Are You Financially Prepared For An Emergency?

A little planning now can help you handle a natural disaster or other emergency.

Many Americans have focused on their need to be prepared in case of an emergency. Very few, however, consider financial preparedness in their plans. From keeping an evacuation box with important documents to setting up an account with emergency funds, preparing now can be the difference between financial security and financial crisis.

These simple tips from financial experts at Union Bank of California can help anyone prepare financially for a natural disaster:

1. Conduct a Household Inventory

Create a household inventory for items of significant value and locate originals of important financial and family documents. Store original documents in waterproof bags in a safe deposit box or durable “evacuation box” and photocopies in a safe place. Use a CD to back up key documents on your computer. If practical, store copies with friends or relatives who live outside the area.

2. Know Your Insurance Policies

Understand what types of losses your renters or homeowners insurance covers. Ask your insurance agent or financial planner about additional coverage for floods, earthquakes, home offices and big-ticket items. Keep copies of your policies in a safe place along with your other important papers.

3. Keep Cash Accessible

Keep at least $300 in cash at home in a place where you can get to it quickly in case of a sudden evacuation. The money should be in small denominations for easier use.

4. Create and Maintain a List of Emergency Contacts

Keep a list of important emergency contacts, including direct family members, doctors, medical facilities, numbers for your bank, insurance agent and company, lawyer and financial planner/advisor. Credit card 1-800 numbers can help you quickly retrieve account information.

5. Keep an Emergency Savings Account

This account should be separate from any other account and contain enough money to cover at least three to six months of living expenses.

“We’ve learned from the aftermath of recent natural disasters that financial preparedness is not always top of mind,” said Union Bank’s Executive Vice President Ronald Kendrick. “Follow these guidelines to ensure you and your family are protected financially.”

Be Cautious When Using Your Nest Egg as an ATM

About five years ago I moved from the ranks of being a renter to that of being a homeowner. Now, not a week goes by that I don’t receive some type of offer through the mail encouraging me to refinance my mortgage, open a home equity line of credit (HELOC), or apply for a home equity loan.

Payoff High Interest Credit Card Debt! Lower Your Monthly Payments! Buy A New Car! Refinance And Get Money Now! scream the slogans splashed across the envelopes.

The promotional letters inside point out how easy it will be for me to “get the extra cash you need NOW!” They promise “no out of pocket costs” with a newly refinanced 30-year loan.

Could I use some extra cash NOW? You bet I could! Who needs high interest credit card debt? Not me, no way, no how! Buy a new car? Hmmm, I like that new Pontiac G6 I’ve seen on tv, maybe in a sleek titanium color with black trim?

For thousands of U.S. households “Home Sweet Home” is rapidly being replaced with a new sentiment – “Home Sweet ATM.” According to the latest Federal Reserve study, 45% of homeowners who have refinanced their mortgages pulled cash out and 74% wound up lengthening their mortgage by about six years. Only 17% shortened their loan term opting to downsize to a 15-year mortgage.

In a period of six years, Americans have more than doubled the amount owed on home equity loans and lines of credit, nearing $766.2 billion, according to the Federal Reserve.

If you’re in your 40’s and you refinance on a new 30-yr. loan, you’ll be in your 70’s by the time your loan ends. Even if you shave off a few years by paying down your principle, you’re still risking not owning your home “free and clear” as you approach retirement age.

What happened to the era when your home was considered your nest egg to be used only for life-threatening or life-changing events like paying for a child’s wedding or for a medical emergency? And worst of all, many new homeowners are using their home’s equity as another source for financing new debts.

Think twice before using home equity to pay off credit card balances. If you’re already overspending on your credit cards now, what makes you think anything will be different after you pay them off with a loan or line of credit? Many people just wind up deeper in debt or facing bankruptcy because they couldn’t resist charging their cards up again.

Keep this in mind before tapping your home’s equity – Your loan or HELOC is secured by your home. Default on the loan and you could lose your house, even if you declare bankruptcy!

The best use for home equity is to make improvements that add value to your home. Remodeling a kitchen or bathroom, adding an extra room or creating a master suite are just a few of the “hot” improvements that can really pay off when it comes time for you to sell.

If your home truly is your nest egg, be smart about how use its equity. Make sure that it fits in with your overall financial plan and golas. Otherwise, you could be left without a nest and just the egg!