Take fiscal stock before the storm

Published April 17, 2005

After last summer's four hurricanes, Floridians have learned what's really important in life: ice and air conditioning. (That's after the safety of our families, of course.) There is nothing like being forced to do without something to make us realize its importance. The 2004 hurricane season prompted many of us to think about things that ordinarily escape our notice. Some of these thoughts are about small things, like keeping the flashlight where we can find it, but others have the potential to make a big difference in our financial security.

Here are four things the hurricanes brought to my attention:

--We need to know what our homeowners insurance covers. Before Charley plunged us into hurricane hysteria, did you have any idea what your hurricane deductible was? If you haven't already done so, review your policy and find out whether you have enough coverage to replace your house if it is destroyed. Check for lower coverage limits on items such as debris removal. Consider flood insurance even if it's not required. If you need more insurance, get it now.

--Emergency reserves are lifesavers. All of us should have an easily accessible account we can tap if we have to buy supplies, evacuate or find temporary living quarters after a storm. If you say "charge it" when you don't have the money to pay the bill, you will add to your post-storm woes. Ideally, you also should have enough in your account to cover uninsured repairs you might have to make. Start saving now for next year's hurricane season.

--Home equity is valuable in a storm. Open a home equity line of credit but don't use it. The available credit can serve as a second-level emergency reserve to meet your hurricane deductible and to allow you to make needed repairs right away by borrowing at a reasonable interest rate.

--Storms can teach us something about our priorities. What did you take with you if you evacuated? What did you really miss if you lost power? Have you spent a lot of money acquiring possessions that don't really matter? If so, stop!

Something good can come from this series of storms if it makes us better prepared to face the next disaster that comes our way.

--Reach Helen Huntley at huntley@sptimes.com or call 727 893-9230.