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Superstorm Sandy can teach us some valuable credit card lessons.

Written by Geoff Williams
Posted On: November 1, 2012

With everyone focused on Hurricane Sandy -- sorry, the renamed Superstorm Sandy -- it seems like a good time to do a run through a few dos and don't of using credit cards before and after a disaster.

Do get some cash before seeking shelter, if there's time.

True, not all disasters give you advanced warning. I was in California's Northridge earthquake of 1994, sound asleep, when suddenly my apartment was invaded by a stampeding herd of maniacal elephants, or so it seemed at the time, but if a hurricane or blizzard is expected, say tomorrow, grabbing a little cash at the ATM before you hunker into your home (or evacuate) couldn't hurt. If neighboring businesses, like your grocery store, have lost power, they may only be taking cash as payment. With wireless service and mobile banking, yes, often the power being out isn't much of a factor, but as survivors of Sandy can tell you, in many of the worst hit areas, wireless service has been down. You don't want to find yourself without any cash and unable to use your credit card.

Don't freak out about the credit card bill.

I'm not saying you shouldn't pay it if you can, but when there's a serious disaster of a certain magnitude, many credit card issuers tend to cut consumers a little slack. Chase, Capital One and Citibank came out pretty quickly as Hurricane Sandy barreled toward the East Coast and said they would waive fees until October 31. Wells Fargo and TD Bank announced they wouldn't charge during that period as well. Since it's most likely evident from the address that a cardholder was actually in the midst of the chaos and without electrical power, my guess is that most people may be cut a little slack if their due date fell during this time of crisis, if they call their credit card issuer a few days after missing a deadline, even after October 31. But if nothing else, don't stress over that credit card bill during an actual natural disaster because, obviously, you have plenty else to worry about.

Do use your credit card when you're paying for natural disaster-related services.

Need services like that roof being repaired or getting your basement cleaned up? In a case such as that, you may benefit most from using a credit card instead of cash. Obviously there are plenty of honest contractors and small businesses out there, too, but just to protect yourself, you'll want to pay with a credit card to help create a paper trail, if you need to track down a contractor or business you've paid money to, and if you learn you've been scammed fast enough, and you'll likely be able to get your money back. If you get conned into paying someone cash, unless you can easily track that person down, you can pretty much forget ever seeing your money again. Then you'll have another disaster on your hands.

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