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Archive for the ‘Personal Protection’ Category

One Homeowner’s Tool You’re Probably Overlooking

One Homeowner's Tool You're Probably Overlooking

Why do you have homeowners insurance? If you’re like many American homeowners, it’s not because you believe anything bad will ever happen to your property but because your mortgage lender or landlord says you must. You signed up for the policy and never gave it another thought. This is extremely dangerous.

Disasters can strike at any time. According to the National Fire Protection Association, U.S. fire departments respond to more than 360,000 home structure fires each year. Flood insurance claims average nearly $4 billion per year according to the National Flood Insurance Program. And Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics show there are more than 5,400 burglaries per day, 74 percent of which occur on residential properties.

Why You Need a Home Inventory

In the event of a theft, fire, flood or other natural disaster, your homeowners insurance may be all that stands between you and financial ruin. Protect your investments — don’t over look the home inventory. This detailed record of everything you own will come in handy should you ever need to file a claim, apply for disaster relief or document losses for tax purposes. Unfortunately, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, 59 percent of U.S. consumers do not have one.

Creating your home inventory will take time, but the difference it can make in the event of a disaster is worth it. The actual process isn’t that difficult, especially if you follow these tips.

  1. Decide on an approach. You can conduct your home inventory room by room, by category of item, from newest to oldest purchase, or from most to least expensive belongings.
  1. Create your list. Spreadsheets are particularly effective for this purpose. You can customize columns as you wish, but make sure you include all information an insurance adjuster will need. This includes a description of each item, when you purchased it, the purchase price, and the brand and model or serial number. You can also use Know Your Stuff, free software available both online and as an app, from the Insurance Information Institute.
  1. Augment your documentation. If you have receipts or canceled checks to prove what you paid for your belongings, keep them. You can scan them if you’d prefer to store these items digitally. Photographs of important items may also prove helpful down the line. You can even make a video tour of your home, showing all of your belongings, to accompany your inventory list.
  1. Make sure you include everything of value. This includes items you use less regularly such as tools, sporting goods, holiday decorations and formalwear. Go through every closet, drawer and box in your home as well as your attic, basement and garage.
  1. Store your inventory in a safe place. Keep copies of the list and other documentation outside your home. Locations you may want to consider include a friend or relative’s house, your office or a safe deposit box. For even better protection, store copies in two locations.
  1. Update your list regularly. At minimum, update your home inventory annually. However, some homeowners find it easier to update their list as they make new purchases and the information and supporting documentation needed is readily available.

Once you’ve created your home inventory, review your insurance policy with your insurance agent to ensure you have adequate coverage. You should understand whether your belongings are insured for cash value (replacement or repair costs minus deprecation) or for replacement cost (replacement or repair without an adjustment for depreciation). Rare or valuable items may benefit from additional insurance riders.



Preventing Burglary — What You Can Do to Protect Your Home

Preventing Burglary -- What You Can Do to Protect Your Home

When driving down a street at night looking at houses, you are most likely drawn to the house with exterior lighting, neatly trimmed landscaping, and lights on inside. That’s because the house looks inviting and well cared for. Now imagine a burglar is driving down the same street. The things that drew you to the previous house are the same things that will turn that burglar away, looking for better opportunities.  A property with no exterior lighting, overgrown landscaping, and possibly no one at home, invites criminal activity.

It is important to note that burglary is a preventable crime. Common sense dictates some of the steps you can take toward making your home safer and less attractive to burglars. The following are some general tips you should incorporate into your routine that can make the difference between the burglar stopping at your house or passing it up for another one further down the road.

The first line of defense between you and a burglar is to properly secure your home.

Make sure your yard, driveway, and all entrances to your home are well-lit. Consider the use of lights on a timer or photocell, which turns lights on automatically at dusk and shuts them off at dawn. Trees and shrubs around windows should be cut back so you don’t give a burglar a place to hide while preparing to enter your home.

