Teresa McUsic

Be prepared to document your next disaster

Prepare for the worst by taking steps to protect vital documents in case of a disaster. This year flooding in Horseshoe Bend forced many families from their homes.
Prepare for the worst by taking steps to protect vital documents in case of a disaster. This year flooding in Horseshoe Bend forced many families from their homes. pmoseley@star-telegram.com

Four months of tornadoes and floods have affected thousands of Texas homeowners and renters this spring, but not many were likely thinking of their personal financial documents when the rain and wind came in.

To qualify for emergency help, file your taxes for a faster return or submit an insurance claim, those documents need to be available.

“Reconstructing records after they were lost or destroyed in a disaster may be vital for tax purposes, getting federal assistance or insurance reimbursement,” said Clay Sanford, an IRS spokesman in Dallas. “You may need to reconstruct your records to prove you have a casualty loss and the amount of the loss.”

Since March, Texas has experienced three federally declared disaster areas from storms affecting 25 counties, many hit more than once. The storm damage done in late May and last’s week flooding will likely earn more counties in the area disaster designation.

Erath County has received the federal disaster designation once this spring from storms, while Parker and Hood counties have received it twice. In addition, large population counties like Harris (Houston) and Travis (Austin) have also been declared disasters. All the named disaster areas enabled residents to file for individual assistance.

The IRS also came out with a reminder last week to tax filers that if you are in a declared major disaster area you may be given addition time to file your return and pay taxes, Sanford said.

You may also be able to get a faster refund by claiming losses related to the disaster on the previous year’s tax return by filing an amended return, Sanford said.

The Southwest region of the IRS is holding a webinar June 30 for more information on what to do if you are in a disaster area.

And whether in the disaster area or just waiting for the next disaster, it’s good to know what the Federal Emergency Management Agency needs in terms of documentation to file for government assistance.

Homeowners and renters have 60 days from the declaration date of the federal disaster to register, according to Tiana Suber, the FEMA public information officer for the area. You can register using the website DisasterAssistance.gov or calling 1-800-621-3362.

FEMA assistance can include money for rental assistance, home repairs, personal property loss and other disaster-related needs not covered by insurance. FEMA grants do not have to be repaid and the aid is not taxable nor will it affect eligibility for Social Security, Medicaid or other federal benefits.

Survivors should register even if they have insurance. FEMA won’t duplicate insurance payments, but if you are underinsured, you may receive help after your claims have been settled.

The documentation FEMA needs to provide property ownership includes:

1. Deed or official record

2. Title number

3. Mortgage payment documents

4. Property insurance

5. Tax receipts or a property tax bill.

6. Driver’s license

Renters need:

1. Utility bill

2. Credit card bills, delivery notices

3. Other mail that is addressed to you

4. Driver’s license

If your documents has been damaged or lost in the floods, Suber advises that you contact your insurance company. County and state offices, creditors and the department of motor vehicles also may have your information on file.

“If possible, I would advise residents to keep electronic copies of all of their documentation,” Suber said. “All of those I have listed should be able to send you an electronic copy of these official documents. Save them to your email so that you can get to them anywhere you are.”

Some web services like Mint or Quickbooks also keep track of expenses and documents after you input them into the system.

To retrieve IRS records, you can file IRS Form 4506, a request for copy of your tax return for the previous four years, Sanford said.

Take these steps now to prepare for the next disaster.

Teresa McUsic’s column appears Saturdays. TMcUsic@SavvyConsumer.net

Extra help for natural disaster victims:

  • The IRS will host a free webinar at 1 p.m. on June 30 for those dealing with disasters such as floods, tornadoes, hurricanes and more. The webinar will give information on what to do if you are involved in a disaster and the tax implications. To register, send an email to sl.southwest@irs.gov. Enter “Disaster Webinar” in the subject line. Information on how to attend will be forwarded to you. For more information on disasters and tax issues, search www.IRS.gov for the IRS Publication 2194, “Disaster Resource Guide for Individuals and Businesses.”
  • The IRS has a Disaster Assistance Hotline at 866‐562‐5227, available between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. IRS personnel may be able to provide face‐to‐face assistance on disaster-related issues at your local IRS office. Access irs.gov/localcontacts/index.html to find a Taxpayer Assistance Center in your area.
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency has a list of areas warranting public or individual assistance or both at its website at www.fema.gov. FEMA also has an app available for Apple, Android and Blackberry mobile devices. The app includes alerts from the National Weather Service, safety reminders, shelter locations and where to talk to FEMA in person or on the phone. The app is available at Google Play, the App Store and Blackberry App World.