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Tax help after a hurricane

By Kay Bell ·
Thursday, September 2, 2010
Posted: 2 pm ET

I no longer live in hurricane country, but I still watch the weather reports closely. Go through a couple (or more) of these storms and even if you don't suffer major damgae, the memories linger.

It seems, though, that folks along the coasts tend to get complacent. Please don't.

Hurricane Earl might not make landfall precisely where you live, but it's a big storm and its effects -- wind, rain, flooding -- will be felt in lots of places. Follow through with  hurricane preparation. If your city or state says evacuate, do it.

And if worse comes to worst and you do have some property damages from a storm, remember that you might be able to get some tax help from the IRS.

You can claim casualty losses on your taxes from all sorts of unfortunate circumstances: fires, storms (blizzards, tornadoes and hurricanes), even burglary and vandalism.

But when it comes to natural disasters, the tax code offers an extra bit of help for folks in major disaster areas. When a president declares a region as such, you have the option to claim the disaster losses in the tax year in which it happened or amend the prior year's return if that will produce a better tax result, i.e., a refund.

Amending a tax return could get you much-needed cash back from the IRS sooner so you can put it to use making repairs.

The process isn't simple. You have to take into account insurance coverage and complete some forms and work sheets. But if it pays off, the extra tax effort is worth it, especially when you have enough other things on your mind in the wake of a catastrophe.

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