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Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some of our frequently asked questions. If you have any other questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us.

  1. What is auto insurance?
  2. What is covered by a basic auto policy?
  3. Can I drive legally without insurance?
  4. What if I lease a car?
  5. Is there a difference between cancellation and nonrenewal?
  6. How do I choose an insurance company?
  7. How much coverage do I need?
  8. What determines the price of my policy?
  9. What does my credit rating have to do with purchasing insurance?
  10. What information do I need to give to my agent or company?
  11. How Can I Save Money On Auto Insurance?
  12. Five Insurance Mistakes to Avoid… And Still Save Money
  13. Eight Auto Insurance Myths
  14. What can I do if I can't find coverage?
  15. Should I purchase an umbrella liability policy?
  16. Will my insurance cover renting a car after an accident?
  17. How do I file a claim?
  18. How are the value of my car and the cost of repair determined?
  19. What are my rights when filing a claim?
  20. If I file a claim, will my premium go up?
  21. What should I do if I am having trouble settling my claim?
  22. Air Bag Safety
  23. At the Scene of an Accident
  24. Avoiding Deer / Car Collisions
  25. Child Safety Seats
  26. Distracted Driving
  27. Driving in Bad Weather
  28. Road Rage
  29. Senior Drivers
  30. Shopping for a Safe Car
  31. Teenagers and Driving
  32. What is homeowner's insurance?
  33. What coverage is included in a standard homeowners insurance policy?
  34. Are there different types of homeowner's policies?
  35. Does my homeowners insurance cover flooding?
  36. Can I own a home without homeowners insurance?
  37. Home Buyers Insurance Checklist
  38. How do I take a home inventory and why?
  39. What's the difference between cancellation and nonrenewal?
  40. How much homeowners insurance do I need?
  41. I’m installing a pool—what kind of insurance do I need?
  42. How do I pick an insurance company?
  43. How much will it cost?
  44. How can I save money?
  45. Five Insurance Mistakes to Avoid… And Still Save Money
  46. What information do I need to provide to my agent?
  47. How often should I review my policy?
  48. Should I purchase an umbrella liability policy?
  49. How does the payment process work?
  50. How do I file a homeowners claim?
  51. How is the settlement amount determined?
  52. How can I avoid scams after a disaster?
  53. What can I do if I am having trouble settling my claim?
  54. Making Sure Your Home Is Properly Covered for a Disaster
  55. Lightning Safety
  56. Grilling safety
  57. Lawnmower safety
  58. Pool Safety
  59. Protecting your bicycle from theft
  60. What is Umbrella Insurance?
  61. What does Umbrella Insurance cover?
  62. Why should you purchase Umbrella Insurance?
  63. Does my homeowners or renters insurance cover flood damage?
  64. Where do I get flood insurance?
  65. How much does flood insurance cost?
  66. How quickly can I get flood insurance?
  67. How do I know if I need flood insurance?
  68. Can I get more flood insurance coverage than the NFIP offers?
  69. Do I really need flood insurance?
What is auto insurance?

Auto insurance protects you against financial loss if you have an accident. It is a contract between you and the insurance company. You agree to pay the premium and the insurance company agrees to pay your losses as defined in your policy. Auto insurance provides property, liability and medical coverage:

  • Property coverage pays for damage to or theft of your car.
  • Liability coverage pays for your legal responsibility to others for bodily injury or property damage.
  • Medical coverage pays for the cost of treating injuries, rehabilitation and sometimes lost wages and funeral expenses.

An auto insurance policy is comprised of six different kinds of coverage. Most states require you to buy some, but not all, of these coverages. If you're financing a car, your lender may also have requirements. Most auto policies are for six months to a year. Your insurance company should notify you by mail when it’s time to renew the policy and to pay your premium.



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What is covered by a basic auto policy?

Your auto policy may include six coverages. Each coverage is priced separately.

1. Bodily Injury Liability

This coverage applies to injuries that you, the designated driver or policyholder, cause to someone else. You and family members listed on the policy are also covered when driving someone else’s car with their permission.

It’s very important to have enough liability insurance, because if you are involved in a serious accident, you may be sued for a large sum of money. Definitely consider buying more than the state-required minimum to protect assets such as your home and savings.

2. Medical Payments or Personal Injury Protection (PIP)

This coverage pays for the treatment of injuries to the driver and passengers of the policyholder's car. At its broadest, PIP can cover medical payments, lost wages and the cost of replacing services normally performed by someone injured in an auto accident. It may also cover funeral costs.

3. Property Damage Liability

This coverage pays for damage you (or someone driving the car with your permission) may cause to someone else's property. Usually, this means damage to someone else’s car, but it also includes damage to lamp posts, telephone poles, fences, buildings or other structures your car hit.

4. Collision

This coverage pays for damage to your car resulting from a collision with another car, object or as a result of flipping over. It also covers damage caused by potholes. Collision coverage is generally sold with a deductible of $250 to $1,000—the higher your deductible, the lower your premium. Even if you are at fault for the accident, your collision coverage will reimburse you for the costs of repairing your car, minus the deductible. If you're not at fault, your insurance company may try to recover the amount they paid you from the other driver’s insurance company. If they are successful, you'll also be reimbursed for the deductible.

5. Comprehensive

This coverage reimburses you for loss due to theft or damage caused by something other than a collision with another car or object, such as fire, falling objects, missiles, explosion, earthquake, windstorm, hail, flood, vandalism, riot, or contact with animals such as birds or deer.

Comprehensive insurance is usually sold with a $100 to $300 deductible, though you may want to opt for a higher deductible as a way of lowering your premium.

Comprehensive insurance will also reimburse you if your windshield is cracked or shattered. Some companies offer glass coverage with or without a deductible.

6. Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage

This coverage will reimburse you, a member of your family, or a designated driver if one of you is hit by an uninsured or hit-and-run driver.

Underinsured motorist coverage comes into play when an at-fault driver has insufficient insurance to pay for your total loss. This coverage will also protect you if you are hit as a pedestrian.



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Can I drive legally without insurance?
NO! Almost every state requires you to have auto liability insurance. All states also have financial responsibility laws. This means that even in a state that does not require liability insurance, you need to have sufficient assets to pay claims if you cause an accident. If you don’t have enough assets, you must purchase at least the state minimum amount of insurance. But insurance exists to protect your assets. Trying to see how little you can get by with can be very shortsighted and dangerous. The insurance industry and consumer groups generally recommend a minimum of $100,000 of bodily injury protection per person and $300,000 per accident since accidents may cost far more than the minimum limits mandated by most states.

If you've financed your car, your lender may require comprehensive and collision insurance as part of the loan agreement.


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What if I lease a car?

If you lease a car, you still need to buy your own auto insurance policy. The auto dealer or bank that is financing the car will require you to buy collision and comprehensive coverage. You'll need to buy these coverages in addition to the others that may be mandatory in your state, such as auto liability insurance.

  • Collision covers the damage to the car from an accident with another automobile or object.
  • Comprehensive covers a loss that is caused by something other than a collision with another car or object, such as a fire or theft or collision with a deer.

The leasing company may also require "gap" insurance. This refers to the fact that if you have an accident and your leased car is damaged beyond repair or "totaled," there's likely to be a difference between the amount that you still owe the auto dealer and the check you'll get from your insurance company. That's because the insurance company's check is based on the car's actual cash value which takes into account depreciation. The difference between the two amounts is known as the "gap."

On a leased car, the cost of gap insurance is generally rolled into the lease payments. You don't actually buy a gap policy. Generally, the auto dealer buys a master policy from an insurance company to cover all the cars it leases and charges you for a "gap waiver." This means that if your leased car is totaled, you won't have to pay the dealer the gap amount. Check with the auto dealer when leasing your car.

If you have an auto loan rather than a lease, you may want to buy gap insurance to protect yourself from having to come up with the gap amount if your car is totaled before you've finished paying for it. Ask your insurance agent about gap insurance or search the Internet. Gap insurance may not be available in some states.


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Is there a difference between cancellation and nonrenewal?

There is a big difference between an insurance company canceling a policy and choosing not to renew it. Insurance companies cannot cancel a policy that has been in force for more than 60 days except when:

  • You fail to pay the premium
  • You have committed fraud or made serious misrepresentations on your application
  • Your drivers license has been revoked or suspended.

Nonrenewal is a different matter. Either you or your insurance company can decide not to renew the policy when it expires. Depending on the state you live in, your insurance company must give you a certain number of days notice and explain the reason for not renewing before it drops your policy. If you think the reason is unfair or want a further explanation, call the insurance company’s consumer affairs division. If you don't get a satisfactory explanation, call your state insurance department.

The company may have decided to drop that particular line of insurance or to write fewer policies where you live, so the nonrenewal decision may not be because of something you did. On the other hand, if you did do something that raised the insurance company’s risk considerably, like driving drunk, the premium may rise or you may not have your policy renewed.

If your insurance company did not renew your policy, you will not necessarily be charged a higher premium at another insurance company.



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How do I choose an insurance company?

There are many insurance companies, so choosing between them can be a challenge. Here are the main points to keep in mind when selecting an insurance company:

  • Licensing
    Not every company is licensed to operate in each state. As a general rule, you should buy from a company licensed in your state, because then can you rely on your state insurance department to help if there’s a problem. To find out which companies are licensed in your state, contact the state insurance department.
  • Price
    Many companies sell insurance policies and prices vary greatly from one to another, so it really pays to shop around. Get at least three price quotes from companies, agents and from the Internet. Your state insurance department may publish a guide that shows what insurers charge for different policies in various parts of your state.
  • Financial Solidity
    You buy insurance to protect you financially and provide peace of mind. Select a company that is likely to be financially sound for many years, by using ratings from independent rating agencies.
  • Service
    Your insurance company and its representatives should answer your questions and handle your claims fairly, efficiently and quickly. You can get a feel for whether this is the case by talking to other customers who have used a particular company or agent. You may also want to check a national claims database to see what complaint information it has on a company. Also, your state insurance department will be able to tell you if the insurance company you are considering doing business with had many consumer complaints about its service relative to the number of policies it sold.
  • Comfort
    You should feel comfortable with your insurance purchase, whether you buy it from a local agent, directly from the company over the phone, or over the Internet. Make sure that the agent or company will be easy to reach if you have a question or need to file a claim.


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How much coverage do I need?

Almost every state requires you to buy a minimum amount of liability coverage. Chances are that you will need more liability insurance than the state requires because accidents cost more than the minimum limits. If you’re found legally responsible for bills that are more than your insurance covers, you will have to pay the difference out of your own pocket. These costs could wipe you out!

You may want to talk to your agent or company representative about purchasing higher liability limits to reflect your personal needs. You may also consider purchasing an umbrella or excess liability policy. These policies pay when your underlying coverages are exhausted. Typically, these policies cost between $200 and $300 per year for a million dollars in coverage. If you have your homeowners and auto insurance with the same company, check out the cost of coverage with this company first. If you have coverage with different companies, it may be easier to buy it from your auto insurance company.

In addition to liability coverage, consider buying collision and comprehensive coverage. You don't decide how much to buy. Your coverage reflects the market value of your car and the cost of repairing it.

Decide on a deductible—the amount of money you pay on a claim before the insurance company reimburses you. Typically, deductibles are $500 or $1,000; the higher your deductible, the lower your premium.



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What determines the price of my policy?

There are many factors that influence the price you pay for auto insurance. The average American driver spends about $850 a year. Your premium may be higher or lower, depending on:

1.     Your driving record.
The better your record, the lower your premium. If you've had accidents or serious traffic violations, you will pay more than if you have a clean driving record. You may also pay more if you haven't been insured for a number of years.

2.     The number of miles you drive each year.
The more miles you drive, the more chance for accidents. If you drive a lower than average number of miles per year, less than 10,000, you will pay less. For instance, some companies will give discounts to policyholders who carpool.

3.     Where you live.
Insurance companies look at local trends, such as the number of accidents, car thefts and lawsuits, as well as the cost of medical care and car repair.

4.     Your age.
In general, mature drivers have fewer accidents than less experienced drivers, particularly teenagers. So insurers generally charge more if teenagers or young people below age 25 drive your car.

5.     The car you drive.
Some cars cost more to insure than others. Variables include the likelihood of theft, the cost of the car, the cost of repairs, and the overall safety record of the car.

6.     Your Credit.
For many insurers, credit-based insurance scoring is one of the most important and statistically valid tools to predict the likelihood of a person filing a claim and the likely cost of that claim. Credit-based insurance scores are based on information like payment history, bankruptcies, collections, outstanding debt and length of credit history. For example, regular, on-time credit card and mortgage payments affect a score positively, while late payments affect a score negatively.

7.     The amount of coverage.
Of course, like anything else, the more coverage you have, the more you pay. However, you may qualify for discounts.



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What does my credit rating have to do with purchasing insurance?
Credit scores are based on an analysis of an individual’s credit history. These scores are used for many purposes such as securing a loan, finding a place to live, getting a telephone and buying insurance. Insurers often generate a numerical ranking based on a person’s credit history, known as an “insurance score,” when underwriting and setting the rates for insurance policies. Actuarial studies show that how a person manages his or her financial affairs, which is what an insurance score indicates, is a good predictor of insurance claims. Insurance scores are used to help insurers differentiate between lower and higher insurance risks and thus charge a premium equal to the risk they are assuming. Statistically, people who have a poor insurance score are more likely to file a claim.

As a result, establishing a solid credit history can cut your insurance costs. To protect your credit standing, pay your bills on time, don’t obtain more credit than you need, and keep the balances on your credit cards as low as possible—ideally, try to pay off the bill in full each month. Also, check your credit record regularly, and request that any errors be corrected immediately so that your record remains accurate.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires each of the nationwide consumer reporting companies—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months. 

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What information do I need to give to my agent or company?

Your agent will ask you what make and model cars you own, roughly how many miles you drive each year, and what kind of liability coverage you will need. The agent will also want to know how many people drive the cars, how old the drivers are, where you live, and driving records of each household member.

The agent will then ask more detailed questions about your cars, such as their Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN), whether they have passive restraint systems or air bags, anti-lock brakes or anti-theft devices. If you already have another insurance policy with the company for home or life insurance, you might receive a discount on your auto policy. You should also mention if you or other drivers in your household have completed safe-driving courses and if student drivers in your home are getting good grades—both of these may qualify you for discounts on your auto policy.

Once the agent has assembled all of the information, he or she will quote you a premium. The premium will depend on all the factors above and on the deductibles you choose.



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How Can I Save Money On Auto Insurance?

The price you pay for your auto insurance can vary by hundreds of dollars, depending what type of car you have and the insurance company you buy your policy from. Here are some ways to save money.

 

1. BEFORE YOU BUY A CAR, COMPARE INSURANCE COSTS

Before you buy a new or used car, check into insurance costs. Car insurance premiums are based in part on the car’s price, the cost to repair it, its overall safety record and the likelihood of theft. Many insurers offer discounts for features that reduce the risk of injuries or theft. To help you decide what car to buy, you can get information from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

 

2. ASK FOR HIGHER DEDUCTIBLES

Deductibles are what you pay before your insurance policy kicks in. By requesting higher deductibles, you can lower your costs substantially. For example, increasing your deductible from $200 to $500 could reduce your collision and comprehensive coverage cost by 15 to 30 percent. Going to a $1,000 deductible can save you 40 percent or more. Before choosing a higher deductible, be sure you have enough money set aside to pay it if you have a claim.

 

3. REDUCE COVERAGE ON OLDER CARS

Consider dropping collision and/or comprehensive coverages on older cars. If your car is worth less than 10 times the premium, purchasing the coverage may not be cost effective. Auto dealers and banks can tell you the worth of cars. Or you can look it up online at Kelley’s Blue Book (www.kbb.com). Review your coverage at renewal time to make sure your insurance needs haven’t changed.

 

4. BUY YOUR HOMEOWNERS AND AUTO COVERAGE FROM THE SAME INSURER

Many insurers will give you a break if you buy two or more types of insurance. You may also get a reduction if you have more than one vehicle insured with the same company. Some insurers reduce the rates for long-time customers. But it still makes sense to shop around! You may save money buying from different insurance companies, compared with a multipolicy discount.

