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Posts Tagged ‘personal insurance’

Have You Cosigned Student Loans?

Have You Cosigned Student Loans?

If amassing the largest quantity of college debt is a contest, it appears that the Class of 2014 has won. According to one analysis of government data, the average graduating college student this year had $33,000 in student loans. After adjusting for inflation, that’s nearly twice the amount students borrowed two decades ago. And parents who cosigned loans for their children may be on the hook for it.

Not all students are eligible for federal financial aid in the form of subsidized college loans. Some have to turn to private loans for all—or at least a portion—of their tuition and fees. With a cosigner, these young people increase their chance of approval, and parents are often the first choice.

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as providing a reference. When you cosign a student loan, you basically put yourself on the hook in the case of a default. Debt collectors will call you if your son or daughter misses a payment. Your credit will suffer. And if—heaven forbid—your child dies, you’ll find yourself responsible for the entire amount. It is often impossible to have private student loan debt discharged in bankruptcy.

Back in August, CNN Money reported the story of one couple who lost their daughter and face paying back the $100,000 in private student loans they had cosigned. Their credit is ruined, and they continue to struggle with the additional burden of debts that have ballooned to $200,000 due to interest and late fees. If they had a life insurance policy on their child, the story might have had a happier ending. One equal to the student loan balance, with the parents as beneficiaries, would have cost as little as $150 a year—a small price to pay for protection from financial devastation.

If you’re cosigning or have already cosigned private student loans for your child, you can avoid making this all too common mistake. Consider these tips for taking out a life insurance policy on your college-age child.

  • First, check with the lender. Some larger private lenders—from Sallie Mae to Wells Fargo—have begun providing debt relief when a primary borrower dies. If that is the case with your child’s student loans, life insurance may be unnecessary.
  • If the lender does not offer such protection, talk to your financial advisor about the best possible life insurance plan. He or she can explain the differences between policies and help you find adequate coverage at a price you can afford.
  • In many cases, a term life insurance policy (in which you can choose the length of coverage) may be best. You’ll want a term that is long enough to cover you throughout your child’s repayment of the loans.
  • The coverage you purchase should be equal to the balance on the loans. If your child has not finished school, your financial advisor can help you estimate the final cost of his or her education.

 

 

Defend Your Home Against Burglaries and Home Invasions

Defend Your Home Against Burglaries and Home Invasions

If you were anywhere near a television in June of 2013, you likely saw this graphic video of a horrifying New Jersey home invasion broadcast repeatedly on national news programs. It’s the stuff of nightmares, and unfortunately, according to the FBI, these violent break-ins—and less violent burglaries—are not as uncommon as you may think. Nearly 50,000 “robberies within residences” occurred in 2011. That’s a rate of nearly 137 per day.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to defend your home against these types of attacks. In most cases, both violent home invaders and simple burglars target properties where they’re less likely to face resistance. The more difficult you make it to access your home uninvited, the less likely you are to become a victim. Consider the following home-defense suggestions.

  • Install motion-detecting lights around the perimeter of your home.
  • Install motion-detecting infrared security cameras that record to a DVR. Enclose the recording system in a lockbox so invaders cannot remove the visual evidence of their crime.
  • If you’re often away from your home and want to monitor it remotely, choose security cameras you can also connect to the Internet.
  • Always lock your windows, even on upper floors.
  • Install secondary locking devices on ground floor windows to prevent them from opening more than a narrow gap or width.
  • Apply anti-break window film as well. If you have glass doors, make sure they are double paned and laminated.
  • Keep a dowel rod in the track of your sliding glass door. This will keep it from sliding open even if a burglar bypasses the lock.
  • Keep bushes and trees trimmed to reduce potential hiding places and eliminate easy upper story or roof access.
  • Install deadbolts on all your exterior doors, including the one leading into your home from the garage. Use them at all times.
  • Ensure your exterior doors are solid core models; replace them if not.
  • Invest in an anti-kick door device, like the Door Devil or Door Stopper, to make brute force entry more difficult.
  • Upgrade your locks to high security models and install 3-inch screws in your doorjambs and hinges.
  • Invest in a security alarm with motion detectors, and keep it set even when you are at home—day and night.
  • Install a secondary alarm keypad in your bedroom.
  • Keep your cell phone handy at all times so you can call 911 from any room of your home.
  • Put your keys on your nightstand when you go to bed. You can use your car alarm as a deterrent if you hear someone outside your home.
  • If you have a garage door opener, make sure you’re not using the factory-set entry code.
  • Never answer your door if you don’t know the person on the other side.

