This week I’m giving you a quick PSA about the value of making sure your essential information and items are fully protected. My in-laws’ house burned down last weekend. To the ground. The good news is that no one was hurt, either human or animal. The bad news is that there is nothing left. Along with all the major losses are smaller losses. Pictures. Passports. Prescriptions. Birth certificates. Driver’s licenses. Banking information. Passwords. Bill paying information. Credit cards. Tax records. Insurance information. The list goes on. While these things don’t seem important in the grand scheme of things and in the hours immediately after the disaster, their importance becomes obvious as time goes on. Everything has to be replaced and it’s difficult to start from scratch.
Take something simple like replacing a lost credit card. If you’ve lost your credit card, normally all you have to do is call the company and ask for a new one. But without a computer or an old statement, you have to track down the number. You don’t have the card, so you can’t just look on the back. Now you have to go somewhere that has Internet access and find the phone number, the get transferred around until you reach the lost card department. If you don’t have your card number memorized, that might be another hurdle you’ll have to overcome. It’d be much easier if you had a photocopy of the back and front of the card somewhere, wouldn’t it? Now magnify this one small problem by about a hundred different phone calls you have to make and places you have to visit and that’s what it feels like to start over.
To get your financial life back on track, you’re going to have to cut through a lot of red tape no matter what, but if you had copies of the relevant information you could speed the process along. Here are some ideas for protecting yourself and making it easier if you need to start over.
Copy everything and keep it in a safe place
Copy your credit cards, drivers’s license, passport, birth certificate, insurance cards, and anything else vital that you might have. Copy at least one recent statement from each bank and insurance provider, as well, since they will show your account number and contact information for the provider. It will make it much easier to get in touch with the right people about replacements. Your copies of your license and passport can serve as ID that can prove who you are and speed along the issuance of new documents. Don’t keep these in your house. Keep them in a safe deposit box or with a trusted relative. If you do keep them in your house, get a highly rated fire safe (see below).
Keep a list of phone numbers
Keep an updated list of numbers for your banks, insurance agents/companies, DMV, mortgage company, utility providers, and anyone else you will need to contact about bills, payments, your accounts, or service interruptions. Keep this list in a safe place away from your home.
At least once a year, take pictures of your home and its contents so you can prove your losses to the insurance company. It’s one thing to say you lost a diamond ring, it’s another to prove it. Keep the pictures or memory card in a safe place.
Back up information
Back your computer up regularly, including your pictures, and keep a copy of the backup in a safe place. If you don’t want to use a safe deposit box, put it in your desk drawer at work.
Protect the irreplaceable
If you have items such as photos or valuable jewelry that the loss of them would devastate you, protect them. You can scan old photos and keep the scans on a jump drive in a safe deposit box. You can keep jewelry in a bank box, also. A fire proof safe will protect some things in your home, but even these are not fool proof. If you cannot bear to be without something, make sure you protect it or back it up somehow.
Protect your passwords
It’s great that you have your passwords stored and encrypted on your computer or written on paper stored ten pages from the back of your favorite book. But if the house goes up in flames, your passwords are gone, too. Make sure there’s a backup of that information somewhere so that, once you re-establish Internet access, you can get into your accounts easily.
Keep a list of prescriptions
If you take a lot of medications, keep a list of everything you take and the contact information for the doctor that prescribed it. You will need this if you were on your last refill, or if you can’t recall the names of every medication you were taking.
A quick note about fire safes
If you think you can keep documents and valuables in your house rather than a bank box, you might want to think again. Only a few safes are truly fireproof and those are very expensive. A “fire resistant” safe will only help you if the fire can be put out fairly quickly. It will not survive a major fire. Most consumer-grade safes will only withstand a half-hour or so if high temperatures. More than that and they will fail. While that’s better than nothing, a fire can easily rage for an hour or more, or your safe can be trapped in the smoking embers for a couple of days. Look for a safe that will withstand several hours of high temperatures for the best protection, or just get a bank box.
No one thinks disaster will hit them. We always think it will be somebody else and that going through these sorts of protective measures is a waste of time. We think it’s a waste of money to pay for a safe deposit box or to buy a fire proof safe. But it can happen to you, It might not be a fire, but it might be a flood, or a tornado, or an earthquake. You never know when you might have to start over, so it’s best to prepare while you have the chance. Take the time to write down or copy important information and make sure it’s stored somewhere safe. You won’t be able to erase the pain of the losses, but you can make it easier to get your life back together again.
(Photo courtesy of Jory’z Shotz)