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From this summer’s forest fires in the rural west, to Hurricane Sandy’s recent impact on the most populated region of our country, Americans have come to understand that disasters can strike anywhere. In times of trouble, the last thing that disaster victims might think about is their credit cards. But actually, this is one of the times when your credit card benefits can be the most valuable.

Credit Card Benefits You Can Use During a Disaster

When disasters disrupt the electrical grid and wreck havoc with Internet connections, a call from your mobile phone is all you need to receive help. For example, many cards feature emergency assistance services including the World Elite MasterCard and the Visa Signature programs. These services will help cardholders find hotels and book transportation when they have been displaced by a disaster. Of course, if your credit card and other means of payment have been lost or destroyed, most banks will send you a replacement card via overnight mail.

Tips for Credit Card Use After a Disaster

Disaster victims may have lost access to their statement, checkbooks, and bank account information when they evacuated. In these instances, card issuers have gone out of their way to grant late fee waivers to their customers. The important thing is to contact your bank, explain the situation, and ask for more time. For example, in the aftermath of hurricane Sandy, most card issuers have issued late fee and penalty waivers to displaced cardholders.

During their recovery, cardholders may also wish to utilize a 0% APR promotional financing offers to quickly finance the restoration or reconstruction of their homes while awaiting the settlement of their insurance claims. With these promotional financing offers cardholders must continue to make minimum payments on their balance, but no interest is accrued throughout the promotional period which can last as long as 18 months.

Knowing the Limits

American Express offers its Global Assistance Hotline, but its terms specify that it is only for those traveling more than 100 miles from home. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that a disaster victim will be refused. Unfortunately, American Express’s purchase protection program will not cover loss or damage incurred due to a natural disaster such as a hurricane.

By working with their credit card issuers in the aftermath of a disaster, cardholders will realize that these companies are on their side when the worst happens.

Image: Rupert Ganzer, via Flickr

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