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Posts Tagged ‘personal insurance’

Dispose of Documents to Prevent Identity Theft

identity theft

Identity theft is increasing dramatically in the U.S. today. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), consumers reported more than 490,000 incidents in 2015, a startling 47 percent increase over the prior year’s number of reported identity theft crimes. While identity theft can happen to anyone, certain activities—such as posting personal information on the Internet or losing your wallet—can increase your risks. Improper disposal of paper documents can also be an issue. Consider these tips on what you need to shred and what you can safely recycle before your next desk or filing cabinet purge.

  • Shred anything containing your social security number. This is the holy grail of personal information in the eyes of would-be identity thieves. If they get their hands on it, they can open credit cards and fake checking accounts in your name. Your social security number may be included on employer paperwork, medical bills, health insurance cards and statements, credit card, banking and loan statements and more.
  • Shred your bank and mortgage statements. Paper statements sent for checking, savings, personal lines of credit, your mortgage and other loans will include your account information and—in many cases—your social security number. Experts advise saving these for three to seven years for tax purposes, but after that time has elapsed you should shred and recycle them. For maximum protection, shred everything you receive from your bank before putting it in the recycling bin—even if it’s just a policy change document or new product advertisement.
  • Shred your bills. From gas and electricity to water and trash collection, utility and service bills often contain sensitive information and may even include your social security number. Once you’ve reviewed the accuracy of the charges, shred and recycle them.
  • Shred anything with your signature. Did you have to sign the receipt at the drycleaner in order to pick up your order? Did you write an old-fashioned paper letter and then decide not to send it? A good rule of thumb is to shred anything that has your signature on it before putting it in recycling.
  • Recycle standard receipts. Receipts that don’t include your signature can be tossed in the recycling bin without shredding. This is true even if they contain the last four digits of your credit card number. However, receipts from ATMs for deposits and withdrawals should be retained for two years—according to experts. You can then recycle them.
  • Recycle junk mail, catalogs and magazines. Coupon books, sale’s flyers, catalogs and other junk mail can be recycled without shredding. The only information they contain is your address. The same goes for magazines after you’ve read them.

Keep in mind, cross-cut or diamond-cut shredders are better than those that simply turn documents into long strips of paper that are easy for identity thieves to reassemble. If you don’t want to invest in your own equipment, check your local government website for a shredding program or secure document recycling event. Some banks also hold periodic community shredding events.

Insurance Coverage as Your Car Ages

Insurance Coverage as Your Car Ages

In order to legally operate your motor vehicle in the U.S., you must have a car insurance policy in place. The minimum requirements for bodily injury and property damage liability vary by state and must be considered when selecting insurance coverage. These minimums won’t change as your car ages, but the additional coverage you choose to purchase may. Consider making these adjustments as your vehicle becomes older.

When Your Car is New…

If your car still has that new car smell, your best option will be full coverage insurance. A full coverage policy will cover the liability minimums required by your state as well as collision and comprehensive. Comprehensive means if something that’s not your fault (hail, vandalism, etc.) damages your vehicle, your insurance policy will reimburse you up the value of it (minus the deductible, of course). Collision provides the same coverage if something happens that is your fault (slamming into a telephone pole, etc.).

Full coverage is required under most auto loans. However, even if you paid cash for that brand new vehicle, and own it outright, full coverage insurance still makes sense as protection for your investment. According to Kelley Blue Book the average new car price is $33,543.

You may also want to purchase gap insurance. By some accounts, new cars lose 11 percent of their value when you drive them off the lot and 15 to 25 percent more each year. If something happens to your car and your auto insurance policy will only reimburse current value, gap insurance will make up the difference between that sum and what you still owe your lender.

When Your Car is Two to Five…

By now you’ve probably paid off your auto loan (or are close to doing so), so you can ditch the gap insurance if you purchased it. But don’t drop comprehensive and collision coverage just yet. Depending on the original value of your car, it may still be worth more than you’re willing to lose in the even that it’s totaled.Instead, consider adjusting the deductible on your policy. Doing so will lower your annual premium, without the need to sacrifice full coverage.