If you are going to be away from home for a period of time, leave a light on. Lights left on indoors, especially those on a timer that turn on when it gets dark and shut off at bed time, can be a large deterrent to a burglar. The goal is to make it look as if you are home.  Ask a neighbor to pick up your newspapers and bring in your mail.

Along the same lines, if you will be gone for an extended period, arrange for your lawn to be maintained. Permitting your grass to grow high or get dry is a sign of neglect and can invite unwanted attention. If you have a garage – use it. Parking inside your garage on a regular basis makes it more difficult for a burglar casing your home to know whether or not you are really there.

Burglars will usually spend about five minutes trying to get inside your home. Make that task as difficult as possible by doing the obvious – lock your doors and windows! If you forget to lock your back door, this can be viewed as an invitation by a burglar looking to get in to your home quickly. In addition to the obvious, avoid spring bolt locks. It takes only a credit card to push open the bolt and allow access to the inside. Deadbolt locks should be installed on all exterior doors. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has established testing and ratings for deadbolt locks. Grade 1 locks are the best, with Grade 3 locks being easier to penetrate. Look for Grade 1 locks when shopping for a deadbolt. A key lock or pin-type lock work best for patio door, or any door with glass that could be easily broken to access a knob on a deadbolt. Heavy-duty strike plates should also be used to prevent a burglar from successfully kicking in your door.

When purchasing a new home, make sure all locks have been changed. Also, think about calling a reputable locksmith who can advise you on proper locks for doors and windows. Carefully preparing your home, including adequate locks, lighting, and regular maintenance, can make the difference between a burglar deciding to make a stop at your house or to keep driving.

Insuring Your Bicycle — Why It Might Be a Good Idea

Insuring Your Bicycle -- Why It Might Be a Good Idea

Summer is a lovely time to get outdoors and bike with your family, but before you go, you’ll want to consider protecting the investment you’ve made in recreation vehicles.  Bikes are much easier to steal than cars, as even heavy duty locks can be compromised with the right equipment. The FBI estimates that 1.5 million bicycles are stolen each year in the United States — odds are, yours might be next. Purchasing bicycle insurance could give you peace of mind.

Note: since bikes are considered to be personal property, they are already be insured if you have homeowners or renters insurance. These types of insurance will cover your bicycle if it is stolen or damaged during a house fire or natural disaster. However, if your bike is a high-end model, you may want to purchase an additional rider.  You’ll want to check if your insurance will cover your bike if it is stolen when you are away from home — many policies do provide for such a scenario, but it’s worth inquiring.

Your insurance needs may go beyond replacing your bicycle. If you are involved in a crash that totals your bicycle, your wheels might not be the only thing that is hurt. In other words, you may wish that you had personal injury protection.

Your car insurance may cover this unfortunate event if you drive, but cyclists who either cycle or take public transportation may have a need for individualized insurance that addresses this specific need.
If you are taking the time to protect your two-wheeled asset, ask about replacement insurance. Otherwise, your policy could pay the actual cash value of your bike, which if it is eight years old, may be considerably less than you would need to replace your ride.
Find out if your existing coverage is adequate by talking to your insurance agent. If not, she can help you to add the rider or connect you with a carrier who can provide the coverage you need. Doing so will give you the peace of mind you need to enjoy riding your bike free of worry.

Rental Insurance Basics for College Grads

Rental Insurance Basics for College Grads

Whether you’ve just graduated from college or are the parent of a recent college grad, here’s a fact you need to know: only 37 percent of today’s renters have rental insurance. This means millions are only one fire, natural disaster or burglary away from the financial losses renters insurance was created to protect them from.

Why do they take this unnecessary risk? It’s possibly because they are misinformed or otherwise unknowledgeable about this valuable insurance product. Consider the following rental insurance myths and the basics every renter needs to know.

Myth: I don’t need insurance because my landlord has insurance.

This is a common misconception, and many renters have paid its price. While your landlord’s insurance policies cover the building and any unattached property he or she has stored there, they do not cover your belongings. Should they be stolen or destroyed by a fire, hurricane or tornado, you’ll have to replace them yourself. You’re also liable for your own temporary living expenses if the building is deemed uninhabitable.

