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What Harvey victims can do right now to protect their finances

Harvey brings 'hell' to Texas residents

Tropical Storm Harvey is still wreaking havoc in Texas and Louisiana, and it will likely be a long time before victims are able to assess the damage done to their homes and finances.

For those who are out of danger, there are a few simple things to do now that could offer both immediate financial relief and protection down the line.

File a claim with your insurer

Even if you aren’t able to document the damage done to your home, you should file an insurance claim as soon as you can. Scott Bishop, executive vice president of financial planning with STA Wealth Management in Houston, advised victims to start the filing process as soon as they can.

“Get it started early,” he said. “Even if you can’t find your policy — if you know the company, give them some info and they can find your policy.”

Related: Tips for filing insurance claims after Harvey

Once it’s safe to do so, document the damage done to your property.

“Take an inventory of the things that have been damaged,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst with Bankrate.com. “That would extend to car and home and everything around the home, such as a boat.” Hamrick suggested taking photos and video footage of the damage.

Call your lenders

It’s also a good idea to let your lenders know that you’ve been impacted by a storm. Credit card companies, student loan providers and others may reduce minimum payments or defer late fees for those impacted by a disaster like Harvey.

Related: How to avoid ‘storm chaser’ fraud after Harvey

“Make sure to call your home mortgage company and other lines of credit to see if they will allow you to negotiate a lower payment for a few months or extend your grace period,” advised Jon Ulin, a certified financial planner and Managing Principal of Ulin & Co. Wealth Management, a branch of LPL Financial in Boca Raton, Florida.

Late payments can hurt your credit score, so letting creditors know what’s going on with you could prevent a tricky situation later on. “You want to nip those things in the bud,” said Bishop.

If you think you’ll be away from your home for a few weeks, call your utility and cable providers to suspend service or have your bills rerouted to a P.O. Box or temporary location.

Apply for federal and local disaster assistance

If you’ve been unable to get to work because of a natural disaster, you can apply for Disaster Unemployment Assistance. The Texas Workforce Commission is accepting applications now through September 27. Once you’ve applied, you have 21 days to submit the required documents. More information is available on the TWC website.

Related: How to avoid post-Harvey charity scams

TWC’s director of communications Lisa Givens added that the organization “can offer a temporary income replacement in the form of Unemployment insurance benefits for eligible workers until they are able get back on their feet.”

FEMA also offers financial assistance. Harvey victims may be eligible for Transitional Sheltering Assistance or Critical Needs Assistance, a one-time payment of up to $500 per household. FEMA has also expedited payment for National Flood Insurance policy holders. Those who qualify could get up to $10,000.

FEMA’s Disaster Assistance website can help you find local resources and applications for other types of aid.

CNNMoney (New York) First published August 31, 2017: 1:40 PM ET

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