Fact Sheet: How to Save Damaged Family and Personal Treasures

Release date:
September 11, 2017
Release Number:
FEMA FS-011

Many valuable and cherished personal items damaged by flood waters often can be rescued. Here are some tips on how to save some of your family treasures:

  • If an object is still wet, rinse it gently with clean water. If dry, remove silt and other foreign material with a soft brush or damp cloth.
  • Air dry wet things indoors. Sunlight might be too intense. Keep humidity as low as possible to prevent mold accumulation.
  • Flood water may be contaminated. Wear protective gloves, clothing and goggles.
  • Do not try to separate photos or negatives that are stuck together. Soak them in water for up to 48 hours until you can safely pull them apart. Hang them with clips or clothespins to dry.
  • Put wet books in a sturdy covered plastic container, spine side down. Place the container in a freezer and keep it there for several weeks, even months. Then remove and let dry.
  • With fabrics or textiles, remove mud and debris with gently flowing clean water or fine spray from a hose. Press out the excess water with your hand. Do not try to wring out the water. Allow to dry.
  • Clean wooden objects, like furniture, with a damp sponge; blot and let dry slowly inside the house, not under the sun.
  • Rinse metal objects with clear water and blot dry immediately with a clean, soft cloth. Fans or low-heat hairdryers will hasten drying rate.
  • For broken pottery or ceramics, put all the pieces in an open container and mark what it is. Don’t try to glue the pieces back together until they are dry, and watch for mold. If mold appears, spray the pieces with Mold-Ex or a similar product.

For more information, log onto preservecollections.org. To find a professional conservator, log onto conservation-us.org/membership/find-a-conservator.

7 Tips for Hurricane Preparedness

With hurricane season underway, ABA is encouraging consumers to prepare for hurricane season by assessing their home’s risk and developing emergency plans to protect against a potential storm.

  • Know your risk. FEMA’s map service center will show you the flood risk for your community, which helps determine the type of flood insurance coverage  you will need since standard homeowners insurance doesn’t cover flooding.
  • Assemble an emergency kit. The emergency kit should include first aid supplies, a flashlight, extra batteries, at least three days of non-perishable foods and water, towels and a supply of any necessary medications. Stay informed of the storm’s path and progress by monitoring Wireless Emergency Alerts via text message and having a battery-powered radio or TV available.
  • Develop a family communications plan. Know how you will contact one another; how you will get back together, if separated; and what you will do in different situations. Having a plan can eliminate some of the stress and confusion.
  • Establish an evacuation route. Prior to a storm, contact your local American Red Cross to locate the shelter nearest you or download their Shelter Finder App. Identify the safest route to get there. Be sure to check if your local emergency shelter allows animals and family pets.
  • Secure your home. Outdoor furniture and other objects can pose a potential hazard. Turn off propane tanks and other utilities if instructed to do so by emergency personnel.
  • Protect financial documents.  In the event of a disaster, you will need identification and financial documents to begin the recovery process.  Safeguard important documents in a bank safety deposit box, computer storage devices (USB drive, CD/DVD), and/or waterproof storage containers, including:
  • Personal identification (driver’s licenses, birth certificates, military IDs, passports, etc.)
  • Financial account information (checking, savings, retirement and investment accounts, credit/debit cards).
  • Insurance policies on all personal property, including appraisals and lists and photos of valuable items.
  • Ownership or leasing documentation for homes and vehicles (deeds, titles, registrations, rental agreements, etc.)
  • All health and medical insurance documentation.
  • Know the details of your insurance policy. Talk with your agent to determine if you have adequate coverage or if you need to reassess your plan. This is especially important if your property’s flood map has changed.

The FEMA website, Ready.gov, offers tips on preparing for an emergency. FEMA offers a free app that is available for download through your smart phone. For more resources, visit the FEMA site: http://www.ready.gov/hurricanes.