When Your Car is Six to 11…

If you’ve been itching to get rid of that full coverage, you may now be able to safely do so. Determine the viability of your plan by researching how much your car is currently worth. You can use resources like Kelley Blue Book to do so. Once you know your vehicle’s value, subtract your deductible. The resulting figure is the amount your insurance would pay you (if you have comprehensive and collision) if your car is totaled. Can you afford to lose that much? Is the amount you’ll save each month worth the risk? If you can answer yes to those questions, you might be okay with liability coverage alone.

When Your Car is 12 or Older…

If you’re still paying full coverage at this point, the value of your vehicle may no longer be worth the burden of the higher premium. However, if you’re reluctant to drop to liability insurance alone, talk to your agent about losing collision coverage (which tends to be most expensive) and keeping the comprehensive as protection against events like tornados and theft.

Whether you’re buying your first car or driving one that’s 15 years old, we have policies to fit your needs. Give us a call today for answers to all of your automobile insurance questions.

Prevent Common Household Leaks

 

It’s no secret that household water leaks are bad for the environment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average household leaks more than 10,000 gallons of water every year. To put that into perspective, your own home may be wasting enough water annually to wash 270 loads of laundry! Ten percent of homes have leaks that waste 90 or more gallons of water per day.

These leaks are also bad for your wallet. Fix them before they cause additional damage and you could save 10 percent on your water bills by the EPA’s calculations. Allow them to get worse—which could lead to mold and water damage to fixtures and flooring, and your repair costs could be in the thousands. Fortunately, a simple maintenance plan is all you need to prevent the most common household leaks in the first place.

Every Day…

Listen for running water in your bathroom. Toilet tanks that refill continuously can seriously affect your water bill. Replace assemblies and cut-off valves as needed.

Every Year to Twice a Year…

Inspect the cabinets under your sinks at least once a year. Look for dripping water and evidence of larger leaks. You should pull out your dishwasher and inspect the floor beneath it for water damage as well. Repair any issues you discover.

Check the plastic hose that connects your refrigerator’s ice maker to the water line at least once a year. If it’s discolored or cracked, replace it. If you never use the icemaker feature, consider leaving it unconnected.

Examine your home’s pipes, looking for signs of condensation and corrosion. Cracked or warped flooring may also be evidence of a leak.

Inspect your water heater annually. Corrosion, bulges in the tank and leaks are all issues which will require repair. Hire a professional to check the anode rods.

Hire a professional to inspect your HVAC unit every year. Clogged drain pans in attic air handlers and radiator leaks can cause costly damage to the walls, floors and ceilings of your home.

Clean your gutters every spring and fall to prevent overflow. Make sure downspouts are directing water away from your house to protect your basement and foundation.

Every Five Years…

By some calculations, washing machine failures are the costliest water-related insurance claims. Change out your washing machine hoses every five years and, if possible, use a reinforced steel-braided variety rather than rubber. If you’re going to be away from home for an extended time, consider turning off your washing machine’s water supply.

Even with the best maintenance, accidents may happen. Water detection alarms can alert you to possible leaks in damage-prone areas including bathrooms and basements. Some will even call your mobile phone to notify you of a leak if you’re not at home. Basic models can cost less than $20; the most advanced can set you back $300 or more—but that’s still a lot less than many major home repairs.

Prevent Common Household Leaks

 

It’s no secret that household water leaks are bad for the environment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average household leaks more than 10,000 gallons of water every year. To put that into perspective, your own home may be wasting enough water annually to wash 270 loads of laundry! Ten percent of homes have leaks that waste 90 or more gallons of water per day.

These leaks are also bad for your wallet. Fix them before they cause additional damage and you could save 10 percent on your water bills by the EPA’s calculations. Allow them to get worse—which could lead to mold and water damage to fixtures and flooring, and your repair costs could be in the thousands. Fortunately, a simple maintenance plan is all you need to prevent the most common household leaks in the first place.

Every Day…

Listen for running water in your bathroom. Toilet tanks that refill continuously can seriously affect your water bill. Replace assemblies and cut-off valves as needed.

