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Your money car totaled no power should you pay your bills

Nov 8 Superstorm Sandy hit the U.S. Northeast just before the first of the month, when rent and mortgage payments typically come due, not to mention cable, phone and utility bills. More than 8 million people lost power and 1 million or so were evacuated from their homes. Some 40,000 are still displaced. Meanwhile, the storm's impact destroyed 250,000 cars. So now what are these folks supposed to do about their bills? Adding to the misery, an unseasonably early winter snowstorm on Wednesday in the U.S. Northeast knocked out power to more customers, following those who had lost power because of Sandy. Here are the answers to key consumer this site: Superstorm Sandy disrupted everything, and I need more time to sort out my finances. How long do I have to make my mortgage payment?A: Many lenders are waiving late fees, so you have a little time if you live in New Jersey, New York or Connecticut. Wells Fargo & Co, the largest residential mortgage lender, says it is waiving late fees until the end of November. The company will give additional accommodation to customers who were directly affected on a case-by-case basis. Q: Should I make payments even if my house or car (or both) are totaled?A: Yes, at least until the issue is settled with the insurance company and the bank. "Even if there's not a house, you still own the property," said Jeanne Salvatore, senior vice president of the Insurance Information Institute, a trade group for the industry. Talk to your lender and your insurance company to work it out. Do not wait. Failure to make payments will hurt your credit score.

Q: Do I have to pay rent if I am not living in my apartment?A: The general rule of thumb is you do not have to pay for days you are not living in your apartment because it is uninhabitable. Most landlords in New York seem to be cooperative about this in the wake of Sandy, said Edward Josephson, an attorney for Legal Services NYC. "Landlords don't want to be taking people to court for Sandy rent."Beware, though, if your landlord offers to move you to an apartment in another building. "Get something in writing that says you have the right to come back," Josephson says. Do not pay more in rent than you are paying now. The big danger in this is if your landlord moves you from a rent-regulated apartment to one that is not and then tries to get out of offering you the same protections. If you stayed in your apartment without power or other amenities, you may choose to pay no rent. Josephson said this risks litigation. His advice? Ask for a rent reduction instead.

Q: Do I have to pay my utilities?The quick answer is no. Cable companies and utilities are not charging for the days that your dwelling was without service. And several cell phone carriers, such as Verizon Communications Inc and AT&T Inc, are offering similar waivers. Time Warner Cable Inc says if you get charged for days you did not have power, call and ask for a credit to your cable. Q: I rent. Can I break my lease and move elsewhere?

A: It can't hurt to ask. In New York City's Financial District, many of the large apartment complexes will be out of commission for a long time. Real estate broker Sean Christie says management companies are either moving tenants to other buildings they own, or are letting tenants out of their leases. But you need to factor in the added expense of moving. You will likely sacrifice your security deposit for several months until your landlord gets up to speed, Christie calculates. Then there is the cost of movers, the first month's rent and security on another apartment and a one-month broker's fee, if it is not paid by the new landlord. Christie said none of his clients have mentioned renter's insurance to cover these particular costs. "It really is tough," he said. Renter's insurance would likely cover only temporary costs for alternative housing. "The coverage is for additional living expenses," Salvatore emphasized. It usually does not cover your primary rent or mortgage. Q: Is there any help for lost wages?A: For those who missed work in the days after the storm, disaster unemployment insurance is available. But it is only for self-employed people who are not otherwise receiving unemployment benefits. It lasts for up to 27 weeks, beginning Oct. 29, 2012. Applications are due by Dec. 3. Based on other disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the Sept. 11 attacks, it might make sense to hire an advocate to aid with the complicated application process, said Cathy Ruckelshaus, legal co-director of the National Employment Law Project. Expect to provide documentation of past income, and be ready to explain other particulars of your situation.

Your money what your credit card covers for car rentals

(The author is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are his own.)By Mitch LipkaJuly 6 In the midst of moving from Atlanta to St. Louis last year, Thomas Nitzsche discovered his parked rental car had been hit by another car, causing $791 in damage. To keep costs low, he had rejected the "collision damage waiver" (CDW) insurance offered by the rental car company, which can run as much as $45 a day and can include a deductible. Nitzsche, who works for ClearPoint Credit Counseling Solutions, says it was big relief to learn the damage was covered by his credit card."That was a pretty big chunk of change," he said. It took three months or so for the payment to be made from Visa to Hertz, mostly because of requests for more information or the filing of paperwork. In the end, though, the accident cost him nothing out of pocket. While consumers typically have coverage from their credit cards for accidents, they often do not benefit from the full coverage Nitzsche got. Many people have auto insurance on their regular cars, which acts as the primary insurer in the case of loss or damage. The credit card insurance provided full coverage for Nitzsche because, at the time, he did not own a car. KNOW YOUR COVERAGE Not every card affords the same coverage. Most Visa cards will cover theft, damage to the rental car, towing and loss-of-use charges if you do not have a personal auto insurance policy.

However, both Visa and Mastercard exclude injury, property damage and damage to other vehicles, according to website If you have your own insurance, Visa will reimburse your deductible as well as some other charges your insurer does not cover. Mastercard's insurance coverage varies by the issuing bank. A USAA World MasterCard, for example, provides largely the same benefits as Visa, but caps loss of use reimbursement at $500. A few credit cards automatically offer primary coverage, meaning you are covered even if you have your own car insurance. They include Discover Escape, Chase Sapphire Preferred and United Mileage Plus Explorer. That could be helpful if you do not want to risk a premium increase on your own car insurance. A study early this year by found that a single claim of $2,000 on average boosts rates by 41 percent.

American Express card holders are afforded the opportunity to a pay a one-time fee per rental of $16 to $25 to change their coverage from secondary to primary. You can enroll online or by calling the company. Most credit card companies require you to refuse the collision damage waiver insurance offered at the car rental counter or it negates the card's coverage, says Robert Harrow, research analyst for credit card and insurance analysis site That can sometimes be difficult with an insistent clerk. Eva Glasrud, who runs a travel blog (, says she repeatedly tried to reject rental car insurance on a trip to Mexico last November. Eventually, the San Francisco resident gave in and took the $20-a-day additional insurance."I thought maybe we could get part of it back if I complained when we got home," she says. "But we never heard anything back.

EXCLUSIONS The fine print can be lengthy. Among the limitations:* Typically, only physical damage to the rental vehicle due to a collision or theft is covered, but injuries to you or others are not, Harrow says. Those would be covered by your auto insurance policy; if you do not have one, you should take the rental company's additional personal injury coverage. You can also buy a non-owner liability policy from many auto insurance companies.* Loss of personal items is typically excluded.* When traveling overseas, credit cards will not cover you in certain countries, including Australia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, and New Zealand, Harrow says.* While it might seem obvious, the card you use to pay has to be used for the entire rental and the bill needs to be in the name of the cardholder, notes Rachel Drake, insurance expert for the insurance shopping site COLLECTING CLAIMS Collecting payment from a card company can take a while, as Nitzsche found out. Some pay directly to the rental car company while others will reimburse cardholders. New York media executive Andrea Garcia is still dealing with several hundred dollars in damage to her rental car when it was broken into during a vacation to Miami in May. She says it took some work to file a detailed claim form, provide photographs and jump through other bureaucratic hoops. Unlike Nitzsche, she had to lay out cash and is still waiting to be reimbursed.