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Build Your Financial First Aid Kit

Article and audio introduction by Samantha Kennedy, Family and Consumer Sciences

Back in April, I wrote about the importance of keeping personal papers and financial documents secure. I would like to revisit that topic, with particular emphasis on what is called an Emergency Financial First Aid Kit (EFFAK).

Be Prepared!

Here in Florida, we are still in the throes of hurricane season, which continues until November 30. And with the recent Atlantic storms Florence and Gordon – and potentially more systems to come – it is important to remember that our lives and homes can be adversely impacted by a natural disaster or other catastrophic event.

While food, water, and shelter are most people’s top priorities when it comes to disaster preparedness, it is extremely important to be financially prepared as well. Papers, documents, and other financial information may be impossible or extremely difficult to replace if destroyed. Preparing an EFFAK now, before an event occurs, will help ensure a speedier recovery.

Important papers and documents can be irreplaceable, so protecting them during and after a disaster is vital to a speedier, less stressful recovery. (Photo credit: Samantha Kennedy)

What to Include

Some of the basic items to include in any financial first aid kit are photo IDs for all household members, birth and death certificates, social security cards, military service paperwork, pet ID tags, immunization records, wills, deeds, insurance policies, tax statements, health records, medications, and health insurance cards.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), there are four simple steps to financial preparedness. The first one is Assess and Compile. Gather important papers, documents, and contacts together, including electronic versions, and assess which ones are the most important. Print or download copies of bills that are paid automatically. Take photographs of valuables and documents for the kit.

The second step is Review. This involves reviewing all insurance policies and other financial paperwork to make sure they are all current and accurately reflect the necessary levels of coverage. Increase any coverages to home, auto, or renter’s policies that may be inadequate to cover potential maximum losses should disaster strike.

The third step is Safeguard. Compiling important documents is just the beginning. The EFFAK is useless if it gets destroyed. Be sure to properly store all paper and electronic copies of the kit in a safe place, such as in a water- and fireproof strongbox or safe deposit box.  It is a good idea to have multiple copies of the kit, if possible, stored in several places.

The fourth step is Update. Each year, go through the kit and make sure all the documents are up to date. Add any new documents that may have been acquired in the past year and discard any that are out of date or no longer needed. Updates may need to occur more often if a major life event happens such as marriage, divorce, death, or childbirth.

Remember, electricity may not be available immediately following a catastrophic event, which means debit and credit cards may not work. It is always a good idea to have an adequate supply of cash on hand for post-disaster purchases. Include this money as part of the monthly budget so it does not cause undue hardship if and when the time comes.

For More Information

FEMA has created an excellent and comprehensive handbook on creating an Emergency Financial First Aid Kit, which can be found here: bit.ly/EFFAK2018.  It contains a lot of great information, tools, and checklists for creating an effective kit.

For tips on how to better organize your financial documents, check out the UF/IFAS publication, “Financial Recordkeeping: Organizing Your Financial Life.”

For more information on disaster preparedness and building a financial first aid kit, please call Samantha Kennedy at the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Service at (850) 926-3931.

Extension programs are open to everyone regardless of race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations.

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