Myth: I don’t own anything important so insurance isn’t worth it.

This statement is rarely true, and a look around your home is all you need to prove it false. Just imagine what it would cost to replace your computer, television, stereo, electronics, books, movies, furniture, clothing and other belongings. Even buying used, you’re talking about thousands of dollars. Additionally, rental insurance includes liability protection against lawsuits should a visitor become injured while at your home.

Myth: Rental insurance is too expensive.

Again, this statement is false. Renter’s insurance—and homeowner’s insurance—policies are surprisingly affordable. Depending on the amount of coverage you purchase, premiums can be as low as few hundred dollars a year, or less than $20 a month. Talk to your insurance agent about the amount of rental insurance you need and current rates in your state.

Myth: Rental insurance is too confusing.

Understanding most insurance products does take a little time—but it’s always easier with the help of an insurance agent. Give us a call to learn more about rental insurance variables including actual cost versus replacement value, deductibles and policy add-ons (such as floaters to cover valuables above the coverage limits of a standard policy) available to you. We can provide you with quotes from a number of insurers and may even be able to get you a discount.

Whether you’re purchasing rental insurance for yourself or your college graduate, we’re here to help make sure you’re protected from losses due to fire, smoke, lightning, explosions, windstorms, vandalism and theft. Give us a call today.

Preventing Accidental Poisoning

Preventing Accidental Poisoning

America’s poison help lines received over 3.1 million calls in 2013 alone. While accidental poison exposure of children younger than the age of 6 accounted for nearly 50 percent of incidents, kids weren’t the only ones in harm’s way. Ninety-two percent of reported poison-related deaths were of adults. More than 90 percent of poisonings occurred in the home.

Whether your family includes young children and teens or is comprised of adults alone, consider the American Association of Poison Control Centers’ tips to prevent accidental poisoning in your home.

  1. Learn to recognize potential poisons – A poison is anything that can harm someone if it is used in the wrong way, by the wrong person or in the wrong amount. Even products you might consider safe—such as vitamin C tablets, mouthwash or hair spray—can become a poison. Additionally:
  • Some poisons may be harmful if they touch your eyes or skin.
  • Others may be toxic if you breathe or swallow them.
  • They can by solids, liquids, sprays or gases.
  1. Prescription and over-the-counter drugs and medicines are among the most common household poisons.
  • Never take larger or more frequent doses than prescribed by your doctor or recommended on OTC drug labels.
  • Read all warning labels before taking any medication. Some may become poisons when taken with other drugs or alcohol.
  • Turn on a light before taking medications at night to ensure you have the correct bottle and are taking the right amount.
  • Keep medicines in their original bottles and containers. Pill sorters may be convenient, but they can also increase your chance of accidental poisoning.
  • Dispose of unused, unneeded and expired prescription drugs at National Drug Take Back days. You can find a DEA authorized collection location in your area at this website.
  1. Household chemical products (cleaning, personal care, pesticides, etc.) are also common household poisons.
  • Read the label completely before using any household or personal care product.
  • Keep all chemical and personal care products in their original bottles and containers.
  • Never mix cleaning products together or you may create toxic gases.
  • Turn on fans and open windows before using chemical household cleaners.
  • Never apply pesticides or other chemicals without wearing protective clothing.
  1. Proper storage of potential poisons is essential.
  • If you have children—or if youngsters sometimes visit your home—store all medications and household products in a secure cabinet out of sight or out of children’s reach.
  • Always secure child safety caps every time you use a medication.
  • Put medications and household products away as soon as you are done with them.
  • Ask guests to your home to keep their medications out of the sight and access of children as well. They should not leave drugs in their purses, backpacks or coat pockets.
  1. Remain calm if a poisoning occurs.
  • Prepare for such a situation by programming 1-800-222-1222 (the Poison Control Center) into your family’s cell phones.
  • Call the poison control center number if the exposure victim is awake and alert. If he or she is not, call 911.
  • You’ll need the victim’s age and weight as well as the time of poison exposure and the type of chemical (medication, household product, etc.).
  • The emergency operator or poison control center will provide you with further instruction.


