As you collect W2s, 1099s and other tax documents, take a few extra steps to prepare an emergency financial first-aid kit. You never know when a pandemic, blackout, superstorm, fire or cyberattack will come.
The waterproof kit should contain essential documents you will need to reconstruct your financial life after a disaster — and also to help you get through one.
“Some docs you’ll need right away, and others you might not need right away but are difficult to replace,” said Neal Stern, a certified public accountant. “Some you have to have the original; some, a copy will suffice.”
Keep originals of identification: driver’s and marriage licenses, birth certificates, passports and Social Security cards, he said.
After a disaster, you may have to re-establish your ID, replace credit cards, complete a change-of-address form or apply for government assistance. Copies of those items could be kept in a secure cloud storage service, he added.
“If you can’t document who you are, it’ll be hard to get help,” said Stern, who is a member of the AICPA National CPA Financial Literacy Commission.
When people do get prepared for a disaster, said Jim Judge, a member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council, “oftentimes the financial side is not what people pay attention to.”
Judge keeps his important documents in a small plastic bin under his bed. He also stores money. “Cash is king,” he said, especially if the power is out and ATMs are not working.
Adam Levin, the ex-director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs who lost a house to Superstorm Sandy, recommended also creating a digital file of documents.
He suggests keeping digital copies of key financial documents on an encrypted waterproof USB flash drive. “If your bug-out kit gets into the wrong hands, it could be a nightmare,” he cautioned.
Adapted from the New York Post.
Working from home, on either a full time or part time basis, requires specific security and insurance considerations to keep your property and data safe.
Install Smart Security–Did you know more residential burglaries occur during the day than at night? Prowlers assume homes will be vacant during work hours, but since yours won’t be, it’s especially important that you take proper security measures to keep yourself safe.
Many home security companies now offer smart security options that allow you to monitor activity from your smartphone. If a camera or motion sensor captures anything unusual happening around your home, the system will notify you so you can see what’s going on and alert the authorities if needed — all without leaving the safety of your office.
Have a plan in the event of a break in. Even with a state-of-the-art security system, break-ins are still a possibility you should be prepared for.
If you are at home during a break-in, the best plan of action is to stay calm, call 911 and quietly get to a safe location — either outside the house or in a locked room. The intruder could be armed, so do not draw attention to yourself. After the break-in is over and you’ve spoken with local authorities, contact your insurer to file a claim for any damaged or stolen items.
Encrypt your data–Encryption software scrambles your data, making it unreadable to anyone without the encryption key. As such, these programs are crucial for securing sensitive information.
PC users can purchase encryption tools like CertainSafe for a monthly fee. You can choose to either encrypt your entire hard drive, individual files or files in bulk. For Mac users (operating on OS X Lion or a later update) FileVault comes pre-installed.
Aside from implementing encryption tools, you can also keep your data safe by password-protecting your computer and any other work-related devices, and signing out when you’re not using them. It’s a simple yet effective additional safeguard.
Secure Your Internet Connection–One of the most important ways to keep your business data safe is by using a secure and reliable internet connection. If you want to use a wireless connection, create a unique name(SSID) and password for your Wi-Fi network, and consider setting up a separate, dedicated guest network for all non-work activities to further limit access.
A virtual private network, or VPN, also helps to secure your connection against hackers. If you work for a larger corporation, your employer may provide you with a VPN so you can access company portals from home. If your company doesn’t provide VPN access or if you’re self-employed, you’ll have to sign up for the service on your own.
Some internet plans include additional security features, so check with your provider for more details on how to secure your connection.
Use a password manager–It may be tempting to use the same password for everything, but doing so makes it easy for hackers to access your information. Strong passwords can be difficult to remember, though, which is why password managers like LastPass or iCloud Keychain come in handy.
These management tools help you create optimal passwords and store them for you. They also make it easy for you to change passwords frequently.
Install Programs Sparingly–One of the most common ways to contract malware is by downloading corrupted files and programs. Some links contain viruses that could overhaul your entire system or make you susceptible to a DDoS attack. To mitigate this risk, simply avoid downloading anything unless you are certain the source is reliable.
Additionally, the most dangerous downloads often come in the form of email attachments, so be cautious before opening any file attachments from senders you don’t know. And even if you do know the sender, be wary of any suspicious-looking emails that ask for personal information or require attachment downloads.
While working from home has some unique security vulnerabilities, if you implement the safety measures outlined here, you’ll be more secure in no time.
Adapted from Property Casualty 360.
As you prepare for celebrating a number of fall and winter holidays, take some time to protect your home against common seasonal risks. A few steps can not only increase your safety, but they may help you save money on your homeowners insurance in the long run.
Although the rate of burglaries tends to be lower in winter, break-ins are always a risk. Porch theft is also a very real concern, especially during the holiday season. To help minimize these risks, consider installing a home security system.
The cameras and motion detectors that most of these systems include can help prevent burglaries and theft while also shaving off a chunk of your homeowner’s insurance — up to 15% in some cases.
Even though it’s not exactly easy, you are supposed to go on your roof and clean your gutters every once in a while. Exactly how frequently depends on where you live and how often they fill up, but a good rule of thumb is around twice a year.
Clogged gutters can cause a few issues, but the big one for most homeowners is roof leaks. If your gutters can’t drain properly, that excess water can soak through shingles and eventually start leaking into your home. This can cause mold to grow, along with the damage from the water itself. And don’t forget that melting snow can also fill up the gutters, causing similar issues.