Every Year to Twice a Year…

Inspect the cabinets under your sinks at least once a year. Look for dripping water and evidence of larger leaks. You should pull out your dishwasher and inspect the floor beneath it for water damage as well. Repair any issues you discover.

Check the plastic hose that connects your refrigerator’s ice maker to the water line at least once a year. If it’s discolored or cracked, replace it. If you never use the icemaker feature, consider leaving it unconnected.

Examine your home’s pipes, looking for signs of condensation and corrosion. Cracked or warped flooring may also be evidence of a leak.

Inspect your water heater annually. Corrosion, bulges in the tank and leaks are all issues which will require repair. Hire a professional to check the anode rods.

Hire a professional to inspect your HVAC unit every year. Clogged drain pans in attic air handlers and radiator leaks can cause costly damage to the walls, floors and ceilings of your home.

Clean your gutters every spring and fall to prevent overflow. Make sure downspouts are directing water away from your house to protect your basement and foundation.

Every Five Years…

By some calculations, washing machine failures are the costliest water-related insurance claims. Change out your washing machine hoses every five years and, if possible, use a reinforced steel-braided variety rather than rubber. If you’re going to be away from home for an extended time, consider turning off your washing machine’s water supply.

Even with the best maintenance, accidents may happen. Water detection alarms can alert you to possible leaks in damage-prone areas including bathrooms and basements. Some will even call your mobile phone to notify you of a leak if you’re not at home. Basic models can cost less than $20; the most advanced can set you back $300 or more—but that’s still a lot less than many major home repairs.

You Need Flood Insurance

You Need Flood Insurance

Mother Nature can throw one heck of a punch. And as residents on the East coast learned yet again with the winter storm Jonas, you don’t want to be on the receiving end of her wrath. Unfortunately, she seems to be striking out more often than ever, drenching parts of the U.S. in a series of extreme precipitation events that lead to flooding—the most common, and most costly, form of natural disaster according to FEMA. In fact, over the past several years, about 60 percent of all declared disasters involved flooding.

Just because your home has never flooded in the past does not mean it won’t in the future. According to FEMA, a home in a high-risk flood area—termed a Special Flood Hazard Area or SFHA by the government—has a 26 percent chance of flooding during a 30-year mortgage term. However, 25 percent of all flood insurance claims paid by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) are for properties outside of SFHAs.

If your home happens to flood, insurance may be all that’s standing between your savings and financial ruin. According to the NFIP, just a few inches of water can cause tens of thousands of dollars of property damage. In fact, from 2010 to 2014, the average residential flood claim was more than $42,000. And you can’t count on your homeowner’s insurance policy for assistance.

What is Flood Insurance?

A supplementary policy used in conjunction with homeowner’s insurance, you can purchase flood insurance through your insurance agent from the NFIP. If you live in a moderate to low-risk area, premiums start as low as $129 per year for your home and its contents. Premiums for SFHA areas are obviously higher. While flood insurance is not required for everyone, you’re required to purchase a policy if your home is in a high-risk area and you obtained your mortgage through a federally regulated or insured lender.

What Does Flood Insurance Cover?

Flood insurance from NFIP covers your home and its foundation, the electrical and plumbing systems, central air and heating equipment, water heaters, large kitchen appliances, window blinds and permanently installed carpeting, paneling, wallboard, bookcases and cabinets. If you live in a low-risk area and have a preferred risk policy—or have purchased additional personal contents coverage in a high-risk area—the insurance will cover your personal belongings (clothing, electronics and furniture), curtains, portable appliances, carpets not included in the building coverage, washers and dryers and freezers.

What Doesn’t Flood Insurance Cover?

A NFIP flood insurance policy does not cover damage caused by moisture, mildew or mold. It also does not cover currency, precious metals or valuable papers. Additionally, any belongings outside the structure are not covered (including cars), nor are temporary housing expenses or financial losses caused by interruption of a home business. Coverage is limited in basements regardless of zone.

You can determine whether you’re in a low or high-risk flood area by reviewing the flood maps at FEMA’s Flood Map Service Center or by consulting with your insurance agent. Don’t take a chance with Mother Nature. Talk to your agent about obtaining flood insurance today. There’s typically a 30-day waiting period before policy purchase and beginning of coverage.