Should You Buy Disability Insurance?

Should You Buy Disability Insurance?

What would happen if you were permanently injured or became too ill to work? You might qualify for disability payments from Social Security, but would you be able to survive on the average payout ($1,165/month as of April 2015)? Maybe you have some savings, but would they be adequate to cover your living expenses until you’re old enough to collect retirement benefits? If you answered “no” to either of these questions, you should consider buying disability insurance.

Like every other type of insurance, a disability policy is designed to protect something. You buy homeowners insurance to protect your home and the personal property within it. You buy life insurance to protect your family when you eventually pass away. Disability insurance basically protects your income—something that’s especially important during your peak earning years (now defined as age 40 to 55.) Not only do most professionals earn their highest salary during this time, they actively use it to pay down debt and save for retirement.

As most insurers won’t offer disability policies to individuals over the age of 59, now is likely your best time to buy one that will carry you through to full retirement age. As with health and life insurance, the older you are, the more expensive obtaining disability insurance will become. Less than perfect health can make it more difficult, though not impossible. You may still be offered a policy, but it may include exclusions for health issues—such as back problems—for which you’ve regularly sought treatment.

Before you pursue an individual disability insurance policy, check with your employer about group policies. If the company you work for offers one, you may be able to obtain coverage without going through medical underwriting. This can make the process easier and save you money. If your employer does not offer supplemental disability insurance, you’ll want to find a provider who offers guaranteed renewable policies with fixed costs and terms.

In general, experts recommend a disability insurance policy that will replace 60 to 70 percent of your salary. Women are often charged more for the same amount of coverage as men because they are 35 percent more likely to become disabled. Increasing the waiting period on the policy—from 90 days to 180 days, for example—can decrease the price. So can choosing a shorter term. If you and your partner buy policies together, you may also score a discount.

When you apply for a disability insurance policy, the underwriter will look at your health (unless you’re getting insurance through your employer), occupation and finances. You may need to provide tax returns as proof of income. It can be an invasive process, but when you consider the peace of mind disability insurance affords—especially during those peak earning years we mentioned earlier—it’s more than worth any minor hassle. Contact us to discuss the benefits of disability insurance further and explore your options.


Home Window Safety

Home Window Safety

You expect your home to be a safe place for your children—maybe even the safest. However, according to recent data from Safe Kids Worldwide, 2,200 children die each year from injuries sustained in the home. Caregivers take another 3.5 million kids to the ER after home accidents, and almost 2 million of them are treated for fall-related injuries. Some of these deaths and injuries involve falls from windows.

While National Window Safety Week takes place in April each year, anytime is a good time to assess window safety in your home. The National Safety Council offers the following suggestions to help you keep your children safe from life-threatening falls.

Always supervise – Nothing feels better than a fresh spring or summer breeze through open windows. However, if you choose to keep yours open during warm weather months, keep an eye on your children and teach them to play well away from the potential fall hazard.

If you can’t supervise, keep them closed – If you cannot stay with your children, close and lock the windows before leaving the room.

Don’t rely on screens – Most window screens are designed to keep insects out, not children in. They cannot withstand the weight of a child (or a pet) and will not prevent a fall.

Move the furniture – If you have small children, or if little ones are visiting your home, move furniture away from the windows. This will remove their temptation to climb up and potentially fall.

Ventilate in inches – Rather than opening windows wide, crack them a few inches. You’ll still get a breeze while keeping children (and pets) safe from falls. You may also want to consider installing limited-opening hardware on windows within your children’s reach. This hardware will prevent them from opening the window more than a few inches.

Bedroom Windows Save Lives

While falling from a window can lead to injury, it may be necessary for your children to use their bedroom window to exit your home in the event of an emergency—such as a fire. You’ll want to make certain they can safely do so. Consider these additional tips from the National Safety Council.

