Did you know that even if your home is destroyed in a natural disaster, you still have to pay your mortgage? Did you know that even if you’re using your credit card to pay for a hotel because you’ve been evacuated, you still have to pay your bill on time?
“Failing to remain current with your payments could negatively affect your credit at a time when you need credit the most,” according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Emergency Financial First Aid Kit.
When most of us think about disaster, we think about what we’re going to do physically: how to make sure we’ve got food, water, clothing, and shelter. We don’t think about the financial aftermath.
For that matter, an individual financial crisis is far more likely than a natural disaster. Job loss, divorce, death or illness, retirement … even a home purchase can cause significant problems if unprepared financially, said Ann House, coordinator of the Personal Money Management Center at the University of Utah.
House suggested three ways to financial preparedness.
Save and Save Some More
First, have a short- and long-term savings and an emergency fund.
Kayleen Chen, a peer mentor at the University of Utah’s Personal Money Management Center, suggested the 50/30/20 rule. Fifty percent of a paycheck should go toward fixed expenses, like house payments and utilities. Discretionary expenses that can be adjusted, like grocery bills and fuel, should take up about 30 percent. Twenty percent should go toward short-term savings, an emergency fund and retirement.
The short-term savings fund is for future expenses like holidays or a down payment. An emergency fund helps when things come up like car repairs or doctor bills, to avoid paying for them with high-interest debt like credit cards or short-term loans.
Women should put 12 percent of their salary toward retirement; men 10 percent, Chen said.
“The reality is that women live longer and make less income than men,” she wrote in an e-mail.
House suggested people who want to save take savings out first via direct deposit. Then live off the rest. It’s an out of sight, out of mind thing.
“I know if I keep extra money in my checking account, I will spend it until it’s gone,” she said.
Second, get organized. Know where important information is.
“If there’s a natural disaster like a fire, do you know where your birth certificates are?” she asked.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Emergency Financial First Aid Kit is a great organizational resource, she said.
The 44-page booklet includes four sections that identify what information to collect, like social security cards, insurance policies, prescriptions and emergency contact information.
In case of emergency, House said, “Most of us run for family pictures or a kid’s favorite toys. If we knew where (vital information) all was, if it was organized into folders and files and boxes, we could just grab it.
Third, have an emergency storage, including cash in small bills.
“If you were out of water, and somebody came by with a water selling wagon, you might be giving the person a $100 bill for water. It’s $1 bills that are going to come in handy for emergencies,” House said.
Other ways to prepare financially include getting out of debt and getting a credit score in order. More than 60 percent of prospective employers check credit scores so a good one could mean the difference between getting and missing out on a job. All three credit bureaus must give one free credit report per year.
House’s father-in-law lived through the Great Depression. After his death, she said, his family found $150,000 in paper bags while cleaning out his home. She does not recommend that approach to saving.
Life happens. To keep from being traumatized by a disaster, it’s vital to be mentally prepared. And one great way to do that is to be physically prepared.
“The key is to keep in mind that anything can happen. Therefore, always prepare for any possible emergency! It's never too late!” Chen wrote.
Do you have a financial preparedness plan in place?