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To our thousands of Houstonian clients and everybody along the Gulf Coast affected by Hurricane Harvey, please know you’re in our thoughts and prayers. The Texas spirit is strong and Houston will recover from this disaster. To that end, we’ve put together a list of resources below that may help with the recovery.

If we’ve missed anything, please send us an email: info@financialengines.com

Taking care of yourself

If you or a loved one needs basic services like shelter, food, and water, please get some help at the resources below. The Red Cross, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Texas state government, and other organizations are providing shelter, food, water, and medical care at a number of locations around the Houston area.

      1. For local help with disaster-related information and resources, call 211 in Texas or visit:

        211texas.org

        If you were evacuated from your home, the Red Cross may be able to help you find shelter. Go here to find open shelters:

        Red Cross Open Shelters

        Click the image below to find an updated map of Red Cross open shelters in the Houston area.

        Source: RedCross.org. Map of Houston area open Red Cross shelters.

        Here’s a list of hotels serving Texas along with contact information:

        Texas Lodging Hotels and Phone Numbers

      1. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services set up a webpage for flood victims. Read the latest news and find valuable information on food and water safety, cleaning up, mental and behavioral health services, and much more.

        Public Health Emergency Services

        At the state level, Texas Health and Human Services is already at work with recovery efforts. They have important recommendations on drinking water, food, medical care, and other hurricane recovery safety tips here:

        Texas Hurricane Recovery Safety Tips

        The Red Cross provides this guide with important steps you can take and useful information you can apply for a safe and speedy recovery:

        Red Cross Guide: Important Steps for a Safe and Speedy Recovery

      1. Many employers offer assistance programs during disasters. Check with your employer about services for mental health such as grief counseling and coping with stress and loss. Along with talking to your employer, you can use the Society of Human Resource Management as a resource for work-related help. Additionally, if you manage employees, you can find many valuable resources here:

        Workplace Weather Disaster-related Resources

Preventing financial fraud

Natural disasters unfortunately bring out scammers trying to profit from victims and charitable folks donating to recovery efforts. Hurricane Harvey scammers are already pitching flood insurance scams to victims and intercepting donations through Harvey-themed websites and email. When it comes to preventing financial fraud in the wake of this disaster, trust those trying to help, but verify before making any financial commitments.

      1. Flood insurance scams have already been reported to the government. If you get a call that your flood premiums are past due and must be paid immediately, this could be a scam. The Federal Trade Commission has more information on how to spot and report a flood insurance scam:

        Federal Trade Commission: Callers lie about flood insurance

        If you feel you’re the target of a flood insurance scam, and need a second opinion, please call our Hurricane Help Line at 800-307-8872.

      1. Numerous cases of people posing as contractors were filed following Hurricane Katrina. These scammers ask for money up front and then never show up. When working with contractors following a disaster, the Federal Trade Commission has these suggestions:

        1. Get a written contract for any work.
        2. Do not settle for verbal contracts.
        3. Never pay in cash.
        4. Deposits of one-third the total cost are standard.

        Also, beware of fake FEMA endorsements. If a contractor claims to be endorsed or certified by FEMA, they are not telling the truth and this could be a red flag. FEMA does not certify or approve contractors.

      1. According to an article in the Kansas City Star, following Hurricane Katrina, automobile experts and insurance specialists warned that 250,000 to 500,000 cars from New Orleans could have made it to internet auction sites and used car lots in neighboring states. According to experts, unscrupulous dealers could buy storm-damaged cars, clean them up, and try to resell. Beware if you’re shopping for a car in the coming months.
      1. According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, scammers sent emails touting stocks that would benefit from the disaster. For instance, a common email claimed you could “double your money in just days” on penny stocks because of refinery glitches. Beware of penny stock scams in the coming weeks. FINRA just issued an investor alert about stock fraud in wake of Hurricane Harvey:

        Investor Alert: Beware of Stock Fraud

        Are you getting pitched an investment related to Hurricane Harvey? Does something about this pitch not seem quite right? Please call our Hurricane Help Line at 800-307-8872.

      1. Every year when the National Weather Service releases names for the year’s storms, scammers start setting up websites to try to capitalize on the disaster. For instance, after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, the FBI reported more than 4,600 websites advertising relief efforts. These websites were suspected to be fraudulent. The same is already happening with Harvey websites. So make sure you’re donating wisely. To research a charity before donating, visit Charity Navigator, the nation’s largest and most-utilized evaluator of charities:

        Charity Navigator

        For a list of the top-rated local charities in the most-affected areas, go here:

        Top-Rated Hurricane Harvey Charities

        For more tips on safe giving and the Better Business Bureau’s list of top charities for relief efforts, go here:

        BBB Tips on Helping Texas

        If you’re looking for a way to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey, and need help navigating charities, please call our Hurricane Help Line at 800-307-8872.

Protecting your savings

Your financial well-being may come under pressure in the weeks and months ahead. Unexpected costs might arise. And no doubt, you’re under a lot of stress. When it comes to financial decisions, try to avoid making emotional decisions that could end up costing you more money in penalties, taxes, and debt.