How to Protect Your Loved One from Financial Abuse

Financial exploitation is one of the most common forms of abuse committed against older Americans. According to a Metlife study, an estimated $2.9 billion is lost annually to scams explicitly targeting seniors.  The American Bankers Association Foundation is urging older Americans and their caregivers to join the fight against financial abuse and take active steps to protect their finances from fraud.

“Older Americans currently hold more than two-thirds of all U.S. deposits, making them highly susceptible to scams, exploitation and abuse,” said Corey Carlisle, ABA Foundation executive director. “It’s critical that seniors and their loved ones recognize the signs of financial abuse before it’s too late and get help immediately if they think they’ve been victimized.”

To help older Americans and their caregivers protect themselves or their loved ones from financial abuse, the ABA Foundation is offering the following tips:

  • Plan ahead to protect your assets and to ensure your wishes are followed. Talk to someone at your financial institution, an attorney, or financial advisor about the best options for you.
  • Carefully choose a trustworthy person to act as your agent in all estate-planning matters. Select someone who has your best interest at heart.
  • Never give personal information, including your Social Security, account number or other financial information to anyone over the phone unless you initiated the call and the other party is trusted.
  • Stay alert to common fraud schemes. Never pay a fee or taxes to collect sweepstakes or lottery “winnings.”
  • Never rush into a financial decision.  Ask for details in writing and consult with a financial advisor or attorney before signing any document you don’t understand.
  • Check references and credentials before hiring anyone. Don’t allow workers to have access to information about your finances and make sure to lock up your checkbook, account statements and other sensitive information when others will be in your home.
  • Pay with checks and credit cards instead of cash to keep a paper trail.
  • You have the right not to be threatened or intimidated. If you believe you are a victim of elder financial abuse, contact your local Adult Protective Services, tell someone at your bank or call your local police for help.

In 2016, ABA Foundation launched its Safe Banking for Seniors campaign to encourage banks all across the country to spread awareness and educate older customers and their families on safe banking practices. To date, more than 650 banks have held financial education seminars for seniors and their financial caregivers on a range of topics, including common scams, how to choose a financial caregiver and safe banking practices.

For more information on ABA Foundation’s Safe Banking for Seniors initiative, visit aba.com/seniors.

8 Ways to Protect Your Data Online

The American Bankers Association is highlighting eight tips to help online users protect their data and guard against online threats.

“Cyber thieves are using social media profiles to gather personal information and use it to commit fraud,” said Doug Johnson, ABA’s senior vice president of payments and cybersecurity policy.  “It’s extremely important that consumers limit the amount of information they share online and stay away from using easily retrieved information — such as birthdates, pet’s names or school mascots — as answers to security questions.”

ABA is offering the following tips to help consumers safeguard their information online:

  • Keep your computers and mobile devices up to date.  Having the latest security software, web browser, and operating system are the best defenses against viruses, malware, and other online threats. Turn on automatic updates so you receive the newest fixes as they become available.
  • Set strong passwords. A strong password is at least eight characters in length and includes a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.
  • Watch out for phishing scams. Phishing scams use fraudulent emails and websites to trick users into disclosing private account or login information. Do not click on links or open any attachments or pop-up screens from sources you are not familiar with.
      • Forward phishing emails to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at spam@uce.gov – and to the company, bank, or organization impersonated in the email.

  • Keep personal information personal. Hackers can use social media profiles to figure out your passwords and answer those security questions in the password reset tools. Lock down your privacy settings and avoid posting things like birthdays, addresses, mother’s maiden name, etc.  Be wary of requests to connect from people you do not know.
  • Secure your internet connection. Always protect your home wireless network with a password. When connecting to public Wi-Fi networks, be cautious about what information you are sending over it.
  • Shop safely. Before shopping online, make sure the website uses secure technology. When you are at the checkout screen, verify that the web address begins with https. Also, check to see if a tiny locked padlock symbol appears on the page.
  • Read the site’s privacy policies. Though long and complex, privacy policies tell you how the site protects the personal information it collects. If you don’t see or understand a site’s privacy policy, consider doing business elsewhere.

