incorporating these eight steps will help anyone affected by a recent tragedy get back on track.”