 

5. MAINTAIN A GOOD CREDIT RECORD

Establishing a solid credit history can cut your insurance costs. Most insurers use credit information to price auto insurance policies. Research shows that people who effectively manage their credit have fewer claims. To protect your credit standing, pay your bills on time, don’t obtain more credit than you need and keep your credit balances as low as possible. Check your credit record on a regular basis and have any errors corrected promptly so that your record remains accurate.

 

6. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF LOW MILEAGE DISCOUNTS

Some companies offer discounts to motorists who drive a lower than average number of miles per year. Low mileage discounts can also apply to drivers who car pool to work.

 

7. SEEK OUT OTHER DISCOUNTS

Companies offer discounts to policyholders who have not had any accidents or moving violations for a number of years. You may also get a discount if you take a defensive driving course. If there is a young driver on the policy who is a good student, has taken a drivers education course or is away at college without a car, you may also qualify for a lower rate.

When you comparison shop, inquire about discounts for the following:*

Antitheft Devices
Auto and Homeowners Coverage with the Same Company
College Students away from Home
Defensive Driving Courses
Drivers Ed Courses
Good Credit Record
Higher deductibles
Low Annual Mileage
Long-Time Customer
More than 1 car
No Accidents in 3 Years
No Moving Violations in 3 Years
Student Drivers with Good Grades

*The discounts listed may not be available in all states or from all insurance companies.

The key to savings is not the discounts, but the final price. A company that offers few discounts may still have a lower overall price.



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Five Insurance Mistakes to Avoid… And Still Save Money

We are all concerned with saving money and it is important to shop around when looking for insurance coverage. However, simply reducing your coverage or dropping important coverages altogether can leave you dangerously underinsured in the event of a disaster.

 

Following are the five biggest auto, home, flood and renters insurance mistakes consumers can make, along with suggestions to avert those pitfalls while still saving money:

 

1. Insuring a home for its real estate value rather than for the cost of rebuilding. When real estate prices go down, some homeowners may think they can reduce the amount of insurance on their home. But insurance is designed to cover the cost of rebuilding, not the sales price of the home. You should make sure that you have enough coverage to completely rebuild your home and replace your belongings.

 

A better way to save: Raise your deductible. An increase from $500 to $1,000 could save up to 25 percent on your premium payments.

 

2. Selecting an insurance company by price alone. It is important to choose a company with competitive prices, but also one that is financially sound and provides good customer service.

 

A better way to save: Check the financial health of a company with independent rating agencies and ask friends and family for recommendations. You should select an insurance company that will respond to your needs and handle claims fairly and efficiently.

 

3. Dropping flood insurance. Damage from flooding is not covered under standard homeowners and renters insurance policies. Coverage is available from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), as well as from some private insurance companies. Many homeowners are unaware they are at risk for flooding, but in fact 25 percent of all flood losses occur in low risk areas. Furthermore with the significant snow fall this winter, spring related flooding may be particularly severe, thus increasing the importance of purchasing flood insurance.

 

A better way to save: Before purchasing a home, check with the NFIP to determine whether the property is situated in a flood zone; if so, consider a less risky area. If you are already living in a designated flood zone, look at mitigation efforts that can reduce your risk of flood damage and consider purchasing flood insurance. Additional information on flood insurance can be found at www.FloodSmart.gov.

 

4. Only purchasing the legally required amount of liability for your car. In today’s litigious society, buying only the minimum amount of liability means you are likely to pay more out-of-pocket if you are sued—and those costs may be steep.

 

A better way to save: Consider dropping collision and/or comprehensive coverage on older cars worth less than $1,000. The insurance industry and consumer groups generally recommend a minimum of $100,000 of bodily injury protection per person and $300,000 per accident. 

 

5. Neglecting to buy renters insurance. A renters insurance policy covers your possessions and additional living expenses if you have to move out due to an insured disaster, such as a fire or hurricane. Equally important, it provides liability protection in the event someone is injured in your home and decides to sue.

 

A better way to save: Look into multi-policy discounts. Buying several policies with the same insurer, such as renters, auto and life will generally provide savings.



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Eight Auto Insurance Myths

When purchasing car insurance, it’s important to understand the factors that affect your car insurance premium rates and coverage. But how do you differentiate between truth and fiction? A good place to start is by dispelling some  common myths about auto insurance:

Myth 1 – Color determines the price of auto insurance

It doesn’t matter if your car is red, green or purple. What does matter is the type of car you select. Before you buy a new or used car, check into insurance costs. Auto insurance premiums are based on make, model, body type, engine size, the age of the vehicle and the age, driving record and credit history of the driver. Premiums are also based, in part, on the car’s sticker price, the cost to repair it, its overall safety record, and the likelihood of theft. Many insurers offer discounts for features that reduce the risk of injuries or theft. These include daytime running lights and anti-theft devices. 

 

For years there has been a notion that color plays a significant part in calculating insurance premium costs, many people believing that red cars cost more to insure because they are linked to aggressive driving or speeding. The fact is, insurers have no interest in the color of a car, but they are interested in knowing if you have had any previous car accidents, the number of miles you drive annually and where you live. 

Myth 2 – It costs more to insure your car when you get older

Quite the opposite—many drivers over 55 years of age can, in fact, qualify for a reduction in auto insurance rates, typically for three years, if they have successfully completed an accident prevention course. Insurance companies will usually provide up to a 10 percent discount on car insurance, but check with your provider before you sign on. Mature driving courses are available through local and state agencies as well as through the AAA and AARP. You can also check with your insurance agent to find out which defensive driving courses are approved by your insurer. If you are retired or are not employed full time, you may also be eligible for a discount of up to 5 percent off your car insurance. Age requirements for this type of discount vary by state and insurance carrier.

Myth 3 – Your credit has no effect on your insurance rate

Your credit-based insurance score does matter. An insurance score is a measure of how well you manage your financial affairs, not your financial assets. Many insurance companies take your insurance score into consideration when you want to purchase, change or renew your auto insurance coverage. Because the majority of people have good credit, and insurance scores are derived from a person’s credit history, most people pay less for insurance when insurance scores are entered into the pricing equation.

Myth 4Your insurance will cover you if your car is stolen, vandalized or damaged by falling tree limbs, hail, flood or fire

Comprehensive and collision coverage are optional coverages. Lenders frequently require drivers to buy comprehensive and collision coverage as a condition of a car loan agreement. Those driving older cars sometimes drop these coverages as a way of saving money. If a car is worth less than $1,000 or less than 10 times the insurance premium, purchasing the optional coverages may not be cost effective. But bear in mind that you need to purchase both collision and comprehensive coverage in order to fully protect your vehicle from all types of damage.

Myth 5You only need the minimum amount of auto liability insurance required by law

Almost every state requires you to buy a minimum amount of auto liability coverage. Chances are that you will need more liability insurance than the state requires because accidents often cost more than the minimum limits. In today’s litigious society, buying only the minimum amount of liability means you are likely to pay more out-of-pocket for losses incurred after an accident—and those costs may be steep. The insurance industry and consumer groups generally recommend a minimum of $100,000 of bodily injury protection per person and $300,000 per accident.

Myth 6If other people drive your car, their auto insurance will cover them in the event of an accident

In most states, the auto insurance policy covering the vehicle is considered the primary insurance, which means that the owner’s insurance company must pay for damages caused by an accident. Policies and laws differ by state, and you should be familiar with these differences when allowing another person to drive your car.

Myth 7Soldiers pay more for insurance than civilians

If you are in the military—regardless of which branch—you actually qualify for a discount on auto insurance. In some situations you might be able to have your commanding officer make a phone call on your behalf, but for most auto insurance companies, you will need to supply documentation that lists your name, rank and the time that you will be enlisted in the service. This allows insurance companies to determine how long you will be eligible to receive a military discount. Many auto insurance companies provide discounts for former members of the military as well as their families.

Myth 8Personal auto insurance covers both personal and business use of your car

If you are self-employed and use your vehicle for business purposes, personal auto insurance may not protect you. While auto insurance geared for businesses can be more costly than a personal policy, one of the best ways to keep your auto rates down is by having a good driving record. If there are others, such as employees, using your car make sure they also have good driving records. Check the records of your employee drivers at least twice a year to ensure they maintain a clean driving record.



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What can I do if I can't find coverage?

There may be several reasons why you can’t get insurance through traditional private insurance companies:You have a poor driving record

  • You own a special, high performance car
  • You have not driven long enough
  • You have not owned your car very long and therefore have no insurance record
  • You live in an area where theft and vandalism losses are high.

In this case, you have two options:

1.     Join a state assigned risk pool.
State assigned risk pools operate under a system in which every auto insurer participates in proportion to the amount of business they do in that state on a voluntary basis. Each insurer must accept the motorists assigned to it, retaining the profit or absorbing the loss that comes with that customer. The premiums you will pay will be substantially higher under assigned risk pools than directly with a private insurance company, but at least you will be able to obtain coverage. To find the assigned risk pool or the equivalent in your state, ask your insurance agent or the state insurance department.

2.     Get a policy from a private insurance company that specializes in “high-risk” drivers.
You may find a better deal by checking with a private insurance company specializing in “non-standard” auto policies. These companies write policies for people with bad accident records, high-performance cars, or who live in “high-risk” neighborhoods. These companies also may be able to sell you more comprehensive coverage than is available through assigned risk pools. To get a list of companies selling non-standard insurance, contact your insurance agent or state insurance department. They will refer you to insurance brokers selling this kind of insurance.



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Should I purchase an umbrella liability policy?

 If you are ever sued, your standard homeowners or auto policy will provide you with some liability coverage, paying for judgments against you and your attorney's fees, up to a limit set in the policy. However, in our litigious society, you may want to have an extra layer of liability protection. That's what a personal umbrella liability policy provides.

An umbrella policy kicks in when you reach the limit on the underlying liability coverage in a homeowners, renters, condo or auto policy. It will also cover you for things such as libel and slander.

For about $250 to $400 per year you can buy a $1 million personal umbrella liability policy. The next million will cost about $75, and $50 for every million after that.

Because the personal umbrella policy goes into effect after the underlying coverage is exhausted, there are certain limits that usually must be met in order to purchase this coverage. Most insurers will want you to have about $250,000 of liability insurance on your auto policy and $300,000 of liability insurance on your homeowners policy before selling you an umbrella liability policy for $1 million of additional coverage.



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Will my insurance cover renting a car after an accident?

Many drivers don't think about their insurance coverage until after they have an accident and call their insurance company to file a claim to help pay for car repairs, a rental car and other expenses.

Unfortunately, many insured drivers are surprised to find out that their auto insurance does not automatically cover the cost of a replacement rental car after an accident. Since the average car is in the repair shop for two weeks after an accident, it can cost as much as $500 to rent a replacement car. But, some insured drivers pay little or nothing to rent a car because of an inexpensive but often overlooked option known as rental reimbursement.

Rental reimbursement coverage is available for only $1 or $2 a month with almost every auto insurance policy, but it is bypassed frequently by those who believe they will not have a car accident or those shopping only for the lowest cost premium. The cost of a rental replacement car adds up fast, so even if you don't have an accident for eight or nine years, the coverage pays for itself when you need it most.

Sometimes working out the details of a claim with the auto insurance company can take time. Even if the accident is the other driver's fault, you may have to wait several days or longer to get the other insurance company to agree to pay for a rental car. With your own coverage, there is no waiting.



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How do I file a claim?

To file a claim, follow these steps: 

1.     Call your insurance agent as soon as possible, regardless of who is at fault. Find out whether you're covered for this loss. Even if the accident appears minor, it is important that you let your insurance company know about the incident.

2.     Ask your agent or company representative how to proceed and what forms or documents are needed to support your claim. Your insurance company will require a “proof of claim” form and, if there is one, a copy of the police report. Increasingly, companies allow you to monitor the progress of your claim on their web site.

3.     Supply the information your insurer requests. Fill out the claim form carefully. Keep good records. Get the names and phone numbers of everyone you speak with and copies of any bills related to the accident.

4.     Ask your insurance agent or company representative the following:

§  Does my policy contain a time limit for filing claims and submitting bills?

§  Is there a time limit for resolving claims disputes?

§  If I need to submit additional information, is there a time limit?

§  When can I expect the insurance company to contact me?

§  Do I need to get repair estimates for the damage to my car?

§  Will my policy pay for a rental car while my car is being repaired? If so, how much?

5.     Remember, each state has its own laws governing the claims process. If you have any questions, call your agent, company representative or your state insurance department.



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How are the value of my car and the cost of repair determined?

There are several standard guidelines for determining the value of your car for insurance purposes. You and your insurer can refer to one of the books that list the depreciated value of all new and used cars. One of these books is published by the National Association of Automobile Dealers another is published by Kelley Blue Book.

When you file your claim, your insurance company will refer you to a claims adjuster. The adjuster will verify the loss and determine what it will cost to repair the car. The adjuster’s estimate can serve as a benchmark to which to compare your own mechanic’s estimate.

No good adjuster or insurance company will expect you to sign an agreement accepting the insurer’s estimate as the total claim payment until you’ve established, to your own satisfaction, that it will cover the cost of repair. The insurer will expect you to get your own estimate from your mechanic, garage or car dealer. Don’t allow yourself to feel pressured into accepting the insurer’s estimate of repair costs without getting at least one estimate of your own.

Your insurance company can’t require you to have repairs done at a particular shop. But they can insist that you get more than one estimate for the work to be done on your car. Just as you want to make sure that your car is adequately repaired, the insurer wants to make sure it doesn’t pay a grossly inflated repair bill.

Don’t be surprised if your insurance company opts to pay for the lowest bid. You don’t have to accept that bid if you believe the low bid won’t adequately repair your car. Don’t hesitate to argue with the adjuster if you really believe his repair estimate is too low based on what your mechanic has told you.

One factor that could reduce the amount of your claim for a repair job is what insurance companies call betterment. If your old car is repaired with brand-new parts, your insurer may argue that the repairs have actually enhanced the car’s value and therefore they can legitimately reduce your claim by the difference between a used part and a new one.

It is up to your insurer to decide whether to pay for repairing your car or to declare it a total loss and pay you its book value. Most standard auto policies will not pay to repair a vehicle if the repairs cost more than the cash value assigned to the car. There won’t be any dispute about whether to repair the car if it was completely totaled. But you may argue about what the pieces of the car were worth when they were assembled as a car. For you to get a settlement higher than the book value of your car’s make and model, you will have to submit evidence such as mileage records, service history and affidavits from mechanics to show that your car was worth more. You’re entitled to the market price of the car you just lost. You shouldn’t get more or less than what you are due.



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What are my rights when filing a claim?

As a policyholder, you have certain rights. Every state has laws protecting consumers. Your policy is a legal contract between you and your insurer. It defines your rights and obligations as well as the rights and obligations of the insurance company.

If you have any questions regarding your rights under the policy, talk to your insurance agent or company representative. You may also contact your state insurance department, state attorney general's office, or your state's consumer affairs department.



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If I file a claim, will my premium go up?

You may be reluctant to file a claim because you fear that your premium will go up or your insurance will be canceled. Practices vary from company to company. In general, an insurer will increase your premium by specific percentages for each chargeable claim made against your policy above a specific dollar amount. A chargeable claim is one the insurer considers primarily your fault. The percentages and ceilings vary from company to company. These increases generally stay on your premium for three years following the claim.

Your company may also decide not to renew your policy if your driving record gets markedly worse or you have several accidents. Different insurers have different rules about what constitutes an unacceptably bad driving record. But some accidents, such as those caused by drunk driving, will probably trigger a nonrenewal from virtually every insurance company.

If you have an accident but don‘t report it to your insurer, you are taking a risk, even if the damage seems minor. If the other driver sues you weeks or months later, your failure to report the accident might cause your insurer to refuse to honor the policy. And even if they do honor the policy, the delay will certainly make it harder for the insurer to gather evidence to represent you.



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What should I do if I am having trouble settling my claim?

If you are not satisfied with how your claim is being handled, there are steps you can take.

1.     Let your agent or company representative know that you are unhappy.
If the agant or representative is unable to solve your problem, get the name and phone number of the head of the insurer's claims department. Your insurance company may also have a consumer complaint department that can help.