Simple Ways to Protect Your Home From Fire

Simple Ways to Protect Your Home From Fire

If you believe you’ll never experience a home fire, the odds are against you. The NFPA Fire Analysis and Research Division states Americans can expect to average a home fire every 15 years or five fires in their lifetime. While most of these fires will be small, cause little to no damage, and go unreported, you have a one in four chance of experiencing a home fire that requires fire department assistance.

Fortunately, you can improve your family’s chances of surviving—and protect your structure and other belongings—by following these tips:

Cook with care – Never leave the kitchen while you are frying, grilling or broiling food. Additionally, do not leave items on or in your oven to simmer, bake, roast or boil while you’re away from home. If you must leave—even to run to the store or pick up your kids from school—turn off the stove.

Don’t crowd space heaters – Space heaters need exactly that: plenty of space. Whether fixed or portable, position your space heater at least three feet from anything that is flammable. Additionally, always turn off your space heater when you leave the room or go to sleep.

Quit smoking ASAP – While cooking equipment is by far the leading cause of home fires, smoking materials cause the most home-fire deaths. If you must smoke, do so outside whenever possible. Additionally, you should always utilize a sturdy, deep ashtray (whether inside or out) and never smoke in bed.

Hide matches and lighters – If you have children in your home, keep all matches and lighters out of their reach. Even better, store them in a cabinet with a childproof lock.

Inspect all electric cords – Carefully examine all the electric cords in your home, from the ones attached to your electronic equipment and kitchen appliances to the extension cords you use in your garage. Never use a cord that is cracked or damaged, has a broken plug, or sits too loosely in the outlet. Replace it instead.

Never leave candles unattended – Place candles at least one foot away from anything that can burn. Never leave candles burning when you leave a room or go to bed or unattended around children or pets.

Create a fire escape plan – Make sure your family is ready should a home fire occur. Create an escape plan for every room in your home. Have a fire drill to practice your escape at least twice every year.

Install (and maintain) smoke alarms – From 2007 to 2011, 37 percent of home fire deaths occurred when no smoke alarms were present. Twenty-three percent occurred when smoke alarms failed to operate. Smoke alarm failures are usually the result of missing, disconnected or dead batteries.

Make sure you have at least one smoke alarm on every level of your home as well as inside every bedroom. For the best protection, the NFPA recommends homeowners use combination ionization and photoelectric alarms. You should test every alarm at least once per month, change out batteries at least once a year, and replace smoke alarms every 10 years.

While even a small home fire can be disconcerting, a larger event could destroy everything you own. Whether you need a fire insurance policy or want to review your coverage, contact your insurance agent today.

What You Should Know about Identity Theft Protection Services

What You Should Know about Identity Theft Protection Services

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics Victims of Identity Theft report, about 17.6 million Americans had their identities stolen in 2014. This theft resulted in more than $15.4 billion in direct and indirect losses. While services—such as credit monitoring—can be convenient, some experts advise that these products don’t do anything one cannot do oneself.

Consider the following before you purchase identity theft protection:

  • Credit Monitoring – A central offering of ID theft protection services, monitoring alerts you to potentially fraudulent new accounts listed within your credit report. Unfortunately, monitoring does not prevent crime; it just notifies you of its discovery. And because a service may not monitor all three of the major credit reporting bureaus, it’s possible they may miss some fraudulent accounts.It makes more sense to monitor your credit on your own. You can request one free credit report from all three reporting agencies each year at annualcreditreport.com. Unless you already suspect fraud, you can easily spread out your coverage by checking a different report every four months—providing yourself with a year of monitoring at zero cost.
  • Identity Theft Insurance – While this might sound like a worthwhile investment given the growing incidence of identity theft, most consumer experts agree that this type of insurance is not worth the cost. It won’t return your stolen money. All it will really do is cover out-of-pocket expenses associated with repairing your identity—things like postage, copy fees and, if you’re really lucky, time away from work spent dealing with the theft.Before you even consider purchasing identity theft insurance, check to see if you have coverage through another policy. Such riders may be included in some homeowner and renter’s insurance products.
  • Credit Freeze – One of the best tools for identity theft protection is something you have to do on your own. When you initiate a credit freeze at all three reporting agencies, you must give your authorization before anyone can check your credit. It generally costs about $10 per agency, but it will greatly reduce the chances that a thief will be able to open a fraudulent account in your name. Fraud alerts are another option. They require creditors to verify identification before granting credit. Though they are free, you must remember to renew each alert every three months.