While you’re up there cleaning those gutters, take a few minutes to inspect your roof. Look for obvious holes and damaged (or missing) shingles, but also take some time to really comb over the details.
Keep an eye out for cracks, leaks where different parts of your roof meet (called flashings), and general wear and tear. Issues with your roof can quickly spiral out of control and result in flooding, much like clogged gutters.
A good guideline is to plan to inspect your roof on a regular basis (usually at least twice a year).
This can save you money on utilities, sometimes significant amounts. Smart thermostats like the Nest Learning Thermostat can save as much as 12% on heating costs, paying for themselves in just a couple of years. Plus, you get the convenience of having your home automatically set to the proper temperature just in time for you to arrive home from work.
In addition to carrying their own benefits, smart home devices sometimes come with insurance discounts. State Farm is one example of an insurer that offers discounts for installing connected devices, and they may even help pay for some home monitoring equipment. Check with your insurance company to see if they offer any incentives for getting your home connected.
Believe it or not, winter is actually prime season for house fires — more fire deaths occur in December, January, February, and March than in any other months of the year. This is partly due to the increased use of heaters during the cold winter months and partly because of all the gatherings during the holiday season. (Ever heard of someone burning their house down trying to fry a turkey?)
There are several things you can do to help minimize fire risks in your home:
Adapted from Property Casualty 306.
1. Disconnect. Shut off the circuit breaker, remove the fuse or slide the refrigerator away from the wall as needed to remove the refrigerator’s plug from the electrical outlet. Shut off water supply lines if equipped with ice maker or water dispenser.
2. Locate the condenser coil. There are two sets of coils for cooling appliances like refrigerators, they are called the evaporator and condenser coils. Overly simplified, the two coils are filled with gas and liquid respectively, and are parts of a complex “circuit” that has a compressor and expansion valve that perform the work. The gas filled evaporator coil is located in the space to be cooled, and performs the task by absorbing heat from that space. It is usually protected from damage and out of view inside the freezer section. The “heated” gas is compressed by the compressor, where it is further heated (hot to the touch) by the compression process. The heated compressed gas and liquid is passed through the condenser coil that is located away from the cooled space. This condenser coil is where some of the heat in the liquid is released to the ambient air. The cooled liquid is then drawn through the expansion valve by the suction of the compressor, where the liquid immediately boils off to a gas. This causes the temperature of the gas to drop significantly (well below freezing) in the evaporator coil. The process repeats until the thermostat in the space is satisfied. Because the condenser coil is exposed to the ambient air on the refrigerator, it requires regular cleaning. There are a few locations that the condenser coil may be found:
Older refrigerators have the coil (a grid-like structure often painted black) mounted on the rear of the refrigerator.
A. Toe space panel. Remove the panel at the bottom of the front of the refrigerator and carefully slide the condensate tray out (if present, the condensate tray may contain water). A visual inspection upward into this space may reveal a flat condenser coil when located here.
B. Rear access panel. If not found behind the toe space, the refrigerator will have to be slid away from the wall further to work from behind. Disconnect water supply lines if too short to allow enough room to work. Remove the fasteners that holds an access panel in position. The condenser coil may be flat, but will likely be cylindrical in shape when located here.Newer refrigerators often locate the condenser coil at the bottom. It is likely that a fan (that may or may not be readily visible) will be directed at the coil to assist with heat dissipation. Use a flashlight to assist locating the coil and fan if needed. The coil will be accessible from one of two places:
3. Disconnect power. Make sure the power to the refrigerator is disconnected.
4. Vacuum the coils. With a plastic crevice or brush attachment, carefully vacuum dirt and dust wherever it is seen. Use care not to damage the fins or coil. A breach created in the coil will allow the refrigerant to escape and will likely result in an expensive repair.
5. Vacuum the fan. If the fan is visible and accessible, cleaning it will help it move air across the condenser coil as designed. Dirt and dust, if allowed to accumulate on the fan blades, decreases airflow, affects balance and can contribute to early failure of the compressor.
6. Brush away stubborn dirt and dust. Use a narrow paint brush to gently remove stubborn dirt and dust from the coil and fan if able to get sufficient access.
7. Slide refrigerator back into position. Plug the refrigerator back into wall outlet. Arrange any water supply lines and power cords so that they will not be kinked or crushed by the refrigerator.
Summer travel season is just around the corner. A small investment of time and effort can help you avoid costly claims from water, fire and event theft. Use our checklist to keep your home safe when you’re traveling.
Home Security Do’s and Don’ts:
Don’t broadcast your whereabouts. Never reveal travel plans or itineraries on social media and avoid providing running online commentary of your travel activities.
Encourage your children to not share vacation or travel plans with friends. One last old-fashioned bit of advice — don’t leave voice messages on home or cell phones that say when you’ll be away.
Make your home look occupied. Since looks can be deceiving, make your home appear as if someone is home. Here’s a checklist:
Secure your home and its contents. Security systems can only do so much; take a few extra safety precautions when you plan to be away:
Minimize the potential for damage. When you’re away, problems that ordinarily can be easily averted or remedied are liable to spiral into calamities. Some steps you can take to avert potential disasters include:
Ask a trusted neighbor to look in on things while you’re away, and to alert you— and the police — if there is anything suspicious. A house-sitting arrangement may be worth considering for a particularly long absence.
Adapted from Property Casualty 360.