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Getting financially prepared

More people are focused on disaster readiness - yet many ignore financial preparation.

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | October 19, 2005

In the face of a record-breaking hurricane season, more people are focused on disaster readiness - yet many ignore financial preparation.

Below, five quick ways to lessen financial headaches after a disaster - no matter what your income level.

1. Make copies of financial documents and keep them in a safe place. "Keep duplicates of documents in an airtight, waterproof place," said Steve Collins, a general agent with the Jackson, Miss.-based Collins Financial Group. "A bank close to the coast is probably not the best place to keep them."

2. Keep some extra cash or traveler's checks on hand. "When there is a power failure, it can be difficult to get cash," he said. When people in Mississippi evacuated, some of them came back to find their homes - and everything inside - destroyed. "Some of them had no cash, no credit cards, and no way to identify themselves."

3. Keep a list of financial contacts. Add relevant financial contacts to your list of phone numbers for friends and family. "Include your bank, insurance, lawyer, and financial professional. For backup purposes, save the list on a computer disk. Keep these numbers somewhere safe and where they're quickly accessible," recommended Collins.

4. Be aware if you're eligible for other financial benefits. Your life insurance, 401(k) plan, or annuity may give you access to cash in the event of a disaster.

5. Do not share financial information with strangers. "A crisis brings out both the good and the bad in people," said Collins. "Keep your bank information and social security number away from people who may be suspicious." In Mississippi, immediately after Hurricane Katrina hit, "the telephones were flooded with offers for immediate cash assistance - and the recipient had to offer their social security number and their bank number." Beware such offers, said Collins - they're fraudulent.

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