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Hurricane season officially begins June 1, which makes the following question from a reader all the more timely. We thought it would also serve as a warning to other consumers who may face the same situation in the future.

I was living in southern Louisiana in 2008 and had to evacuate for Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, which both occurred back-to-back. During that time I had a bill from Progressive Insurance that I either never got or was lost in the chaos and it went to collections. I noticed this on my credit report in 2010 (I was deployed to Iraq throughout 2009) and paid the bill immediately. Is there anything that I can do to try to get this off of my report now? I tried to contact the collection company about the issue and they were very rude and offered no assistance.

Depending on the magnitude of the disaster, many victims may end up facing power loss, flooding or worse — for days or weeks at a time. This can often lead to mail delays, missing statements or lost payments. If the damage is severe enough, it can take months for disaster victims to recover — and in cases like Hurricane Katrina, many victims may even lose their lives. Understandably, your first priority is to make sure you and your family are safe and out of harm’s way.

If you’ve been a victim of a natural disaster, it’s important that you contact your creditors as soon as you’re safe and out of harm’s way. Creditors are often willing to work with you but only if you’re proactive and contact them when the disaster occurs, or shortly thereafter. Because the incident occurred more than two years ago, it’s unlikely that the creditor will work with you to remove the late payment from your credit report.

Many banks, creditors and service providers have special natural disaster policies and procedures designed to help their customers with account issues and payment delays. The key to getting help is to act quickly. Never assume that your creditors automatically know that you’ve been hit by a natural disaster and you’re stuck in the thick of it.

Lastly, it’s also important, if you’ve had a natural disaster disrupt your life, to check your credit reports regularly in case you did miss an important bill. You can check your credit reports for free from each of the three major credit reporting agencies once per year. It’s also good to monitor your credit score for changes — and you can do that for free once each month using Credit.com’s Credit Report Card.

For more information on natural disaster preparedness and credit related issues:

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