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A Credit Card Checklist for Natural Disasters

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Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf coast with 145-mile-an-hour winds on August 29, 2005. Almost six years later, many people are still recovering. And as I write this, Hurricane Irene, hitting the Caribbean hard, is headed toward the East Coast with a predicted landfall along North Carolina this weekend. On Tuesday, an earthquake—a 5.9, no less—hit central Virginia with tremors extending from the Carolinas to New England.

The prospect of a natural disaster, whether it’s a hurricane, tornado, wildfires, flood, or earthquake, is a possibility in most of our lives. Hopefully, you’ll never have to live through a devastating event, but it’s always best to be prepared—financially and otherwise—so you can react quickly if you ever need to evacuate.

You can use FEMA’s excellent checklist to put together an emergency kit for your personal needs. Some of the items, such as putting matches in a waterproof container in case you need to light candles, are things you wouldn’t think of in the midst of a crisis.

You also need an “emergency kit” for your credit card information. If you have to hit the road in a hurry, having this information readily available will ease what is already a stressful situation.

You need to make a list that includes the following for each credit card:

  • Credit card name (example: Chase Freedom Visa)
  • Credit card account number
  • Toll-free number on the back of the card
  • Recurring payments you use the card for (example: a $50 monthly fee for health club membership)

And while you’re at it, go ahead and list account numbers for mortgages and car loans, if applicable. As a back up, you can keep your credit information on your cell phone. But only do this if you can store it in an encrypted, password-protected file.

This list is also good to have in case you lose your wallet or your credit card gets stolen. You’ll have all the information you need to get on the phone quickly and notify your lenders.

Always stay well below your credit card limits

When you’re on the go, you might need to put hotel and restaurant expenses on a credit card. If there’s no room on your cards for expenses, then you’ve got a big problem, especially if you can’t get access to an ATM for cash.

Aside from the practical issues of needing credit in an emergency, it’s better to keep low balances anyway. You need to keep utilization ratios low to stay out of debt and to maintain a good FICO score.

And one important thing to remember when travelling: If you have to use a public computer to check your account balances, be sure you log off before leaving. If you don’t, the next person who sits down has access to your accounts.

A Credit Card Checklist for Natural Disasters (cont.) »

Image: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, via Flickr.com

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