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120 E Constitution St
Victoria, TX 77901

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Recovering After Hurricane Harvey

Now that Hurricane Harvey has passed, the clean-up and recovery can begin. Here are points to consider:

1. Notify insurers or FEMA. Insurance adjusters and FEMA are overwhelmed and often fill claims on a first come, first served basis. As such, be proactive on contacting them and filing your claim now.
2. Documentation: Go in and take pictures if you can safely do so. Email the pictures to yourself in case your camera or phone gets damaged. If you can’t access the property, start making mental notes of floor plans and what you had where. The more detail the better.
Keep track of who you spoke to, or emailed, and when. Make sure to get a claim number and create a file for each claim. You will need claim numbers each time you speak to the insurance company.
3. Secure the asset. If possible, secure any assets so they do not suffer further damage. This may include things like covering a roof with a tarp or boarding up a broken window.
If the security of your home or auto has been compromised, it is best to take possession of valuables such as passports, cash, guns, etc.
4. Homeowners: Multiple coverages must be coordinated for claims. A homeowner’s primary policy will cover many claims, but does not specifically cover flood damage. You will need to contact the National Flood Insurance Program (www.FEMA.gov/national-flood-insurance-program) to establish claims for those issues. Also, some owners will also secure wind coverage through the Texas Windstorm Association (www.TWIA.org). Some homeowners also have private wind or flood insurance for more expensive homes.
5. Renters: If you don’t own a home, you may still have renter’s insurance to cover your possessions. However, this does not specifically cover flood risks. Even if you don’t have flood insurance, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t file a claim.
6. Auto: The comprehensive portion of an auto policy typically covers flooding and other damage related to a storm. This will be limited to a vehicles market value. If your car is a total loss, do some research from multiple sources to determine what a fair market value truly is. Do not blindly take the first number put in front of you.
7. Receipts: Keep any receipts for things such as immediate emergency repairs, hotel, meals, storage expenses, generators, chain saws, etc. that would not have been incurred if not for the hurricane. Homeowners policies may cover these additional living expenses.
8. Running Tally: Keep a running tally of all expenses or damage. Your initial reaction is to not file a claim if you think you damage is below your deductible. However, not all damage is initially apparent. Furthermore, there may be additional damage that occurs later.
9. Other help: Multiple organizations, public and private, are already mobilized to offer assistance. Many non-profits are rapidly collecting donations to help people affected. Additionally, financial assistance may be available via FEMA at www.DisasterAssistance.gov. DisasterAssistance.gov can help assess whether you are eligible for low-cost loans or grants that can be applied to temporary housing, emergency repairs or other losses.
10. Business Loans: Small businesses may also find help via the Small Business Administration. The SBA offers low-interest loans at: www.SBA.gov/loans-grants/see-what-sba-offers/sba-loan-programs/disaster-loans
11. Lines of Credit: There are so many expenses incurred by a disaster such as a hurricane, even with insurance it may not be enough. Considering a line of credit can help offer quick assistance. If larger amounts are needed, a Home Equity Line of Credit can offer financing in a tax-deductible manner.
12. Beware of Criminals: Be cautious of people seeking donations for hurricane relief. Fraud schemes may be in person, over the phone, social media or email. You can double-check the legitimacy of many non-profits via the IRS (www.IRS.gov/charities-non-profits/exempt-organizations-select-check). Unfortunately, churches, while non-profit, do not show up on this list.
Many homeowners are receiving automated calls demanding payment on past-due flood insurance premiums. Call your insurance agent directly to verify your coverage status.
13. IRS Relief: The IRS has granted victims in Texas until January 31 to file certain individual and business tax returns and to make certain tax payments. To see if you qualify check www.IRS.gov/newsroom/tax-relief-in-disaster-situations or call 866-562-5227.
14. Give Back: Once you have secured your personal situation, donate blood, donate money or volunteer to help your neighbors.

Dave Sather is a Certified Financial Planner™ and owner of Sather Financial Group. His column, Money Matters, publishes every other week.