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After the Fire

The first question the representative at my mortgage company asked me was, “Are you and your family safe?” We are, I am so fortunate, my home is unscathed and my family is safe. But! Our income relies on the tourist industry, so we are looking at a dismal couple of months financially.

Help is available! All I had to do was ask. Here’s what I found out – mortgage companies, credit cards, car loans/leases and even utility companies have programs in place to help victims in Federally Declared Disaster Zones. Call them. If they don’t yet have anything in place for the California Wildfires, ask if they have a program for hurricane victims. (I got put on hold a lot, but was covered under the same set of circumstances.)

When calling any agency to ask for assistance, I would advise you to ask: will they charge you interest? Will there be a late penalty charge? Will they report this to a credit agency thus adversely affecting your credit score?

I found our mortgage company to be the most flexible, with a program in place (they called it a ‘forbearance plan’) with the availability to pay whatever we felt we could afford (including no payment at all) for 2 to 6 months and repayment could be spread out over months or years, as needed.

Credit card companies offered the option to skip a payment with no interest or penalty. Car loan/lease payments could be skipped for 2 months (they called it a ‘deferral plan’), with payments due at the end of the lease/loan, or by paying a little more each subsequent month.

PG&E advised me that they have a moratorium on any credit related issues (so they won’t report you to a credit agency). What they can offer is based on your individual payment history with them. They also asked me to spread the word that they are part of the Reach Program (with the Salvation Army) where you can apply to have your bill (up to $300) paid directly to PG&E on your behalf, by calling: 800-933-9677.

If you have been out of work due to the fire, you can apply for Disaster Unemployment Benefits! There is no waiting week, but is only available if you would not receive, or are not currently receiving, Unemployment Benefits. You can find more information here: https://eapply4ui.edd.ca.gov/

In addition, I found a plethora of information by doing an internet search for: disaster assistance for individuals and businesses. The IRS, HUD, FEMA, and even Airbnb have programs in place. There are also grants available to those who have lost their homes and tax relief assistance for businesses. I encourage everyone to visit: https://www.disasterassistance.gov/ to find out what’s available and register for assistance.

While it was daunting to call these creditors and agencies – even though they are institutions, they are staffed by people. People who care, and empathize, and in many cases shared their stories with me of how they, their families or their friends survived a disaster. It was surprisingly comforting to get that affirmation. And, by taking away some of the stress – I’m now (almost) sleeping through the night.

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