As Hurricane Dorian begins its slow crawl north along the East Coast and continues to torment residents of Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas, we’re beginning to get a better idea of the devastation left behind in the Bahamas. Being just a stone’s throw from the FinanceBuzz HQ in Delray Beach, Florida, this storm hit particularly close to home.
Battering the Bahamas as a Category 5 storm over Labor Day weekend, Dorian is now tied for the strongest Atlantic hurricane landfall on record and continues to affect millions along the Southeastern coast of the United States. Whether you’re currently impacted by Dorian or are realizing you should prepare for emergencies, we want to make sure you’ve got useful information to help protect your finances while you focus on protecting yourself.
Tips for handling your finances if you’re affected by the hurricane
It can be difficult to stay on top of your bills after a natural disaster hits your community. Between getting back to work and making any necessary repairs, it’s easy to fall behind on payments while your credit card debt can quickly balloon to cover unexpected expenses.
Some companies have disaster relief policies for these types of situations, so it’s best to contact your bank, lender, or utility company right away to see what your options are.
Contact your mortgage servicer if you can’t pay your mortgage
If you’re a homeowner having trouble paying your mortgage, immediately contact your mortgage servicer to explain your situation and ask for help. You may be able to get a deferral or mortgage forbearance, allowing you to stop making your payments for an agreed-upon time. Keep in mind interest still might accrue during this time, but you shouldn’t be charged late fees.
Before making any agreements, call and talk to a Department of Housing and Urban Development-approved housing counselor at 800-569-4287.
Get emergency help with utility bills
If you need help heating or cooling your home after a disaster, you may qualify for emergency assistance. Contact your local Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to find out if you qualify.
Disaster unemployment assistance
Apply for disaster recovery assistance
While some federal benefits are reserved for federally-declared disaster areas, there are also state and local organizations that connect communities to assistance following emergencies of any size.
- Contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency by registering online or by calling 800-621-3362
- Contact your state emergency management office
- Contact your local American Red Cross chapter
- Contact your local 211
Apply for a disaster recovery loan
The Small Business Administration provides low-interest loans to help homeowners and small businesses recover from declared disasters. Find out if you’re eligible and apply online.
Look at your bills and prioritize your spending
If you’re waiting for assistance to kick in or you didn’t qualify for some reason, you’ll need to organize your finances according to what matters most:
- Reassess your budget
- Prioritize your spending
- Cut any nonessential expenses to a minimum until you can recover
- Focus on paying essentials such as housing, utilities, food, and medicine first
How you can help people impacted in the Bahamas
While we wait to see what impact Dorian will have along Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas, it’s already clear the Bahamas are in need of assistance. If you want to help the people impacted by this storm, here’s how you can help:
- Give to the Bahamas Red Cross or volunteer your time
- Donate to the International Medical Corps
- Support the City of Miami’s donation drive for the Bahamas
FinanceBuzz founders Greg Van Horn and Christine Yaged put together a fundraiser as well, with the proceeds going directly to World Central Kitchen.