Tax prep before disaster strikes

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It’s been said that whoever controls the weather will control the world. Mother Nature, however, is not ready to hand over the weather reins.

Tragically, she’s been in horrific mood of late. Deadly twin tornadoes ripped through Pilger, Nebraska. More strong storms are predicted for the Midwest. And we are two weeks into the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season.

So until we can control the weather, the best we can do is prepare for it.

Everyone knows the importance of putting together a physical disaster preparedness kit. But you also need to do some financial preparation before disaster strikes.

The taxes, disaster connection

Tax considerations need to be part of any disaster financial preparations.

If you sustain storm damages, you might be able to claim those losses on your tax return.

If your home is hit by a major disaster, you have the option to amend the prior year’s tax return and possibly get tax refund money more quickly to help you get repairs underway.

You also might be eligible for special help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration.

In all these cases, having copies of your prior tax returns can help speed the assistance application process.

If you do have copies of your old returns, put them in your disaster preparation kit. If you don’t have copies, you can get them from the Internal Revenue Service.

Getting tax return copies

You have a couple of options when it comes to getting past tax information from the IRS.

File Form 4506 to get an exact copy of a previously filed and processed tax return and all its attachments. This, however, takes time. The IRS says it could take up to 75 days for you to get these documents. And it also will cost you $50.00 for each tax return requested.

That’s why most folks opt for transcripts.

A tax return transcript is a printout of most line items from your filed return.

You also can get a tax account transcript. This shows any changes that you or the IRS made after your original return was filed.

Both transcripts are generally available for the current and past three years and are free. Plus, you’ll typically get the transcripts in five to 10 business days after you request them.

You can request tax transcripts online by going to the website and clicking on “get transcript of your tax records“. Or you can order them by calling (800) 908-9946.

Full financial disaster kit

In addition to getting your tax material in order, here are some other financial material to have handy in case of a disaster.

Cash: All storms disrupt electricity. That means businesses won’t be able to take credit cards. You also can’t get money from your local ATM. So get some greenbacks before the power goes out.

Credit card: When the lights are back on, your plastic will work again. Have at least one credit card with a big enough credit balance to cover post-storm expenses.

Insurance: A copy of your home or renter’s insurance policy will come in handy if you have to file claims. The same is true for your auto insurance. And make sure you know what your medical insurance covers, and the facilities where it’s accepted, if the worst happens and you or your family need medical attention.

Other financial documents: In addition to your tax and insurance information, gather other important financial material, such as investment and bank statements. Don’t forget your family members’ Social Security numbers. Digital copies or lists of this information is fine.

Here’s hoping it’s always sunny where you are. But given Mother Nature’s recent tantrums, it’s better to be ready for her foulest moods.

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Veteran contributing editor Kay Bell is the author of the book “The Truth About Paying Fewer Taxes” and co-author of the e-book “Future Millionaires’ Guidebook.”