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How do I protect my financial documents from an impending disaster?

We have tips and advice from the experts

Photo (c) gustavofrazao - Fotolia
While it's always important to safeguard your financial records, with Hurricane Irma heading toward Florida and other areas of the east coast, doing so takes on added urgency.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Ready Campaign offer the following advice and tips for preparing for disaster and emergency situations:

Create electronic copies of key documents

Keep a duplicate set of key documents, including bank statements, tax returns, identifications, and insurance policies in a safe place. Store them in a waterproof container and away from the original set.

It's easy to do now that many financial institutions provide statements and documents electronically, and much financial information is available on the internet. Even if the original documents are only provided on paper, you can scan them into an electronic format. This way, you can download them to a storage device such as an external hard drive or USB flash drive, or burn them to a CD or DVD.

Document valuables

Photograph or videotape the contents of your home -- especially items of higher value. Documenting these items ahead of time will make it easier to claim any available insurance and tax benefits after the disaster strikes. The IRS has a disaster loss workbook, Publication 584, which can help taxpayers compile a room-by-room list of belongings.

Photos can help prove the fair market value of items for insurance and casualty loss claims. Ideally, they should be stored with a friend or family member who lives outside the area.

Fiduciary bonds and IRS assistance

Employers who use payroll service providers should ask the provider if it has a fiduciary bond in place. The bond could protect the employer in the event of default by the payroll service provider.

If a federal disaster is declared, you can call 866-562-5227 to speak with an IRS specialist trained to handle disaster-related issues.

You can request back copies of previously-filed tax returns and all attachments, including Forms W-2, by filing Form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Return. Alternatively, transcripts showing most line items on these returns can be ordered through the Get Transcript link on IRS.gov, by calling 800-908-9946 or using Form 4506T-EZ, Short Form Request for Individual Tax Return Transcript, or Form 4506-T, Request for Transcript of Tax Return.

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