- Hurricane Michael, a Category 4 storm, is heading toward Florida’s Gulf Coast, where it’s expected to make landfall Wednesday.
- I used to live in Florida and have a few Category 4 hurricane experiences under my belt that left me with a few lessons learned along the way.
- Here’s what you should know when it comes to protecting your money during a hurricane.
Hurricane Michael is heading toward Florida’s Gulf Coast, where it’s expected to make landfall Wednesday. It’s currently a Category 4, which the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale defines as a storm with winds running 130 to 156 miles per hour.
As someone who grew up in hurricane territory – otherwise known as Florida – I can tell you this much: A Cat 4 hurricane is nothing to take lightly, especially when it’s heading for an area that isn’t usually faced with storms of that force.
I’ve been through two Category 4 storms myself. The first, Hurricane Charley in 2004, was a beast with winds of 145 mph – and the eye passed right through where I was taking shelter.
The second, Hurricane Irma in 2017, was hard to avoid and I was forced to evacuate; after much debated prediction about which side of Florida it would land on, it hit the west side of Florida. I was taking shelter on the east coast, but the hurricane was so monstrous that I still experienced the effects from the right-front side of the storm, where the strongest winds are.
As a hurricane veteran, I’ve picked up a thing or two on how to prepare for and deal with the aftermath of a hurricane, particularly when it comes to the most important and vulnerable aspects – your finances.
Here, seven things you should know about financially preparing for Hurricane Michael.
Manage bills and paychecks in advance
First things first, set up automatic payments for your bills and direct deposits for your checks if you don’t have them already – there could be mail delays or you may not have Internet access to pay online.
You don’t want to become “seriously delinquent” if you fall behind on your mortgage payment in the hurricane’s aftermath, although some companies and financial institutions may extend grace periods ordefer=”defer”payments considering the circumstances.
You’ll need cash
In addition to having an emergency fund, you’ll also want backup cash in small bills – when the power is out, there will be no other way to pay for supplies or gas (if there’s any available), and you won’t have access to an ATM for withdrawals.
There’s no rule of thumb on how much money you’ll need; it’s up to your discretion. But after my first hurricane, my neighbourhood was without power for nearly three weeks – it’s better to overestimate.
Don’t safeguard important documents in the dishwasher
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the trick floating around the Internet about storing your valuables and documents in the dishwasher during a hurricane isn’t one you should heed. If flooding occurs, a dishwasher won’t keep things dry.
You should have photocopies or electronic copies of your personal, home and property, estate, medical, and financial documents stored on a flash drive or on a cloud. Think things like Social Security card, stock and bond certificates, home deeds, passport, and estate planning paperwork.
But if you’re down to the chase and don’t have time, you should put all documents and cash in tightly sealed Ziploc bags to be placed in a grab-and-go lock box. If you’ve evacuated or are taking shelter away from your home, you may not be able to get back for days – and you’ll need these things on your person.
Beware of scams
Unfortunately, some people love to take advantage of dire situations – and storm-related scams and fraud are things you’ll need to watch out for in the aftermath of a hurricane.
One common one is repair scams. Sometimes, insurers need to recruit independent claims adjusters from out of state – scammers seize this opportunity to exploit homeowners, according to CNBC. Always ask for proof of identity, research consumer-review sites, and leave a paper trail – don’t pay in cash and don’t pay it all up front.
According to AARP, some scammers even show up on people’s doorsteps posing as Federal Emergency Management Agency damage inspectors. You should also be aware of cyber thieves, who can create fake GoFundMe pages or fake charity scams.
Keep an eye out for price gouging
Another way people get exploited during a hurricane? Price gouging. According to The New York Times, a one-way coach flight from Miami to Phoenix shortly before Hurricane Irma increased from $US547.50 to $US3,258.50.
But it’s not just flights you have to worry about – it’s also the necessities like food, water, and gas. A six-pack of water was allegedly being sold for $US72 during Hurricane Irma.
Some states have laws against price gouging, and there’s currently one in effect for North Carolina ahead of Hurricane Florence. You can report price gouging by calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or filing a complaint at www.ncdoj.gov.
It might be tough to save money on emergency supplies
It can be hard to save money on hurricane supplies if you didn’t purchase them in advance of the season with deals and coupons – especially as supplies run low and price gouging takes effect while the hurricane looms. From flashlights to first aid kits, there’s a lot to get.
But you can make the most of your money if you know what to get. For example, don’t stock up on food that needs to be refrigerated – it will go to waste once the power dies if you don’t have a back-up generator (and even those can fail sometimes). Opt for non-perishable foods like canned goods instead.
You can also make the most of what you have at home – take batteries from the remote control to use for your flashlight or fill up empty water jugs and water bottles with tap water (if it’s drinkable) before the storm so you don’t have to buy as much water at the store.
Check your insurance details
Insurance is arguably one of the most complicated financial aspects of a hurricane. Before the storm, you should review and understand your homeowners’ insurance policy to ensure what valuables are protected in the event of loss or damage.
Something to pay attention to is “actual cash value coverage” versus “replacement cost coverage.” The former pays the price of possessions minus depreciation; the latter pays to replace the possessions, a form of more complete coverage.
Not all policies have flood insurance. Only 17% of the homes in the eight counties Hurricane Harvey hit had flood insurance. FEMA can provide assistance in the form of private charity and grants, but the process can take weeks or even months, a delay that could potentially put people into debt. According to Reuters, the average FEMA payout to victims of Hurricane Katrina was just $US7,114, and $US8,016 for Sandy.
You’ll need to file a claim with photo documentation and make an appointment for an adjustor.
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