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This Week in Your Wallet: August 30, 2011

Here in Westchester County, NY, we are one of tens of thousands without power from Irene – and I’m sure one of nearly that many with a little water in the basement. But as I look at the images of Vermont, as well as some towns in New Jersey, Connecticut and North Carolina, I know it could have been so much worse.   My hope for you is that you’re not at all impacted.  Or that, if you were, you’re undergoing a minor inconvenience like I am and not sifting through silt to recover the only copies of your family photos.

In bringing you information related to the hurricane this week, I know some of you may feel this doesn’t concern you.  Read it anyway.  A reporter on the Today Show this morning noted that Irene is the 10th multi-billion dollar natural disaster of 2011 thus far. Clearly this information is important to have on hand.

Do You Have A Claim?

I’m going to go through a few basics, but I want to point you to a great story from Reuters.com  that also may answer a lot of your questions. It’s here.

Let’s talk floods first. The standard homeowners and renters policies don’t cover floods.  To file a claim for flood, you would have had to previously purchase flood insurance from the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program.  If you did this — and you’re flooded — get on the horn.  You’ll file this claim through your homeowners insurer.  But you only have 30 days to do it.  Flood damage, for the record, is different than water damage that came not from the ground up but from the sky down.  If you have water damage because your roof leaked, for instance, and the leak in the roof was caused by the hurricane, you should be covered.  Call your insurer.

If your car was damaged, contact your auto insurer.  This falls under the comprehensive section of your policy so as long as you didn’t drop that because your car was too old to warrant it, that’s where you should file.

How about trees?  If a tree falls on your house, most insurance companies will pay up to $500 to remove it (or them, as the case may be) according to the Insurance Information Institute.  If a neighbor’s tree hit your house, that neighbor’s homeowners insurer is on the hook and vice versa if your tree hit the neighbor’s house.  If a tree falls in your yard, you’re on your own.

Finally, there’s the food in your freezer.  Yes, you can file a claim for that.  Food storage is covered, typically, for $250 to $500.  If that doesn’t top your deductible and that’s all you have to report, filing isn’t worth it.

What Do You Do Next?

The best thing you can do is act quickly.  Get in touch with your insurance agent or insurance company.  If you don’t have a copy of your policy, you’ll be able to assess over the phone how long you have to file a claim, what sort of appraisals will be necessary and what you can do in the interim.

The Insurance Information Institute is a great source for all of this information.  They published a brochure on this topic; it’s available here.  But among the things you should know are that making temporary repairs is okay – particularly if it prevents more damage to your property.  Just understand, your total settlement is a lump sum of money and anything you pay for these temporary repairs comes off the top.  Save receipts, too.   Also, any sort of paper trail you can pull together for the insurance adjuster will be very helpful in getting your claim settled faster.  Take pictures/videos of the damage.  Don’t throw anything out until after the adjuster has been to the house.  And make a list of everything you want the adjuster to look at.  You’re under considerable stress at a time like this.  It’s natural that you would forget things.  A list helps.

Because You Probably Need A Laugh After All This

Was there any upside from Irene?  For online retailers, perhaps.  Fortune magazine reported that online jewelry retailer Gemvara saw a spike in time spent on its site – and the average sale went up by 200%!  What’s this all about?  As I’ve said before, shopping – for some people – provides the same kind of pick me up we get from chocolate, from exercise, from sex.  Clearly, there were a lot of people feeling a little down.

Hope you have a good week!


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