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  2000 Reasons to Be Prepared

By Jane Bryant Quinn
Sunday, February 21, 1999; Page H2

When I talk to businesspeople about Y2K, I'm struck by one thing. They all say, "I'm going to be okay--it's the other guy I'm worried about."

You don't know whether "the other guy" is fixing his computers or not, and ignorance makes you anxious. You have no idea how seriously to take the threat.

As anyone not in a coma knows, Y2K is shorthand for the year 2000, year of the dread Millennium Bug, when computers might misread 2000 as 1900, or not read the year at all. Software might go haywire, causing anything from brief inconveniences to major problems. Disaster warnings lurk everywhere.

But maybe we're worried mostly because we lack information. If each of our companies is well on the way to repairing its own systems, who exactly is "the other guy"?

Businesses have been reluctant to talk about Y2K preparation, in part from fear of legal liability. If they say they expect to be okay and something unforeseen goes wrong, their customers and shareholders might sign on to a massive lawsuit.

Law firms have been gleefully gearing up for Y2K, which they think will be something akin to shooting fish in a barrel. It's a good example of how our national quest for reparations adds excessive risk to our economic system and drives up costs.

For consumers, the more disclosure, the less fear. The more you hear from banks, brokerage houses, mutual funds, local utilities and others about their preparations, the more comfortable you will be.

Businesses should stare down their own lawyers and tell the public what's going on.

The federal government discloses what's going on, through constant reports and hearings. Many state and local governments, however, aren't doing so well.

Personally, I expect that most things are going to work. But there will be glitches. We cannot know in advance what their scope is likely to be.

I'm treating this event as I'd treat a hurricane forecast. Maybe the storm will hit, maybe not. If it hits, crews will be standing by to fix things quickly. Nevertheless, I'll take some precautions myself.

Here's my personal Y2K checklist:

Financial records. I'm keeping everything. This is no year to throw papers away. My banking and investment records will be up to date, in case a computer scrambles some data.

In December, I'll get printouts of the payments I've made on mortgages and other loans. I might even get a copy of my credit report.

Bank accounts and securities. Do I look crazy? Would I take savings out of the bank, lose the interest it's earning and risk total loss if I had a fire? My money stays put, where it's FDIC-insured. Securities stay put, too.

I'll have enough cash for the weekend and maybe a couple of additional days--but then, I usually do. The Federal Reserve has ordered an additional $50 billion in currency to be sure it can meet any unexpected cash demands.

Don't worry about the ATMs. If your usual automated teller machine fails, there are others around. If a bad switch stops every ATM in town, there are always tellers (remember them?). Banks will have extra staff on call.

Direct deposits. This is one of the things your bank should be giving you information about. Find out if it has tested its link to the Social Security Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs, your employer or any other source that sends payments directly to your bank account. In January, check your account to be sure they arrived.

If you've arranged for your bank to make automatic monthly payments--for your mortgage, life insurance, utilities or student loans--check on those, too. If you're thinking of starting electronic payments, you might put them off until next year.

Credit and debit cards. They'll work. Last Christmas, I did all my shopping with a '00 card, without a hitch.

Money online. If you handle your banking or investments online, be sure that your own software programs are Y2K-ready, and that they interact properly with those of your broker or bank. Back up your hard drive just before the end of the year.

Home and hearth. It's not impossible that there might be spotty electrical failures or malfunctions in the valves of a local water system.

I'll prepare as I might for a hurricane or winter storm, with candles, flashlights and batteries; extra food and fireplace wood; some water jugs; essential medications; and full tanks of gasoline in my car and heating oil in my home. I don't think I'll need them, but I believe in contingency plans.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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