Keeping Your Home Safe During Vacation

Vacation is a time every family, couple or individual looks forward to. However, home invaders can easily ruin vacations. When a person gets a call from the authorities about such an incident, it often cuts the trip short. Leaving a home with broken windows or doors can only invite more trouble, so homeowners usually find themselves on the next flight home. Fortunately, there are several simple steps people can take to reduce the chance of a burglary in a vacant home.

1. Make sure all windows and doors are locked. Construct a checklist to make sure each door and window is checked twice before leaving. Every shutter, blind and drape should be drawn shut.

2. Make the home look occupied. There are several ways to go about this task. A cute note letting neighbors know the family is on vacation may seem like a good idea, but it is the same as putting an invitation on the door for burglars. Set timer switches for lamps to turn on and off randomly. If there is a DVR, set it to record shows randomly and turn the television on during the process.

3. Have a neighbor keep watch. Give a trusted neighbor a spare key. Have that individual pick up the mail every day and check on the home. If it is not possible to set timer switches for lamps, have the neighbor turn lights on and off randomly.

4. Make sure the garage is closed and locked. Leaving the door open is the same as putting a bright flashing sign in the front yard notifying burglars that the home is vacant. Keep the door locked. If there are windows, cover them up to keep burglars from seeing inside.

5. Never leave spare keys in the yard. That cute little rock disguised as a key holder may seem clever, but burglars are very familiar with every form of key enclosure. If a key must be left behind, make sure it is in the hands of a trusted neighbor.

6. Arrange for lawn care. Do not tell lawn care professionals that the home will be vacant. Pay them in advance, but instruct them to clean up well. Keeping the yard groomed and leaving some toys or accessories scattered around on the porch makes the home look occupied.

7. Discontinue regular delivery services. If newspapers, milk or other regular deliveries are arranged, put holds on them. Never leave notes on doors for delivery personnel.

8. Do not make vacation plans public knowledge. Never post plans to travel on social media sites. Do not tell any unfamiliar people in the neighborhood about the trip, and make sure local newspapers do not publicize any plans. Only trusted neighbors, close friends or family members should know about travel plans.

9. Have the mail held. If a trusted neighbor cannot pick up the mail every day, have it held. This can be arranged online or by visiting a local post office.

10. Invest in a home security system. This solution may not be compatible with every person’s budget. However, it is a good investment for those who can afford it. Many companies offer free installation as a promotional special. New technology allows homeowners to monitor activities from the Internet or their smart phones. Another option is to hire a house sitter. If this is the chosen option, make sure the individual knows self-defense techniques and has adequate means to practice them.

How to Make a Car Unattractive to Thieves

The rate of car theft is so high today that it would be a Fortune 500 company if stock analyst firms measured it. Although thieves may not be the most upstanding citizens in society, they have excellent organizational skills. Discriminating thieves will not just break into any random car to look around. When they make the effort to steal, they make sure it is worth their time and the risk of getting caught. In many cases, they may be after the vehicle itself instead of the contents of it. What they are after is economic gain, so they choose carefully. Unfortunately, people who own vehicles that are popular to buy usually also own automobiles that are popular targets for car thieves. This information may sound discouraging to many car owners. However, it is important to take the necessary steps to prevent theft.

To be better prepared and protected, vehicle owners need to know what to do to combat organized car thieves. The steps to better protection are not very difficult. The first goal should be to make the vehicle a difficult target. When thieves do a quick assessment on a car, they are likely to pass up one that is better protected. From their perspectives, they want vehicles they can quickly break into and take. There are several simple things car owners can do to make their vehicles less attractive to car thieves.

1. Never leave the keys in the ignition. Do not leave the keys sitting on the seat or in the glove box. Keep the keys in hand while the car is not occupied. More than 10 percent of stolen vehicles are taken because the keys are left in the car or in the ignition. Never leave the car running unattended, and do not leave children in it.

2. Lock the vehicle. About 50 percent of stolen vehicles are taken because they were left unlocked. Modern locks are difficult to pry, and thieves prefer unlocked doors. Be sure the windows are rolled up completely.

3. Do not hide a spare set of keys in or under the car. If this trick is so popular that there are special magnetic key holders in every auto supply store, rest assured that thieves know about them. Many car thieves watch their targets, so they may know exactly where to look for an extra key.

4. Choose attended lots over unattended areas. Vehicle thieves despise witnesses, so they try to avoid them at all costs.

5. Park under plenty of light. If a parking lot is dark and unattended, find a safer location. Thieves love places where it is difficult to be seen.

6. Limit key access in attended lots. Not all parking lot attendants are upstanding citizens, so it is important to be wary of them. When handing the keys over, only give attendants the keys to the door and the ignition. If the vehicle has a trunk with the same key as the door, have one of them changed. By doing this, vehicle owners can put important items in the trunk without worrying about lot attendants stealing them. Make sure any backseat access to the trunk is restricted. Always make sure the battery, spare tire and regular tires are in tact after returning to the car.

7. Never leave valuables in plain view. Leaving a purse or valuable item on a seat is like leaving a steak on the porch when there are stray dogs nearby. Valuable items are just bait for thieves.

8. Use the garage. Vehicle owners who have garages should use them. Thieves are not likely to want to break into a garage and a vehicle. They want something quicker and easier. Be sure to lock the garage and the vehicle.

9. Never leave the title or registration in the car. It is best to carry registration proof in a wallet that will not be left in the vehicle. Keep the title at home in a safe place. Thieves can use these documents to sell stolen vehicles.

10. Use the emergency brake. This increases car safety, and thieves will have a harder time trying to tow it.

Understanding Insurance Needs for a New Car

New cars bring the need for auto insurance, and liability coverage alone will not be adequate. Although it may satisfy the state’s legal minimum requirements, it will not be enough to compensate for most accidents. In most cases, vehicle owners have unpaid loans to think about, so repairs are almost impossible to pay for. Even spare parts are expensive if they are available at all. As soon as a new car leaves the showroom or lot, its value depreciates considerably. For this reason, the majority of vehicle owners feel safer with insurance that covers accidents, theft and natural disasters. Consider the following tips when looking for coverage.

1. Shop Around
People who are serious about buying a new car should start comparing various policies before signing the papers and taking the keys. The first step is to obtain quotes from several companies. These quotes are free, and they offer a reasonable estimate of what premium amounts will be. Some insurers may have cheaper rates than others. Several factors contribute to determining a premium, so it is very important to shop around.

2. Pay Attention To Comprehensive & Collision Insurance
Since people like to save money any way they can, they often skip extra coverage beyond the state-required liability minimums. Comprehensive coverage protects vehicle owners form a wide array of incidents aside from collisions. Natural disasters and several other calamities are covered. There are usually add-on policies available for hail damage or other specific events. Collision insurance provides money for damages resulting from an accident. The funds are available whether the vehicle owner was at fault or not. When compared with the cost of paying for accidents upfront, insurance is very affordable. For example, one accident where a person is at fault and two other injured parties are involved could easily cost over $100,000. If either of the injured parties sustained permanent injuries that require lifelong treatments, the at-fault driver could be in a financial mess for a long time.

3. Think About GAP Insurance
Many new car owners prefer this type of coverage. It provides funds for the difference between the vehicle’s market value and the unpaid loan amount. If a vehicle is lost or stolen, there will be adequate compensation. This is a great choice for people who own expensive luxury cars or have sizable loans to repay. When the amount of money owed is higher than the vehicle’s market value, GAP insurance is a good choice.

