On The Simple Dollar, we’ve talked a lot about the importance of credit history and building good credit. It tends to look good on your history when you pay on time and more than the monthly minimum. But what do you do when disaster strikes, as in the recent hurricanes Harvey and Irma? How do you keep up with your credit card finances when you’re forced from your home in the wake of a weather catastrophe?
Well, there are a couple of things you can do during and before a natural disaster to keep up with your finances and avoid any nasty marks on your credit history. Here are a few suggestions:
During a disaster
It’s important to prioritize what finances need to be paid and which ones can wait. This might vary a little based on individual needs, but here’s a general idea of the things you should be considering during a weather emergency.
Contact your insurance provider
You’re going to want to get in touch with your agents on any insurance policies you’ve taken out that may apply to your predicament. This might give you some financial wiggle room when the disaster passes. If you are unable to work because your place of employment has been hit by the disaster, be sure to let them know.
Contact your creditor(s)
No one wants to get penalized for late credit card payments and you might have some room to breathe given the extenuating circumstances. Contact your creditor(s) to let them know the situation, and they may be able to work with you to prevent any negative impact to your credit score. In some cases, a lender can’t report any delinquent payments until a full 30 days after the due date. That doesn’t mean you should get into the habit of paying late.
Address utility costs
If your house is unlivable because of the disaster and it’s going to take some time to restore the property, there’s no reason you should be paying for utilities. Contact your utility companies and have them suspend or end your services until you can live in the home again.
Before a disaster
We don’t always know exactly how devastating a natural disaster will be until it actually strikes. However, thanks to advanced meteorology, we can often get a ballpark idea of when disaster will hit and we can plan accordingly.
Assemble a bug-out bag
Put together a small bag of necessary documentation, forms, and any additional proofs of your finances and insurance coverage. Having these documents on hand could save you some stress in the long run. It might also be prudent to make use of digital copies and cloud backup in case your computer or mobile device is lost.
Set up auto payments
There are lots of benefits to setting up auto payments on your credit cards and utilities. Probably the best one for this particular scenario is the peace of mind that you won’t miss a monthly payment. Even if a hurricane knocks out your internet or stops the mail, you’ll still be able to keep up with your payments.
Even with automatic payments, it’s still prudent to review upcoming payments. That way, you know exactly what’s coming due in the next 30 or so days.
Don’t put it off
When it comes to keeping up with your finances and paying your bills, one piece of advice is to pay these off as soon as possible. Don’t wait until the last minute. You never know when a disaster will strike and the last thing you want to deal with after the storm has passed is the financial fallout from late payments.