      1. If you’re in a position where you need to rebuild, we suggest following these steps in order:

      2. Talk to your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance provider right away. See what’s covered and get this process started.
      3. Use checking and savings to pay immediate expenses. Ask family members for help. Then tap into your emergency fund. These steps might help avoid taking on debt.
      4. Tap into an available home equity line of credit if you already have one, assuming the interest rate isn’t high. See if you can defer payments on other loans (like college debt) as long as the interest rate isn’t too high.
      5. Take a 401(k) loan. But beware this may prevent you from contributing and getting the company match.
      6. Take a withdrawal from Roth IRAs as long as they meet the 5-year aging requirement.
      7. Then consider withdrawals from IRAs (beware of 10% penalty and taxes) and/or hardship withdrawals from your 401(k) (also subject to a 10% penalty and taxes).
      8. Use your credit card. This should be a last resort, because the high interest rates add up over the many months this recovery will take. The debt burden could easily be larger than the 10% penalty on early withdrawals from your retirement accounts.
      9. If you need help applying these steps, please call our Hurricane Help Line at 800-307-8872. We have representatives standing by ready to help.

      1. If you’re displaced from your house or it’s uninhabitable, notify the utility, cable, internet, phone, and other service providers so they can stop billing immediately.
      2. Estimate the income and savings you have to pay bills. Prioritize your rent or mortgage and insurance premiums.
      3. If you’re renting and your unit is uninhabitable, consult with an attorney to explore your options.
      4. If you have a loan payment or credit card bill that’s due, call your creditor and ask for an extension. Creditors might work with you, which could help avoid late charges.
      5. Do you need to talk through these tips? Call our Hurricane Help Line at 800-307-8872.

      1. The IRS announced Wednesday August 30th, they’re making it easier for people affected by Hurricane Harvey to take hardship withdrawals from employer-sponsored retirement plans. If you have a retirement plan at work, you may be able to take money out of your 401(k), 403(b), and 457(b) accounts more easily.

      2. Relief applies to residents of the affected counties designated by FEMA (see image below) for individual assistance.
      3. Employer-level restrictions have been eased, so if your plan typically doesn’t allow for hardship distributions, they may be able to help you now.
      4. Check with your benefits department to learn about your options.
      5. The standard definitions of hardship have been broadened and the requirements to provide documented proof have been lifted.
      6. If still employed, you won’t be suspended from making contributions to your plan going forward.
      7. Relief applies to distributions taken between Aug. 23, 2017, and Jan. 31, 2018.
      8. A 10% early-withdrawal tax penalty will still apply if you are under age 59½.
      9. Source: FEMA.gov. Texas counties declared disaster area by FEMA.

        Hardship distributions are generally considered a last resort due to the tax implications and long-term effect on your retirement savings. If other options are available such as loans or personal savings, consider these first. For more information on standard hardship withdrawals, read our article or visit the IRS at:

        IRS FAQs Regarding Hardship Distributions

        Do you have more questions about hardship withdrawals? Please call our Hurricane Help Line at 800-307-8872. We have representatives standing by ready to answer your questions.

Taking care of your possessions

When it comes to taking care of your possessions, the first thing you need to do is contact your insurance company, broker, or agent. Next, take many photos and videos of your damaged property over the coming days and weeks. Generally, the more you document, the better.

      1. Homeowner’s insurance typically does not cover flooding. Damage from floods is usually considered separate from damage from hurricanes. Insurance that protects against floods is provided through the National Flood Insurance Program. You can find more information on this program here:

        National Flood Insurance Program

        If you live inside a flood zone, you’re required to purchase flood insurance. Unfortunately, most of Houston isn’t considered a flood zone. But make sure to check with your insurance company because you could be partially covered. For instance, your homeowner’s insurance might cover damage to your house sustained by wind.

      1. If you have other damage to your house or possessions that might quality for a claim, here are the steps you can take:

        1. Contact your insurance company, agent, or broker right away. Explain how, when, and where the damaged occurred and provide a brief description of the damage.
        2. Create a list of damaged or lost items. If possible, provide receipts for these items. Additionally, use your phone to take pictures or videos of all damage.
        3. Do not throw away anything that you plan to claim. Wait to speak with the claims adjuster.
        4. Keep track of all the expenses you’ve incurred because of the disaster. Hold on to receipts for expenses like hotels, repairs, or other supplies necessary in the immediate wake of the flooding.
        5. Make extra copies of all the documents and pictures you turn over to the insurance company.
      1. If you have flood insurance, follow these steps:

      2. Notify your insurance company as soon as possible. The sooner you contact your insurance company, the sooner you should receive a claim check. Have your policy number and contact information available when you call.
      3. Document all the damage to your house. Take pictures or videos of all the property that’s damaged. For example, take pictures of structural damage to your house, standing water in your house or yard, and objects that were damaged.
      4. Make a list of all the damage and include as much information as possible. For example, list the estimated value and date of purchase for your possessions that were damaged, and provide any receipts you might still have.
      5. Provide a proof of loss statement. This is a sworn and signed statement that documents all the damage to your possessions and house. You must file this statement within 60 days. For more information on filing a flood claim, go here:
      6. How to File a Flood Claim

        Additionally, here’s a fact sheet from the National Flood Insurance Program that will walk you through the claims process:

        National Flood Insurance Program Fact Sheet

      1. If you have an emergency fund now is the time to use these funds. Put a priority on using checking and savings accounts first to fund expenses. Try to avoid taking on new debt. For more considerations when making financial decisions, see “Protecting your savings” above. Additionally, the federal government provides disaster relief benefits, which are essentially low-interest loans. But try to avoid taking on debt if possible.