Sometimes the unexpected happens, but I hope these tips help you protect your home and your family. If you’d like to learn how homeowner’s insurance, life insurance and other insurance products can also offer protection in the event of a burglary, invasion, natural disaster or other emergency, contact me today.

Steps to Take After an Auto Accident

Steps to Take After an Auto Accident

Automobile accidents on America’s busy roadways—from minor fender-benders to fatal pile-ups—are more common than you may imagine. According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 9,387,000 passenger vehicles were involved in police-reported traffic crashes in 2012. More than 35,000 of these vehicles were involved in fatal crashes, 21,667 occupants lost their lives, and 2.09 million were injured.

While auto accidents are always stressful, it’s important to remain calm and take the necessary steps to ensure injured parties receive medical attention and you’re prepared to submit an auto insurance claim. Experts recommend the following:

  1. If the accident appears to be minor, move your car to a safe place, out of traffic. This may be the shoulder of the highway or a nearby side road or parking lot.
  2. Check yourself and your passengers for injuries. If another vehicle was involved in the accident, ascertain if the passengers within it are okay. When in doubt, call an ambulance.
  3. Turn on your vehicle’s hazards lights. If you have cones, warning triangles or emergency flares in your trunk—and you are still on the roadway or shoulder—use them.
  4. Call the police, even if the accident is minor or other parties involved suggest that you don’t contact law enforcement.
  5. Call your insurance agent while you’re waiting for the police to arrive.
  6. Use your cell phone to take pictures of the accident location and any damage on all vehicles involved.
  7. If there were witnesses to the accident (pedestrians, uninvolved drivers who stopped to make sure everyone was okay), get their names and phone numbers.
  8. Note the names, addresses and phone numbers of the other drivers. Write down their license plate numbers, vehicle identification numbers and auto insurance information as well. Some insurance companies offer free mobile apps to help you collect these details.
  9. Do not admit fault for the accident, even if you think you are to blame. Don’t discuss the accident with other involved drivers and passengers. That said, be as polite as possible.
  10. Do not sign any documents that your insurance agent or the police do not require.
  11. Collect the name, badge number and phone number of the police officer investigating your accident. Ask for a copy of the accident report as well, though you may need to wait a day or so for the officer to file it. This report will include the officer’s assessment of the accident, which can be helpful if the parties involved do not agree on who was at fault.


The claims process itself may vary by insurance company. If you’d like to find out more about what to expect when filing a claim through your auto insurance provider—or ask other questions about your policy—contact your insurance agent.

 

 

The Dangers of Poor Sleep

The Dangers of Poor Sleep

We all have the occasional night where we just can’t manage to fall asleep or stay asleep long enough to feel rested. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), insufficient sleep is rapidly becoming a public health epidemic, with lack of quality slumber linked to motor vehicle crashes, industrial disasters and medical errors as well as a number of chronic diseases. In fact, the National Sleep Foundation reports that 20 percent of American adults show signs of chronic sleep deprivation including decreased performance and alertness as well as memory impairment.

Short-Term Dangers of Poor Sleep

According to WebMD, losing as little as 1.5 hours of sleep one night can reduce daytime alertness by as much as 32 percent. This might not seem like a big deal—especially if you spend most of your workday sitting at a desk—but the less alert you are, the slower your reaction time. This can make you more prone to accidents in your home and place of business as well as behind the wheel of your car. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has conservatively estimated that driver fatigue causes 100,000 police-reported crashes every year, resulting in 1,550 deaths and 71,000 injuries.

Poor sleep also impairs your memory and cognitive ability. Research cited by the National Sleep Foundation found that loss of less than a half night’s sleep can alter the normal behavior of brain cells, negatively impacting your ability to think and process information. When you’re tired, you’re less able to focus, missing fine details and putting information together incorrectly as a result. Depending on your occupation, this can lead to life-threatening errors at work.

Sleep deprivation can put a strain on your home life as well. If your partner’s habits (snoring, tossing and turning) are causing you to lose sleep, it can add stress to your relationship. And when you’re tired, you’re less likely to feel like doing usually fun things such as playing with your children, going to the movies with friends, or exercising.