 According to ConsumerReports.org, American consumers spent $3.5 billion on identity theft protection products in 2010 (the most recent data available). Before you commit to annual fees in the range of $120 to $300, you might want to consider doing it yourself.

Three Things to Know About Permanent Life Insurance

Three Things to Know About Permanent Life Insurance

Benjamin Franklin, famous founding father of the United States, once wrote, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Unfortunately, despite its certainty, far too many Americans fail to prepare for their eventual demise—and they leave their families to pay the price. In fact, according to the Life Insurance and Market Research Association (LIMRA), while 85 percent of consumers agree that they need life insurance, only 62 percent have actually purchased a policy.

Permanent life insurance is a category that encompasses whole life, universal life, index-universal life, variable life and variable-universal life policies. While each type of policies differs in its details, all provide a death benefit plus cash savings. This makes permanent life insurance an attractive investment for many consumers. Of course, there are a few things you should consider before you join them.

 

  1. Permanent life insurance may be more coverage than you actually need.

If you’re single, childless, or have grown children and have paid your mortgage in full, you might be better off with a less expensive term life insurance policy. It will provide you with a death benefit for a set number of years at a much lower premium. However, if you have a family or carry a lot of debt—including a mortgage—the higher cost of permanent life insurance can be worth it, providing your loved ones with a death benefit plus the cash value of the policy.

 

  1. If you want to grow your investment, permanent life insurance may not be your best option.

If you want the greatest return on your investment, some advisors suggest buying a less expensive term life insurance policy and putting the difference into other investment vehicles. For example, a $1 million permanent life insurance policy might cost $13,900 a year while a $1 million 20-year term life insurance policy costs $750. If you invested the $13,000 difference the first year at 5 percent and let it grow for 20 years, you’d have $34,492.87. Do that every year and you’d have significantly more.

 

  1. Permanent life insurance can be a good investment in the right situation.

Your heirs won’t pay taxes on the cash value of your permanent life insurance policy until after your death. This means permanent life insurance can be a useful investment for individuals with high earnings who have maxed out their other tax-deferred savings options. Additionally, permanent life insurance can be useful for older individuals who don’t have much in the way of savings but want to leave a monetary inheritance to their loved ones.

Whether you prefer whole life insurance (with a fixed premium), universal life insurance (with adjustable premiums) or variable life insurance (allowing you to choose how the cash value is invested), talk to your insurance professional about protecting your family from the inevitable today.

Exclusions: There Is a Reason It’s Not Covered

Exclusions: There Is a Reason It's Not Covered

Every insurance policy has a section popularly known as “the fine print,” though its actual title is “Exclusions.” Exclusions are provisions in an insurance policy describing losses that the policy will not cover. For example, a homeowner’s policy does not cover losses caused by the use of cars, and a business auto policy does not cover injuries caused by a bulldozer on a construction site. While it may appear at first glance that the insurance company includes these provisions to get out of paying claims, the reasons are more complex and less insidious than that. There are very sensible reasons why no insurance policy covers everything.

First, not every person or business has the same exposures to loss. Most homeowners do not own a dump truck used in a business; the owner of the dump truck might not have employees to insure for jobsite injuries; the employer with a dozen employees might not own the building it occupies. Imagine if there were one insurance policy that covered all of these exposures — it would be hundreds of pages long and very complex. Therefore, over time insurance companies have developed different policies for different exposures — auto, home, business liability, and so on. The homeowner’s policy excludes losses that the auto policy should cover, personal policies exclude losses that business policies should cover, and vice versa.

Related to this are the issues of cost and choice. Standard insurance policies contain coverages that apply to large groups of households and businesses, but they do not cover every possibility. Those with additional needs have coverage options to choose from. For example, homeowner’s policies do not cover damage caused by water backing up from an overflowing sump or drain, but households that have basements with sumps or drains have the option of buying this coverage. Households without a basement do not have to buy it. This affords the buyer choices but does not force coverage on those who do not need or want it.

