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Disaster prep time & extended tax time

Dolly_july08_spaghetti_run_closeup The 2008 Atlantic hurricane season is finally getting into gear. As I type, weather watchers say Tropical Storm Dolly is approaching hurricane strength as it heads for the Texas-Mexico border.

As long-time readers know, it was such ocean storms (Irene in 1999, Frances and Jeanne in 2004 and a handful of tropical systems) that helped motivate the hubby and me to get ourselves out of the Florida target area and back to a more inland Texas location back n 2005.

One of the things I always hated about 'canes was that you knew well in advance whether you might be in a storm's path. Of course, that's a curse as well as a blessing. Knowing that a storm might hit you just gives you that much longer to dread what could happen -- the wind, the rain, the leaking roof and walls and windows, the fallen trees, the downed power lines.

But it also gives you plenty of time to get ready for them.

I'm not just talking about stocking up on ice, bottled water, canned and other foods that don't need refrigeration, bread and paper goods, although that's always a good idea.

You also need to make some pre-storm-strike financial preparations.

Financial storm preparation tips: First, get a waterproof container -- we used a Rubbermaid tub with a snap-lock top -- in which to put your financial documents. Nothing too big, since you want to be able to easily carry it with you in case you need to evacuate. Now for what goes in there.

Visit your bank or ATM in plenty of time to get cash. Once a storm hits and power goes out, you won't be able to get cash and businesses won't be able to process credit card transactions.

While it's probably too late for you Texas coastal residents to make changes to their insurance coverage, you at least need to have your policy handy so you can refer to it if you need to make claims. If you have a secure spot for valuables -- a home safe you're sure will survive a storm's wind and water or a safe deposit box -- make a copy of the policy and put the original in the safe/bank box. Or vice versa, if you feel more secure hanging onto the original.

Pull out your most recent bank and investment statements so you'll have access to those account numbers if need be. Same for your tax returns. You'll need your last filing if you end up in a major disaster area and decide to submit an amended return to more quickly claim any storm damage costs. All these documents also should go in the storm-prep tub.

If you have passports, stick them in there, too, along with birth and marriage certificates and copies of each family member's driver's license.

Also include all personal property related paperwork: your home's deed and loan information (you might need to call your lender to make arrangements for late payments if you're particularly hard hit and/or out of work for a while because of the storm), car titles, as well as snapshots, digital photos or videotapes of your property before the storm hits. These will help expedite any insurance claims.

Back up your computer files digitally and/or print out important documents. Put both the paper and digital backups in the bin.

As for all the documents you've copied, consider making one more duplicate of each and sending them to a friend or family member who lives out of the storm strike area and whom you can trust not to snoop into your financial details.

Finally, don't panic. Making it through a storm, both physically and financially, is quite doable as long as you prepare, pay attention to official alerts and don't take any stupid chances.

And even if you're not in a hurricane zone, you should put together a financial survival kit and regularly update it because disasters can strike any time, any place.

Irs_logo Extra tax time for prior storm victims: While Texans and our neighbors to the south hope that they can say hello and a quick goodbye to Dolly, some folks are still dealing with the aftermath of natural disasters earlier this year.

And the IRS has a bit of good news for those taxpayers.

Victims of floods, storms and tornadoes in six states now have until Aug. 29 to file certain returns, to make some tax payments and to perform other tax and time-sensitive acts.

The extra tax time applies to residents of presidential disaster areas in affected counties in Indiana, Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

This IRS notice has links to the specific state information. The agency also keeps a running list of major disasters at this Web page.

More tax information on how to deal with casualties, disasters and thefts is available in Tax Topic 515 and IRS Publication 547.

Publication 2194, Disaster Losses Kit for Individuals, is chock full of information, from getting copies of old tax returns to a list of documents you'll need to seek federal help to a worksheet to help you value the items you lost.

USA.gov also has a collection of articles on disaster preparedness, ranging from general guidelines to specifics on dealing with earthquakes, fires, floods, hurricanes and other severe weather.

Finally, FEMA maintains its own major disaster list here.

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