2.     Be prepared to support your case.
Send documents and a letter explaining why you are not satisfied and make sure you have the figures to back up your argument. Be certain to include your address, claim number, day and evening phone numbers and any other important identifying information.

3.     Review your auto insurance policy.
Most companies offer either arbitration or appraisal services to help settle differences and disputes. Your insurance policy will explain these options.

4.     Contact your state insurance department.
Explain the reasons for the disagreement to a consumer services representative at the department.

5.     Contact an arbitrator to hear your case.
An independent arbitrator with experience in insurance matters can decide if the settlement you were offered is fair. Your insurance company may suggest an arbitrator or you can get your own from the American Arbitration Association at 212-484-4000.

6.     Consult an attorney.
As a last resort, consult an attorney who specializes in auto insurance. Each state’s bar association offers a free legal referral service, which will give you names of qualified candidates. Attorneys work either on an hourly rate or on a contingency basis, depending on the type of case. Get the attorney's fee structure in writing. You can remain current on the progress of your claim by requesting that you receive copies from your attorney of all correspondence. Your attorney must have your agreement before committing to any settlement.

 

After your claim has been settled, take time to re-evaluate your auto insurance coverage to make sure you have adequate protection to cover you against any future damage or liability claims.



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Air Bag Safety

 Air bags save thousands of lives each year, according to The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In frontal crashes, air bags reduce deaths among drivers by about 30 percent and among passengers by 27 percent.

Air bags, however, can be dangerous. If small children sit unbelted in the front seat, they can be catapulted into the path of a deploying air bag, which inflates with great force. This risk also applies to small adults—who must sit close to the steering wheel in order to reach the pedals—pregnant women and the elderly. Infants in rear-facing safety seats on the passenger side can be severely injured because their heads are in the direct path of an inflating air bag. If your airbag is stolen or it deploys, you must get a new one, but you will be reimbursed under the comprehensive portion of your auto insurance policy. 

Preventing air bag injuries

Drivers should have all children sit in the backseat wearing a safety belt. Infants should be placed in rear-facing car seats and put in the backseat. Small adults should move the seat back so that their breastbone is at least 10 inches from the air bag cover.

1.     If this is not possible, air bag switches can be installed so that the vehicle owner has the option of turning the bag off or on, depending on the situation. In January 1998, NHTSA allowed auto dealers and repair shops to begin installing air bag cut-off switches. Before the switch can be installed, vehicle owners must complete a four-step process:
Obtain an information brochure and request form from NHTSA, dealerships or repair shops
Return the form to NHTSA

2.     Receive authorization from NHTSA after it reviews the case

3.     Take the vehicle to the service shop along with the authorization from NHTSA which certifies that the owner has read the brochure and met one of the four eligibility classifications:

  • rear-facing infant seat can be in the front (necessary if the vehicle has no back-seat)
  • driver's seat cannot be adjusted to keep more than 10 inches between the driver and the steering wheel
  • putting a child 12 or under in the front seat can not be avoided
having a medical condition that puts them at risk of injury when an air bag deploys.


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At the Scene of an Accident

Knowing what to do if you are involved in an accident can save lives and also make the claims process easier.

1.     Stop your car and find out if anyone is injured.

2.     Call the police or highway patrol. Tell them how many people were hurt and the types of injuries. The police will notify the nearest medical unit.

3.     Cover injured people with a blanket to keep them warm.

4.     Try to protect the accident scene. Take reasonable steps to protect your car from further damage, such as setting up flares, getting the car off the road and calling a tow truck.

5.     Ask the investigating officer where you can obtain a copy of the police report. You will probably need it when you submit your claim to your insurance company.

6.     If necessary, have the car towed to a repair shop. But remember, your insurance company probably will want to have an adjuster inspect it and appraise the damage before you order repair work done.

7.     Make notes. Keep a pad and pencil in your glove compartment. Write down:

§  the names and addresses of all drivers and passengers involved in the accident

§  license plate numbers

§  the make and model of each car

§  driver's license numbers

§  insurance identifications

§  the names and addresses of witnesses

§  the names and badge numbers of police officers or other emergency personnel.

8.     If you run into an unattended vehicle or object, try to find the owner. If you can't, leave a note containing your name, address and phone number. Record the details of the accident.



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Avoiding Deer / Car Collisions

The explosion in the deer population has lead to a continuing increase in deer-car collisions. This trend will only increase as the deer population grows and urban habitats continue to encroach upon rural environments.

According to the National Safety Council, there were 530,000 animal-related accidents in 2003 and these collisions resulted in 100 deaths and 10,000 injuries.

The average cost per insurance claim for collision damage is $2,800, with costs varying depending on the type of vehicle and severity of damage. When you factor in auto claims involving bodily injury, the average rises to $10,000.

Defensive driving tips to avoid hitting a deer.

  • Be especially attentive from sunset to midnight and during the hours shortly before and after sunrise. These are the highest risk times for deer-vehicle collisions.
  • Drive with caution when moving through deer-crossing zones, in areas known to have a large deer population and in areas where roads divide agricultural fields from forestland. Deer seldom run alone. If you see one deer, others may be nearby.
  • When driving at night, use high beam headlights when there is no oncoming traffic. The high beams will better illuminate the eyes of deer on or near the roadway.
  • Slow down and blow your horn with one long blast to frighten the deer away.
  • Brake firmly when you notice a deer in or near your path, but stay in your lane. Many serious crashes occur when drivers swerve to avoid a deer and hit another vehicle or lose control of their cars.
  • Always wear your seat belt. Most people injured in car/deer crashes were not wearing their seat belt.
  • Do not rely on devices such as deer whistles, deer fences and reflectors to deter deer. These devices have not been proven to reduce deer-vehicle collisions.

If your vehicle strikes a deer, do not touch the animal. A frightened and wounded deer can hurt you or further injure itself. The best procedure is to get your car off the road, if possible, and call the police.

Contact your insurance agent or company representative to report any damage to your car. Collision with an animal is covered under the comprehensive portion of your auto insurance policy.



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Child Safety Seats

If you have children it's important to make sure they are secured properly when you drive with them. They are almost always safer when riding in the back, in a car seat that is appropriate to their age and weight.

Using a car seat correctly can prevent injuries, but wrong usage is very common. Even a small mistake in how the seat is used can cause serious injury in a crash.

 

Tips to Ensure You Are Using a Child Car Seat Correctly 

1.     Never put an infant in the front seat of a vehicle with a passenger air bag.

2.     Route harness straps in lower slots at or below shoulder level.

3.     Keep harness straps snug and fasten the clip at armpit level.

4.     Make sure the straps lie flat and are not twisted.

5.     Dress your baby in clothes that allow the straps to go between the legs. Adjust the straps to allow for the thickness of your child’s clothes. Do not use bulky clothes that could increase slack in a crash.

6.     To keep your newborn from slouching, pad the sides of the seat and between the child’s legs with rolled up up diapers or receiving blankets.

7.     Put the car seat carrying handle down when in the car.

8.     Infants must ride in the back seat facing the rear of the car. This offers the best protection for your infant’s neck.

9.     Recline the rear-facing seat at a 45-degree angle. If your child’s head flops forward, the seat may not have reclined enough. Tilt the seat back until it is level by wedging firm padding such as a rolled towel, under the front of the base of the seat.

10.   All new car seats are now required to come equipped with top tether straps. A tether strap is a belt that is attached to the car seat and bolted to the window ledge or the floor of the car. They give extra protection and keep the car seat from being thrown forward in a crash. Tether kits are also available for most older car seats. Check with the manufacturer to find out how to get a top tether for your seat. Install it according to instructions. The tether strap may help make some seats that are difficult to install fit more tightly.

Do not use a car seat if any of the following apply:

1.     It is too old. Look on the label for the date it was made. If made before January 1981, the seat may not meet strict safety standards and its parts are too old to be safe. Some manufacturers recommend using seats for only 6 years.

2.     It does not have a label with the date of manufacture and model number. Without these, you cannot check on recalls.

3.     It has been in a crash. If so, it may have been weakened and should not be used, even if it looks all right.

4.     It does not come with instructions. You the instructions to know how to install and use the car seat properly. Do not rely on the former owner’s instructions. Get a copy of the manual from the manufacturer.

5.     It has cracks in the frame of the seat.

6.     It is missing parts. Used seats often come without important parts. Check with the manufacturer to make sure you can get the right parts.

To find out if your child safety seat has been recalled, you can call the Auto Safety Hotline ( 888-DASH-2-DOT ). If the seat has been recalled, be sure to follow the instructions for the recall or to get the necessary parts. You should also get a registration card for future recall notices from the Hotline.

For more information about infant or toddler car seats, go to the Web site of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Also check out the National SafeKids Campaign which offers a free Child Car Seat Locator that allows you to enter your child’s age and weight, and get back a list of recommended car seats. Another good source of information on car seats is the American Academy of Pediatrics Web site, which offers a detailed shopping guide to car seats. 

 

Is your child ready for a regular seat belt?

Keep your child in a car seat for as long as possible. When he or she is big enough, make sure that seat belts in your car fit your child correctly. The shoulder belt should lie across the shoulder, not the neck or throat. The lap belt must be low and flat across the hips, not the stomach. The child’s knees should bend easily over the edge of the vehicle seat. Seat belts are made for adults. If the seat belt does not fit your child correctly, he or she should stay in a booster seat until the belt fits.

Never tuck the shoulder belt under the child’s arm or behind his or her back and use lap belts only as a last resort. Try to get a lap-shoulder belt installed in your car if it doesn’t already have one. If you must use a lap belt, make sure it is worn tight and low on the hips, not across the stomach.



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Distracted Driving

Driver distractions or inattentive driving play a part in one out of every four motor vehicle crashes. That is more than 1.5 million collisions a year and 4,300 crashes daily, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Text messaging, changing radio stations, even turning around to talk to passengers can prove deadly.

While cellphones and text messaging cause the most accidents, drivers are also distracted by using PDAs, laptops and navigational aids while driving. Other drivers create a potential hazard because they eat, drink, read, write or groom themselves when their full attention should be on the road in front of them. 

In January 2010, the National Safety Council (NSC) released a report estimating that at least 1.6 million crashes (28 percent of all crashes) are caused each year in the U.S. by drivers talking on cellphones (1.4 million crashes) and texting (200,000 crashes). The estimate is based on data of driver cellphone use from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and research that quantifies the risks using cellphones and texting while driving.

A July 2009 Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study found that texting while driving is far more dangerous than previously estimated. The collision risk became 23 times higher when motorists were texting while driving.

In addition, as of June 2010 eight states (California, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Utah and Washington State) plus the District of Columbia, ban the use of hand-held cellphones while driving.

Employers May Be Held Liable

Employers are now concerned that they may be held liable for accidents caused by their employees while driving and conducting work-related conversations on cellphones, according to the I.I.I. Under the doctrine of vicarious responsibility, employers may be held legally accountable for the negligent acts of employees committed in the course of employment. Employers may also be found negligent if they fail to put in place a policy for the safe use of cellphones.

 

The I.I.I. recommends the following safety tips when driving:

  • Pull Off the Road
    Don’t drive while calling or texting; pull off the road to a safe location.
  • Use Speed Dialing
    Program frequently called numbers and your local emergency number into the speed dial feature of your phone for easy, one-touch dialing. when available, use auto answer or voice-activated dialing. 
  • Never Dial While Driving
    If you must dial manually, do so only when stopped. Pull off the road, or better yet, have a passenger dial for you. 
  • Take a Message
    Let your voice mail pick up your calls in tricky driving situations. It's easy—and safer—to retrieve your messages later on.
  •  Know When to Stop Talking
    Keep conversations on the phone and in the car brief so you can concentrate on your driving. if a long discussion is required, if the topic is stressful or emotional, or if driving becomes hazardous, end your conversation and continue it once you are off the road.
  •  Keep the Phone in Its Holder
    Make sure your phone is securely in its holder when you are not using it so it does not pop out and distract you when you are driving.
  • Don't Take Notes While Driving
    If you need to write something down, use a tape recorder or pull off the road.
  • Don't Eat or Drink While Driving
    Spills, both hot and cold, can easily cause an accident. If you have to stop short, you could also be severely burned.
  •  Groom Yourself At Home
    Shaving, putting on makeup, combing your hair or other forms of preening are distractions and should be done at home, not while driving. 

While everyone should follow these safety rules, it is particularly important to review them carefully with teens when they are first learning to drive. “Teens and Distracted Driving”, a Pew Internet & American Life Project 2009 survey of 800 young people, found that 26 percent of American teens ages 16 to 17 have texted while driving and 43 percent have talked on a cellphone while driving. Forty-eight percent of teens ages 12 to 17 say they have been in a car when the driver was texting and 40 percent say they have been in a car when the driver used a cellphone in a way that put themselves or others in danger.



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Driving in Bad Weather

Driving in bad weather is a major cause of accidents. When you are driving, particularly on a long trip, make sure to stay tuned to radio reports about weather conditions. If you hear that an ice storm, hurricane, tornado, flood, hail or other severe weather is expected on the route you are taking or at your intended destination, change your travel plans. Whatever reason you have for going where you are going cannot be as important as saving your life.

If you are already in an area that is being hit by bad weather, don’t try to drive your way out of it. Seek shelter for both you and your car and wait for the storm to pass.



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Road Rage

Increasingly crowded highways and traffic backups cause many drivers to lose control and become extremely aggressive.

If you encounter aggressive drivers, don’t challenge them, and stay as far away as possible. You may want to take down the license plate number and report their behavior to police so they won’t hurt themselves or someone else.



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Senior Drivers

People 55 years or older are less likely to drive aggressively or too fast. That’s the reason that most insurance companies offer discounts to drivers over 55.

Still, older drivers are more likely to have impaired hearing and slower reflexes, or to be using prescription drugs that might slow down their reaction time. Older drivers’ eyesight deteriorates, so they need more light to see, are more sensitive to glare and have a narrower peripheral field of vision. So if you are having problems driving at night or in difficult conditions, use common sense and try to avoid driving when it is dangerous. If you drive when you are not physically able to do so safely, your insurance company may not renew your coverage. You may also want to take a defensive driving class designed for seniors. Inform your insurer that you have taken the class and you may be eligible for a discount on your insurance premium.



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Shopping for a Safe Car

If you’re like most people shopping for a new car, safety ranks high among things you're looking for. Every new car must meet certain federal safety standards, but that doesn’t mean that all cars are equally safe. There are still important safety differences, and some vehicles are safer than others. Many automakers offer safety features beyond the required federal minimums. The following safety features should be considered when purchasing a car:

1.     Crashworthiness
These features reduce the risk of death or serious injury when a crash occurs. You can get a rating of crashworthiness from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Web site.

2.     Vehicle structural design
A good structural design has a strong occupant compartment, known as the safety cage, as well as front and rear ends designed to buckle and bend in a crash to absorb the force of the crash. These crush zones should keep damage away from the safety cage because once the cage starts to collapse, the likelihood of injury increases rapidly.

3.     Vehicle size and weight
The laws of physics dictate that larger and heavier cars are safer than lighter and smaller ones. Small cars have twice as many occupant deaths each year as large cars. In crashes involving smaller and larger vehicles, heavier vehicles drive lighter ones backwards, decreasing the forces inside the heavier car and increasing them in the lighter car.

4.     Restraint systems
Belts, airbags and head restraints all work together with a vehicle’s structure to protect people in serious crashes. Lap/shoulder belts hold you in place, reducing the chance you’ll slam into something hard or get ejected from the crashing vehicle. If you aren’t belted, you’ll continue moving forward until something suddenly stops you—often a hard interior surface that will cause injuries.

§  Shoulder belts are on inertia reels that allow upper body movement during normal driving, but lock during hard braking or in a crash. Belt webbing is stored on the reel, and during a frontal crash any slack in the webbing can allow some forward movement of your upper body. Then you could strike the steering wheel, dashboard or windshield. This problem is addressed in some cars with belt crash tensioners that activate early in a collision to reel in belt slack and prevent some of the forward movement.

§  Airbags and lap/shoulder belts together are very effective. However in some circumstances, a deploying airbag can cause serious injuries and even death. The greatest risk of injury occurs when you are on top of, or very close to an airbag when it starts to inflate. Choose a car that allows you to reach the gas and brake pedals comfortably without sitting too close to the steering wheel. Some cars offer telescoping steering column adjustments that may help.

