4. Stay in contact with your employer. Ask if it is possible to continue to get your paycheck and your health insurance, and for how long. If you are in another location due to the hurricane, ask if you can access your direct deposit paycheck from a branch of the bank in the temporary location, or if you need to redirect it to a bank in the new location.
5. Contact your retirement company, social services office, the Social Security Administration (1-800-772-1213), the Veterans Affairs office (1-800-827-1000), or other benefits office. Tell the offices your new location, and find out if benefit payments are made available by check, direct deposit, or payment card. The Department of Labor (1-866-4-USA-DOL) is working with state and local governments to issue unemployment insurance and other assistance.
6. Find out if any home, health, or other insurance policy you may have will pay for temporary shelter, replacement clothing, furniture, or other items.
7. FEMA operates a Disaster Housing Program to help homeowners who have been forced out of their homes by disasters. This includes Disaster Home Repair Assistance, which provides grants to homeowners for minor but necessary disaster-related repairs. Call the FEMA Disaster Helpline at 1-800-621-FEMA.
8. The U.S. Small Business Administration makes low interest loans of up to $200,000 to homeowners to repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate.
If it will take several months before you can make payments on your credit cards, you may want to be in touch with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, a group that offers consumer credit counseling services. NFCC is located in Silver Spring, Maryland, but you can call, toll-free, 1-800-388-2227 to locate member offices.
If you've lost your financial records and need help identifying your creditors — or if you want to check on possible tampering with your accounts — get your credit report from each of the nationwide consumer reporting companies. It's free from annualcreditreport.com, or 1-877-322-8228. If you've already ordered your free annual report in the past 12 months, contact the three consumer reporting companies directly to order your report. You may be charged a fee.
TransUnion: 1-877-680-7275 or transunion.com
Experian: 1-866-966-1067 or experian.com
Equifax: 1-800-685-1111 or equifax.com
If you have problems ordering your report, ask to speak with a consumer reporting company representative. You also may ask that a statement be added to your report indicating that you are a victim of a hurricane.
Many credit card companies, banks, credit unions, mortgage and finance companies, landlords, utility companies, and others may offer assistance to consumers affected by a hurricane or other wather emergency. Call them, and ask for help. They may be willing to: defer your payments or offer extended repayment plans; extend grace periods; waive late fees; raise your credit limit; refrain from reporting delinquency; and postpone collection, repossessions, and foreclosures. For example:
1. Ask creditors for short-term loans for living expenses or increases in your credit limits or cash advance limits until you get insurance or disaster relief funds.
2. If you applied for funds to make repairs on your property, ask your home insurance or mortgage company about the status. If your application hasn't been approved yet, ask if the company needs any more information to finish the process. If your application was approved, find out how much money can be released — and when — so you can make the repairs. Find out what you and your contractor must do during the repairs to be sure further payments — and the repairs — stay on schedule. If your property is so severely damaged that you believe repairs cannot be made, you could ask if any available home insurance funds can be used to pay off your mortgage. You should receive any home insurance funds that remain after paying off your mortgage, as well as any other insurance funds that cover your personal property. Your mortgage loan and insurance contract likely determine how the process will work.
3. Call your utility companies — including your wireless telephone services — and financial institutions to make sure they know you have lost your belongings in the hurricane. When you call, ask them to waive their fees and allow you to defer your payments, or put you on a different payment schedule.
4. Call your banks and credit unions. Ask them to waive ATM fees, overdraft fees, and their reporting on your overdrafts to the credit reporting companies. Ask them to waive any penalties on early withdrawal of certificates of deposit.
5. Call your credit card companies. If it is possible, change your billing address to your new temporary address. Ask them if you can defer or skip some payments in the short-term, and for a different payment schedule in the long term. Ask to waive late fees, over-limit and other fees, and any increased interest rates. If you need it, ask for an increased credit limit or cash advance limit. And ask them to waive reporting any delinquency to the credit reporting companies.
6. For your mortgage, auto, or other loans or leases: ask to defer your payments for several months. Some permit mortgage payment reductions or extended deferred payments. Some companies have already announced a policy to do that. Ask to waive any late fees and any reporting of delinquencies to the credit reporting companies, and ask for an extension on your loan to reduce or defer your payments until you are back on more solid financial footing. You also can ask to avoid any prepayment penalties if you pay off your mortgage early due to the hurricane.
Of course, asking for a fee waiver or change in the terms and conditions of your account doesn't guarantee that a company will agree to it. Company policies and legal obligations can vary. Some companies have information available on their websites; others require you to contact them by telephone.
In the coming months:
If it will take several months before you can make payments on your credit cards, you may want to be in touch with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, a group that offers consumer credit counseling services.
NFCC is located in Silver Spring, Maryland, but consumers can call 1-800-388-2227, its toll-free number, to locate member offices. The website is nfcc.org