9 Tips for Paying Off Your Credit Card Debt

Buried in credit card debt? You’re not alone. According to NerdWallet, in 2015 the average U.S. household with debt had $15,762 in credit card debt at an average 18% interest rate. Annual interest alone was $2,630, or more than $50 a week.

Here are nine tips on how to climb out. Remember, though, there are no magical solutions.

Stop spending more than you make

Tell yourself the truth. Analyze your bills to see where your money is going. Car payments, rent or mortgage, groceries and utilities are essentials; nearly everything else is subject to elimination or reduction. And don’t forget those $100 withdrawals from the ATM. Create a realistic budget and declare allegiance to it. Concentrate on the little things; just knocking off a $4 latte on the way to work can save $80 a month.

Keep paying on the cards

Failing to pay every month on every card just makes matters worse: The interest goes up and the debt goes up.  Always pay at least the minimum listed on the bill.  Not doing so may ruin your credit rating, making it harder to borrow money for essentials, such as a car, in the future.

Concentrate on paying off your smallest debt

The typical American has about four credit cards, so try pounding away at the one with the least debt. After you pay it in full, stop using it and apply the monthly payment to the next smallest bill. This “snowball effect” is a slow cure but leaves you with a feeling of accomplishment. This method, however, may cost you more in the long run, so read on.

Pay off the card with the highest interest

Pretty basic math here. Eliminating debt that costs you 28% is better than killing debt that costs you 18%. Try throwing your entire income tax refund or last month’s overtime pay at this bill. Then move on to the account with the next-highest interest rate.

 Consolidate onto a lower-interest card

This can save you a ton in interest, especially if you eliminate all your other cards. Cards are available that will charge you 0% interest on the debt you have transferred.  However, this rate goes up after a specified time, usually 12 to 18 months. In addition, the issuer usually charges a fee — 3% is typical — on the transferred debt. Still, this can be a great deal if you can substantially reduce your debt in a relatively short time.

Take out a personal loan

Many lenders, including credit unions and banks, offer unsecured personal loans, meaning you don’t have to use your home or car as collateral. However, everything depends on your credit score. Below 620, interest rates will be high, although perhaps still below the rates on the credit cards it will be replacing. It’s worth shopping for.

Try a home equity loan

This loan, tapping the difference between the sale value of your home and money you still owe on it, also is based on your credit rating, as are home equity lines of credit. In addition, you could lose your home if you default. Consider with caution.

Cut a deal with the credit card company

This might be a long shot, but if you have a good credit history with the company and clearly have just fallen on hard times, it might negotiate with you on a lower interest rate. Like any other company, it wants to retain good customers.

Declare bankruptcy

This is the nuclear option. Yes, Chapter 7 bankruptcy will eliminate all your credit card debt and leave your home protected from repossession. However, it will be nearly impossible to get a mortgage for five years, and the filing will haunt you for up to a decade if you hope to finance anything at a reasonable rate.

 

© Copyright 2017 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

5 Financial Resolutions for the New Year

A brand new year provides the perfect opportunity to make meaningful life changes, including improved financial wellness. These five financial resolutions can help get your year off to a promising start.

1. Get on budget

Take charge of your finances by creating a budget. Start by calculating after-tax income and subtracting fixed monthly expenses. Then allocate portions of the remaining income for savings, important goals and a few things that just make you happy. If this sounds complicated, relax; today’s user-friendly budget apps can take a lot of the pain out of the process. To further simplify money matters, consider setting up automatic bill pay, an automatic savings plan and separate savings accounts for specific goals.

2. Build an emergency fund

Without a solid cushion, any unexpected job loss, medical challenge or serious property damage could lead to lasting financial hardship. An emergency fund with three to six months’ worth of expenses can protect your standard of living and offer peace of mind. Commit to making consistent deposits to this fund even if you can only spare a small amount each month. Because you may need to tap into emergency cash at a moment’s notice, choose a vehicle that gives you easy access, such as a savings or money-market account.

