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Last summer's forest fires in the rural West and Superstorm Sandy's impact on the most populated region of the United States both taught us at least one thing: Disaster can strike anywhere. While credit cards generally aren't a primary concern for those facing a disaster, certain card benefits can prove invaluable in times of trouble.

First things first: Replacing your credit cards

If your credit or debit card has been lost or destroyed, most banks will send you a replacement card via overnight mail. But what if you also lose your statement, checkbooks and bank account information? In these instances, card issuers often will waive certain fees. In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, for example, most card issuers issued waivers on late fees, overdrafts and other penalties to displaced cardholders.

The important thing is to contact your bank, explain the situation, and ask for more time.

Card benefits you can use during a disaster

Many credit card programs, including World Elite MasterCard and Visa Signature, feature emergency assistance. These services help cardholders find hotels and book transportation when they have been displaced by a disaster. The by-phone assistance can be a real boon when disasters disrupt the electrical grid or wreak havoc on Internet connections.

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.

The bottom line: It doesn't hurt to ask. Unfortunately, American Express's purchase protection program will not cover loss or damage incurred due to a natural disaster such as a hurricane.

Tips for credit card use after a disaster

If you're recovering from a major event, consider using a promotional offer of a 0% introductory annual percentage rate to finance the restoration or reconstruction of your home or property while you wait for your insurance claims to be settled. With such financing offers, you must continue to make minimum payments on any balances, but no interest is accrued during the promotional period, which can last as long as 18 months.

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

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