Test the windows – Make sure bedroom windows open easily and are not sealed shut by paint or swollen shut by weathering. If you cannot open them quickly and easily, replace them.

Buy escape ladders – If you have bedrooms on the second or third floor of your home, equip each one with an emergency escape ladder.

Practice – Teach your children how to open their windows and attach the escape ladder. Practice fire escape routes, both during the day and at night (when most house fires occur).

Download the National Safety Council’s window safety activity book for kids here. And remember: we’re here to help you protect your family. Please don’t hesitate to call with home safety or insurance-related questions.

Buying Cruise Insurance

Buying Cruise Insurance

From weather delays to onboard mishaps, protecting yourself and your vacation is something you should consider before you set sail on your next cruise.

Covered Events

The unfortunate events covered by cruise insurance vary depending on policy. Common ones include missed departures and delays, cruise operator cancellations, emergency traveler cancellations, lost and stolen luggage, medical emergencies, medical evacuations and cruise operator financial default.

Two special insurance features most travelers find particularly desirable are 100 percent refund policies and trip interruption coverage. The first will reimburse your pre-paid travel expenses in the event that you need to cancel your trip for any reason including a job loss or medical emergency. The second will reimburse your expenses if you need to cut your vacation short and fly home.

Buying Direct from Cruise Operator

Most cruise operators offer passengers some form of insurance protection, through it is often more limited in scope than comparably priced third party policies. For example, most do not cover cancellations due to operator financial default, terrorism or political unrest. If traveler cancellation is covered, there may be a cut off several days prior to departure. And medical coverage is often quite limited, usually excluding pre-existing conditions.

In the event of a covered situation requiring reimbursement, most cruise lines will pay up in the form of non-transferable credits towards future travel. Most often, expiration dates and strict redemption rules accompany these vouchers. Cash reimbursement is quite rare.

Purchasing Third Party Insurance

If you want broader coverage and cash reimbursement, you’ll have to purchase your cruise insurance through a third party provider. TravelGuard, TravelSafe and InsureMyTrip are three popular companies offering a range of cruise insurance products.

When reviewing your options, consider a ‘primary’ policy. It may cost a bit more, but coverage kicks in the moment something goes wrong—reducing or eliminating the time you’ll wait for reimbursement. If you chose ‘secondary’ coverage, you must attempt to collect on a primary policy before your cruise insurance will cover a thing. For example, if someone steals your camera while on the ship, a secondary policy will only cover your loss after you’ve attempted to collect on your homeowner’s insurance policy.

Cost of Investment

Whether you choose to purchase directly from your cruise operator or from a third party, expect to pay 5 percent to 10 percent of the cruise price for insurance. While this may be as much as $1,000 on a $10,000 cruise, the cost is minimal compared to the potential losses you’ll incur if you have to cancel your trip due to an emergency, the ship malfunctions and you find yourself stranded in a foreign port, or the cruise line goes out of business.


Buying a Used Car? Look Out for VIN Cloning

Buying a Used Car? Look Out for VIN Cloning

While car theft has been a great concern for car owners, it is less of a concern because of the improvement in technologies such as transponder keys, tracking and recovery systems, improved integrated active alarm systems, etc. But while car theft has dropped, car thieves have not given up… and the most common car crime today is VIN switching or VIN cloning.

How VIN Cloning / VIN Switching is Done

  1. Thieves steal your car.
  2. They then look for a model that is the same as yours.
  3. Thieves will make a copy of that vehicle’s VIN.
  4. They will create a fake VIN plate for your car which makes the car easy to sell.

What’s terrible bout this is that you may buy a car thinking it has a clean bill of health. But the real car’s history may be masked.

Worse, the police can seize the car if it was in fact stolen and you’ll likely be out of the money you spent on the car. (Some states like Wisconsin require auto dealerships to reimburse consumers when the dealership has sold a car with a bad VIN but not all states require this.)