3. Prepare for retirement

Retirement may not be on the immediate horizon, but when the time comes it may well last 20 years or more. You’ll probably need somewhere from 70 to 90% of your final-year income for each year of retirement, and it’s unlikely that Social Security will be sufficient. Saving such a sizeable sum takes decades, so it pays to start early. Put as much as you can afford into tax-advantaged Roth or traditional IRAs, and if your job provides a 401(k) plan, contribute the maximum employer-matched amount.

4. Improve your credit

You likely know that credit scores affect financing approval and interest rates. But the influence of those three little numbers actually stretches much further. Prospective employers and landlords frequently check credit, so low scores may mean missing out on the best jobs and apartments. Credit scores also may affect insurance premiums, mobile phone offers, vacation costs, and even whether utility hookups require a cash deposit. For top scores:

  • Pay all bills on time.
  • Keep credit card balances at no more than 20% to 30% of the credit limit.
  • Carry a mix of debt types such as credit cards, auto loans and personal loans.
  • Monitor credit to catch and correct any errors or problems.

5. Knock down debt

Even with a great job, high-interest debt can sabotage financial health. To dig out from under this burden, consider concentrating efforts on your highest interest debt first while continuing to make timely smaller payments on all other obligations. When the first balance is satisfied, focus on the most expensive remaining debt and continue this way until you’re debt-free.

If debt from multiple sources is unmanageable, debt consolidation may help you regain control. This approach streamlines debts into one payment, often with reduced interest and a lower monthly cost. Depending on your individual situation, home equity financing, personal loans or zero interest balance transfer credit cards may be effective debt consolidation choices.

Smart money resolutions boost financial stability not just immediately but over the long haul as well. The bonus takeaway is the confidence that all life’s remarkable milestones and challenges won’t break the bank.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

How to Avoid the Busy Holiday Scamming Season

You’re not the only one joyfully anticipating the holiday season. Cyber criminals are all aflutter, too, as they look forward to the killing they’ll make ripping off innocent shoppers like you. Here are some of the most common ways these thieves operate, because awareness can help you avoid becoming yet another victim.

Antisocial media

Beware those enticing ads that turn up on Facebook and other social media sites offering vouchers, gift cards and deep discounts, as well as the online surveys these ads often link to. These offers are often only empty promises designed to steal your personal information.

Additionally, if you receive concert, theater or sporting event tickets as a gift, never post pictures of them online. Cyber thieves spend lots of time monitoring social media, just waiting for the opportunity to create phony tickets they can resell from your barcode image. If your ticket is resold, you might just find yourself out of a seat on the night of your event. It’s also unwise to post live from an event that gives criminals a heads-up that your home is empty and ripe for picking. Better to wait until the next day to post about the wonderful time you had.

Pandora’s inbox

It may be a mystery to you how cyber thieves got your private email address, but it’s chillingly clear they’re up to no good. Your inbox may fill up with all kinds of legitimate-looking product offers and delivery notices this holiday season, but clicking on links of bogus ones or entering personal information on the linked sites can provide criminals with the opportunity to steal your identity.

Apps are far from immune

With mobile apps available for just about everything, it’s a sad sign of the times that certain free mobile apps (often disguised as games) have been specifically designed to steal personal information from your phone. This is a particularly scary development since many people use their phones to secure their cars and homes. For this reason, only install apps from familiar companies and, at the very least, find a third-party review from a trusted site if you’re interested in an app from an unfamiliar source.

USB Trojan horses

Lots of people use portable USB drives, which makes it all the more important to avoid those being distributed as giveaways this holiday season unless they’re from a trusted source. These innocent-looking devices are often used as a method of introducing malware to computers.

Gifts that keep on giving … to criminals

A spirit of generosity is traditional at holiday time, but if you’re not careful, your donations may never make it to the needy. Fake charities that skillfully tug at your heartstrings abound at this time of year, just waiting for you to willingly give your hard-earned cash to scammers. Before donating, be sure to check out charities thoroughly, to make sure that they’re not only legitimate, but also that they allocate the bulk of funds toward their causes rather than “administrative costs.”

