If your wallet has ever been lost or stolen, you know what a pain it is to replace your driver's license. That goes double when other vital documents like your passport, birth certificate or car registration are misplaced or destroyed in a natural disaster. Without the proper ID, you can't start a new job, buy a house, apply for insurance or conduct a host of other common transactions.
Here's a guide on how to get copies or replacements for many common documents:
Birth, death, marriage and divorce certificates. These records come from the states where the events occurred. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a handy directory that provides links to the appropriate agencies in all U.S. states and territories, including costs and mailing instructions.
Passport. Immediately report lost or stolen passports to the U.S. State Department by calling 877-487-2778. (If it happens overseas, contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.) To replace a lost or stolen passport, you must submit forms DS-11 and DS- 64 in person at a passport agency or acceptance facility.
Be aware that once you report a passport as lost or stolen, it becomes invalidated, even if you later find it. If that happens, return the old passport and request a new one.
Driver's license, car registration. To learn how to replace your driver's license, vehicle registration or car title (which you'll need to transfer ownership), or to access other motor vehicle services, contact the Department of Motor Vehicles for the state in which you are registered. This USA.gov website contains links to each state's DMV.
Social Security card. These days, you may not actually need to replace a misplaced Social Security card. If you know your Social Security number, you generally can still collect Social Security benefits, get a job and apply for government benefits and services. However, if you do want to replace the card, you'll need to gather documents proving your identity and citizenship and complete an application; then mail or take the paperwork to your local Social Security office.
Military service records. Veterans often need copies of their military service records to apply for government programs, including health care, retirement or education benefits. You can apply to the National Archives for a copy of your records (or an immediate family member's if deceased). The site also has information on replacing lost military medals and awards.
Green card. If your U.S. Permanent Resident (Green) Card is lost, stolen or damaged, or if your name or other important information has legally changed since it was issued, you may request a new card from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) by filing Form I-90. If you're outside the U.S. and lose your green card, contact the nearest U.S. consulate or USCIS office before applying online for a new card.
Tax returns. If you need exact copies of previously filed and processed tax returns (including attachments), you may order them from the IRS by submitting IRS Form 4506. There is a $57 fee for each year's return you request. Before ordering an exact copy, however, ask whether a "tax return transcript" or "tax account transcript" will suffice. These abbreviated printouts of returns are often acceptable substitutes for student loan and mortgage lenders and are free. To order transcripts, click HERE.
School transcripts. If you need to order high school or college transcripts, it's best to contact the school's registrar or student services office directly for instructions. (Some websites that claim they can expedite the process have proven unreliable.) You'll likely be asked to submit a transcript request form in writing with your signature.
For even more suggestions, see Replace Your Vital Documents at USA.gov.
So where should you store these important documents in the first place? If you can afford one, a safe deposit box at your bank is a good option. Keep copies of key documents in your house for easy access, and consider giving a set to a trusted friend or relative. Just be aware that safe deposit boxes are usually sealed when the owner dies, so don't store the only copy of your will there -- and let someone know where you keep the safe deposit box key.
A fireproof safe at your home is another good storage option -- ideally one that can be bolted to the floor and has at least a one-hour fire rating. If you opt for a regular filing cabinet, make sure it's not located in an area that could flood. And while you're at it, store all documents -- even in a safe deposit box -- in waterproof containers (like Ziplock bags).
This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a legal, tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to you and about your individual financial situation.