Imagine that your house burns down or gets completely destroyed by fire, flood or other disaster. Would you know how to go about replacing your essential paperwork?
Before the Internet came along, simple tasks like changing your address meant driving to the nearest the Post Office and filling out postcards in duplicate. Now there are much easier ways to accomplish nearly everything when it comes to organizing, protecting and replacing your essential stuff. Here’s a helpful list of links that can help you change your address, as well as replace your essential personal paperwork.
- Address Change: Here’s where to go change your address online with the post office. If you receive Social Security benefits, you can also make an address change online. What about the IRS? Unfortunately, you have to download this form and mail it in. But if you’re a non-U.S. citizen, you can change your address online.
- Passport: For information on replacing a lost or stolen passport, visit this page of the State Department website.
- Social Security Card: Go to this page of SSA.gov for information and an application for a new card.
- Driver’s License: If you need a get a new driver’s license or renew the one you have, find the nearest DMV office here.
- Voter Registration. If you’re not registered to vote, do it! Find out how at this page of USA.gov.
- Birth and death certificates, marriage and divorce decrees: Information on getting replacement certificates of birth, death, marriage and divorce decrees can be found on this page of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Website. You’ll find helpful details in plain English, along with links and even prices.
- Bank records - Obviously your bank has copies of your financial records. But if you’re ever in a disaster area and can’t reach your bank, you can get information about accessing accounts, lost records, ATM cards and direct deposits by calling the FDIC at 877-275-3342 or visiting their website fdic.gov. For information regarding credit unions, call 703-518-6300 or visit ncua.gov.
- High school records: If you need records from your old high school – whether it was public or private, this page of USA.gov provides links that can help you find what you’re looking for.
- If you have old Savings Bonds stashed away somewhere, be careful. Lose them and you can lose the money. The Treasury Department tells you exactly what to do with those bonds while you can still find them – and what to do if you can’t.
- Contact government agencies: Here’s a list of links to federal, state and local government agencies, also from USA.gov.
Protecting your paper
One way to protect some types of paperwork, as well as to get more organized, is to buy a cheap ($50 – $60) flatbed scanner like the Canon CanoScan LiDE 100 or Xerox 7600 OneTouch, scan your essential documents and keep digital copies. Obviously this solution can’t replace paperwork that has to be original, like a car title. But keeping digital copies of all documents is a good idea, and a super solution for paper that doesn’t have to be original, like receipts, insurance policies, etc. Creating digital copies allows you to save a lot of drawer space and keeps essential information much safer by storing digital images online.
Here are some free software programs and websites that will help you get your stuff organized and keep it that way.
- Evernote is free document organization program available for both Mac and PC that keeps your data “in the cloud”. This means that everything you store in it is automatically backed up to their server online. Evernote also has versions of its software for the iPhone, Blackberry, Palm Pre, Windows Mobile and Android phones, letting you access your documents anywhere, any time.
- Scribd is a free website where you can upload your important docs for safe keeping. This site is made for sharing documents with friends, so make sure anything you don’t want the whole world to see is marked as “Private” when you upload it.
- Know Your Stuff is a free software program from the Insurance Information Institute that helps you create a home inventory: worth its weight in gold in case of disaster.
- Adobe Reader is important for viewing all those PDF files you’ll soon be downloading, storing and creating
For more on going paperless, see 5 Tips for Paperless Finances