§  Side airbags are designed principally to protect your chest. They may also keep your head from hitting interior or intruding structures.

§  Head restraints are required in the front seats of all new passenger cars to keep your head from being snapped back, injuring your neck in a rear-end crash. But there are big differences among head restraints. Some are adjustable, and others are fixed. They also vary in height and how far they are set back from the head. To prevent neck injury, a head restraint has to be directly behind and close to the back of your head. Look for cars that have this type of restraint. If the restraints are adjustable, make sure they can be locked into place. Some don’t lock, so they can get pushed down in a crash.

5.     Anti-lock brakes
When you brake hard with conventional brakes, the wheels may lock and cause skidding and a lack of control. Anti-lock brakes pump brakes automatically many times a second to prevent lockup and allow you to keep control of the car. If you were trained to brake gently on slippery roads or pump your brakes to avoid a skid, you may have to unlearn these habits and use hard, continuous pressure to activate your antilock brakes. Anti-lock brakes may help you keep steering control, but they won’t necessarily help you stop more quickly.

6.     Daytime running lights
Daytime running lights are activated by the ignition switch. They are typically high-beam headlights at reduced intensity or low-beam lights at full or reduced power. By increasing the contrast between a vehicle and its backgrounds and making the vehicles more visible to oncoming drivers, these lights can prevent daytime accidents.

7.     On the road experience
Other design characteristics can influence injury risk on the road. Some small utility vehicles and pickups are prone to rolling over. "High performance" cars typically have higher-than-average death rates because drivers are tempted to use excessive speed. Combining a young driver and a high-performance car can be particularly dangerous.



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Teenagers and Driving

The first years teenagers spend as drivers are very risky. In fact, teen drivers have the highest death rates of any age group. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 3,490 teenaged drivers died, and 272,000 were injured, in motor vehicle crashes in 2006. Drivers age 15 to 20 accounted for 12.9 percent of all the drivers involved in fatal crashes and 16 percent of all the drivers involved in all police-reported crashes.

Immaturity and lack of driving experience are the two main factors leading to the high crash rates among teens. Even the best teenage drivers don’t have the judgment that comes from experience. It affects their recognition of, and response to, hazardous situations and results in dangerous practices such as speeding and tailgating. They also engage in risky behavior—eating, talking on their cellphones, text messaging, talking to friends in the car—and they often don’t wear their seatbelts.  

While getting a drivers license is an exciting rite-of-passage for teens, it can be enough to make a parent frantic.  The Insurance Information Institute recommends parents take the following steps to ensure their teens’ safety:

  • Pick a safe car.
    You and your teenager should choose a car that is easy to drive and would offer protection in the event of a crash. Avoid small cars and those with high performance images that might encourage speed and recklessness. Trucks and sport utility vehicles (SUVs) should also be avoided, since they are more prone to rollovers.
  • Have your teen take a driver’s education course.
    A teenager who has learned to drive through a recognized driver’s education course may be viewed more favorably by insurers. In some states, teens must take a driver’s education course if they want to get a license at age 16; otherwise, they have to wait until they are 18. The more driving practice they have, the more confident your teen will be behind the wheel, and the better able to react to challenging situations on the road.
  • Enroll your teen in a safe driver program.
    Some insurers offer “safe driver” programs. Teen participants in these programs sign contracts stating that they will not, for instance, drink and drive. Check whether your insurance company has such a program—if your teenager completes the program, you may be eligible for a discount. In addition, some insurers now offer discounts for parents and teens who install tracking devices in the car. Parents can monitor their children’s driving with a small global positioning system (GPS) device fastened to the dashboard. The GPS is connected to a Web site that lets parents set limits on their children’s driving. For example, if the car goes over a certain speed, or ventures too far from home or school, the parents will automatically receive a message.
  • Talk to your teen about the dangers of combining driving with alcohol, drugs, lack of sleep and distractions.
    Teach your children about the dangers of drinking and driving, and other distractions. Accidents occur each year because a teen driver was driving while drinking, using a cellphone, text messaging, playing with the radio or CD controls, or talking to friends in the backseat. Also, teens should be careful not to create distractions and to exhibit safe behavior when they are passengers in their friends’ cars.
  • Be a good role model.
    New drivers learn by example, so if you drive recklessly, your teenage driver may imitate you. Always wear your seatbelt and never drink and drive.
  • Institute a graduated drivers license program for your teen.  
    Many states have been successful in reducing teen accidents by enacting graduated drivers license (GDL) legislation. These laws, which include a three-phase program, allow teen drivers to develop more mature driving attitudes and gain experience behind the wheel. New drivers are restricted from certain activities, such as driving with passengers, until they have had their licenses for a set period, such as six months. A number of states have also reduced teen accidents by restricting the amount of time new drivers may be on the road without supervision.

    You can institute the same policies with your own children even if your state does not have such a program. Introduce privileges gradually. Allow independent driving only after continued practice including night driving and driving in inclement weather. Keep in mind, teens do not all reach the appropriate level of maturity to handle a drivers license at the same time. Parents should consider whether teens are easily distracted, nervous or risk takers before allowing them to get a license or even a learners permit.

 You can protect yourself financially and lower the cost of insuring your teen by doing the following:

1.     Talk to your teen about the relationship between having an accident and insurance costs.
Teens often forget that the cost of driving includes auto insurance. Explain to them how a driving infraction or accident can drive up insurance costs.

2.     Shop around.
Insurance companies differ dramatically in how they price policies for young drivers, so spend some time researching prices.

3.     Insure your teen on your own policy.
It is generally less expensive for parents to add teenagers to your insurance policy than for teens to purchase their own.  By insuring your teenager’s car with your insurance company, you can also qualify for a multi-vehicle discount.

4.     Find out how your insurer assigns drivers to cars.
Some insurers will assign the driver who is the most expensive to insure (generally the teenager) to the car that is the most expensive to insure. If possible, assign your teen to the least valuable car. Some insurers will allow policyholders to do this if the number of automobiles equals or exceeds the number of insured drivers on a policy. With this kind of arrangement there can be no exceptions; your teen must use only the car to which he or she is assigned, even in an emergency. If your teen is involved in an accident with an unassigned car, penalties could be imposed and your premiums might increase.

5.     Increase your liability insurance.
Should your teen get into an accident, state minimums for liability insurance will not be enough to fully protect you from lawsuits. Many vehicles today are worth more than $15,000 and medical bills for injuries could easily exceed $20,000 for one person. If your teen is found negligent in an accident and the damages exceed your insurance limits, you will be held financially responsible and can be sued in court for those amounts not covered by your insurance.

Consider an umbrella liability policy. An umbrella policy kicks in when you reach the limit on the underlying liability coverage in a homeowners, renters, condo or auto policy. It will also cover you for things such as libel and slander. For about $150 to $300 per year you can buy a $1 million personal umbrella liability policy. The next million will cost about $75, and $50 for every million after that. Most insurers will want you to have about $250,000 of liability insurance on your auto policy and $300,000 of liability insurance on your homeowners policy before selling you an umbrella liability policy for $1 million of additional coverage.

6.     Raise your deductible.
Going from a $250 to $500 or $1,000 deductible can save you 10 percent to 20 percent on your premium. You can use those savings to increase your liability insurance.

7.     Let your insurer know if your teenager is going away to school.
You may be eligible for lower premiums once your teen heads off to college, providing he or she leaves the car behind. Many insurers will reduce rates for students attending a school at least 100 miles away from home and who do not have a car on campus.

8.     Encourage your teen to get good grades and to take a driver training course.
Most companies will give discounts for getting at least a “B” average in school and for taking a recognized driver training course.

 

Contact your insurance agent when your teen is about to get his or her learners permit. Your agent will explain the costs involved in insuring a teen driver. The good news is, as your teenager gets older, insurance rates will drop—providing he or she has a good driving record.



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What is homeowner's insurance?

Homeowners insurance provides financial protection against disasters. A standard policy insures the home itself and the things you keep in it.

Homeowners insurance is a package policy. This means that it covers both damage to your property and your liability or legal responsibility for any injuries and property damage you or members of your family cause to other people. 

Damage caused by most disasters is covered but there are exceptions. The most significant are damage caused by floods and poor maintenance. You must buy a separate policy for flood coverage. Maintenance-related problems are the homeowners' responsibility.



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What coverage is included in a standard homeowners insurance policy?

A standard homeowners insurance policy includes four essential types of coverage. They include:

1.     Coverage for the structure of your home.

2.     Coverage for your personal belongings.

3.     Liability protection.

4.     Additional living expenses in the event you are temporarily unable to live in your home because of a fire or other insured disaster.

1. The structure of your house

This part of your policy pays to repair or rebuild your home if it is damaged or destroyed by fire, hurricane, hail, lightning or other disaster listed in your policy. It will not pay for damage caused by a flood, earthquake or routine wear and tear. When purchasing coverage for the structure of your home, it is important to buy enough to rebuild your home.

Most standard policies also cover structures that are detached from your home such as a garage, tool shed or gazebo. Generally, these structures are covered for about 10% of the amount of insurance you have on the structure of your home. If you need more coverage, talk to your insurance agent about purchasing more insurance.   

2. Your personal belongings

Your furniture, clothes, sports equipment and other personal items are covered if they are stolen or destroyed by fire, hurricane or other insured disaster. Most companies provide coverage for 50% of the amount of insurance you have on the structure of your home. So if you have $300,000 worth of insurance on the structure of your home, you would have between $150,000 worth of coverage for your contents. The best way to determine if this is enough coverage is to conduct a home inventory.

This part of your policy includes off-premises coverage. This means that your belongings are covered anywhere in the world, unless you have decided against off-premises coverage. Some companies limit the amount to 10% of the amount of insurance you have for your possessions.

Expensive items like jewelry, furs and silverware are covered, but there are usually dollar limits if they are stolen. Generally, you are covered for between $1,000 to $2,000 for all of your jewelry and furs. To insure these items to their full value, purchase a special personal property endorsement or floater and insure the item for it's appraised value. Coverage includes “accidental disappearance,” meaning coverage if you simply lose that item. And there is generally no deductible.

Trees, plants and shrubs are also covered under standard homeowners insurance. Generally you are covered for 5% of the insurance on the house—up to about $500 per item. Perils covered are theft, fire, lightning, explosion, vandalism, riot and even falling aircraft. They are not covered for damage by wind or disease.

3. Liability protection

Liability covers you against lawsuits for bodily injury or property damage that you or family members cause to other people..

The liability portion of your policy pays for both the cost of defending you in court and any court awards—up to the limit of your policy. You are also covered not just in your home, but anywhere in the world.

Liability limits generally start at about $100,000. However, experts recommend that you purchase at least $300,000 worth of protection. Some people feel more comfortable with even more coverage. You can purchase an umbrella or excess liability policy which provides broader coverage, including claims against you for libel and slander, as well as higher liability limits. Generally, umbrella policies cost between $250 to $400 for $1 million of additional liability protection.

Your policy also provides no-fault medical coverage. In the event a friend or neighbor is injured in your home, he or she can simply submit medical bills to your insurance company. This way, expenses are paid without a liability claim being filed against you. You can generally get $1,000 to $5,000 worth of this coverage. It does not, however, pay the medical bills for your family or your pet.

4. Loss of Use or Additional living expenses

This pays the additional costs of living away from home if you cannot live there due to damage from a fire, storm or other insured disaster. It covers hotel bills, restaurant meals and other expenses, over and above your customary living expenses, incurred while your home is being rebuilt.

Keep in mind that this  coverage in your homeowners policy has limits, usually a percentage of the amount of coverage you have on your home, and some policies include a time limitation. But the amount of coverage is separate from the amount available to rebuild or repair your home. For example, suppose you have a policy that provides up to $250,000 in rebuilding costs and up to $25,000 (10 percent) for Loss of Use and you use up the entire $25,000, your insurance company will still pay what it costs to rebuild your home up to the policy limit of $250,000.

Coverage varies from company to company. Many policies provide coverage for 10 to 20 percent of the insurance on your house. Some companies sell a policy that provides an unlimited amount of loss-of-use coverage, but for a limited amount of time.

If you rent out part of your house, this coverage will reimburse you for the rent that you would have collected from your tenant if your home had not been destroyed.    



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Are there different types of homeowner's policies?

Yes. A person who owns his or her home would have a different policy from someone who rents. Policies also differ on the amount of insurance coverage provided.

The different types of homeowners policies are fairly standard throughout the country. However, individual states and companies may offer policies that are slightly different or go by other names such as “standard” or “Super”. 

The chart below lists the disasters covered in each of the following types of policies:

If you own your home

If you own the home you live in, you have several policies to choose from. The most popular policy is the HO-3, which provides the broadest coverage. Owners of multi-family homes generally purchase an HO-3 with an endorsement to cover the risks associated with having renters live in their homes.

HO-1: Limited coverage policy
This “bare bones” policy covers you against the first 10 disasters. It's no longer available in most states.

HO-2: Basic policy

A basic policy provides protection against all 16 disasters. There is a version of HO-2 designed for mobile homes.

HO-3: The most popular policy
This “special” policy protects your home from all perils except those specifically excluded. 
Homeowners 3 - Special Form (PDF)

HO-8: Older home

Designed for older homes, this policy usually reimburses you for damage on an actual cash value basis which means replacement cost less depreciation. Full replacement cost policies may not be available for some older homes.  This policy often excludes water damage.

If you rent your home

HO4-Renter
Created specifically for those who rent the home they live in, this policy protects your possessions and any parts of the apartment that you own, such as new kitchen cabinets you install, against all 16 disasters.   

If you own a co-op or a condo

H0-6: Condo Owner
A policy for those who own a condo, it provides coverage for your contents and the structural parts of the building that you own. 

Your level of coverage

Regardless of whether you are an owner or renter, you have the following three options: 

1.     Actual cash value. 
This type of policy pays to replace your home or possessions minus a deduction for depreciation.

2.     Replacement cost. 
The policy pays the cost of rebuilding/repairing your home or replacing your possessions without a deduction for depreciation.

3.     Guaranteed or extended replacement cost. 
This policy offers the highest level of protection. A guaranteed replacement cost policy pays whatever it costs to rebuild your home as it was before the fire or other disaster–even if it exceeds the policy limit. This gives you protection against sudden increases in construction costs due to a shortage of building materials after a widespread disaster or other unexpected situations. It generally won't cover the cost of upgrading the house to comply with current building codes. You can, however, get an endorsement (or an addition to) your policy called Ordinance or Law to help pay for these additional costs. A guaranteed replacement cost policy may not be available if you own an older home. 

Some insurance companies offer an extended, rather than a guaranteed replacement cost policy. An extended policy pays a certain percentage over the limit to rebuild your home. Generally, it is 25 percent more than the limit of the policy. For example, if you took out a policy for $200,000, you could get up to an extra $50,000 of coverage. 

Even though a guaranteed/extended replacement cost policy may be a bit more expensive, it offers the best financial protection against disasters for your home. These coverages, however, may not be available in all states or from all companies.  



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Does my homeowners insurance cover flooding?

Standard homeowners and renters insurance does not cover flood damage. Flood coverage, however, is available in the form of a separate policy both from the National Flood Insurance Program - NFIP and from a few private insurers.

The NFIP provides coverage for up to $250,000 for the structure of the home and $100,000 for personal possessions. The NFIP policy provides replacement cost coverage for the structure of your home, but only actual cash value coverage for your possessions. Replacement cost coverage pays to rebuild your home as it was before the damage. Actual cash value is replacement cost coverage minus depreciation so that the older your possessions are, the less you will get if they are damaged. There may also be limits on coverage for furniture and other belongings stored in your basement.

Flood insurance is available for renters as well as homeowners. You will need flood insurance if you live in a designated flood zone. But flooding can also occur in inland areas and away from major rivers. Consider buying a flood insurance policy if your house could be flooded by melting snow, an overflowing creek or pond or water running down a steep hill. Don’t wait for a flood season warning on the evening news to buy a policy—there is a 30-day waiting period before the coverage takes effect.

Excess flood insurance is also available from some private insurers for those who need additional insurance protection over and above the basic policy or whose community does not participate in the NFIP. Depending on the amount of coverage purchased, an excess flood insurance policy will cover damage above the limits of the federal program on the same basis as the federal program—replacement cost for the structure and actual cash value for the contents.