Furthermore, exclusions reduce the cost of the insurance policy. Every coverage comes with an associated cost — the company must factor in the costs of potential claims, expenses and profit for that coverage.

The more coverages a policy provides, the higher its premium will be. Without exclusions, people and businesses would be forced to pay for coverages they do not need. Exclusions help keep the premium affordable.

Finally, certain types of losses are uninsurable. Insurance companies cannot accurately predict when certain types of losses will happen, and the potential loss amounts are too large for them to absorb. For example, almost all policies exclude losses suffered as the result of a war or a nuclear accident. These events would cause massive losses beyond the abilities of insurance companies to pay. Other losses are not insurable as a matter of common sense. Because the purpose of insurance is to pay for losses from accidents, it will not cover most losses that a person intentionally causes.

Because every household or business’s circumstances are different, standard policies might not provide all the coverage necessary for proper protection. Properties in flood-prone areas, businesses that have a lot of contracts with other businesses, and individuals who post to online message boards may all lack important coverage. Consultation with a professional insurance agent will help determine whether more coverage is needed, whether it is available, and how much it will cost. The time to find out the availability and cost of coverage is before the loss occurs.

Time to Insure Your Computer Equipment

Time to Insure Your Computer Equipment

Once upon a time, large desktop computers were the golden standard of computing and portable devices were the exception. Today, almost the complete reverse is true. Laptop computers have grown more powerful and less expensive. Where college students considered typewriters to be mandatory equipment a generation ago, most today would not dream of attending college without a laptop. Businesspeople employ a variety of devices, including laptops, PDAs, tablets, and smart phones. Electronic book readers, led by the success of the Amazon Kindle, are becoming more popular. These devices are convenient, easy to carry, easy to use for information, entertainment, and communication, and very trendy. They are, however, also very susceptible to theft or damage, and their replacement costs can be substantial.

Any machine that runs on computer circuitry is vulnerable to certain perils. Most people who have owned such devices are familiar with the instinctually sick feeling they get when they accidentally drop one of these devices. Circuit boards are delicate components, subject to cracking if handled roughly. Moisture is also no friend to computerized gadgets. Drop one in water or spill a drink on it, and you will find yourself shopping for a replacement. Power surges, which can happen when electricity recycles after an outage, can instantly ruin a computer or electronic device. What’s more, popular electronic devices are perpetual targets for thieves.

When something happens to your laptop, will your homeowner’s insurance help pay for a new one? If you have a standard policy form, maybe not. The standard policy covers personal property of all types for a specific list of causes of loss. The list includes things like fire, lightning, explosion, windstorm and theft, but it does not list the other common causes of loss to computers. If someone steals a laptop from a dorm room, the policy will provide coverage. If the student drops it and cracks the screen, however, there is no coverage. However, additional coverage is available for purchase to protect against these common but disastrous events.

Anyone who owns computer devices should consider buying special computer coverage. This policy reverses common coverage for computers.

Rather than listing those causes of loss the policy covers, it lists those that it does not cover. If a cause of loss is not on the list, the policy provides coverage. This expanded coverage applies to computer hardware, software, operating systems or networks, and other parts, equipment or systems designed solely for use with them. For example, in addition to covering laptop and desktop computers, it covers printers, scanners, modems, wireless routers, and similar devices.

The coverage does not pay for losses caused by things like temperature extremes, humidity, wear and tear, mechanical breakdown, corrosion, damage caused by household pets, and others. However, the four common causes of loss to computers (breakage from dropping, damage from spilled liquids, power surges, and theft) are not on the list. Therefore, the coverage pays for damage caused by all of these. For example, the policy will pay for repair or replacement of a scanner that someone steps on, but it will not pay for repairs to a laptop that simply fails to turn on one day.

Because computer equipment is so common now in households, homeowners and renters should discuss their coverage with an insurance agent. For a relatively small cost, homeowners, renters, and students can insure their increasingly important but delicate belongings against thefts and those accidents most likely to damage them.