Preventing Water Damage & Dealing With Flooding

When spring arrives each year, many homeowners are reminded that flood damage is not covered under a homeowners policy. However, water damage is covered under a homeowners insurance policy. It is important to understand the difference between water damage and flooding. Water damage is defined as damage that comes downward from the top. Although this is not completely accurate in all situations, it is a good rule to remember. If the water is above ground level, the incident is probably covered. However, there is an exception. If damage is caused by a pipe that is letting water drip slowly into the home, it is not covered.

When it comes time to file a claim, it is important to know how the water damage occurred. To prevent further destruction, it is important to clean up the water immediately. Take pictures first, soak up the water and try to dry the area. Although water damage can leave surfaces looking unsightly, neglected areas can leave behind mold with the moisture. Mold is harmful and can ruin sinks, walkways, walls and carpets quickly.

Anyone who has ever tried to clean black mold off of a bathroom surface knows just how important prevention is. Check caulking and sealant around tubs and sinks frequently. If it starts to crack or appears reddish, reapply new sealant. Keep water off the floors by using bathmats. After taking a shower, hang the bathmat up to dry. It is also important to check pipes frequently. A tiny leak can result in thousands of dollars in damages. Even minor plumbing work is not something everyone can do. It may seem easy, but it is very precise work. Anyone who does not have experience should enlist the help of professionals.

Water damage cannot always be prevented. However, homeowners can take several steps to greatly reduce the likelihood of damage by following the suggestions in the previous paragraphs. It is also helpful to check the roof frequently. Water seeping into the walls from the roof can create entire colonies of harmful mold. Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent flooding in some areas. People who have beautiful riverfront properties enjoy some great views, but they may also face the risk of severe flooding. Anyone who lives in a waterfront area or a region where flash floods and rain are common should look into specialized flood insurance. In comparison with the cost of compensating for flood damages upfront, the cost of a specialized policy is very affordable. To obtain this valuable coverage, discuss the details with an agent.

How to Fight & Prevent Mold Growth in the Home

It is important for homeowners to take the right steps to prevent mold and mildew growing in the home. If there is already mold growing, it is important to remove it immediately. Moisture in the basement, attic, kitchen or bathroom creates an ideal place for mold to grow and spread. If mildew is left untreated, it can ruin furniture, fabric and walls. It can also trigger allergic reactions and other physical illnesses in family members. Battling mold growth is an ongoing challenge, but there are a few helpful steps homeowners can take to keep their living spaces free of this annoying fungus.

1. Find the cause of any moisture buildup or leak. To find leaks and moisture buildup, look over the entire house frequently. Be sure to look in places that do not see much foot traffic. For example, closets, empty rooms and corners are all places homeowners should check. Cracks, crevices and folds of drapes are common hiding place for mildew. If there is moisture, find out where it is coming from.

2. After finding a leak, patch it up immediately. Leaks that originate outdoors should be treated when the house is dry. Windows, roofs and exterior cracks should be fixed as quickly as possible. When improper ventilation is found to worsen the problem, consider purchasing air conditioning units, exhaust fans or dehumidifiers. If necessary, install extra insulation.

3. Remove mold or mildew from any surfaces. If there is mold in the carpet, vacuum it up. When doing this, use the brush attachment. This may not be the best way to clean mold if the vacuum itself is difficult to clean. Many newer bag-free models are easy to clean, but older vacuums with bags may hold smells for a long time. Another option is to use a stiff brush to remove mold from carpeted surfaces.

4. Clean the affected area well. Bleach is the best chemical to use for battling mold and mildew. After cleaning away the fungal growth, use a solution of one-fourth cup of bleach to one gallon of water. Never use hot water with bleach. While cleaning, be sure to wear rubber gloves. Use a sponge, mop or spray bottle to distribute the solution throughout the affected area. Rinse the surface with fresh cool water. Set up fans to dry the area thoroughly.

5. Use mold-resistant paint. After cleaning mold or mildew from a wall, it is best to paint over the area. Choose a mold-resistant paint to prevent future incidents. This paint can be found at any major home improvement store or paint retailer. There are also some mold-resistant wood stains available.

6. Air out moldy furniture and fabrics. Furniture, upholstery and drapes that cannot be put in the washing machine should be put outside to air out. Sun exposure will also help, so try to leave them out during the brightest hours of the day.

7. Wash fabrics to remove mold or mildew. Any clothing, curtains, bedding or other fabrics that have mold or mildew should be washed in hot water. Use laundry bleach in the wash cycle. Be sure to follow each item’s washing instructions. If it cannot be washed in hot water, take it to a professional cleaning company that specializes in mold removal.

The best bet for battling mold is proper preventative techniques. Following the first three steps in this paragraph on a regular basis is a great start. Be sure to keep the house properly ventilated at all times. Rugs, towels and other items that get wet frequently should be washed regularly. After using bath rugs, hang them on towel racks or over the shower to prevent mildew buildup on the bottom surface. If bathrooms or rooms frequently exposed to moisture have carpet, consider replacing the carpet with tile. 

New Technologies Make Vehicles Safer than Ever

Many factors contribute to the longer average life spans of today’s world, and car safety is one of the major factors. With new advances in safety features, less people die in accidents today than they did several decades ago. Cars that drive automatically may seem futuristic, but so did many of today’s features several decades ago. Car safety technology is advancing rapidly. The following points provide some examples.

Adaptive Cruise Control
In the past, cruise control features simply set a desired speed. However, a driver paying attention to something else could still slam into the back of another vehicle. With new technology, there are sensors installed in many vehicles’ cruise control features to apply the brakes when drivers get too close. If a collision is sensed, the brakes will be applied hard. The seat belts will also tighten. This is not an invitation for drivers to give in to distractions, but it could prevent such mistakes from costing motorists their lives.

Tire Pressure Monitoring
Many vehicles are now required to have tire pressure monitoring systems. Wheel sensors alert drivers with an audible noise or panel light when pressure becomes too low.

Rollover Prevention
Many vehicles have systems for electronic stability control or preparation actions. New advances go beyond these features. If a rollover is sensed, the brakes will be applied. The throttle will also be automatically adjusted to help maintain control.

Blind Spot Detector
With this new technology, drivers are alerted when there are objects or vehicles in their blind spots. The feature is usually enacted when a turn signal goes on. The driver is alerted by a flashing light on the dash, a light in the mirror, a seat vibration or a steering wheel vibration. The detection system is only for short ranges.

Lane Departure Warning
This feature is similar to the blind spot detector. However, it determines an approaching vehicle’s speed. When a driver changes lanes, there is a warning signal. If the system detects the vehicle going over the lines on the road, it will also initiate a warning for this.

Emergency Brake Assistance
Emergency brake assistance is not the same as an anti-lock brake feature. This new technology allows the vehicle to sense a panic stop. When it senses a stop, additional brake pressure is applied to shorten the amount of time it takes to come to a complete stop. In some vehicles, this system works in conjunction with stability control or cruise control features.

Occupant-Sensitive Dual Airbags
Since each person is different from the next, low-risk airbags are being created to accommodate those differences. They can be used many times and have occupant sensors for deployment. In addition to sensing an occupant’s presence, these devices also sense odd positions. This means deployment will different for someone who is bending over to reach the radio versus a person who is sitting up straight.