Protect yourself from VIN Cloning

Here are some of the things that you can do so that you can protect yourself from VIN cloning and avoid buying used cars that have been stolen.

Check the Address of the Seller

Criminals will not let you know their address. If you are the buyer, always go to the seller and meet at his or her house. If he says that he is a motor dealer, go to his place of business. A legal trader will not have a problem with you visiting his business site. He will also have printed invoices and a legit landline number.

If the seller asks to meet at a convenient location, make sure to bring a friend.

Right to Sell

Buying from a private individual is riskier than buying from a car dealer because when things go wrong, you might not be able to find the seller if he or she is just a private individual.

To see if the seller has the right to sell, meet at the address indicated on the registration papers. Go into the house and don’t just meet outside the house. If the person has nothing to hide, then there should be no problem getting inside the house. If you find something unusual, walk away right at that very moment.

Question Low Prices

Be wary of cars that are being sold at an insanely low price. If there is some bodywork damage in the car, then the seller might go a bit lower. However, if the seller is willing to accept any price, then alarm bells must sound off because a car thief will settle for any amount instead of getting caught with a stolen car.

Check the Documents

Inspect each and every document that will be handed to you. Try to spot any forgeries. Check the VIN on all the records, the door sticker, dash, car frame, service and title records. All of the VIN indicated there must match. Check for any signs that it may have been tampered with.

Check the CARFAX if there are any clone alerts.

The odometer must match the mileage that is reported on the document. Check if there are any registrations between states. If there are, then this is a cause for alarm as this might be a stolen car.

Get a Mechanic

You can always get an expert mechanic to check on the car if there are any anomalies.

Why to Choose a Safe Deposit Box Over a Home Safe

Why to Choose a Safe Deposit Box Over a Home Safe

Whether you want a safe place to stash heirloom jewelry from your great-great-grandmother, a treasured collection of rare coins, stacks of savings bonds or your last five years’ worth of tax returns, a safe deposit box at the bank is a better choice than a home safe for a number of reasons.

  1. A safe deposit box is a better value. Even the cheapest home safe is going to cost you upwards of $100 dollars. A safe deposit box, on the other hand, typically rents for $15 to $500 a year depending on size. Unless you’re storing large valuables, the up-front cost of renting a safe deposit box is going to be less than purchasing a residential safe.
  1. A safe deposit box offers better protection from fire. Fireproof home safes are even more expensive than their basic counterparts are—and there are significant limits to how much actual protection they offer. For example, some fire resistant residential safes still allow contents to reach 350 degrees. While that might protect paper documents, it’s more than the heat required to damage items like computer disks and 35mm slides. Most only offer 30 minutes of protection as well—not enough if it takes emergency responders longer to extinguish the blaze. Fire is not an issue for a safe deposit box, however. Located in a sealed bank vault, they offer the ultimate protection for your items.
  1. A safe deposit box offers better protection from thieves. While the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing notes that the number of reported single-family home burglaries nationwide has declined 32 percent since 1990, they’re still increasing in some metropolitan areas—and a home safe is an easy target for a would-be thief on the prowl. Banks, on the other hand, are more secure than the average home. Even when a robbery occurs, few of the criminals bother with the safe deposit boxes. According to the FBI, only 18 of the 5,014 bank robberies that occurred nationwide in 2011 involved the safe deposit vault.
  1. Home safes are notoriously easy to “crack.” Just watch one episode of A&E’s Storage Wars and you’ll see how easy most residential safes are to break into. And anyone can learn to do it. A quick Google search of “how to crack a home safe” returned more than 43,700,000 written and video tutorials. Safe deposit boxes, on the other hand, are housed within a bank vault, which is much more difficult to break into.

IMPORTANT: While bank robberies involving safe deposit boxes are rare, it’s still wise to add a rider to your homeowner or renter’s insurance policy to cover the items you store within one. The minimal cost you’ll incur is preferable to running the risk of an unforeseen loss.