Excess flood insurance is available in all parts of the country—in high risk flood zones along the coast and close to major rivers as well as in areas of lower risk—wherever the federal program is available. It can be purchased from specialized companies through independent insurance agents, or from regular homeowners insurance companies that have arrangements with a specialized insurer to provide coverage to their policyholders.

To find out whether private primary flood insurance is available in your area, contact your insurance agent.



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Can I own a home without homeowners insurance?

Unlike driving a car, you can legally own a home without homeowners insurance. But, if you have bought your home and financed the purchase with a mortgage, your lender will most likely require you to get homeowners insurance coverage. That’s because lenders need to protect their investment in your home in case your house burns down or is badly damaged by a storm, tornado or other disaster.

If you live in an area that is likely to flood, the bank will also require you to purchase flood insurance. Some financial institutions may also require earthquake coverage if you live in a region vulnerable to earthquakes. If you buy a co-op or condominium, your board will probably require you to buy homeowners insurance.

After your mortgage is paid off, no one will force you to buy homeowners insurance. But it is not advisable to cancel your policy and risk losing what you’ve invested in your home.



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Home Buyers Insurance Checklist

Shopping for your dream house? There are many considerations when looking at real estate, such as property taxes, school district, available recreational opportunities in the neighborhood, to name a few.  

 

But an important and often overlooked consideration is the insurance implications of your purchase. You will be paying insurance on your home for as long as you own it, so you should factor the cost of insurance into the home-buying process. You don’t want to find out that your dream home is more expensive to insure than you thought—after you own it!

 

Before You Start Looking for a Home

Thinking through all the costs associated with buying a home will make the process run more smoothly, and it may also save you money. It is important to:

 

Check Your Credit Rating
A good credit history helps you in many ways. Good credit makes it easier to get a mortgage at a competitive rate, and it may also qualify you for a good credit discount on your insurance. Make sure you know your credit rating before you apply for a mortgage. Get a copy of one or all of your credit reports. Make sure they are accurate and report any mistakes immediately. If your credit is not as good as it could be take steps now to improve it.  

Protect Yourself with a Renters Insurance Policy
If you are currently renting a house or apartment, protect yourself financially with a renters insurance policy. This provides insurance protection in the event a fire, hurricane or other insured disaster damages or destroys your personal possessions. It also covers the cost of additional living expenses if something happens to make your rental home or apartment unlivable. Additionally, renters insurance gives you liability protection if someone is injured in your home and decides to sue you. Disasters happen, and it would be unfortunate to have to use the down payment you saved to buy your new home to pay for losses that could have been covered by renters insurance. Furthermore, having a renters insurance policy provides a useful insurance history to your prospective homeowners insurer when you go to buy your first home.

While House Hunting

As you search for your new home, remember that the physical characteristics of the house—its size, location, construction and overall condition—can affect the cost, choice and availability of home insurance. Following are some factors to consider when shopping for a home:

 

Quality and Location of the Fire Department
Houses that are located near highly-rated, permanently staffed fire departments usually cost less to insure. This also holds true for homes that have a hydrant nearby. An important underwriting criterion for insurance companies is a community’s investment in fire protection, which includes trained firefighters, proper equipment and adequate supplies of water. 

 

Proximity to the Coastline
Houses located on or near the coast will generally cost more to insure than those further inland. There will also likely be a hurricane or windstorm deductible. This is a percentage deductible based on the cost to rebuilding a home, rather than a flat dollar amount. With a homeowners policy that has a $500 standard deductible, for example, the policyholder pays the first $500 of the claim before insurance kicks in. However, as percentage deductibles are based on the home’s insured value, if a house is insured for $100,000 and has a 2 percent deductible, the first $2,000 of a claim is paid out of the policyholder’s pocket.

There are two kinds of wind damage deductibles: hurricane deductibles, which apply to damage solely from hurricanes; and windstorm or wind/hail deductibles, which apply to any kind of wind damage. Percentage deductibles typically vary by state and range from 1 percent to 5 percent of a home’s insured value. These come into effect if certain triggers occur—a deductible triggering event can be, for instance, an official National Weather Service declaration that a storm is generating hurricane-strength winds (i.e., 74 miles per hour, or more) in your community.

 

In coastal areas with high wind risk, some homeowners may select higher hurricane deductibles to lower their insurance premiums, but that means they pay more if their home is damaged. In some coastal communities, private homeowners insurance coverage may not be readily available. Instead, you may need to purchase insurance through a state-run insurance program, which can provide less coverage, and in some cases be more costly, than private insurance.

 

Age of the Home
A stately, older home can be quite beautiful, but ornate features such as plaster walls, ceiling molding and wooden floors may be costly to replace and raise the cost of insurance. Plumbing and electrical systems can become unsafe with age and lack of maintenance. So, older homes may cost more to insure. If you are considering buying an older home find out how much it will cost to update these features and factor it into the cost of ownership.

 

Condition of the Roof
Ask about the condition of the roof. A new roof matters to insurers and keeps you and your family safer. Depending on the type of roof and whether or not you use fire and/or hail resistant materials, you may even qualify for a discount. Talk to your insurer about qualifying discounts.

 

Is the Home Well-Built and Up to Code?
Find out whether the house has been updated to comply with current building codes. Homes built by careful craftsmen and those built to meet modern engineering-based building codes are likely to better withstand natural disasters. Consider hiring a licensed home inspector who is knowledgeable about the latest building codes to inspect the property before you sign a mortgage.

 

Risk of Flooding
Damage from flooding is NOT covered by standard home insurance policies. If you are buying a home in an area at risk from flooding, you will need to purchase separate insurance. Insurance for flooding is available from the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which is serviced by private carriers, and from a few specialty insurers. People often underestimate the risk of flooding. Ninety percent of all natural disasters in the U.S. involve flooding, according to the NFIP. More important is that 25 to 30 percent of all paid losses for flooding are for damage in areas not officially designated as special flood hazard areas. If you are not in a high-risk flood zone, NFIP coverage is available at a lower premium.

 

History of Earthquakes
While earthquakes are most frequently associated with California, they have occurred in 39 states and, like flooding, are not covered under standard home insurance policies. Earthquake insurance is available from private insurers as an endorsement to a homeowners policy.  The cost of earthquake insurance differs widely by location, insurer and the type of structure being covered. Generally, older buildings cost more to insure than new ones. Wood frame structures may benefit from lower rates than brick buildings because they tend to withstand quake stresses better. Regions are graded on a scale of 1 to 5 for likelihood of quakes, and this difference is reflected in insurance rates.

 

Swimming Pool or Other Special Feature
If the house has a swimming pool, hot tub or other special feature, you will likely need more liability insurance. You may also want to consider purchasing an excess or umbrella liability policy to provide added protection in the event someone gets injured on your property and decides to sue you.

Before You Place a Bid on the Home

Check the Loss History Report
Ask the current owner of the house for a copy of the insurance loss history report, such as a Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (C.L.U.E.) report from ChoicePoint or an A-PLUS report from ISO, a leading source of information about property/casualty insurance. This is a record of insurance claims on the house that can provide answers to two questions that any savvy homebuyer should ask:

  • Have there been any past problems in the home?
  • If damage has occurred, was it properly repaired?

Note that prior claims are not a barrier to getting insurance. In fact, sometimes a recent claim can have positive ramifications. If, for example, a roof was damaged by a wind storm and replaced by a new one, this would make the house more desirable to an insurance company. If there have been no claims within five years, there will be no loss history report on the home.

 

Get the House Inspected
A thorough inspection of the home is very important. The inspector should:

  • check the general condition of the home;
  • look for water damage, termites and other types of infestation;
  • pay special attention to the electrical system, septic tank and water heater;
  • show you where potential problems might develop;
  • double-check that past problems have been repaired;
  • suggest upgrades or replacements that may be needed.

If the inspector raises questions, your insurance company will as well. And, be sure to find out if there is an underground oil storage tank, as many insurers will not provide policies for homes that have one.

 

Determine How Much It Will Cost to Maintain the House
Routine maintenance is your responsibility as a homeowner. Losses caused by failing to properly care for your home are not covered by standard homeowners insurance policies. The yearly cost of taking care of your house is another factor to be included in the overall price of owning the home.

 

Call Your Insurance Representative
Don’t wait until the last minute to think about insurance. Ask your insurance professional if the house will qualify for insurance, and get an estimate of the premium. The sooner you act, the smoother the process will be. Don’t be shy about asking for estimates on more than one house. Insurance is an important consideration when purchasing a home. If you are uncomfortable with the cost of insuring a particular house, keep looking for one that better fits your financial situation. If you do not already have an insurance agent or company representative, get recommendations from family, friends or co-workers, or consult your state insurance department.

 

Purchasing Insurance for your New Home

 

When purchasing a home insurance policy, work with your insurance agent or company representative to get enough insurance to rebuild the house in the event of a total loss. No new home buyers want to think that their house could go up in flames, but disasters do happen. It’s important to have enough insurance to completely rebuild your home and replace all of your personal possessions. You also need to make sure you have enough liability insurance to protect your financial assets. Ask about additional coverage such as:

  • Replacement cost for personal possessions
  • Extended or guaranteed replacement cost for the structure
  • Building code upgrades
  • Sewer and drain back-up coverage
  • Inflation-guard
  • Umbrella coverage for a pool or other high-risk items
  • Special riders for jewelry, collectibles and expensive items

To save money on your homeowners insurance, shop around and take the highest deductible you can afford. Since most people only file a claim every eight to 10 years, having a higher deductible saves money over time and preserves your insurance for when it’s really needed. You can also ask about available discounts for:

  • Multi-policy (home, car or other policies with the same company)
  • Smoke detectors
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Sprinkler systems
  • Burglar and fire alarms that alert an outside service
  • Deadbolt locks and fire-safe window grates
  • Being 55 years old and/or retired
  • Long-time policyholder
  • Upgrades to plumbing, heating and electrical systems
  •  Earthquake retrofitting to make the home safer
  • Wind-resistant shutters

Additional Resources 



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How do I take a home inventory and why?

Would you be able to remember all the possessions you’ve accumulated over the years if they were destroyed by a fire? Having an up-to-date home inventory will help you get your insurance claim settled faster, verify losses for your income tax return and help you purchase the correct amount of insurance.

Start by making a list of your possessions, describing each item and noting where you bought it and its make and model. Clip to your list any sales receipts, purchase contracts, and appraisals you have. For clothing, count the items you own by category -- pants, coats, shoes, for example –- making notes about those that are especially valuable. For major appliance and electronic equipment, record their serial numbers usually found on the back or bottom.

  • Don't be put off! 
    If you are just setting up a household, starting an inventory list can be relatively simple. If you’ve been living in the same house for many years, however, the task of creating a list can be daunting. Still, it’s better to have an incomplete inventory than nothing at all. Start with recent purchases and then try to remember what you can about older possessions.
  • Big ticket items 
    Valuable items like jewelry, art work and collectibles may have increased in value since you received them. Check with your agent to make sure that you have adequate insurance for these items. They may need to be insured separately.
  • Take a picture
    Besides the list, you can take pictures of rooms and important individual items. On the back of the photos, note what is shown and where you bought it or the make. Don’t forget things that are in closets or drawers.
  • Videotape it 
    Walk through your house or apartment videotaping and describing the contents. Or do the same thing using a tape recorder.
  • Use a personal computer 
    Use your PC to make your inventory list. Personal finance software packages often include a homeowners room-by-room inventory program.
Storing the list, photos and tapes 
Regardless of how you do it (written list, floppy disk, photos, videotape or audio tape), keep your inventory along with receipts in your safe deposit box or at a friend's or relative's home. That way you’ll be sure to have something to give your insurance representative if your home is damaged. When you make a significant purchase, add the information to your inventory while the details are fresh in your mind.


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What's the difference between cancellation and nonrenewal?

There is a big difference between an insurance company canceling a policy and choosing not to renew it. Insurance companies cannot cancel a policy that has been in force for more than 60 days except when:

  • You fail to pay the premium
  • You have committed fraud or made serious misrepresentations on your application.

Nonrenewal is a different matter. Either you or your insurance company can decide not to renew the policy when it expires. Depending on the state you live in, your insurance company must give you a certain number of days' notice and explain the reason for not renewing before it drops your policy. If you think the reason is unfair or want a further explanation, call the insurance company's consumer affairs division. 

The company may have decided to drop that particular line of insurance or to write fewer policies where you live, so the nonrenewal decision may not be because of something you did. On the other hand, if you did do something that raised the insurance company's risk considerably, like committing fraud, the premium may rise or you may not have your policy renewed.

If your insurance company did not renew your policy, you will not necessarily be charged a higher premium at another insurance company.



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How much homeowners insurance do I need?

You need enough insurance to cover the following: 

1.     The structure of your home.

2.     Your personal possessions.

3.     The cost of additional living expenses if your home is damaged and you have to live elsewhere during repairs.

4.     Your liability to others.

The structure

You need enough insurance to cover the cost of rebuilding your home at current construction costs. Don't include the cost of the land. And don't base your rebuilding costs on the price you paid for your home. The cost of rebuilding could be more or less than the price you paid or could sell it for today.

Some banks require you to buy homeowners insurance to cover the amount of your mortgage. If the limit of your insurance policy is based on your mortgage, make sure it's enough to cover the cost of rebuilding. (If your mortgage is paid off, don't cancel your homeowners policy. Homeowners insurance protects your investment in your home.)

For a quick estimate of the amount of insurance you need, multiply the total square footage of your home by local building costs per square foot. To find out construction costs in your community, call your local real estate agent, builders association or insurance agent.

Factors that will determine the cost of rebuilding your home:

 

  • Local construction costs
  • The square footage of the structure
  • The type of exterior wall construction–frame, masonry (brick or stone) or veneer
  • The style of the house (ranch, colonial)
  • The number of bathrooms and other rooms
  • The type of roof and materials used
  • Other structures on the premises such as garages, sheds
  • Fireplaces, exterior trim and other special features like arched windows
  • Whether the house, or parts of it like the kitchen, was custom built
  • Improvement to your home–adding a second bathroom, enlarging the kitchen or other additions that have added value to your home

Standard homeowners policies provide coverage for disasters such as damage due to fire, lightning, hail, explosions and theft. They do not cover floods, earthquakes or damage caused by lack of routine maintenance.

Flood insurance is available from the National Flood Insurance Program - NFIP and from some private insurers. Earthquake coverage is available from private insurance companies.

Replacement cost policies
Most policies cover replacement cost for damage to the structure. A replacement cost policy pays for the repair or replacement of damaged property with materials of similar kind and quality. There is no deduction for depreciation–the decrease in value due to age, wear and tear, and other factors.

If you purchase a flood insurance policy, coverage for the structure is available on a replacement cost basis.

Guaranteed or extended replacement cost coverage
After a major hurricane or a tornado, building materials and construction workers are often in great demand. This can push rebuilding costs above homeowners policy limits, leaving you without enough money to cover the bill. To protect against such a situation, you can buy a policy that pays more than the policy limits.

An extended replacement cost policy will pay an extra 20 percent or more above the limits, depending on the insurance company. A guaranteed replacement cost policy will pay whatever it costs to rebuild your home as it was before the fire or other disaster.

Building codes
Building codes are updated periodically and may have changed significantly since your home was built. If your home is badly damaged, you may be required to rebuild your home to meet new building codes. Generally, homeowners insurance policies (even a guaranteed replacement cost policy) won't pay for the extra expense of rebuilding to code. Many insurance companies offer an Ordinance or Law endorsement that pays a specified amount toward these costs. (An endorsement is a form attached to an insurance policy that changes what the policy covers.)

Inflation guard
Consider adding an inflation guard clause to your policy. This automatically adjusts the dwelling limit when you renew your policy to reflect current construction costs in your area.

Older homes
If you own an older home, you may not be able to buy a replacement cost policy. Instead, you may have to buy a modified replacement cost policy. This means that instead of repairing or replacing features typical of older homes, like plaster walls and wooden floors, with similar materials, the policy will pay for repairs using the standard building materials and construction techniques in use today.

Insurance companies differ greatly in how they insure older homes. Some won't insure older homes for the replacement cost because of the expense of re-creating special features like wall and ceiling moldings and carvings. Other companies will insure older homes for the replacement cost as long as the dwelling is in good condition.

If you can't insure your home for the replacement cost or choose not to do so–in some cases, the cost of replacing a large old home is so high that you might not want to replace it with a house of the same size–make sure the limits of the policy are high enough to provide you with a house of acceptable size and quality.

 

Your personal possessions

Most homeowners insurance policies provide coverage for your personal possessions for approximately 50 percent to 70 percent of the amount of insurance you have on the structure or “dwelling” of your home. The limits of the policy typically appear on the Declarations Page under Section I, Coverages, A. Dwelling.

To determine if this is enough coverage, you need to conduct a home inventory. This is a detailed list of everything you own and information related to the cost to replace these items if they were stolen or destroyed by a disaster such as a fire. If you think you need more coverage, contact your agent or insurance company representative and ask for higher limits for your personal possessions.

Replacement Cost or Actual Cash Value
You can either insure your belongings for their actual cash value, which pays to replace your home or possessions minus a deduction for depreciation up to the limit of your policy. Or you can opt for replacement cost, which pays the actual cost of replacing your home or possessions (no deduction for depreciation) up to the limit of your policy.

Suppose, for example, a fire destroys a 10-year-old TV set in your living room. If you have a replacement cost policy for the contents of your home, the insurance company will pay to replace the TV set with a new one. If you have an actual cash value policy, it will pay only a percentage of the cost of a new TV set because the TV has been used for 10 years and is worth a lot less than its original cost. Some replacement cost policies also replace the item and deliver it to you.

Generally, the price of replacement cost coverage is about 10 percent more than that of actual cash value. If you need a flood insurance policy for your belongings, it is only available on an actual cash value basis.

Insuring expensive items with floaters/endorsements
There may be limits on how much coverage you get for expensive items such as jewelry, silverware and furs. Generally, there is a limit on jewelry for $1,000 to $2,000. You should ask your agent or look it up in your policy. This information is in Section I, Personal Property, Special Limits of Liability. Insurance companies may also place a limit on what they will pay for computers.

If the limits are too low, consider buying a special personal property floater or an endorsement. These allow you to insure these items individually or as a collection. With floaters and endorsements, there is no deductible. You are charged a premium based on what the item (or collection) is, its dollar value and where you live.

You can determine the value by providing your agent with a recent receipt or getting the item or collection appraised.

 Additional living expenses after a disaster

This is a very important feature of a standard homeowners insurance policy. This pays the additional costs of temporarily living away from your home if you can't live in it due to a fire, severe storm or other insured disaster. It covers hotel bills, restaurant meals and other living expenses incurred while your home is being rebuilt.

Coverage for additional living expenses differs from company to company. Many policies provide coverage for about 20% of the insurance on your house. Some companies will even sell you a policy that provides you with an unlimited amount of loss of use coverage, for a limited amount of time.

If you rent out part of your house, this coverage also reimburses you for the rent that you would have collected from your tenant if your home had not been destroyed.

You should talk to your agent or company to make sure you know exactly how much coverage you have and how long the coverage will be in effect. In most cases, you can increase this coverage for an additional premium.

 

 

Liability to others

This part of your policy covers you against lawsuits for bodily injury or property damage that you or family members cause to other people. It also pays for damage caused by pets. It pays for both the cost of defending you in court and for any damages a court rules you must pay.

Generally, most homeowners insurance policies provide a minimum of $100,000 worth of liability insurance, but higher amounts are available. Increasingly, it is recommended that homeowners consider purchasing at least $300,000 to $500,000 worth of coverage of liability protection.

Umbrella or Excess Liability.
You should buy enough liability insurance to protect your assets. If you own property and or have investments and savings that are worth more than the liability limits in your policy, you may consider purchasing an excess liability or umbrella policy.

Umbrella or excess liability policies provide extra coverage. They start to pay after you have used up the liability insurance in your underlying home (or auto) policy. An umbrella policy is not part of your homeowners policy. You have to purchase it separately. In addition to providing a higher dollar amount, they offer broader coverage. You are covered for libel, slander, and invasion of privacy. These things are not covered under standard homeowners or auto policies.

The cost of an umbrella policy depends on how much underlying insurance you have and the kind of risk you represent. The greater the underlying liability coverage, the cheaper the policy. This is becaue you would be the less likely to need the additional insurance. Most companies will require a minimum of $300,000 on your home and your car, if you own one.




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I’m installing a pool—what kind of insurance do I need?

Pools and Insurance

All pools—from a simple above-ground kiddy pool to an aquatic extravaganza—can be dangerous and need to be properly insured and comply with local safety standards.

According to the Center for Disease Control, over 3,200 people drown each year. Among children, ages one to four, most drowned in residential swimming pools. Most of these young children had been out of sight for less than five minutes and were in the care of one or both parents at the time.

If you plan to purchase a pool, our agency suggests that you:

 

  • Contact your town or municipality
    Each town will have its own definition of a “pool,” often based on its size and water depth. If the pool you are planning to buy meets the definition, then you must comply with local safety standards and building codes. This may include installing a fence of a certain size, locks, decks and pool safety equipment.
  • Call your insurance agent or company representative
    Let your insurance company know that you have a pool, since it will increase your liability risk. Pools are considered an “attractive nuisance” and it may be advisable to purchase additional liability insurance. Most homeowners policies include a minimum of $100,000 worth of liability protection. Pool owners, however, may want to consider increasing the amount to $300,000 or $500,000.

    You may want to talk to your agent or company representative about purchasing an umbrella liability policy. For an additional premium of about $200 to $300 a year, you get $1 million of liability protection over and above what you have on your home. It would also provide added liability protection when you drive.

    If the pool itself is expensive, or if you decide to install an in-ground structure, you should also have enough insurance protection to replace it in the event it is destroyed by a storm or other disaster.

Pool Safety Tips

Here are some pool safety tips you should follow:

1.     Put fencing around the pool area to keep people from using the pool without your knowledge. In addition to the fences or other barriers required by many towns, consider creating “layers of protection” around the pool, i.e. setting up as many barriers as possible (door alarms, locks and safety covers) to the pool area when not in use.

2.     Never leave small children unsupervised—even for a few seconds. And never leave toys or floats in the pool when not in use as they may prove to be a deadly temptation for toddlers trying to reach them.

3.     Keep children away from pool filters and other mechanical devices as the suction force may injure them or prevent them from surfacing. In case of an emergency, know how to shut off these devices and clearly post this information for easy use.

4.     Be sure all pool users know how to swim. Learners should be accompanied by a good swimmer. If you have children, have them take swimming lessons as early as possible.

5.     Don’t swim alone or allow others to swim alone.

6.     Check the pool area regularly for glass bottles, toys or other potential accident hazards.

7.     Keep CD players, radios and other electrical devices away from pools or nearby wet surfaces.

8.     Don’t allow anyone who has been drinking alcohol to use the pool.

9.     Pay attention to the weather. Excessive heat can cause dizziness, which can dangerous around a pool. And never swim during rain or lightning storms.

10.   Never dive into an above-ground pool and check the water depth before plunging into an in-ground pool. Keep clear of the area near a diving board.

11.   Don’t swim if you’re tired or have just finished eating.

12.   In the event of an accident, clearly post emergency numbers on the phone. Keep a first aid kit, ring buoys and reaching poles near the pool. You may also want to consider basic first aid and CPR training.



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How do I pick an insurance company?

There are many insurance companies, so choosing between them can be a challenge. Here are the main points to keep in mind when selecting an insurance company:

  • Licensing 
    Not every company is licensed to operate in each state. As a general rule, you should buy from a company licensed in your state, because then can you rely on your state insurance department to help if there’s a problem. To find out which companies are licensed in your state, contact the state insurance department.
  • Price 
    Many companies sell insurance policies and prices vary greatly from one to another, so it really pays to shop around. Get at least three price quotes from companies, agents and from the Internet. Your state insurance department may publish a guide that shows what insurers charge for different policies in various parts of your state.
  • Financial Solidity 
    You buy insurance to protect you financially and provide peace of mind. Select a company that is likely to be financially sound for many years, by using ratings from independent rating agencies.
  • Service 
    Your insurance company and its representatives should answer your questions and handle your claims fairly, efficiently and quickly. You can get a feel for whether this is the case by talking to other customers who have used a particular company or agent. You may also want to check a national claims database to see what complaint information it has on a company. Also, your state insurance department will be able to tell you if the insurance company you are considering doing business with had many consumer complaints about its service relative to the number of policies it sold.
  • Comfort
    You should feel comfortable with your insurance purchase, whether you buy it from a local agent, directly from the company over the phone, or over the Internet. Make sure that the agent or company will be easy to reach if you have a question or need to file a claim.


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How much will it cost?

There are many factors an insurance company uses to determine the price of your policy:

  • The square footage of the house and any additional structures.
  • Building costs in your area.
  • Your home's construction, materials and features.
  • Amount of crime in your neighborhood.
  • The likelihood of damage from natural disasters, such as hurricanes and hail storms.
  • The proximity of your home to a fire hydrant (or other source of water) and to a fire station, whether your community has a professional or volunteer fire service and other factors that can affect the time it takes to put out fires.
  • The condition of the plumbing, heating and electrical system.


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How can I save money?

The price you pay for your homeowners insurance can vary by hundreds of dollars, depending on the size of your house and the insurance company you buy your policy from. Here are some ways to save money.

Raise your deductible

A deductible is the amount of money you have to pay toward a loss before your insurance company starts to pay a claim. The higher your deductible, the more money you save on your premium. Consider a deductible of at least $1000. If you can afford to raise it to $2,500, you may save as much as 25 percent.

If you live in a disaster-prone area, your insurance policy may have a separate deductible for damage from major disasters. If you live near the coast in the East, you may have a separate windstorm deductible, if you live in a state vulnerable to hail storms, you may have a separate deductible for hail, and if you live in an earthquake-prone area, your earthquake policy may have a deductible.

 Buy your home and auto policies from the same insurer

Many companies that sell homeowners insurance also sell auto and umbrella liability insurance. (An umbrella liability policy will give you extra liability coverage.) Some insurance companies will reduce your premium by 5 percent to 15 percent if you buy two or more insurance policies from them. But make certain this combined price is lower than buying the coverages from different companies.

  Make your home more disaster-resistant

Find out from your insurance agent or company representative what you can do to make your home more resistant to windstorms and other natural disasters. You may be able to save on your premiums by adding storm shutters and shatter-proof glass, reinforcing your roof or buying stronger roofing materials. Older homes can be retrofitted to make them better able to withstand earthquakes. In addition, consider modernizing your heating, plumbing and electrical systems to reduce the risk of fire and water damage.

  Don't confuse what you paid for your house with rebuilding costs

The land under your house isn't at risk from theft, windstorm, fire and the other perils covered in your homeowners policy. So don't include its value in deciding how much homeowners insurance to buy. If you do, you'll pay a higher premium than you should.

  Ask about discounts for home security devices

You can usually get discounts of at least 5 percent for a smoke detector, burglar alarm or dead-bolt locks. Some companies may cut your premiums by as much as 15 or 20 percent if you install a sophisticated sprinkler system and a fire and burglar alarm that rings at the police, fire or other monitoring stations. However, these systems aren't cheap and not every system qualifies for a discount. Before you buy one, find out what kind your insurer recommends, how much the device would cost and how much you'd save on premiums.

  Seek out other discounts

Many companies offer discounts, but they don't all offer the same types of discounts or the same level of discount in all states. Ask your agent or company representative about discounts available to you. For example, if you're at least 55 years old and retired, you may qualify for a discount of up to 10 percent at some companies. If you've completely modernized your plumbing or electrical system recently, some companies may also provide a price break.

 

 

Stay with the same insurer

If you've been insured with the same company for several years, you may receive a discount for being a long-term policyholder. Some insurers will reduce premiums by 5 percent if you stay with them for three-to-five years and by 10percent if you're a policyholder for six years or more. To ensure you're getting a good deal, periodically compare this price with the prices of policies from other insurers.

  Review policy limits and the value of your contents annually

You want your policy to cover any major purchases or additions to your home. But you don't want to spend money for coverage you don't need. If your five-year-old fur coat is no longer worth the $5,000 you paid for it, you'll want to reduce or cancel your floater (extra insurance for items whose full value is not covered by standard homeowners policies) and pocket the difference.

   

When you're buying a home, consider the cost of homeowners insurance

The price you pay for homeowners insurance depends in part on the cost of rebuilding your home and the likelihood that it will be damaged by natural disasters or that it will burn down. You may pay less if you buy a house close to a fire hydrant or in a community that has a professional rather than a volunteer fire department. You may also pay less if your home’s electrical, heating and plumbing systems are less than 10 years old. If you live in the East, consider a brick home because it's more wind-resistant. If you live in an earthquake-prone area, look for a wooden frame house because it is more likely to withstand this type of disaster. Choosing wisely could cut your premiums by 5 percent to 15 percent.

Remember that flood and earthquake damage are not covered by a standard homeowners policy. If you buy a house in a flood-prone area, you'll have to pay for a flood insurance policy that costs an average of $400 a year. The National Flood Insurance Program provides useful information on flood insurance on its Web site at http://www.floodsmart.gov . A separate earthquake policy is available from most insurance companies. The cost of the coverage will depend on the likelihood of earthquakes in your area and the construction features.

If you have questions about insurance for any of your possessions, be sure to ask your agent or company representative. For example, if you run a business out of your home, be sure you have adequate coverage. Most homeowners policies cover business equipment in the home, but only up to $2,500 and they offer no business liability insurance. 



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Five Insurance Mistakes to Avoid… And Still Save Money

We are all concerned with saving money and it is important to shop around when looking for insurance coverage. However, simply reducing your coverage or dropping important coverages altogether can leave you dangerously underinsured in the event of a disaster.

 

Following are the five biggest auto, home, flood and renters insurance mistakes consumers can make, along with suggestions to avert those pitfalls while still saving money:

 

1. Insuring a home for its real estate value rather than for the cost of rebuilding. When real estate prices go down, some homeowners may think they can reduce the amount of insurance on their home. But insurance is designed to cover the cost of rebuilding, not the sales price of the home. You should make sure that you have enough coverage to completely rebuild your home and replace your belongings.

 

A better way to save: Raise your deductible. An increase from $500 to $1,000 could save up to 25 percent on your premium payments.

 

2. Selecting an insurance company by price alone. It is important to choose a company with competitive prices, but also one that is financially sound and provides good customer service.

 

A better way to save: Check the financial health of a company with independent rating agencies and ask friends and family for recommendations. You should select an insurance company that will respond to your needs and handle claims fairly and efficiently.

 

3. Dropping flood insurance. Damage from flooding is not covered under standard homeowners and renters insurance policies. Coverage is available from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), as well as from some private insurance companies. Many homeowners are unaware they are at risk for flooding, but in fact 25 percent of all flood losses occur in low risk areas. Furthermore with the significant snow fall this winter, spring related flooding may be particularly severe, thus increasing the importance of purchasing flood insurance.

 

A better way to save: Before purchasing a home, check with the NFIP to determine whether the property is situated in a flood zone; if so, consider a less risky area. If you are already living in a designated flood zone, look at mitigation efforts that can reduce your risk of flood damage and consider purchasing flood insurance. Additional information on flood insurance can be found at www.FloodSmart.gov.

 

4. Only purchasing the legally required amount of liability for your car. In today’s litigious society, buying only the minimum amount of liability means you are likely to pay more out-of-pocket if you are sued—and those costs may be steep.

 

A better way to save: Consider dropping collision and/or comprehensive coverage on older cars worth less than $1,000. The insurance industry and consumer groups generally recommend a minimum of $100,000 of bodily injury protection per person and $300,000 per accident. 

 

5. Neglecting to buy renters insurance. A renters insurance policy covers your possessions and additional living expenses if you have to move out due to an insured disaster, such as a fire or hurricane. Equally important, it provides liability protection in the event someone is injured in your home and decides to sue.

 

A better way to save: Look into multi-policy discounts. Buying several policies with the same insurer, such as renters, auto and life will generally provide savings.



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What information do I need to provide to my agent?

Your agent will ask you what kind of home you own or rent, roughly how much your possessions are worth, and what kind of liability coverage you will need. The agent will also want to know how many people live in your household, what pets you own, and the general condition of your house. You should also tell him if you own any particularly valuable items that might need special coverage called a floater.



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How often should I review my policy?

There are four events that should trigger a review of your policy:

1. When your policy comes up for renewal
Don’t just automatically send a check to your insurance company. Take the time to review your coverage and call your agent with any questions or concerns that you may have regarding your homeowners insurance. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Has the company made any changes in coverage since last year?
  • Does my policy now include a separate deductible for risks like hurricane or hail?
  • Should I raise the deductible to save money?
  • Am I taking advantage of all available discounts?
  • Do I need to raise the amount of coverage for liability, personal possessions or the structure?
  • Should I comparison shop for a cheaper rate?
  • Do I need flood, earthquake or an umbrella policy?

 

2. Major purchases or alterations/improvements to your home
If you have made any major purchases, make sure that you have the proper coverage. And, don’t forget about gifts. If you have received a diamond engagement ring or if a member of your family has bought you expensive artwork or a computer, talk to your agent about either increasing the amount of insurance you have for your personal possessions or purchasing a floater/endorsement for these items. A floater will give you higher and broader coverage for these items than you have under your homeowners policy.

If you have made major improvements to your home, such as adding a new room, enclosing a porch or expanding a kitchen or bathroom, you risk being underinsured if you don't report the increase in square footage to your insurance company. Don’t forget about new structures outside of your home. If you have built a gazebo, a new shed for your tools or installed a pool or hot tub, you need to speak to your agent. Keep receipts and records in case you need to forward copies to your company.

3. You have made your home safer
If you have installed a state-of-the art fire/burglar alarm system or upgraded your heating, plumbing or electrical system, make sure that your insurance company knows about these improvements. You may qualify for a discount.

4. Major lifestyle changes
Marriage, divorce, or adult children who move back into the family home, can all affect your homeowners insurance. When people move in or move out, they take their belongings with them. And you may need additional coverage if there is a sizable increase in the value of the belongings in your home.

Starting a home-based business can also trigger changes in your coverage. You will need to get additional coverage for business liability and equipment. If the business is your primary source of income, you may need a Businessowners Package Policy (BOP). You may also need professional liability coverage, which is excluded under in-home business and businessowners policies. For more information, see Business Insurance.



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Should I purchase an umbrella liability policy?

 If you are ever sued, your standard homeowners or auto policy will provide you with some liability coverage, paying for judgments against you and your attorney's fees, up to a limit set in the policy. However, in our litigious society, you may want to have an extra layer of liability protection. That's what a personal umbrella liability policy provides.

An umbrella policy kicks in when you reach the limit on the underlying liability coverage in a homeowners, renters, condo or auto policy. It will also cover you for things such as libel and slander.

For about $250 to $400 per year you can buy a $1 million personal umbrella liability policy. The next million will cost about $100, and $75 for every million after that.

Because the personal umbrella policy goes into effect after the underlying coverage is exhausted, there are certain limits that usually must be met in order to purchase this coverage. Most insurers will want you to have about $250,000 of liability insurance on your auto policy and $300,000 of liability insurance on your homeowners policy before selling you an umbrella liability policy for $1 million of additional coverage.



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How does the payment process work?

  An adjuster will inspect the damage to your home and offer you a certain sum of money for repairs. The first check you get from your insurance company is often an advance against the total settlement amount. It is not the final payment.

If you're offered an on-the-spot settlement, you can accept the check right away. Later on, if you find other damage, you can "reopen" the claim and file for an additional amount. Most policies require claims to be filed within one year from the date of disaster. Check with your state insurance department.

When both the structure of your home and personal belongings are damaged, you generally receive two separate checks from your insurance company, one for each category of damage. You should also receive a separate check for additional living expenses that you incur while your home is being renovated.

 

Structure

If you have a mortgage on your house, the check for repairs will generally be made out to both you and the mortgage lender. As a condition of granting a mortgage, lenders usually require that they are named in the homeowner’s policy and that they are a party to any insurance payments related to the structure.

The lender gets equal rights to the insurance check to ensure that the necessary repairs are made to the property in which it has a significant financial interest. This means that the mortgage company or bank will have to endorse the check. Lenders generally put the money in an escrow account and pay for the repairs as the work is completed. You should show the mortgage lender your contractor's bid and let the lender know how much the contractor wants up front to start the job. Your mortgage company may want to inspect the finished job before releasing the funds for payment to the contractor.

Some construction firms require you to sign a form that allows your insurance company to pay the firm directly. Make certain that you're completely satisfied with the repair work and that the job has been completed before you let the insurance company make the final payment. Remember, you won't receive a check for the repair job. The construction firm will bill your insurance company directly and attach the "direction to pay" form you signed.

Bank regulators have guidelines for lenders to follow after a major disaster. If you have any questions contact your state banking department.

Personal belongings

The first step is to add up the cost of everything inside your home that has been damaged in the disaster. Now is the time to review your personal inventory, to help you remember the things you may have lost. If you don’t have an inventory, look for photographs or videotapes that picture the damaged areas. For expensive items, you may also contact your bank or credit card company for proof of purchase. When making your list, don’t forget items that may be damaged in out of the way places such as the attic or tops of closets.

If you have a replacement cost policy, you will be reimbursed for the cost of buying new items. An actual cash value policy will reimburse you for the cost of the items minus depreciation. Regardless of which type of policy you have, the first check will be calculated on a cash value basis. Most insurance companies will require you to purchase the damaged item before they will reimburse you for its full replacement cost.

If you have financed your home, your bank may have received a check for both repairs to your home and your possessions. If you don't get a separate check from your insurance company for your belongings, ask the lender to send the money to you immediately.

If you have a replacement cost policy, you may be required to buy replacements for items damaged before your insurance company will compensate you. Make sure to keep receipts as proof of purchase.

If you decide not to replace some items, in most cases you’ll be paid the depreciated or actual cash value of the items that were damaged. You don't have to decide what to do immediately.

Your insurance company will generally allow you several months from the date of the cash value payment to replace the item. Ask your agent how many months you are allowed before you must replace your personal possessions. Some insurance companies supply lists of vendors that can help replace your property.

Additional living expenses

Your check for additional living expenses should be made out to you and not your lender. This money has nothing to do with repairs to your home and you may have difficulty depositing or cashing the check if you can't get the mortgage lender's signature. This money is designed to cover your expenses for hotels, car rentals and other expenses you may incur while your home is being fixed.

Options for rebuilding

If your home has been destroyed, you have several options:

 

  • Rebuild your home on the same site.
    The amount of money you’ll have to rebuild your home depends on both the type of policy you bought and the dollar limit specified on the first “declarations” page of your policy. Generally, you are entitled to the replacement cost of your former home, providing that you spend that amount of money on the home you rebuild. Remember, your insurance policy will pay to rebuild your home as it was before the disaster. It won’t pay to build a bigger or more expensive house. A similar rule applies to repairs.
  • Decide not to rebuild or to rebuild in a different location.
    The amount you’ll get from your insurer will be determined by your policy, state law, and what the courts have ruled on this matter. If you decide not to rebuild, review your policy and ask your insurance agent or company representative what the settlement amount will be.


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How do I file a homeowners claim?

If someone has become injured on your property or if a violent storm destroys your home, you will need to file a claim with your insurance company. Remember, a homeowners policy is a contract between you and your insurance company. And there are rules and procedures that you and your insurer must follow. Read your insurance policy to see what your responsibilities are.

Report any crime to the police
If you are the victim of a theft or your home has been vandalized or burglarized, report it to the police. Get a police report and the names of all law enforcement officers that you speak with.

Phone your agent or company immediately
Insurance policies place a time limit on filing claims. Find out what the time limit is. Ask questions: Am I covered? Does my claim exceed my deductible? (Your deductible is the amount of loss you agree to pay yourself when you buy a policy.) How long will it take to process my claim? Will I need to obtain estimates for repairs to structural damage?

Make temporary repairs
Take reasonable steps to protect your property from further damage. Save receipts for what you spend and submit them to your insurance company for reimbursement.

Prepare a list of lost or damaged articles

You are going to need to substantiate your loss. Avoid throwing out damaged items until the adjuster has visited your home. You should also consider photographing or videotaping the damage. Prepare a home inventory, make a copy for your adjuster and supply him or her with copies of receipts from damaged items.

If you need to relocate, keep your receipts
If your home is severely damaged and you need to find other accommodations while repairs are being made, keep records of all additional expenses incurred. Most homeowners insurance policies provide coverage for the “loss of use” of your home.

Get claim forms
Once your insurance company has been notified of your claim, the company is required to send you the necessary claim forms to you by the end of a specified time period. (The time period varies from state to state.) Return the properly filled out forms as soon as possible in order to avoid delays.

Have an adjuster inspect the damage to your home
Your insurance company will probably arrange for an adjuster to come and inspect your home.

Once you and your insurance company agree on the terms of your settlement, state laws require that you be sent payment promptly. In most cases, your claim will be processed quickly. If you have any questions about the claim filing laws in your state, call your insurance agent or your state department of insurance.



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How is the settlement amount determined?

The settlement amount depends on which type of policy you have. Having inadequate insurance can affect the amount of compensation you get.

Replacement Cost and Actual Cash Value

Replacement cost provides you with the dollar amount needed to replace a damaged item with one of similar kind and quality without deducting for depreciation—the decrease in value due to age, obsolescence, wear and tear and other factors. An actual cash value policy pays you the amount needed to replace the item minus depreciation.

Suppose, for example, a tree fell through the roof onto your eight-year-old washing machine. If you had a replacement cost policy for the contents of your home, the insurance company would pay to replace the old machine with a new one. If you had an actual cash value policy, the company would pay only a percentage of the cost of a new washing machine because a machine that has been used for eight years would be worth less than its original cost.

Suppose, also, that the tree damaged your 15-year-old roof so badly that it had to be completely replaced. If you had a replacement cost policy, the insurance company would pay the full cost of installing a new roof. If you had an actual cash value policy, it would pay a smaller percentage of the cost of replacing it.

Extended and Guaranteed Replacement Cost

If your home is damaged beyond repair, a typical homeowners policy will pay to replace it up to the limits of the policy. When the value of your insurance policy has kept up with increases in local building costs, a similar dwelling can generally be rebuilt for an amount that is within the policy limits.

Some insurance companies offer a replacement cost policy that will pay a certain percentage over the limit to rebuild your home—20 percent or more, depending on the insurer—so that if building costs go up unexpectedly, you will have extra funds to cover the bill. These are called extended replacement cost policies. A few insurance companies still offer a guaranteed replacement cost policy that pays whatever it costs to rebuild your home as it was before the disaster. But neither a guaranteed nor an extended replacement cost policy will pay for a house that's better than the one that was destroyed.

Mobile Home Policies

If you own a mobile home, you may have a policy based on replacement cost, actual cash value or, in a few cases, a "stated amount." With a stated amount policy, the maximum amount you receive if your home is destroyed is the amount you agreed to when the policy was issued. The depreciation in the value of your home is not considered in the settlement. If you opt for the stated amount, update your policy annually to make sure that the stated amount will cover the realistic cost of replacing your mobile home. Check with local mobile home dealers to find out what similar homes sell for now.



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How can I avoid scams after a disaster?

If your home was destroyed by a hurricane, wildfire or other disaster, be cautious.

Unfortunately, there are dishonest service providers that prey on disaster victims. They know that people who have lost their homes and valuables may not be thinking clearly. If you have suffered this type of loss, don’t make any rash decisions. Talk to your insurance agent, who may recommend service providers in your area.

Here are some basic guidelines for hiring service providers:

Roofers and Builders

1.     Don't be rushed into signing a contract with any company. Instead, collect business cards and get written estimates for the proposed job.

2.     Beware of building contractors that encourage you to spend a lot of money on temporary repairs. Payments for temporary repairs are covered as part of the total settlement. If you pay a contractor a large sum for a temporary repair job, you may not have enough money for permanent repairs. In most cases, you should be able to make the temporary repairs yourself. Ask your insurance agent. And remember to keep receipts.

3.     Investigate the track record of any roofer, builder or contractor that you consider hiring. Look for professionals that have a solid reputation in your community. You can call your Better Business Bureau for help. Also, get references and never give anyone a deposit until after you have thoroughly researched their background.

A common fraud scheme is for a so-called "contractor" to convince a homeowner that a large deposit must be provided before repair work can begin. Frequently, the job will be started, but not completed. Unfortunately, these con artists are never seen or heard from again.

Public Adjusters and Attorneys

1.     Don't make any rash decisions about hiring someone to handle your claim. Be especially wary of individuals who go door-to-door soliciting business in the aftermath of a catastrophe. Most importantly, don't let anyone scare you into signing a contract. You don't want to be victimized by someone who comes into town, hoping to make a fast buck. You could end up forfeiting a significant portion of your insurance dollars.

2.     Before hiring a public adjuster or an attorney, try to settle your claim directly with your insurance company. Your insurer provides an adjuster at no charge to you. Ask your insurance agent or company representative to help you with your claim and don't be afraid to ask questions. If you decide to work directly with your insurer, you still have the right to hire a third-party professional to help you.

3.     If your claim is complicated and you want to hire a public adjuster or attorney, make sure that person is qualified to handle your case. Ask your friends, relatives or business associates for the names of well-regarded professionals in your community. Also, call your state insurance department regarding a public adjuster, and your state or county bar association about a prospective attorney.

4.     Understand that you will have to pay a public adjuster 15 percent and an attorney as much as 30 percent of your total claim settlement.



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What can I do if I am having trouble settling my claim?

If you are unsatisfied with how your insurance company is handling your claim, you have several options:

Talk to the agent or company representative who sold you the policy 

Let the agent know that you are dissatisfied and explain the specifics of your problem.

Contact the claims manager of the company

Provide a written explanation of your problem with copies of supporting documentation. Remember to send only a copy and not any original documentation. If you are insured with a smaller company, consider writing directly to the president. Going to the top can sometimes speed the process.

Contact your state insurance department

Insurance is a regulated industry and your state department of insurance should be able to help you resolve your problem.

Consult an attorney

 

If you have tried all four of the above tips and still can’t resolve the claim, you may want to talk to an attorney. You may have to pay a consultation fee for your initial visit, so make sure you know how much this will cost. Meet with an attorney who has solid references or get the name of someone from your local bar association. Prepare for the visit by bringing a copy of your insurance policy and other relevant documents. Get the fee structure in writing before you decide to pursue the case.



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Making Sure Your Home Is Properly Covered for a Disaster

For many people, their home is their greatest asset, so it is crucial to avoid being underinsured. To protect their investment from disasters, homeowners should update their insurance regularly to include improvements, major purchases and increased rebuilding costs.

Since the end of the Great Recession in June 2009, despite the major drop off in construction activity, construction prices have actually risen significantly. Furthermore, after a disaster, materials and labor may become scare, driving repair and rebuilding costs up even further.

To properly insure your home, it is important to ask your insurance agent or company representative four key questions.

1. Do I have enough insurance to rebuild my home?

 

Your policy needs to cover the cost of rebuilding your home at current construction costs. Unfortunately, some homeowners simply purchase enough insurance protection to satisfy their mortgage lender. Others confuse the real estate value of their home with what it would cost to rebuild it. Quite simply, you should have enough insurance to rebuild your home in the event that it is completely destroyed. Be sure to consider the following: 

  • Replacement Cost 
    Most policies cover replacement cost for damage to the structure. A replacement cost policy pays for the repair or replacement of damaged property with materials of similar kind and quality.
  • Extended Replacement Cost 
    This type of policy provides additional insurance coverage of 20 percent or more over the limits in your policy, which can be critical if there is a widespread disaster that pushes up the cost of building materials and labor.
  • Inflation Guard 
    This coverage automatically adjusts the rebuilding costs of your home to reflect changes in construction costs. Find out if your policy includes this coverage or if you have to purchase it separately.
  • Ordinance or Law coverage 
    If your home is badly damaged, you may be required to rebuild it to meet new (and often stricter) building codes. Ordinance or law coverage pays a specific amount toward these costs.
  • Water Back-Up  
    This coverage insures your property for damage from sewer or drain back-up. Most insurers offer it as an add-on to a standard policy.
  •  Flood Insurance 
    Standard home insurance policies provide coverage for disasters such as fire, lightning and hurricanes. They do not include coverage for flood (including flooding from a hurricane). Flood insurance is available through the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program (www.floodsmart.gov), but can be purchased from the same agent or company representative who provides you with your home or renters insurance. Make sure to purchase flood insurance for the structure of your house, as well as for the contents. Excess Flood Protection, which provides higher limits of coverage than the NFIP in the event of catastrophic loss by flooding, is available from some insurers. Keep in mind that there is a 30-day waiting period before the insurance is valid. 

2. Do I have enough insurance to replace all of my possessions?

Most homeowners insurance policies provide coverage for your personal possessions for approximately 50 percent to 70 percent of the amount of insurance you have on the structure of your home. So if you have $100,000 worth of coverage on the structure of your home, you would be covered for $50,000 to $70,000 worth of the contents of your home, depending on the policy.

The best way to determine if this is enough coverage is to conduct a home inventory, which details everything you own and the estimated cost to replace these items if they are stolen or destroyed by a disaster. To help with this task, you can download the I.I.I.’s free home inventory software [link]. Remember to keep your home inventory in a safe place, and take it with you if you need to evacuate your home during a disaster.

You can insure your possessions in two ways: by their actual cash value or their replacement cost. Make sure you review with your agent or company representative which type of coverage is best for your particular situation. 

  • Cash Value Policy 
    This coverage pays the cost of replacing your belongings minus depreciation.
  • Replacement Cost Policy 
    This coverage reimburses you for the full current cost of replacing your belongings.
    To illustrate the difference between the two types of policies, suppose, for example, a fire destroys a 10-year-old television set in your living room. If you have a replacement cost policy for the contents of your home, the insurance company will pay to replace the TV with a comparable new one. If you have an actual cash value policy, it will pay only a small percentage of the cost of a new TV set because the old TV has been used for 10 years and is now worth a lot less than its original cost. Some replacement cost policies specify that the new item be purchased by the insurance company as they may be able to purchase at a bulk or special rate. The price of replacement cost coverage is about 10 percent more than that of actual cash value.

3. Do I have enough coverage for additional living expenses?

Coverage for additional living expenses pays the extra costs of temporarily living away from your home if you can't live in it due to an insured disaster such as a hurricane. It covers hotel bills, restaurant meals, transportation and other living expenses incurred while your home is inaccessible or being rebuilt. It is important to note that it covers only those expenses that are over and above your regular living expenses, so it would not cover your mortgage, or regular trips to the grocery store. If you rent out part of your house, this coverage also reimburses you for the rent that you would have collected from your tenant if your home had not been destroyed.

Coverage for additional living expenses differs from company to company. Many policies provide coverage for about 20 percent of the insurance on your house. Some companies will sell you a policy that provides you with an unlimited amount of loss of use coverage, for a limited amount of time.

Make sure you know exactly how much coverage you have for additional living expenses, and whether there is a time limit. If the standard coverage is not adequate, it can generally be increased for an additional premium.

4. Do I have enough insurance to protect my assets?

Although not a key element in disaster planning, it is also important to have adequate liability protection. This covers you against lawsuits for bodily injury or property damage that you or your family members may cause to other people. It also pays for damage caused by pets. Liability insurance pays for both the cost of defending you in court and for any damages a court rules you must pay—up to the limits of your policy. Most homeowners insurance policies provide a minimum of $100,000 worth of liability insurance, but higher amounts are available.

It is important to purchase enough liability insurance to protect your assets. If the standard liability coverage in your homeowners policy is not sufficient, you may need an excess liability, or umbrella, policy, which provides additional coverage over and above what is covered in your home (and auto) insurance policy.



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Lightning Safety

Damage caused by lightning, such as fire, is covered by standard homeowners and business insurance policies. Some home and business insurance policies provide coverage for power surges that are the direct result of lightning striking a home or business. There is also coverage for lightning damage under the comprehensive portion of an auto insurance policy.

With the explosion in the number and value of consumer electronics in homes, such as flat screen TVs, home entertainment centers, multiple computers, gaming systems and other expensive devices, it is more important than ever to take precautions.

Preventing Losses

The following tips may protect homes and businesses against power surges and lightning strikes:

 

1.     Install a lightning protection system. A lightning protection system supplies structural protection by providing a specified path on which lightning can travel. When a building is equipped with a lightning protection system, the destructive power of the lightning strike is directed safely into the ground, leaving the structure and its contents undamaged. The system includes a lightning rod or air terminals at the top of the house that can be disguised to look like a weather vane and wires to carry the current down to grounding rods at the bottom of the house. According to the Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), the lightning protection system needs to be securely anchored to the roof; otherwise it may whip around in a storm and damage the building. So make sure to have a licensed electrician install your lightning rod and protection system.

2.     Use surge protectors. Today’s sensitive electronic equipment is particularly vulnerable to lightning. To assure the highest level of protection, UL-listed surge arrestors should be installed on electrical service panels. Installations typically include surge arrestors for the main electric panel, as well as incoming phone, cable, satellite and data lines. Surge arrestors protect against damaging electrical surges that can enter a structure via power transmission lines. By filtering and dissipating the harmful surges, arrestors prevent electrical fires and protect against electrical discharges that can damage a building's electrical system, computers, appliances and other systems. UL-listed transient voltage surge suppressors can also be installed to protect specific pieces of electronic equipment. Keep in mind that power strips offer little protection from electrical power surges.

3.     Unplug expensive electronic equipment. As an added precaution, unplug expensive electronic equipment such as TVs, computers and the like if you know a storm is approaching.



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Grilling safety

Americans enjoy more than three billion barbecues each year. But barbecuing can be dangerous, even deadly, if you are not careful.

The following tips can make your grilling experience safer:

1.     When ready to barbecue, protect yourself by wearing a heavy apron and an oven mitt that fits high up over your forearm.

2.     With gas grills, make sure the gas cylinder is always stored outside and away from your house. Make sure the valves are turned off when you are not using them. Check regularly for leaks in the connections using a soap and water mix that will show bubbles where gas escapes.

3.     Barbecue grills should be kept on a level surface away from the house, garage, landscaping, and most of all, children.

4.     For charcoal grills, only use starter fluids designed for those grills. Never use gasoline and use a limited amount of starter fluid. If the fire is too slow, rekindle with dry kindling and add more charcoal if necessary. Never add more liquid fuel or you could end up with a flash fire.

5.     Be sure to soak the coals with water before you put them in the trash.

6.     Always remember that grills remain hot long after you are through barbecuing.

 

In Case Of An Emergency

If you get burned, run cool water over the injury for 10–15 minutes. Never put butter or salve on burns because they will seal in the heat and cause further blistering. If you receive a serious burn the sooner you get medical attention the better.



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Lawnmower safety

Each year, approximately 75,000 people are injured seriously enough by lawnmowers to require emergency room medical treatment. Only a small percentage of the injuries are caused by mechanical failure; most are the result of human error.

Here are some tips to follow before and while mowing your lawn:

Become familiar with your mower.
Read the owner’s manual before using the mower for the first time. Note all safety and operating instructions. Learn the controls well enough to act instantly in an emergency and to stop the machine quickly.

Proper clothing is essential to protect your body from harm.
Always wear non-slip shoes instead of tennis shoes or sandals. Steel-toe safety footwear offers the most protection against the blade. Long pants help protect your legs from objects that may be thrown from under the mower. Use ear plugs to prevent hearing loss caused by exposure to the high noise levels.

Never leave a mower running unattended.
A mower left running unattended can be fascinating to a child. If the mower has an electric start, the key should never be left in the ignition.

Always start the mower outdoors.
Never operate a mower where carbon monoxide can collect, such as in a closed garage, storage shed or basement.

Police the area.
Before you satrt mowing, be sure the lawn is free of tree limbs, rocks, wires and other debris, which can get caught up in the blades.

The main source of danger is the blade.
To perform its task efficiently, the mower blade must be sharp and travel at a high speed. If a hand or foot gets under the mower while the engine is running, it can cause serious injury. Never attempt to unclog or work on a lawnmower while the engine is on.

Disconnect the sparkplug wire.
Any time it is necessary to reach under the mower, disconnect the spark plug wire to insure that the engine cannot start. It takes a little extra time, but not as long as it does to recover from a serious injury.

Check for frayed or cut wiring.
When using an electric lawnmower, wires can easily get cut by the blade. Keep an eye on the wiring as you move the mower and check for frayed or cut wiring every time you mow.



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Pool Safety

Whether you have a luxury in-ground pool, or plan to blow up an inflatable kiddie pool, it is important to consider the safety implications. 

There are an estimated 7.4 million swimming pools and five million hot tubs in residential or public use in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Furthermore, there are over 3,400 fatal unintentional drownings in the United States each year, with more than one out of five drowning victims being a child 14 years old or younger, according to the CDC.

Our agency suggests taking the following steps if you own or are considering purchasing a pool or spa:

  • Contact your town or municipality
    Each town will have its own definition of what constitutes a “pool”, often based on its size and the depth of the water. If the pool you are planning to buy meets the definition, then you must comply with local safety standards and building codes. This may include installing a fence of a certain size, locks, decks and pool safety equipment.
  • Call your insurance agent or company representative
    Let your insurance company know that you have a pool, since it will increase your liability risk. Pools are considered an “attractive nuisance” and it may be advisable to purchase additional liability insurance. Most homeowners policies include a minimum of $100,000 worth of liability protection. Pool owners, however, may want to consider increasing the amount to at least $300,000 or $500,000. You may also want to talk to your agent or company representative about purchasing an umbrella liability policy. For an additional premium of about $200 to $300 a year, you can get $1 million of liability protection over and above what you have on your home. If the pool itself is expensive, you should also have enough insurance protection to replace it in the event it is destroyed by a storm or other disaster. And, don’t forget to include the chairs, tables or other furniture around the pool deck.

If you have a pool, the following safety precautions are recommended:

1.     Install a four-sided barrier such as a fence with self closing gates to completely surround the pool. If the house forms the fourth side of the barrier, install alarms on doors leading to the pool area to prevent children from wandering into the pool or spa unsupervised. In addition to the fences or other barriers required by many towns, consider creating several “layers of protection” around the pool, in other words setting up as many barriers (door alarms, locks and safety covers) as possible to the pool area when not in use.

2.     Never leave small children unsupervised—even for a few seconds. And never leave toys or floats in the pool when not in use as they may prove to be a deadly temptation for toddlers trying to reach them who might then fall into the pool.

3.     Keep children away from pool filters and other mechanical devices as the suction force may injure them or prevent them from surfacing. In case of an emergency, know how to shut off these devices and clearly post this information so others can do so too.

4.     Ask if pool users know how to swim. Learners should be accompanied by a good swimmer. If you have children, have them take swimming lessons as early as possible. And, do not allow anyone to swim alone.

5.     Check the pool area regularly for glass bottles, toys or other potential accident hazards. Also, keep CD players, radios and other electrical devices away from pools or nearby wet surfaces.

6.     Limit alcohol use around the pool, as drinking alcoholic beverages negatively impacts balance, coordination and judgment—and its effects are further heightened by sun exposure and heat. The CDC reports that alcohol use is involved in up to half of adolescent and adult deaths associated with water recreation.

7.     Clearly post emergency numbers on the phone, in the event of an accident. Keep a first aid kit, ring buoys and reaching poles near the pool. You may also want to consider learning basic water rescue skills, including first aid and CPR training. For additional information, contact the American Red Cross.



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Protecting your bicycle from theft

The National Bike Registry estimates that one million bicycles are stolen each year in the U.S. and only a small percentage of them are ever recovered. The annual cost to American families is more than $200 million.
    
The following tips can help lower the risk of having your bike stolen:

1.     Lock your bike. 
Unlocked bicycles are an open invitation for thieves. Whenever you are not riding your bike, it should be locked, even when it’s in your garage.

2.     Don’t skimp when buying a lock. 
Most cable locks are easy to cut, so purchase the best lock you can afford.

3.     Lock your bike correctly. 
Lock both wheels and the frame to a post, pole or bike rack.

4.     Register your bike with local police. 
The police are able to recover bikes quickly if they are registered in advance and have the appropriate information including make, model, color and serial number. You can also register your bike with the National Bike Registry, a national database which helps recover stolen bikes.

Bicycles are covered under your homeowners or renters insurance. However, there is usually a $250 - $500 deductible. Your homeowners or renters policy also provides liability coverage in the event of a collision that results in injury to another person. There are no deductibles for liability claims.

Once you purchase a bicycle, keep the receipt for it and any accessories you add. Also, take photographs of the bike. Store these documents off-premises and alert your insurance professional to your new purchase.

If you own an expensive bike, consider purchasing a floater. This will provide more coverage than a homeowners or renters policy. For instance, in the event of an accident, a floater covers the cost of bike repairs. A floater costs approximately $9 for every $100 of the bike’s value and there are no deductibles.



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What is Umbrella Insurance?

Umbrella Insurance policies protect you from liability issues that go beyond the liability limits of standard insurance policies, such as your homeowner’s insurance, car insurance, etc. You are protected by the “umbrella” of this policy if a judgment against you exceeds the liability coverage limits of your primary insurance policy.



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What does Umbrella Insurance cover?

Most liability coverage arising out of your auto and homeowners policies only covers bodily injury and property damage to others. Umbrella policies will extend those limitations in most cases – but each policy is different.  Umbrella Insurance will cover losses that might otherwise be excluded from your auto or homeowners coverage or if you exceed the amount of liability coverage for the events that are already allowed under your regular insurance policies.



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Why should you purchase Umbrella Insurance?

Don’t think you need an umbrella policy? For a relatively low cost, you can protect your family’s assets (including your home) in the event that a judgment or legal costs exceed your primary coverage limits. This can quite easily happen if you (or your teenage driver) are involved in a serious multi-car accident. Your liability limits will go fast with several drivers and passengers involved. Frankly, we can’t think of many adults who shouldn’t have an umbrella policy.



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Does my homeowners or renters insurance cover flood damage?
Standard homeowners and renters insurance does not cover flood damage: Flood damage is excluded under standard homeowner’s policies, although it is covered under the comprehensive section of a standard auto insurance policy. Only a flood insurance policy, available to homeowners and renters through the federal government, will cover flood-related losses.

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Where do I get flood insurance?
Flood insurance is easy to purchase: Federal flood insurance policies can be purchased directly from an insurance agent or a company representative, and are available to communities that participate in the National Flood Insurance Program. Nearly 100 insurance companies write and service NFIP policies. Flood insurance is available on a replacement cost basis for the structure of the home and on an actual cash value basis for personal property.

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How much does flood insurance cost?
Flood insurance is affordable: The annual premium for a residential NFIP policy starts at $112 per year, according to FEMA, and increases according to the level of flood risk and amount of coverage needed. The maximum coverage amount is $250,000 for the structure of the home and $100,000 for the contents of the home.

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How quickly can I get flood insurance?
There is a 30-day waiting period before a flood insurance policy takes effect, so don’t wait until the last minute to purchase it.

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How do I know if I need flood insurance?
It is easy to assess your flood risk: More than 20,000 communities in all 50 U.S. states and territories voluntarily participate in the NFIP, encompassing nearly all properties in the nation’s high-risk flood zones. Enter your address in the FloodSmart.gov risk assessment tool to determine your level of flood risk.

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Can I get more flood insurance coverage than the NFIP offers?
Excess flood insurance policies add an extra layer of coverage: A growing number of private insurers have begun offering excess flood policies, intended to provide water damage protection to homeowners over and above the coverage provided by the NFIP policies.

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Do I really need flood insurance?
Without insurance, relief from floods primarily comes in the form of loans: If your community is declared a disaster area, no-interest or low-interest loans are usually made available by the federal government as part of the recovery effort. These loans are just that—loans—and must be paid back. Obtaining a flood insurance policy is the only way to protect yourself fully from the cost of flooding.

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Wiglesworth - Rindom Insurance Agency | 5300 W. Atlantic Ave; Suite 604 - Delray Beach, FL 33483 | 217 SW Akron Ave - Stuart, FL 34994 |
Phone: 561.637.2424
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