Each year, natural disasters like floods, wildfires and hurricanes force people to leave their homes in a hurry.
If you live in a disaster-prone area, you may already be familiar with emergency “go-bags” – portable kits stocked with food, water and other basic supplies that you and your family may need during an evacuation.
Having a basic survival kit packed and ready to go in a crisis may be obvious, but have you thought about putting together a similar kit for your personal finances?
Instead of bandages and medicine, an emergency financial first aid kit (or EFFAK) holds important personal identification, medical and financial documents. Having one of these kits could help you stay on top of your financial obligations during a disaster and make it easier to rebuild your life afterwards.
If you’ve been a longtime Marcus reader, you know we love to remind folks that everyone’s financial situation is different. So, what goes into an EFFAK might vary from person to person.
That said, here are four steps to help you get started in putting together a financial preparedness kit for disasters and other emergencies.
Let’s start with the basics.
As you put together your EFFAK, think about keeping some cash on hand – literally, not just in a savings account.
These days, many of us are so used to paying for things electronically – whether with our ATM cards or smartphones – that we may not think about actually holding on to some paper money (you know, the green stuff).
But if you have to evacuate in a hurry, it helps to have some cash in your pocket. You never know if banks will be closed or if card payment networks will be impacted.
There’s no hard and fast rule on how much you should have. Consider grabbing enough cash to cover basic needs for you and your family. This means things like food, gas and lodging.
Remember to keep this money in a safe, accessible location in your house, so you can grab it quickly when you need to go.
And speaking of emergencies…
Now is also a good time to remind you to check in on your emergency fund and make sure that it’s in order. If you’ve read our articles on the topic before, you know the drill. Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to have enough to cover at least three to six months of essential expenses.
While the cash you have on hand could hold you over for a few days, your emergency fund can help you pay for any other unexpected expenses that might come along.
When it comes to financial preparedness, what documents are considered important? What should you gather first?
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends starting with your personal identification documents, followed by any financial and legal papers, medical records and emergency contact numbers. (We’ll talk about where to keep this stuff later.)
Trying to find and organize these documents can take some work – but you don’t have to do it all in one day! Putting together an EFFAK takes time. That’s why it helps to start early.
Here are some examples of documents for each of these categories.
Having these essential records on hand can help you to stay on top of your financial obligations during and after a disaster. They can also come in handy during the recovery process, as you work to assess any damages or losses, file insurance claims or apply for federal assistance.
Keep in mind that during a disaster, you’re typically still responsible for making certain payments on time (like your mortgage) unless you’re able to work something out with your creditors. Remember, missed payments could negatively impact your credit score, which is something you’ll want to avoid just in case you need to take out an emergency loan.
Visit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for tips on how to secure your financial obligations after an emergency.
During an emergency, you’ll already have a lot to think about. The last thing you’ll want is to fumble through outdated information, which can only hike up frustration when you’re in a stressful situation.
So after you’ve gathered all your documents, take a moment to review them to make sure they’re current and accurate. For instance, do you need to update any of your insurance policies or health records? Make changes to emergency contacts?
Going through the checklists and reviewing your documents now can help you identify any information that may be outdated or missing – and give you an opportunity to update it ahead of time.
And remember, this isn’t a one-and-done deal. Once you have your documents in order, consider setting a reminder for yourself to review them regularly (maybe once a year) or during any major life events (marriage, divorce, moving, etc.).
How you store and safeguard your documents is up to you.
Your EFFAK could be a physical kit – a folder or binder holding your documents. Or it could be a digital kit (say, an external hard drive), where you store electronic copies of the paperwork.
If you choose to go the electronic route, you may want to make sure that the hard drive and/or copies are encrypted and password-protected. After all, that’s a lot of sensitive information you’re keeping in one place!
Finally, whether your EFFAK is a physical or digital one, you’ll want to keep it in a safe location, such as a fireproof or waterproof box.
Knowing what you need to take with you during an emergency evacuation could help you move quickly to get yourself and your loved ones to safety.
In addition to having an emergency survival kit ready to go, consider putting together an EFFAK, too. An emergency kit holding your important financial, legal and medical documents all in one place can come in handy during and after a crisis.
Of course, we hope you’ll never have to use your EFFAK. But if a disaster does strike, you’ll be ready.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for individualized professional advice. Articles on this site were commissioned and approved by Marcus by Goldman Sachs®, but may not reflect the institutional opinions of The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., Goldman Sachs Bank USA or any of their affiliates, subsidiaries or divisions.