As a lifelong resident of Lafourche Parish in southern Louisiana, Jeanne Gouaux knew the storms that cut through the region demanded preparation. She had wind and hail insurance, a solid savings account. But it wasn’t until Hurricane Ida’s 150-mile-per-hour winds peeled back part of her roof last August that she experienced the fury — and its aftermath — up close.
“In a matter of one day, one storm came through and knocked out everything I worked so hard for all these years,” said Ms. Gouaux, a single mother of four and director of pharmacy for a surgery center near her home in Lockport, La.
With the cost and frequency of weather-driven disasters on the rise, girding your financial house for such a catastrophe — to the extent that you’re able — is increasingly crucial in parts of the country.
damage to residences, businesses and municipalities, according to an analysis by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
too weak (or simply unenforced) to withstand damage.
But climate shifts are “supercharging the increasing frequency and intensity of certain types of extreme weather that lead to billion-dollar disasters,” said Adam Smith, the climate scientist who led the NOAA analysis, “most notably the vulnerability to drought, lengthening wildfire seasons in the Western states and the potential for extremely heavy rainfall becoming more common in the Eastern states.”
“It hints that the extremely high activity of recent years is becoming the new normal,” he added.
Ms. Gouaux, 45, had a bad feeling about Ida. In a prescient move, she packed up her family and, for the first time, left her home before the storm hit.
state program — while the home was gutted and repaired. Only in June, after 10 months, was the family able to partly move back in. With the house incomplete, meals are still cooked in the camper.
went bankrupt, causing the state guarantor to take over claims, gumming up an already slow process. It took nine months to collect her first insurance check.
Not all households have the wherewithal to prepare themselves for the worst. But there is some safeguarding that everyone can attempt. Here’s where to start:
tools can provide a starting point for assessing your home’s risk to earthly hazards.
Risk Factor has created a user-friendly tool that outlines flood, fire and extreme-heat risks (and soon other perils, including wind) for most homes across the country. Plug in an address, and it drills down to the property level, illustrating potential hazards. For example, it can show the probability that a property might flood, where the water is likely to pool, the damage it might cause and how much repairs might cost.
hazard maps for earthquakes, while the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Flood Insurance Program maintain flood maps (which also determine whether a home with a federally backed mortgage is required to have flood insurance). The flood program has recently overhauled its rating methodology, called Risk Rating 2.0, but you’ll have to contact a flood insurance agent who can share more about your property’s unique risk, said Jeremy Edwards, a FEMA spokesman.
You may be able to find more local hazard information, too. Californians, for example, can enter their address into the MyHazards website. And if you’re new to a community, talk to neighbors.
you can do to minimize damage if a flood or fire strike. The costs of mitigation will vary, but it may reduce your insurance premiums. Some insurers, for example, provide meaningful discounts in hurricane-prone regions after homeowners install roof braces or straps, said Alyssa Bourgeois, an insurance producer with MarshMcLennan in Metairie, La.
The Risk Factor website provides suggestions for hazards facing specific properties, and many regions have programs offering residents financial help to harden their homes against specific hazards, though funding is often limited.
Evaluate insurance needs. The insurance market varies greatly by locality and the hazards inherent to the area. Standard homeowners’ and renters’ insurance policies do not cover all hazards. Floods and earthquakes always require separate coverage. Wind and hail (hurricane) coverage may carry its own deductible as part of your homeowners’ insurance, or it may be a separate policy, at least in certain areas. Wildfires, meanwhile, are often incorporated into many policies, experts said.
Flood insurance (see Ann Carrns’s guide here) is generally available through the National Flood Insurance Program, which FEMA manages. Most Californians buy earthquake coverage through the California Earthquake Authority, a nonprofit entity created through state law to provide policies through its member insurers.
enough coverage to replace your property — that is, to rebuild it, not what you’d pay to buy it again, said Amy Bach, executive director of United Policyholders, a consumer advocacy group.
