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Hurricane Irma a powerful reminder of preparations that should have been taken

September 10, 2017

Hurricane preparedness (copy) (copy)

The projected track of Hurricane Irma was looking less frightening for South Carolina as of Friday, and hopefully that proves to hold true.

With so many people relocating to South Carolina from other states, this was likely the first big hurricane threat a number of the newcomers faced, but there are important lessons about preparedness for us all, and some deal with personal finance.

Getting out of harm’s way, protecting lives and securing property, is what one tries to do before a hurricane arrives. But financial arrangements can play a large role in recovering, if a powerful storm does hit.

What if you can’t return to your residence? What if your employer shuts down for weeks? What if you need to pay an enormous hurricane insurance deductible? If you rent, do you have renters insurance?

If, like me, you spent part of the past week making sure your home and family were as prepared as possible for the potential impacts of the most powerful storm ever recorded in the Atlantic, you may have found that things weren’t in quite an ideal state of readiness.

Hurricane season is half the year, every year, so living in South Carolina — particularly along the coast — means there’s a real need to constantly be prepared. When a potential hurricane looms, that’s not the time to start looking for important papers and putting one’s finances in order.

If you already took these steps, pat yourself on the back. If not, let Irma be a wake-up call and do these things to be better prepared next time:

Have an emergency fund, or at least a plan for funding an emergency. An emergency fund is actual money saved that you’ll only tap if you must. While it can be hard to save money, everyone should have an emergency fund. Fall-back plans could include a Roth IRA, because contributed money can be withdrawn without penalty, or a home equity line of credit.Assemble important documents and keep them safe. Insurance policies, legal papers, photos of your home and an inventory of possessions, passports and other hard-to-replace hard copies should be in a safe deposit box at a bank or credit union. Alternatively, take them with you if you evacuate.Have cash on hand, ideally in small bills. If a hurricane strikes, don’t count on bank machines to work. You may be used to paying for most things with credit or debit cards, but they could be of limited use if the power is out at the grocery store or gas station. Check insurance, regularly. When a big storm is bearing down, that’s not the time to wonder about coverage. Make sure your home, or possessions in a rented home, are adequately insured before the start of hurricane season on June 1 every year.Back up computer files regularly, to a cloud-based storage system or an external hard drive that can go with you in an evacuation.If you own a home, know and understand your hurricane deductible. A 5 percent hurricane deductible means you’re responsible for 5 percent of the insured value of the home before the insurance company pays a dime. Higher deductibles keep premiums lower, but could you pay the deductible?

Taking care of these things ahead of time can make the inevitable scramble to prepare for a hurricane threat a little less stressful. Hurricane season ends Nov. 30.

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