Adaptive Headlights
Thermal imaging cameras and infrared lamps are helpful for night vision. New technology allows the vehicle’s controls to change the direction and height of the beams. There is also a cockpit display, which shows images far away that are hard to see.

Emergency Response
There are several new enhanced emergency response features in the latest vehicles. One system turns off the interior lights, shuts off the fuel and unlocks the doors after the airbags deploy. Some systems also turn on the hazard lights or disconnect the alternator and battery terminal. New systems may also include GPS data for emergency response units to use for locating the vehicle.

Rear Camera
These cameras protect children or pets from accidents in the driveway. Several unfortunate reports of people backing over pets or kids in recent years prompted this feature’s development. When the vehicle is in reverse, a camera appears on the dash or on a mirror, and it generates an image of everything behind the vehicle. The image range includes the ground, so small pets will be noticed. This camera feature is also helpful for hooking up trailers or parking. 

Hurricane Preparation

Hurricanes are destructive and potentially deadly storms that can cause a tremendous amount of property damage and, occasionally, people’s lives. Longtime residents of coastal Florida, the Carolinas, Texas, Mississippi,Alabama and Louisiana are familiar with the drill – but there are always new people and always procrastinators every year. Hurricane preparedness takes time! Don’t leave it to the last minute. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Hurricane season is normally June through November. But that doesn’t mean the occasional storm can’t come early or late. Don’t get complacent.

  • Maintain situational awareness. Keep an eye and ear on national and local media, and monitor developing weather systems.
  • Track the projected path of storms, using websites like National Hurricane Center(www.nhc.noaa.gov).
  • Do a risk assessment for your home. Assess vulnerability to storm surge, wind damage, and flooding. A Category 5 hurricane could result in storm surge of 30 feet above ground level in some areas. You can find a storm surge risk map at https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/surge/risk/.
  • Plan on at least a three day wait before substantial government assistance is in place. FEMA can’t put its trucks and trailers in the direct path of the storm. It takes at least three days for state and FEMA resources to be put in place.
  • Cut down any large trees overhanging your house and garage. The tree could fall, taking out part of your house.
  • Expect a run on hurricane supplies in the last 48 hours before the storm. Buy your batteries, bottled water, fuel cans, generators and other supplies before you need them.
  • Invest in hardened windows, shutters and doors.
  • Failing that, buy your plywood well ahead of time, along with a drill and screws to board up your windows.
  • Obey evacuation orders. If you receive an evacuation order, you are getting it because the authorities know they will not be able to reach you in an emergency. Many people in coastal communities are killed by hurricanes – or vanish forever – when they ignore orders to evacuate.
  • Keep your homeowners or renters coverage updated with the current replacement value of your home and belongings.
  • Inventory your belongings. You can use sites like: Lockboxer.com, Knowyourstuff.org (a creation of the Insurance Information Institute) and Stuffsafe.com. These resources are free or very low cost, and will facilitate compensation from your insurance company if your home is damaged or destroyed by a weather event.
  • Keep fuel in your car. Many times, gas stations run out of fuel in the day or so before a storm. If you can’t fuel your vehicle, you can’t evacuate. And you may not be able to function.
  • Get a functional battery-operated radio. Don’t count on cell phones working for a number of days after a storm.
  • You may be without power for as long as two weeks and sometimes longer. Keep nonperishables, batteries and flashlights.
  • Keep your generator outdoors. Every year, people die from carbon monoxide poisoning because they moved their generator indoors to protect it from theft.
  • Understand your generator’s capacity. Generators have a limited load. This is especially important to know when you start up electrical items connected to the generator, because startups cause a spike in electrical demand.
  • Know your neighbors. Your neighbors may have a harder time preparing or evacuating from storms than you do, because of frailty, disability, young children, poverty or lack of reliable transportation.
  • Look out for family members of emergency responders. Police, fire department, National Guard members and medical personnel often have to concentrate on preparing for the mission, and have less time to attend to their own homes and families.
  • Know your community emergency management contacts. You can find an online listing at https://www.ready.gov/community-state-info
  • Don’t underestimate tropical storms. Just because it’s not a hurricane doesn’t mean it can’t do a lot of damage locally. Tropical storms can dump as much rain as a hurricane.

By understanding these guidelines, you can be an asset to your community in the event of a hurricane, instead of a drain on emergency resources. You will also have an easier time getting reimbursed by your insurance company for any damage done, and be doing your part to keep overall hurricane insurance premiums down.

Taxation of Repairs versus Improvements

Repairing versus improving a rental property considerations go beyond initial cost considerations; it also can reduce or increase your tax burden. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) offers guidelines to determine whether work done to real estate rental property is considered a repair or an improvement.


Repairs are defined as something that keeps property in working condition. Calling Handyman Fred out to fix the abovementioned dishwasher is considered a repair to the IRS. Repairs are a business expense and are fully deductable in the tax year the repair was made. Handyman Fred’s $100 charge for labor is $100 off your tax burden.


Improvements are generally defined as something that increases the overall value of the property. Examples include:
• replacement
• expansion/new construction
• substantial rebuilding
• restoration

It is considered a capital outlay by the IRS, something done “having a useful life substantially beyond the tax year” according to Terry Myers, J.D. and Dee DeScherer, J.D. The IRS considers repairing the broken dishwasher to be a maintenance expense. But Ripping out the old dishwasher and installing a new appliance is considered an improvement. Handyman Fred charged you $500 for the dishwasher and installation. That $500 gets added to your tax basis in the property. Under MACRS rules, you normally depreciate the dishwasher over 5 years. Over your next five tax years, you are able to take $100 off per year off of your taxable income. (Accelerated guidelines not applied in this scenario).

Which Option to Choose?

Are you going to repair or are you going to improve your property? First, reflect on how long you are going to own this property. If you’re planning to sell, consider the following questions:

• Will you own it long enough to depreciate the full value of the improvement?
• Will the new market value substantially increase your capital gains taxes?
• Will you roll the property over into a 1031 exchange to avoid paying the capital gains taxes?

If you are planning to keep the property,

• Will the repair hold up long enough to keep from being a headache to you and your tenant?
• Does not replacing the item cause additional problems? For example, will a broken dishwasher cause water damage to the subfloor, costing you even more in the long run?
• How does does the cost of repair or maintenance compare to the replacement/improvement cost?

Note: Keep meticulous records and receipts for all work done to your property, whether repair or improvements. Every dollar you spend in improving the property adds to your tax basis in the property, which can pay off handsomely later when you eventually sell it. Contract with a tax attorney or a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Let the professionals do the work you hire them for: By hiring a professional you are better able to correctly categorize the work done to your property and therefore take advantage of all possible deductions and depreciations allowed you by law.

How to Avoid Colliding With a Moose or Deer

Many insurance claims are filed each year as the result of collisions with deer or moose. Although some accidents may happen regardless of precautions, most can be avoided with heightened awareness. Follow these tips to avoid a collision with a moose or deer.

1. Pay attention to the warning signs. Waterways, forested areas and plains marked with deer or moose signs are the prime places to encounter these wild creatures. It is important to understand that they are more likely to appear during certain months. If it is hunting season, keep in mind that startled deer may run across the roads more frequently. They also run more when there are fires nearby, so be aware of any wildfires in the area.

