As a financial writer, I often get sent press releases and other information by folks who want me to publicize something they're promoting. Many of these get sent to the recycling bin. But I recently heard from the nice folks at NACHA (The Electronic Payments Association), and though they do have an agenda -- to promote electronic payments -- they did offer six useful components of financial disaster preparedness plans. Permit me to share some of their advice, along with my own commentary:

  • "Make a copy of everything in your wallet. Put it on a disk and/or in a bank vault or with trusted family members in another city." This can also serve you very well if your wallet is ever stolen. Just remember to photocopy the front and back of each card, so that you'll have the phone numbers you need to call. And update this at least once a year, as your wallet contents often change.
  • "Sign up for electronic payment (direct payment) for critical bills such as health insurance, mortgage, etc. Talk with your employer about using direct deposit for payroll." The NACHA agenda rears its head. Still, having your paycheck direct-deposited is generally a great convenience, and it can even earn you better terms and rates from your bank. If you're not good about paying important bills on time, arranging for automatic payments can help.
  • "Sign up for online banking and online access of your investment accounts -- IRA, stocks, mutual funds, CDs. Very important if quarantined due to Bird Flu." Even if you don't succumb to avian flu, online banking and investment management can be very convenient. Our Broker Center can help you find the best brokerage for yourself. (Many major brokerages sport commissions lower than $5 or $10 these days!)
  • "Make sure family partners have access to all accounts in case something happens to one member." This is hard to argue with. It doesn't mean that Cousin Ralphie needs your ATM password -- but make sure that those who need to know where your money is can find it, and that you've assigned durable power of attorney to someone.
  • "Prepare a 'to-go' waterproof and fireproof box that you can grab and go in case of an emergency. Include all family and friend contact info and addresses, recent account statements, a financial contact list, mortgage and insurance statements, and a small supply of cash." I'd add that you might want to keep more than a small supply of cash on hand -- imagine not being able to get to the bank for a while.
  • "Get an ATM card, even if you never use it, so that you can access money if you are displaced in another city without access to your local bank branch." And have a way to remember how to use it and what your personal identification number for it is.

Interestingly, NACHA sent me another email, asserting that families can save a "minimum of $150 annually" by using direct electronic payments for "reoccurring bills, such as mortgages, insurance, gym memberships and so much more." Well, I'm a small family of just one person, but I calculated that I pay about 12-15 bills, on average, per month, and so I'd save between $50 and $70 per year in postage. But I'm digressing.

Learn much more about preparing for and preventing disasters in these articles (really, this is vital stuff -- just ask someone whose house burned down):

While you prepare for the kind of disaster that might have you seeking a temporary roof over your head, be sure to also make plans to avoid another kind of financial disaster that looms in front of too many people: a gruesome retirement. Begin planning now.

Finally, be prepared for investment disasters, such as when your stock falls in price by 50%. It can happen. Tim Hanson and Brian Richards recently reviewed the 10 worst stocks of the past decade -- such as Idera Pharmaceuticals (AMEX:IDP), down 99.9%, Atari (NASDAQ:ATAR), down 99.4%, Viragen (AMEX:VRA), down 99.3%, Alteon (AMEX:ALT), down 98.6%, Genelabs Technologies (NASDAQ:GNLB), down 98.2%, Gilat Satellite Networks (NASDAQ:GILT), down 98.0%, and Harken Energy (AMEX:HEC), down 97.2%. You can often defend yourself against similar losses by focusing your investments on holdings you have the most confidence in, by keeping up with your investments, and by being prepared to be very patient with some stocks.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.