Long-Term Dangers of Poor Sleep

While a single restless night can certainly wreak havoc on your day, chronic insufficient sleep can have serious long-term consequences. These include increasing your risks of developing high blood pressure, heart failure, and obesity as well as having a heart attack or stroke. Lack of sleep can also lead to psychiatric problems such as depression and attention deficit disorder.

According to WebMD, numerous studies have shown an increased mortality risk for adults who report sleeping less than six or seven hours each night. One study even discovered that lack of sleep increases mortality risk more than smoking, high blood pressure or heart disease does.

What You Can Do

The American Sleep Disorders Association recognizes more than 85 sleep disorders—ranging from insomnia to sleep apnea—that affect more than 70 million people. Unfortunately, most cases remain undiagnosed and untreated. If you believe you are suffering from chronic sleep deprivation, talk to your doctor. And if you suffer from even the occasional night of low-quality sleep, you may want to speak with your auto insurance agent about increasing your coverage. According to the National Sleep Foundation, courts have awarded crash victim families multi-million dollar settlements in the past as a result of drowsy driving lawsuits.

 

 

 

Save Money with Home Insurance Credits

Save Money with Home Insurance Credits

Do you own a home? If so, you probably pay for homeowners insurance. It’s likely your mortgage lender required you to show proof of coverage before you closed on your loan. And if you’re among the lucky Americans who own their homes outright, you may still have insurance to protect your investment in case of damage caused by fire and wind, property theft or liability lawsuits. You may even be aware that you can cut your premiums by installing and maintaining smoke detectors and security systems as well as insuring your vehicles through the same company. But do you know about the many other credits available to reduce the costs of homeowners insurance?

Gated Community Credit: According to Bankrate, if you own a home within a gated community, you may be able to shave 5 percent to 20 percent off your premium. The discount falls under loss mitigation, as the extra security of such a location makes your property a less attractive burglary target.

New Wiring Credit: According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), electrical failures and malfunctions contributed to an estimated 47,700 home fires in 2011—causing $1.4 billion in direct property damage. If you’ve purchased an older home, you may qualify for a 10 percent credit on your insurance premium if you replace the wiring.

Impact-Resistant Roofing Credit: The average roof takes a beating in the form of rain, hail and wind, and damage caused by compromised roofing can lead to significant home insurance claims. As a result, many insurers offer homeowners a 5 percent to 10 percent discount on premiums if they upgrade to an impact-resistant roofing material (such as Class 4 impact-resistant UL 2218).

Claims-Free Credit: According to Bankrate, if you’ve gone a decade without filing a claim, your insurer may be willing to knock as much as 20 percent off the annual cost of your coverage. If you’ve been with the same company for years but have had a claim or two in the past, you may still qualify for a long-term customer discount.

New Home/Home Renovation Credit: Buy a brand new property and you could score an insurance premium that is as much as 25 percent less than that required for a comparable previously owned home. You can earn the same discount if you renovate an older property. However, check with your insurance agent for suggestions on maximizing credits before you begin.

Non-Smoker Credit: Data compiled by the NFPA shows that smoking caused an estimated 17,600 home structure files in 2011. These fires resulted in 490 civilian deaths, 1,370 civilian injuries and $516 million in direct property damage. While insurers generally raise their rates if there is a smoker in the household, many will also give you a 5 percent to 15 percent discount if you keep your home smokeless.

Retiree Credit: Retired homeowners tend to spend more time at home, and this means they are more likely to be able to prevent an emergency—such as a gas leak or broken pipe—from becoming a disaster. According to Bankrate, if your household includes an adult who is 55 years or older and retired, you may qualify for a discount of 10 percent to 25 percent.

Homeowners insurance costs vary based on many factors including your location and the coverage you select. Contact your agent today to review your policy and learn if you qualify for any of these cost-reducing credits.

 

Flood Insurance — What You Need to Know

Flood Insurance -- What You Need to Know

Mother Nature can throw one heck of a punch. And as residents on both coasts and across the mid-west have learned, 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 one-day 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 2008 to 2012, the average residential flood claim was more than $38,000. 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.

Home Fire Statistics and Prevention

Home Fire Statistics and Prevention

According to a National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) report that examined data collected between 2007 and 2011, U.S. fire departments respond to an average of 366,600 home structure fires per year. These fires cause an estimated average of 2,570 civilian deaths and 13,210 civilian injuries. They result in $7.2 billion in direct property damage.

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.