But many households in the highest-risk areas, including hurricane-prone states like Louisiana and Florida, are having trouble finding affordable coverage as insurers exit the market in droves.
Jude Boudreaux, a financial planner in New Orleans, said he receives calls weekly from clients questioning whether they should continue living there given the increased insurance costs. “A lot of carriers are leaving Louisiana, so people with policies are getting nonrenewal notices, and there are fewer choices out there,” he said.
Until rates stabilize, many people are resorting to the usual strategies to keep costs manageable, like increasing deductibles and reducing some coverage, including on “other structures” such as garages and personal property.
cars and other vehicles. Comprehensive auto coverage, required by auto lenders, generally provides protection against natural disasters. But older, low-value cars may not have comprehensive (and it may not be worth the cost anyway). “In those cases, we’d recommend setting aside the amount of the premium you’d pay each year into a savings account instead of giving it to the insurer,” Mr. Heller said.
home inventory spreadsheet, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners has a related app, and there are other inventory apps as well.
The least time-consuming method might be to walk through each room of your home with your mobile phone’s video camera, narrating the contents along the way. Don’t forget to open up closets, cabinets and drawers, as well as storage spaces and the garage. Then email the file to yourself, or store it securely online (and perhaps on an external hard drive).
There’s real money at stake: Ms. Gouaux was able to recover only roughly $14,000 of the $53,000 in contents coverage on her wind and hail policy.
“The night we left, someone posted: Make sure you take photos of all the rooms,” she said. “We didn’t do a good job. By the time we got back, everything was all over the place, and it was very hot.”
fireproof and waterproof box. Consider storing electronic copies on an external hard drive (using password protection) or in the cloud.
FEMA’s financial emergency kit has an exhaustive check list of what to gather and protect, along with a 41-page emergency financial first-aid kit that can be filled out online and stored in a secure place. The American Red Cross has a version of its own.
If you have to leave your home, experts suggest taking key documents with you in case you need to file a claim with your insurer or apply for FEMA assistance.
Keep emergency funds. Having access to money for any basic needs is also something to consider. If there’s no electricity and A.T.M.s aren’t working, you’ll probably need cash. Stash some in a safe place.
And if you receive any federal benefits through paper checks, now is the time to switch to automatic electronic deposits. Ditto for any other payments you may receive by mail.
take. Mr. Boudreaux, who has lived with the threat of hurricanes for most of his life, said to walk through your home and think about what’s irreplaceable — it probably fits into a plastic box.
“Define what those things are, or create a list so if someone knocked on your door and said, ‘The fire is coming in 30 minutes’ — what would you take?” he said. “It’s also good life perspective exercise.”
If you’re using tax preparation software, the document should print out with the word “rollover” entered next to the zero, Mr. Slott said. Someone completing a paper form would need to write in the word “rollover.” That will treat the withdrawal as a nontaxable event. (Usually, R.M.D.s aren’t eligible for rollovers, but the I.R.S. made an exception for 2020.)
Some clients who returned their R.M.D.s have had pleasant surprises on their tax returns, Ms. Costa said. Because their taxable income is lower than it would have been, some were able to deduct medical expenses or even qualify for the federal stimulus payments.
But if the minimum distribution isn’t properly reported as returned, those benefits could evaporate, Ms. Costa said.
“You don’t want to add insult to injury by paying taxes on a distribution that you returned,” she said.
Here are some questions and answers about R.M.D.s:
Is it OK if I kept the retirement withdrawals I made in 2020?
Yes. Returning the money was optional.
Are R.M.D.s waived for 2021?
No. The waiver applied only to withdrawals in 2020.
When do I have to start taking R.M.D.s?
It depends. A federal law passed in 2019 called the SECURE Act, for Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement, raised the starting age for taking R.M.D.s to 72, from 70½.
The new age 72 threshold applies to those who turned 70½ after 2019 — or, put another way, those whose 70th birthday was July 1, 2019, or later. For everyone who turned 70 before that date, the starting age is 70½.