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Family Finances

A Year Later, Katrina Haunts a Family's Finances

Mary Judice, a columnist for The Times-Picayune, in New Orleans, is still dealing with the financial fallout from the hurricane.

This has been a momentous week. My husband and I finally received our New Orleans city tax bill, five months late. Now we can put another piece of unfinished financial business behind us. We were fortunate to have experienced little damage to our French Quarter home when Katrina hit last August (the assessment didn't vary much from the year before). But surviving Katrina has become a way of life and has tested our creativity. And some pieces of our financial lives are still missing.

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Slide Show: Rebuilding After Disaster

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Six Steps to Protect Your Home

Your Financial Emergency Kit

In the first months after Katrina, paying bills was a challenge. Fortunately, payments on many accounts were deferred for 90 days after the storm, and I signed up for online banking and scheduled bill payments online.

After months of having to wait in line at a post office for first-class mail, we now get a piece or two of mail delivered almost daily. Still, I am not sure every bill makes it through the newly replaced postal sorter in a timely fashion.

I've learned a lesson about the value of cash. In the days after we evacuated to Baton Rouge, we found some ATMs did not have power and some restaurants did not accept credit cards. I recently found a diary entry I wrote in early October 2005 in which I celebrated being able to use my ATM card at a bank branch in the French Quarter for the first time since the storm. It's summer 2006, and there are still few bank branches open. The same holds true for grocery stores and gas stations.

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As if the piles of debris and boarded-up offices and homes aren't reminder enough of the catastrophe we live through every day, my auto mechanic told me the other day that I would have to pay with cash or a check. Like many other businesses, the shop still has no telephone land line to use for credit-card transactions.

One of the first things I did when we returned to the city was schedule a long-overdue meeting with our lawyer to update our wills and powers of attorney. Then I met with our financial adviser. Just as the Great Depression and World War II defined my parents' generation, Katrina will be our yardstick.

Go to our slide show to view before and after home reconstructions.