Tips to avoid holiday scams

These strategies will also help keep you a step ahead of scammers:

  • Only shop online with reputable businesses you trust, using secure websites with an address that begins with https.
  • Don’t shop or bank over public Wi-Fi.
  • Protect your credit card privacy by covering your account number with your hand when shopping in public.
  • Don’t respond to suspicious unsolicited calls or emails. Only open email attachments from senders you trust, and contact businesses only through their official websites, phone numbers or email addresses.
  • Monitor your credit to catch fraud at its earliest stages.

Scammers may be smart, but you can still outsmart them. A little foreknowledge and caution go a long way toward ensuring you’ll enjoy a safe and memorable holiday season.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Getting Hitched Doesn’t Need to Mean Marrying Finances

Marriage generally implies that two homes and lives become one. Should it also involve a complete merging of earnings, assets and expenses? With money arguments being one of the leading causes of failed marriages, combining finances can be scary. For some couples it’s the right approach, but there are several other options.

The traditional approach

Just a few generations ago, one spouse was generally the breadwinner who paid all the bills. Although today most marriages involve two people who work, the traditional approach isn’t entirely obsolete. It can be effective when one partner is a stay at home parent or full-time student, or one spouse earns much more than the other. It’s also appropriate for couples choosing to bank one income to save for shared goals, such as a down payment for a home. Single breadwinner couples may merge assets or maintain separate accounts.

This type of arrangement works best when both partners have similar financial styles so that no one ends up feeling like a child having to ask for spending money or resenting the other for spending too much.

The share-everything approach

With this option, couples completely merge financial assets and responsibilities. All investments and debts are in both names and bills are typically paid from one joint account. Sharing everything works particularly well for couples that enter marriage with similar incomes and limited assets. As with the traditional approach, it’s vital that spouses have compatible styles to avoid feelings of resentment or deprivation.

The four-accounts approach

Sharing is beautiful but sometimes it’s also nice to have a little something of your own. With this arrangement, both partners contribute equally to a joint checking account used to handle household expenses and joint savings to reach shared goals. Their remaining income is deposited to individual accounts to be saved or spent at each partner’s discretion. This approach makes sense for couples with comparable incomes and debts, or when one partner is much more frugal than the other, since it lets both manage money as they see fit without straining the relationship. In cases where one spouse earns substantially more than the other, couples may want to contribute a percentage of their income as opposed to a fixed monthly amount to the joint accounts.

The what’s-mine-is-mine approach

Some couples may simply be more comfortable maintaining totally separate assets and liabilities. With this approach responsibility for household expenses may be split equally, divided according to ability to pay, or each spouse may pick which bills to cover. Keeping finances separate may make sense if one partner has a much larger income, net worth or debt than the other. When entering into marriage with vastly different financial positions, it’s also a good idea to consider a prenuptial agreement, whether or not separate or joint accounts are maintained.

Which way is best?

Whether and how completely to merge finances is ultimately a matter of individual style. With honest communication and trust, any of these vastly different approaches can work, giving those who choose what feels right a good chance at avoiding the bitter money conflicts that plague so many married couples.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

How to Help Aging Parents Without Going Broke

The stress involved in being a care provider for your parents is twofold: You want to make sure they’re not in pain, while making sure that you don’t hurt yourself financially. The balance is a delicate one.

Almost a third of adults ages 40 to 59 have provided financial support to a parent in the previous year, according to a recent Pew Research report. If you’re in that situation, see what you can do to help without burning through your savings or going into debt.

Understand your parents’ finances 

If you’re not used to asking your parents about their money situation, this can be a hard topic to broach. But it’s necessary. You want to know upfront about how far their funds will take them, including retirement savings, pensions and Social Security payments. A more important question is: Can they afford assisted living or a nursing home, should that become necessary, and for how long? Also check their insurance coverage should they need expensive drugs or extended hospital care.

Evaluate health coverage

Make sure your parents will have a way to handle future health costs. Although Medicare can cover hospital, medical and prescription drug costs, there are limits, and some expenses may need to be paid out of pocket. Look into options like the Medicare Savings Program for your state, and also use the National Council on Aging’s free service, BenefitsCheckUp.org, to see what other help may be available to your parents.