2. Travel at a safe speed. When approaching curved roadways or areas with more hills, slow down. Drive slower at night. Keep in mind that it takes several seconds to stop completely when traveling at higher speeds. Slower speeds can reduce the likelihood of a collision, and slower speeds also lessen the impact of an unavoidable collision.

3. Drive defensively at all times. Practice stopping the car within the length of the headlight beams. Do this in a safe place with little to no traffic. Always drive at a speed where this is possible to do at night. Be ready to react quickly, and always have a plan for what to do. For example, if a deer or moose stops in the middle of the road, brake quickly without swerving. Many accidents happen because people swerve into trees or other cars instead of actually hitting an animal.

4. Scan the landscape frequently. During daylight hours, the key to preventing a collision with a moose or deer is spotting it before it reaches the road. These creatures often run through fields in the late fall or winter months, so they may blend in better with the dead vegetation. Always watch for movement, and be prepared to stop suddenly.

5. Use the horn when needed. If a deer or moose is running near the road, honk the horn. In most cases, the animal will freeze or move away from the noise.

6. Take the proper steps after a collision. Driving defensively is the best way to prevent a collision, but it is important to know what to do if a collision occurs. First, pull over to the side of the road. Put on the hazard lights and make sure the other passengers in the vehicle are conscious. Treat injured passengers accordingly. It is important to keep a first aid kit available in the vehicle. Put road flares out if they are available.
If the animal is dead and lying in the road, try to angle the vehicle enough that the headlights cast light on it. This may help prevent other drivers from hitting the animal. Never approach an injured animal. It may gore, kick or attack a human out of fear. Stay in the vehicle, call the police and wait for help to arrive. If anyone is injured to the point of needing medical care immediately, call 911.

Addition Tips To Consider
Although these six tips are the most important to follow, it is also helpful to know more about deer and moose behaviors. Many of these animals travel together, so there may be more following what appears to be a lone animal. Rest assured that if one deer or moose is seen alone, there are more within one mile. Even if a deer or moose is spotted off in the distance, slow down immediately to enhance alertness and safety.

In some states, oncoming motorists will alert other drivers of dangers in the road ahead. To do this, they usually blink their headlights quickly once or twice. If this happens, slow down and be alert. Tired drivers are more likely to hit deer, so pull over and rent a motel if sleepiness is overwhelming. Do not count on deer whistles to be effective. They have often fallen short of the promises printed on their packaging. These whistles will not work with moose. Keep these tips in mind to avoid submitting an insurance claim. 

Preparing Your Home for Disaster

When it’s hurricane season in the Gulf states and Hawaii, it’s also wildfire season throughout the west. Earthquakes are always in season, and flooding never goes out of style. Are you ready for the next disaster, whether natural or man-made? A few inexpensive preparations you can do in just a few hours can pay big dividends when disaster strikes.

Designate a Rally Point. Disaster may strike while your family is separated.  Cell phones may not work. Work out a plan to meet somewhere safe in the event of a disaster. Explain it to your children. You can even practice it with them. Designate a back-up rally point, other than home or school, in case these obvious locations are inaccessible or dangerous.

Pack Go-Bags. These are bags pre-packed with three days’ change of clothing, non-perishable food and water, hygiene supplies, and key insurance documents. You can keep them in the trunk of your car or in an easily-accessible place in your home or garage. The idea is to be able to grab them in seconds and get away.

Get a Hazard Assessment. Many homeowners’ insurance companies will help you with a free or very inexpensive on-site inspection to assess your home’s vulnerability to common hazards, including water damage from flooding, wind damage, theft, or fires. Contact your agent and take advantage of these programs.

Get a generator. Don’t count on being able to get one when there’s already a hurricane warning afoot or the disaster has already struck. Buy your generator ahead of time. Read the manual and understand how to use it, and to properly plan the voltage loads so as not to overload the generator. And never operate the generator indoors. Also, don’t attempt to plug your generator’s output into a wall socket to power your house. This can be extremely hazardous.

Conduct an insurance audit. Sit down with your agent and go over your existing coverage, deductibles and exclusions. Your home may have appreciated in value since you last reviewed your coverage. Ensure your coverage reflects the actual replacement value of your home and other valuables.

Inventory your belongings. If your home is destroyed by a tornado, fire or flood, many of your valuables will likely be damaged beyond repair, and perhaps beyond recognition. To ensure prompt reimbursement for your lost or destroyed property, it’s important to inventory and photograph each valuable item. Tip: Don’t store the data at home – you don’t want your data destroyed by the same disaster that destroyed your home and property.

Get a battery-powered radio. Don’t count on having electrical power for some time after a severe disaster. In some instances, you could be without power for weeks. Don’t forget batteries.

Fill water bottles. Keep a store of fresh bottled water on hand – at least three days’ supply is optimal. That’s typically how long it takes the Federal Emergency Management Administration to move bulk supplies into a disaster-affected area. You may also consider filling your bathtub and water jugs with tap water. Be prepared to boil drinking water, even if you don’t have gas or electric power. You may need Sterno or propane stoves to do this.

Visit Ready.gov. This is the portal for the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA). The site contains a number of useful tips, checklists and resources for disaster preparation. FEMA also provides a number of tools to help you prepare and educate your children as well. Different states also have their own websites that contain state contact numbers and resources. The state government resources usually contain additional information that pertains more specifically to hazards common in these states. That is, California residents will find more information on earthquake preparedness and not so much on hurricanes, while Florida residents will find a great deal on hurricane preparation and not much on earthquakes.  Midwesterners and Southerners will find additional information on tornados, and northern states will devote more information to snow and ice-related events. 

Usage-Based Auto Insurance Benefits Drivers & Insurers

Big changes are coming to the auto insurance industry. These changes will result in enhanced pricing sophistication, increased profitability, better control of claim costs and differentiation between policyholder services and products. In addition to these changes, the outcome will result in a much better ability to improve the behavior of drivers. That will lead to a great reduction in the frequency and severity of accidents for policyholders.

Many larger insurance companies are already utilizing applications for usage-based auto coverage, which is commonly referred to as UBI. Midsize and smaller companies are expected to follow suit. Since the benefits of this new technology will be phenomenal, insurers are jumping on board with the changes quickly.

Although the long-term benefits are attractive, the main benefit is to obtain information that eliminates guesswork. This means insurers can identify drivers’ risks. Easier identification means insurers can measure the risks, and they can then take steps to reduce those risks. The benefits are not only for insurers. Drivers who have low-risk profiles and impeccable records can certainly benefit, but even drivers with tarnished records will favor the change. This is because it affords them the opportunity to learn safer driving behavior, which will lower their rates over time.

The following points sum up all of the benefits for drivers:

– Lowered frequency of accidents.
– Lowered severity of accidents.
– Better tracking technology to recover stolen vehicles.
– Quicker emergency response times after accidents occur.
– Less driving, energy consumption, pollution and traffic congestion.
– Better accuracy in deciding which party is at fault during claim settlements.

However, it is also important to look at the challenges this technology brings. Storing information, transmitting, analyzing and scrubbing the large amounts of data can be a tremendous task. While there are programs that cost less, the UBI technology can still be costly. In addition to this, products must be specifically designed to make sense from an economic point of view. This is true for policyholders and carriers.

