What Financial Documents Do You Need in a Disaster?

by Miranda Marquit · 14 comments

My family went on a three-week road trip during the summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school. The day before we left, an earthquake in California affected power — and bank networks — across Western states. Even though I lived in Idaho, my family went hours without power. And when we left for our trip the next day, we soon discovered that we couldn’t withdraw money from the ATM.

It wasn’t a few days later when we nearly got to the Mississippi before we could withdraw cash from our bank accounts. Luckily, my parents had cash already, and their credit cards worked the second day. If my parents hadn’t been willing to lend me money due to the emergency situation, though, I would have been out of luck for souvenir buying and clothing shopping.

The large-scale disasters populating the news in recent news have my thoughts once again returning to that trip — and wondering if my money would be prepared for an emergency in my local area.

Financial Information Items to Have Readily Available During an Emergency

If you have to leave in a hurry, or if a natural disaster renders your area without power, it is important to be prepared with some financial information. Things you should have readily accessible, perhaps in a central, safe place, including:

  • Cash: Figure out how much you need, and keep it in a container that is water proof and fire resistant. Do not use it for daily needs. Keep it with your emergency preparedness items, or in some other place that is not obvious, but that you can get to quickly if you need to leave.
  • Pocket book: Your wallet, purse or pocket book should be easy to get. It should have things you use every day, such as picture ID, credit cards, some cash (that you use every day) and health insurance cards.
  • Passport: You might need this. Know where it is so that you can grab it quickly.
  • Connectivity device: This can be a cell phone, or a tablet computer. Try to keep these items charged. You can also buy charges that hand crank. You never know when the power will be out for a while.
  • List of important financial numbers: If you feel comfortable with the security of your connectivity device, you can store numbers for banks, credit cards, mortgage lender, auto lender, utility companies, insurance companies and other important financial service providers on the device. In any case, you should also have this information written down and kept in a safe place that is quickly accessible. You’ll need this if you can’t re-charge your phone or iPad battery.
  • Account numbers: You might need your account numbers. I actually have my most important account memorized, and they are password protected on an electronic device as well. You can write them down, but use a scrambling method or code so that they aren’t easily available to someone who gets a hold of them.

Protecting Important Financial and Personal Documents

Original copies of insurance policies, personal documents (like birth certificates), retirement plans, account lists with contact numbers, and other important documents should be stored safely, in a more permanent location. A waterproof fire safe is often a good choice. This way, your important papers will remain safe during a natural disaster, where you can retrieve them later.

With natural disasters happening more frequently these days, how prepared are you if in the event that it happens to you?

Money Saving Tip: An incredibly effective way to save more is to reduce your monthly Internet and TV costs. Click here for the current AT&T DSL and U-VERSE promotion codes and promos and see if you can save more money every month from now on.

{ read the comments below or add one }

  • I think you need money in your pocket.

  • Pauline says:

    In one of his books, Howard J. Ruff, suggested that each member of the family have a knapsack filled with emergency essentials that you can grab on the way out of the door. Fill it will what ever you feel is essential for your survival for a few days until the Red Cross arrives. We are talking the basics here, but it is better than nothing. I think people are calling them 72 hour kits now. Mr. Ruff suggested that you have them in a front hall closet or a new clean garbage bin in the garage. If you have to evacuate in a hurry you can just grab them and go. You can also use Google Documents or Google Sites to scan and store personal information that you will be able to access anywhere you can use a computer with internet access. This isn’t practicle if you will need the information in a hurry. “FLYLADY” suggests creating a Control Journal that you can grab and take with you. There are tons of YouTube videos that people have made regarding the 72 hour kits. Homeland Security and the Canadian government have websites to help you create emergency plans with lots of helpful tips. If you really want to get into it, you can check out the websites that the survivalists have. You can survive Armageddon with those. Have Fun Regards Pauline

  • Cesi says:

    Another tip may be to scan and save PDF copies of your insurance policies/important documents and keep them on a separate USB device on a key ring with a spare car/house key. This way in case of an emergency you will have your information and your keys all in one location. However, you do not want anyone else to have access to your information in the event you lose the items so make sure you put passwords and security measures on your documents.

  • It’s also good to make a household inventory and keep a copy either in your fire proof safe or stored on your electronic device for insurance purposes.

  • Salman Khan says:

    Yes go for fire proof safe for documents and one should have plenty of cash at hand for such times.

  • I admit I’m not prepared at all. I should keep a relatively light file cabinet with all of those important files, as well as back up copies available elsewhere. Cash is something I never have on file, and need.

  • MoneyNing says:

    I don’t know if I like the idea of having a box that I can run with if a disaster happens. If something catastrophic occurs near me, the most important consideration is my safety.

    Like the Japan disaster for instance. I doubt they are thinking too much about their passports when the tsunami was rushing through their whole neighborhood. I think one form of official ID is all we need if we HAVE to take time to grab ANYTHING when time is of the essence.

  • We keep a “snatch file” that contains all of our important financial documents. It’s red, kind of waterproof (won’t survive a flood but you can run in the rain with it), and is put in a convenient place in the event there is a disaster.

  • Kathryn C says:

    Doesn’t Suze O sell those lock boxes that you can run out the door with if need be? When I saw her on TV a while back I was thinking…..what the heck do I really need that? But now with all these disasters I realize that it’s well worth it.

  • Joe says:

    I’ve been thinking about investing in a fireproof locked box for my family’s important documents and stuff. Maybe now is the time to buy.

  • Jenna says:

    Definitely something to consider. Do you think its a good idea for 20 somethings to have such an expensive storage place when they don’t have a lot to save?

    • Miranda says:

      You can get small safes starting at $50. At any rate, it is worth noting that you can keep a fire safe for years, so as you collect more important documents, you can add them.

    • MoneyNing says:

      I agree with Miranda. For very important documents, a fire proof safe is well worth the cost.

  • Vlad says:

    I think the main things you need – are your ID and cash in your pocket.

Leave a Comment