Get professional advice

Once it’s clear that your parents will need more help soon, get a geriatric care manager to assess the situation. These professionals work with families to determine the best course of action for quality of life in terms of housing, legal services, home care and other assistance. Who is best fit to hold a power of attorney for your parents, for instance, is an issue they can help you sort out.

Get family involved

If you’re not an only child or if you have family members who can help, don’t try to do it all on your own. It can burn you out, and sharing the financial costs with other relatives can help ensure that it’s a family effort.

Consider hospice care

Sending your parents to a nursing home might not be the best option. If a parent has a terminal illness, hospice can be a good alternative, and Medicare or Medicaid may cover all the costs, including care, medicine and other supplies. You’ll have to make sure the arrangement is approved through your parent’s health coverage. Also note that any conditions unrelated to a covered illness may not come under hospice benefits.

By checking on programs and services that can help your parents, you can make supporting them financially a last resort instead of your first.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

How to Protect Your Money and Accounts Online

Being able to bank or shop online is a great convenience, but you want to be sure you’re protecting yourself before you hit “send.” If the wrong people access your accounts, you might find yourself with a lot less money than you thought. Here are six steps you can take to help make sure that doesn’t happen.

1. Do your online shopping/banking from home

You’ve probably taken steps to secure your home network, so it makes sense to do most of your online activity there. Public computers are convenient, but be careful about entering passwords and sensitive account information when using these machines. Many will keep your login data in the web browser history, so after you leave, the next person who uses the computer might be able to see what you typed and access your account.

If you’re on your own laptop or mobile device but using public Wi-Fi to access the Internet, you could run into similar issues. You can’t be sure the network you’re on is secure, and if it’s not, a lurking hacker could see any information you send. When you use public Wi-Fi, consider updating the settings on your device to make sure you don’t automatically join networks you won’t use regularly.

If you have to shop or bank online while away from home, consider using a virtual private network, or VPN, service to protect your account information.

2. Install antivirus software

Many antivirus companies will send security patches to your computer automatically, so you don’t have to be a tech genius to get the most up-to-date protection. In addition to installing an antivirus program, it’s a good idea to check your operating system, web browser and mobile devices to make sure they also have the latest software updates.

3. Be smart with account passwords

Strong passwords include both uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols, and they can’t easily be guessed. Security experts recommend that you change your passwords at least every few months. Don’t use the same password for multiple accounts, especially your online banking accounts.

4. Don’t skimp on mobile security

Sometimes you may need to shop or bank online while you’re on the go. When using smartphones, tablets and laptops, you can help protect your accounts by adding a password to lock your device screen. Also, install a “find your phone” tool to help locate your device if it’s misplaced. Many such tools give you the ability to disable your device remotely, in case it can’t be recovered.

5. Remember, ‘secure’ starts with an ‘s’

Before sending over account numbers or other sensitive information, check to see whether your browser address bar begins with “https” instead of “http”. The extra “s” literally stands for “secure,” because the page is encrypted. In addition to checking for the “s,” you can also look to see whether the webpage has a seal from such organizations as the Better Business Bureau, Truste or VeriSign, which means the site is more likely to be trustworthy.

6. Shop with a credit card, not a debit card

With a credit card, you’ll generally have better consumer protection. If someone makes unauthorized charges, you’re only responsible for up to $50.

But with a debit card, your maximum liability is capped at $50 only if you report the card’s loss or theft within two business days after learning of it. After two days, you could be out $500 if you report a loss or theft within 60 days of getting your account statement — and beyond 60 days, you could lose all the money in your account, plus money taken from linked accounts.

No matter which card you have, set up automatic alerts to notify you when your card is used, and regularly check your statements for any charges you don’t recognize.

When you’re banking or shopping online, you don’t want to leave an open door for hackers. So it’s best to secure your accounts and your devices to protect your hard-earned money.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved