Shared from the 9/16/2018 Post & Courier eEdition

Keep storm from being a financial disaster



Iexpect that by the time this is published, the two plastic go-boxes I filled with important papers and an external hard drive will still be sitting by my front door. The destruction in the Carolinas from Hurricane Florence was just beginning Friday morning, but South Carolina residents were already confident the storm could have easily been far worse. In the Charleston area, my wife was prepared to evacuate while I stayed at work to report on the storm. She would have taken important documents and hard-to-replace records that would be needed if there was no home to return to. Like many in the area, she stayed instead of evacuating. It’s been an anxious run-up. What was a nearly Category 5 monster hurricane earlier in the week made landfall near Wrights-ville Beach as a Category 1 storm, with maximum sustained winds of 90 miles per hour. The destruction, flooding and potential loss of life was expected to continue for days. It’s not easy to prepare for such a storm — one that could be horribly powerful, or less so, that could take a turn toward your community, or not. Governments, utility companies and some businesses work nearly around-the-clock to prepare, moving people, equipment and supplies, usually at great expense. Did you also prepare? Were you ready this time? Hurricane scares are familiar to coastal residents, but it’s easy to become complacent, and a large part of the population near the ocean moved from states where named storms aren’t a regular concern. So, I hope you came through Hurricane Florence unscathed. If you did, take it as a chance to think about how to be even better-prepared next time. The threat is much easier to deal with if you’re ready with supplies, and your important records and documents are already somewhere safe (such as a safe deposit box) or are collected and ready to evacuate with you. There are plenty of checklists that can help, but always plan for the worst and hope for the best. For your financial life, disaster preparations need to include crucial documents — insurance records, Social Security cards, passports, bank records, wills, deeds, rental agreements, car titles, account numbers and computer passwords. Knowing how to prepare and being prepared are two different things. If you’re rushing out to the grocery store as a storm approaches, only to find empty shelves where the bottled water used to be, that’s not getting prepared, that’s realizing you were unprepared. The same is true if you’re trying to locate an insurance policy while the family is loading the car to evacuate. Being prepared reduces stress, during a stressful time, and makes it less likely something important will be overlooked. Remember, Florence was the third tropical weather system to inflict damage on South Carolina in three consecutive years, after Irma last September and Matthew in October 2016. Lately, punishing weather this time of year has become an annual event, like Thanksgiving. When local governments and utility companies prepare for hurricanes, they prepare for the aftermath by lining up companies and workers who will prepare potential damage. Individuals can take a step in that direction, by figuring out who they would call if a tree came through the roof, or a foot of water invaded their living space. After a disaster, scams are unfortunately common, as dishonest people take advantage of the desperate. If there’s damage that needs urgent attention and you find yourself with an unfamiliar contractor, be sure to check their licensing, and copy down or photograph their identification. And avoid paying cash. Checks and credit cards create a record of payment, and credit cards provide a way to contest a charge if disputes arise. “Honest contractors do not require large sums of money upfront,” said Janet Baumberger, administrator of the S.C. Residential Builders Commission. “A scam artist will take your money and not perform the service as promised.”

Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552. Follow him on Twitter @DSladeNews.

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