So, what is in store in the future? Although there are obstacles to overcome, consumers’ acceptance of UBI has been very promising. This is especially true for consumers who have expressed the desire to improve their abilities on the road. If they want to demonstrate that they have learned how to drive responsibly, they may do so to obtain a lower rate. Insurers acting now to adopt UBI will be in the best positions for bringing and keeping the best customers. However, insurers choosing to enter the game later will have less selection and more struggles. 

Insurance & Lawsuit Considerations for Homeowners with Dogs

More than 30 percent of homeowners insurance claims result from dog bites. In 2011, insurers paid out more than $450 million for dog bite claims. Research shows that the average payout for a dog bite claim was about $29,000 in 2011. That number reflects more than a 12 percent increase since 2010. Between the years of 2003 and 2011, the average cost of a dog bite claim increased by more than 50 percent. This increase was due to rising medical costs and larger settlement award policies. However, awards have risen far above the normal rate of inflation. This information should have every homeowner who owns a dog concerned.

There are three types of laws regarding dog owner liability, but not every type of law applies in each state.

One Bite Rule
In some states, a dog’s first biting incident does not mean an owner will be held liable. However, the second incident will not be excused. Owners will be liable for dogs showing vicious propensity, which means such dogs repeatedly show aggressive behavior and try to bite others. Although some states still allow one bite to go unpunished, many states are doing away with this rule and holding owners liable for all incidents.

Dog Bite Statute
This law states that dog owners are liable for all injuries or damages resulting from a dog bite, and provocation of the dog is not considered.

Negligence Laws
Some states rule that dog owners are liable only if they are careless in controlling the dog. For example, a person who is bitten after entering a yard uninvited may not have a case, but a neighbor who is bitten when the owner is present and fails to restrain the dog will have a case. In almost every state, dog owners are not liable for injuries of trespassers who are bitten. This is especially true if the owner displays signs warning others that a dog is on the premises.

When owners are liable for dog bites, they must reimburse the injured party for lost wages, medical bills, property damage and pain or suffering related to the bite. Although some people buy dogs to protect their properties, security systems and deadbolt locks can be less expensive. In addition to this, these features can actually lower insurance premiums.

This does not mean homeowners should take their beloved pets to the pound. There are ways to stay properly insured and avoid costly legal battles. Most liability policies cover between $100,000 and $300,000, so homeowners are responsible for any amount beyond that. Keep in mind that the no-fault medical coverage is also awarded. Although most insurers are willing to work with dog owners, they will issue a higher premium after the first biting incident. In some cases, the dog may be excluded from coverage. Some policies exclude certain breeds that are known to have vicious tendencies. Not all insurers will drop the dog, but some may require dog owners to take behavior classes with their pets.

Since many lawsuits exceed the maximum insurance allowance, it is best for homeowners with dogs to buy an umbrella policy. This type of insurance is similar to a safety net. When the maximum benefits in the homeowners policy are spent, the umbrella policy covers additional expenses up to a certain amount. Umbrella liability usually ranges between $1 million and $10 million. In addition to being properly insured with homeowners and umbrella policies, it is wise to take steps to prevent dog bites. The following tips are helpful:

– Purchase a muzzle for the dog to wear when introducing it to new people. Many pet stores sell muzzles that flex enough for the dog to drink water, breathe or vomit, so they are not dangerous to the animal.

– Keep the dog confined while guests are present. Dogs can stay in crates, other rooms or outdoors.

– Never leave the dog alone with visitors’ children. Dogs think differently than humans and may bite fearful children or timid adults.

– Enroll the dog in professional behavior training and socialization classes.

– Have the dog spayed or neutered to reduce hormones related to aggression.

How Reckless Driving Affects Insurance & How to Get a Better Premium

Inattention, driving under the influence of alcohol and excessive speeding are all reckless behaviors that have bad outcomes. Such drivers ultimately cause accidents, which may end the lives of innocent people. In addition to the expenses and punishments stemming from legal trouble, reckless drivers also experience higher auto insurance rates. Before this happens, their licenses may be suspended for a period of time. To have a license reinstated, a driver must usually take classes and pay a fee. Auto insurance following such a reinstatement is much more expensive than traditional rates.

When auto insurance companies calculate premiums, the most important issue they research is the customer’s driving history. Speeding tickets and auto accidents usually stay on a person’s record for more than three years. Age, gender, driving frequency, parking location, car type, desired coverage and credit history are also considered. Keep in mind that insurers use a different type of credit scoring than lenders do.

Although people do not have control over their age or gender, there are several other ways to keep rates down and prevent reckless driving. Safe driving is the key to lowering rates. To practice safe driving, policyholders should refresh their knowledge of road rules. Free booklets are available at any DMV office or online. Drivers should also avoid speeding and try to stay out of accidents. Driving defensively is the best way to avoid an accident. One important thing every driver should do is avoid cell phone use in the car. Texting, talking without a hands-free set and studying digital maps while driving can lead to accidents. Every driver should remember that reckless driving is not only expensive but also deadly.

Thousands of people die in vehicle crashes each year. In about 20 percent of cases, speeding is a factor. About 15 percent of crashes result from driving under the influence, and almost 10 percent are due to inattention. If drivers feel their abilities are lacking, it is best to enroll in driving classes. After receiving a ticket, there are also several steps to lowering insurance costs.

Request higher deductibles. For collision and comprehensive coverage, a higher deductible will mean a lower premium. It also means paying more upfront for an accident, but that is a good incentive for drivers to be more careful. Raising a deductible may help a driver save up to 40 percent.

Combine auto and homeowners insurance policies. Buying a homeowners or renters policy from the same company issuing the auto insurance results in a discount. If more than one vehicle is insured, there may be an additional discount.

Lower coverage for older cars. Some people have one or more older cars that are rarely used or just collect dust. If this is the case, lower the coverage for these vehicles. Every state requires liability coverage, so be sure to stay within the state’s minimum requirements.

Ask about discounts for low mileage. Insurers may offer discounts for drivers who do not drive excessively. People who carpool to work usually also qualify for this discount.

Improve and maintain credit. Insurers use a special formula for calculating the credit score they use, but a good FICO score and good credit history mean a better insurance score.

Ask about group insurance. Many insurers offer group discounts for drivers who obtain insurance from their employers’ plans.

Insurance companies have different discounts, and some companies have more offers than others. It is best to ask an agent about any other available offers. For example, some students qualify for discounts when they maintain a good grade point average. To enjoy a better rate, be sure to follow these tips and practice safe driving at all times. 

Why Hurricane Deductibles are so Important

People who live in coastal states need to consider their hurricane deductibles, which may be found on a homeowners insurance policy. This type of deductible determines how much policyholders must pay upfront before the insurer picks up the rest of the tab. Hurricane deductibles are listed in clear wording on a homeowners policy.

Hurricane season starts in June each year and lasts until November. Although it is best for homeowners to check their deductibles before the start of this season, it is good to also check it anytime there are questions. Every coastal homeowner should know what their policy includes. Although hurricane coverage used to be a separate policy, it is now included in most homeowners contracts in 18 coastal states.

Typical fire, disaster and theft deductibles are listed as flat dollar amounts. However, a hurricane deductible is usually listed as a percentage. The amount may vary between one percent and five percent of the insured value of a home. This means a policy with a five percent deductible on a home insured for $600,000 would require the policyholder to pay $30,000 upfront before insurance benefits kick in. It is also important for homeowners to understand when their policy benefits begin.

Deductibles are triggered by specific criteria. First, the National Weather Service must issue a classification of a Category One storm making landfall. Insurers may also have other criteria. Many companies have criteria for severity classifications. Deductibles vary by insurer and state. Since policies differ, homeowners should check their own policies. It is never safe to assume that a policy is identical or even similar to a friend’s. If there are questions about the deductible, what it covers and how to find the wording, it is best to discuss these concerns with an agent.

Insured homeowners in coastal areas may have the option to pay higher premiums in exchange for a set deductible. This means a dollar amount will be assigned instead of a percentage. This often depends on how close the dwelling is to the ocean. In high-risk areas, many insurers will not sell a homeowners policy without the inclusion of hurricane coverage. To find out if there is a flat amount available in exchange for a higher premium, discuss the option with an agent. It is important for homeowners to understand what hurricane coverage is and where it came from.

In 1992, the famous Hurricane Andrew brought more than $15 billion in insurance losses. As the most expensive storm in history for insurance companies, it sparked the creation of catastrophe-risk computer modeling. This showed that homeowners were vulnerable to extreme risks in coastal areas. Insurers also had trouble getting insurance for their businesses, which is called reinsurance. By requiring policyholders to bear a fair share of the costs, insurance companies were able to get insured again and offer coverage to consumers.

Notify an Agent Before Starting a Remodeling Project

In the upcoming year, home improvement activity is expected to rise. For those who plan to be a part of this rising number, it is important to have the right type of insurance and the right amount of coverage. Insurance should be in place during and after construction. Anyone considering a remodeling project should contact an agent before the process begins. Many people must alter their coverage or add more. Waiting until the project starts or is finished can be an expensive mistake, so take the following four important steps to avoid an expensive problem.

1. Discuss home improvement plans with an agent. Ask about updating a homeowners policy, and ask whether or not other types of insurance will be needed for protection during the construction process. Only those who are qualified to perform DIY projects should attempt them. People who are not construction workers should not help unless there is sufficient liability coverage for their protection. Many homeowners must raise their no-fault medical protection limit for such workers. For a larger project, it is best to consider a course of construction policy. This covers the home during the building process from weather or theft damages.

2. Make sure the contractor is covered. Before allowing a contractor to start work, ask to see his or her insurance policies. Contractors should carry both workers compensation and commercial general liability insurance. If one of the insured contractor’s workers sustains injuries, that individual will not be able to sue the homeowner. Contractors who are unwilling to provide insurance documents should never be hired.

3. Store all receipts and records. Be sure to take photographs before, during and after the remodeling project. This provides a virtual record of what the property looked like during each phase. Hold on to all contracts from contractors, and be sure to save the receipts for all materials purchased. Keep receipts for any other belongings bought for the home during the project.

4. Update insurance policies after the project. Let an agent know when any home improvements are made. Insurance amounts may need to be increased following a major renovation. All of the records and receipts may need to be copied and sent to the insurance company. This helps them assess needs and assign accurate values for the improvements. An agent will be able to recommend a floater or endorsement for more expensive items. More liability coverage may be needed if a pool or spa was added. An umbrella policy may be the right solution for this situation.

Be sure to ask an agent about discounts. When people install smoke detectors, stronger doors, deadbolt locks or burglar alarms, they may qualify for discounts. Some insurers also offer larger discounts to people who install more sophisticated burglar alarm systems, sprinkler systems, fire alarm systems or other devices. People who update their plumbing, electricity, roof or windows may also qualify for discounts. This is especially true if any energy-saving features were installed. In areas prone to strong storms, shutters, reinforced roofs and shatterproof windows may also result in discounts. If a remodeling project is the result of a growing family, be sure to consider other insurance changes that may positively benefit a new spouse, baby or adopted child. 

Your Mortgage, Your Homeowners Insurance and Forced Placed Coverage

When you take out a mortgage, part of the agreement is that you will purchase adequate homeowners insurance coverage. Adequate coverage usually means that you are insured for the replacement of your home to 100% of replacement value or that your home has enough coverage to address the amount of the loan. While the latter may mean that the mortgage company wants enough coverage to pay the outstanding loan balance, most homeowners policies do not cover the loan amount, just the rebuilding of a home. In a nutshell, the mortgage company wants to make sure that they are protected if your home suffers an insurable loss such as fire or water damage. If you are in a flood zone, they will require you to get separate flood insurance, as regular homeowners policies exclude damage caused by flood and ground water.

Your mortgage company will, at a number of times, prompt you to provide proof of home insurance. This typically happens when:

  1. Your first purchase your home; this will be done through your title company.
  2. At the annual renewal; however most homeowners policies automatically send the lender a copy of the renewal.
  3. When you refinance and there is a new lender, this is done by the title company.
  4. When a policy is cancelled, either at the renewal or for non-payment.

When you get a request, you should always forward the request, along with any instructions, to your homeowners insurance agent. If a title company is involved, you should always provide your agency information, phone number, fax and email address to the title company. If you are purchasing a new home, you should always contact your broker at least 3 weeks prior to make arrangements for a policy and notify your title company as soon as you can. Getting the request to your agency right away will allow for fewer problems and a quick resolution to complying with your homeowners insurance requirements.

Should there be any gap in your homeowners insurance, the mortgage company will force place coverage on your home and have the right to do this since it is in the mortgage agreement. This forced placed coverage is usually very expensive and more likely than not will protect the mortgagee’s interests, not your interests. The bottom line is, the coverages are probably very basic, will probably not protect you to the degree a regular homeowners policy would protect you and probably does not include liability insurance. The reason why these policy premiums are very expensive is the policy is not underwritten, and because of this there may be an assumption that you cannot get coverage on your own and that your property may be high risk.

To avoid this expensive forced placed coverage, attend to your lenders homeowners insurance requirement right away. Even if you have a three-day gap in your homeowners insurance, they can still come back and charge you for those three days, and it’s not cheap. Your agent is here to help you avoid things like this from happening. Maintaining good communication, either via email or phone, is the key for things to go as smoothly as possible.

How Much Should Consumers Really Pay For Car Repairs?

With the average vehicle on the road being about 10 years old, it is apparent that Americans are keeping their cars longer these days. There are benefits associated with owning an older automobile. Drivers with older cars do not have to worry about making loan payments, and insurance costs are much lower. However, there are also disadvantages. Unexpected expensive repairs can drain a savings account. In some cases, the repairs may cost more than what the car is valued at. There are several Web sites with helpful resources for evaluating repair estimates.

Both RepairPal and AutoMD are free to use. RepairPal, which was started in 2007, is run by auto enthusiasts. Estimates from this company are based on labor rates, cumulative car repair invoices and prices of parts. An online auto parts retailer owned by U.S. Auto Parts operates AutoMD. The staff consists of certified mechanics and auto data specialists. These workers use the data gathered from average labor costs for each zip code, real-time pricing data and repair time estimates. DIY repair cost estimates are also available from AutoMD. Both companies offer zip code estimates for repairs. Estimates also include those of independent mechanics and dealerships for comparison.

Researchers conducted tests on both sites. They found that sample repair data entered into both systems produced similar estimates. AutoMD’s estimate was comprehensive. In addition to time estimates, it included price ranges for parts and labor. Prices for both dealers and independent mechanics were included. The estimates provided by RepairPal are for a range of overall costs. In addition to this, there is a breakdown of costs for labor and parts.

The pages on these sites are printable, so consumers can take the information they collect to dealers or mechanics. People who are also in search of mechanics can find local shops by searching a zip code on the site. AutoMD’s list shows request statistics, the number of mechanics at various shops, hours of operation, map location, shop details and contact information. In addition to specifying whether shops install parts provided by AutoMD partners, the site specifies whether a shop uses Chilton or Mitchell labor standards. RepairPal’s list is not quite as extensive. However, map locations, hours, reviews and specialties are included. Both sites are helpful to consumers, but it is still important for people needing auto repairs to decide whether they should use parts from a dealer or aftermarket company.

6 Promising Car Safety Innovations

They may not make engines the way they used to – but they’re making cars safer and more crash-proof per pound than ever before.  Innovations in materials, GPS technology and microchips have made a wide variety of potentially life-saving technologies cost-effective and affordable for the car buyer.

Car safety devices and features can be separated into two categories: Passive devices such as seat belts and airbags, and active devices, which proactively help drivers avoid accidents, not just survive them.

In some cases, insurance companies may offer a premium discount for owning vehicles with some or all of these safety features:

Intelligent Airbags

In the old days, airbags could prove almost as dangerous to smaller drivers and passengers as the crash itself. They opened with such force that they could injure smaller and lighter crash victims. The new generation of bags can sense the size of the crash victim, and their forward speed, and automatically make adjustments to compensate, resulting in a safer airbag.

Distance Control Assist Devices

This active device uses radar or laser technology to gauge the distance between your car and the one in front of you. The computer system also monitors your forward speeds and your speeds relative to one another. If the distance between you is shortening rapidly, you will hear an alarm. Some models will even begin to move the gas pedal upwards to make it easier to switch to the brake.

Lane Departure Warning Devices

Lane departure warning devices use optics to monitor lane markings – and automatically generate a warning tone if you begin to drift out of your lane. Some higher end cars will even nudge the car back into the lane. These devices have been in use in commercial truck fleets for years, but are now making their way into the luxury sedan market.

Anti-Rolling Technology

Anti-rolling technology takes aircraft automatic pilot technology and applies it to your car. A system of sensors monitors whether your car is tilting one way or another – and automatically makes adjustments to prevent the car from flipping. The car may apply a combination of measures, such as reducing throttle, applying the anti-lock brake system, and adjusting steering to prevent a flip – and perhaps save you from a deadly injury. Chrysler calls this technology “rollover mitigation.” General Motors refers to this technology as “rollover avoidance.”

Accident Notification Systems

This is a passive technology, but can be a critical one:  It will call emergency responders when you can’t. If your car is in an accident, the accident notification system will automatically notify the manufacturer’s cellular link service (think “OnStar” but there are others), which will then notify rescue personnel using global positioning system technology. So if you are incapacitated after a wreck, or even if you forgot to charge your cell phone, help is on the way.

Emergency Brake Assist

An emergency brake assist feature uses computer technology to determine whether a brake application is a gentle, routine slow-down or stop, or whether it is a panic brake situation. If your brake application is combined with a frantic movement of the steering wheel, or if your foot release on the gas is faster than usual, or you are hitting your brakes unusually hard, a computer will automatically channel the emergency brake assist – putting more hydraulic pressure on the line and applying brakes faster and more powerfully to stop your car’s wheels.

Obviously, different carriers have different pricing systems – and discounts offered for equipping your vehicle with safety features vary from state to state, even with the same carrier. The newer features are still winding their way through the system, but many carriers offer discounts for anti-lock brakes, airbags or anti-theft devices – all of which have proven effectiveness in lowering claims.

It may be time for a policy reassessment. Can you qualify for a discount? Contact your auto insurance agent today and find out. 

Understanding Carfax and What is Included in a History Report

Carfax is a commercial service offering vehicle history reports to businesses and consumers. The company serves both the United States and Canada. Carfax was founded in Missouri in 1984, and the company is now headquartered in Virginia. One of the original purposes of the company was combating odometer fraud. The latter part of the company’s name came from their signature reports, which were sent quickly via fax machines. However, the most popular way to obtain reports today is over the Internet. To this day, Carfax is still a trusted name among consumers and used auto dealers.

Carfax Services
Carfax offers four free services: lemon checks, record checks, problem car checks and recall checks. While the free services can be helpful in gathering only the information indicated in their names, they do not include all of the detailed data provided in a full Carfax report.

The history report is the company’s most detailed product. It includes data about previous wrecks and other recorded incidents. With over 34,000 sources, the company has access to data in every American state and 10 Canadian provinces. Police departments, Highway Patrol offices, DMVs, auto shops and several other agencies. Information is connected to a vehicle’d identification number, which is commonly called a VIN. Reports include all or some of the following details:

– History of flood damage.
– Past and present title data.
– Total number of owners.
– Any available odometer readings.
– The emission inspection history.
– All available service records.
– Whether the vehicle was ever labeled a complete loss.
– Whether the vehicle was ever part of a rental car fleet or other fleet service.
– Reports from accidents the vehicle was involved in.

Carfax Limitations
While a Carfax report is a valuable tool for all auto shoppers, it is important to keep the other crucial details of buying a car in mind. Consumers should still take a vehicle for a test drive in the city and on the highway before making a purchase. It is also wise to take a vehicle that is being considered to a trustworthy mechanic for an inspection. Although a Carfax report has details about the car’s past history, it may not contain information about its current condition. For example, a car could have a completely clean history, but it could be sitting on the lot due to an engine problem that causes the warning light to come on from time to time. Whether the dealership is unaware of the problem or they choose not to disclose it, potential buyers may not know anything is wrong if it does not come on during a test drive. By having a mechanic inspect the vehicle, it is possible to pinpoint several problems.

When shopping at a used car dealership, it never hurts to ask if the company has recently received a Carfax report for the vehicle. In some cases, they may provide it, but do not count on receiving one for free. However if you cannot obtain one from the dealer or you are buying a car from a private party, getting a Carfax report in relatively inexpensive may be well worth the investment. 

New Catastrophe App Helps iPhone Users Prepare For The Worst

The Insurance Information Institute released a free mobile disaster preparedness app that provides safety tips, communication tools and checklists for common disasters. This helps people prepare for severe winter weather, wildfires, earthquakes, hurricanes and other types of disasters.

One of the best ways to make it through a catastrophe is to be prepared beforehand. The Know Your Plan app has several checklists containing preparedness steps and property protection steps. App users are also able to build their own customized checklists from scratch. Every list allows users to set completion dates, record progress and add personal notes to various tasks.

There are also other options. App users are able to share their lists with friends and family members. In addition to this, there are resources available for planning evacuations. This also includes evacuation of pets. The helpful app also provides up-to-the-minute data about disaster details and local evacuation routes. Know Your Plan is available from iTunes, and it can be found by searching for the Insurance Information Institute on the iPhone App Store.

During the past 10 years, insurance companies spent almost $250 billion in settling the claims of disaster victims throughout the United States. The overall cost of catastrophes is rising continuously, so insurance companies are looking for every helpful tool they can find to help speed up the repair process and prevent unnecessary injuries to humans.

The I.I.I. partnered with the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety to develop property mitigation information. The IBHS is a respected organization specializing in building science research and communications. This organization tries to reduce the negative effects of disasters through research, maintenance, improved construction and encouraging preparedness.

In 2011, many communities throughout the United States experienced record-breaking catastrophes. The IBHS and the I.I.I. want to lessen the amount of future damage from such strong catastrophic occurrences. With so many people using the iPhone, the two organizations knew it would be possible to reach out to millions of people to help them take control of risks through proper preparedness. Some of the new app’s features include the following editable checklists:

– Earthquake
– Flood
– Hurricane
– Tornado
– Wildfire
– Severe Cold
– Emergency Kit
– Evacuation
– Blank Checklist

There are also note-taking features for individual tasks, and users have the option to select due dates for their checklists. A countdown feature is included for progress tracking. There is a Google Crisis Response feed allowing access to emergency information from local sources.

This app is the second in a series of apps created by the I.I.I. The first app is Know Your Stuff, and it includes home inventory information. Know Your Stuff is available for both Android and iPhone users. For more information about preparing for catastrophes, discuss concerns with an agent. 

The New WreckCheck App Helps Consumers File an Accident Report and Avoid Identity Theft

A free new mobile app released by NAIC lets people protect their property and their identities after experiencing a traffic accident. Research shows that very few people know what steps to take after an accident. In addition to this, the majority of the population does not know what information to share and what information to avoid sharing following a collision. By giving too much personal information to another party, people may put their identities at risk.

As a rule, individuals should only share their names, the names of their insurance providers and their insurance providers’ phone numbers. Any additional information shared can put a person at risk. Research found some of the most common mistakes people make. The most common misconceptions and their resulting risks include the following:

– About 25 percent of people were willing to share their personal addresses. However, this gives identity thieves an exact location to go through mail and garbage containing personal information.

– Almost 40 percent of consumers felt they must share the data on their driving licenses. In addition to this, one of every six people interviewed were willing to let other parties photograph their license information. Since many merchants accept driving license data as identification verification, sharing this data is very risky.

– About 20 percent of respondents thought local law enforcement officials should only be contacted if there are injuries. Filing a police report can help expedite the claims process, so it is a wise idea to file a report for any auto accident.

– Approximately 30 percent of the drivers surveyed said they felt they should share their phone numbers with the other party involved. However, this is not necessary. The other party could easily become a nuisance if he or she is prone to making frequent calls about petty details.

With a step-by-step guide, the WreckCheck app outlines what to do immediately after an accident. These steps also help app users create their own accident report. In addition to the report steps, there are helpful tips for keeping calm. There are tips for capturing the types of photos insurers prefer, and tips for filing insurance claims are offered. When the report is finished, there is a feature available to email the document to an agent. This free app is available for both Android and iPhone users. For more information about this app and accidents, discuss concerns with an agent.

The Five Worst Construction Frauds & Tips for Avoiding Them

When warm weather arrives, so do crooked contractors wanting to steal from homeowners. They provide bogus repairs that are not even necessary. In some cases, no work at all is done. These dishonest contractors love the warmer months when hurricanes, tornadoes, hail and severe storms are more common. After such disasters pass, they are happy to swoop in on unsuspecting homeowners who are desperate for quick repairs.

While the majority of contractors out there are honest, it is usually the ones who go from door to door offering help who are untrustworthy. Good contractors do not need to solicit themselves in this manner to find work. People who go knocking on doors usually say they walked by and happened to notice something wrong. They may offer to get the house ready for storm season before any major cells hit. If there was a recent storm, they may simply show up and offer to fix something that is clearly damaged.

When falling victim to these scams, homeowners could lose thousands of dollars. In addition to this, the ensuing headaches from trying to pay even more for real repairs or trying to recover money from a con artist complicate the situation. If a person’s insurance company does not cover fraudulent repairs, compensation may never be gained. The five worst scams these crooks pull off include the following:

1. Poor Work Quality
Con artists often use very cheap materials if they do any repairs. The work is obviously low quality, and homeowners must usually have the repairs redone with their own money.

2. Prepayment
With this type of scam, the contractor asks for a large sum of money upfront. After receiving the funds, the individual disappears or does very little work. In some cases, he or she may ask homeowners to pay for bids.

3. Inflated Damage
In order to increase billable expenses, contractors performing this type of scam may make the holes in roofs larger. They may instead just inflate the bill for work that was not done.

4. Phantom Damage
With this type of scam, the contractor says there is storm damage when there actually is none. However, the dishonest individual damages sidewalls or roofs to create damages and repairs them.

5. Deductible Payment
Some contractors offer to pay the homeowner’s deductible in order to gain business. However, this is always a plot to lure people in for fraudulent work.

How To Avoid Scams
Fortunately, there are several ways to combat these actions. The following tips are simple and easy to remember.

Verify a contractor’s license. Most licensed contractors are not willing to lose their reputation by doing fraudulent work. Such actions could be connected to a licensed contractor for a long time. Check with local and state licensing agencies for proper verification procedures.

Stay away from door-to-door contractors. Good contractors are usually too busy to knock on doors. Only someone who is desperate for money has to go from door to door.

Contact the Better Business Bureau. Search for the contractor on the BBB’s site or call to make an inquiry. Avoid people with a sketchy history. It is also helpful to check Angie’s List.

Demand a contract. Do not sign a contract and leave blank spaces. Make sure the contract specifies what work will be done. The repair schedule and price should also be included.

Work with the insurance agent. Do not let a contractor talk to the insurance company alone. It is much better to work directly with an agent who will survey the damage and decide what repairs are necessary. It is crucial to get the right repairs done by a reputable professional in order to be covered by the insurance company.

Look out for any red flags. Many con artists do not have references or business cards. Their appearance is usually poor. They may also be hesitant to provide an address. If they do provide one, it is usually a post office box instead of a street address. When these individuals’ vehicles are parked within view, they are usually run down. These contractors also cannot produce insurance proof.

Make Sure the Big Day is Perfect with Wedding Insurance

While every couple hopes their wedding day will be perfect, there are many cases each year where disasters happen. Unfortunately, most disasters become what they are because couples do not have wedding insurance. This type of coverage protects couples financially and covers their wedding arrangements against various mishaps and bad weather. Wedding insurance is affordable enough to fit into almost any couple’s budget. With policy price tags starting around $125, couples planning expensive weddings cannot afford to go without coverage. Even if couples do not have to make claims against their policies, the investment is worth the peace of mind at such a hectic time.

The decision to buy wedding insurance is a personal choice each couple must make for themselves. In the United States, the average cost of a wedding is more than $25,000. Some couples get by on less, but there are many couples who spend much more than this amount on the reception alone. The key to deciding whether insurance is necessary is to weigh the total wedding bill against the cost of coverage. For a couple who plans to have a drive-through wedding wearing their everyday clothing, insurance may not be necessary. However, couples planning a large outdoor wedding with a catered reception would certainly benefit from coverage. For weddings somewhere between lavish and simple, there are insurance policies designed to provide just enough coverage for what is necessary.

It is important for couples to understand what is covered in a wedding insurance policy. The following are components of a typical policy:

– Inclement weather is covered. If an event must be put off due to bad weather, the policy covers expenses for rescheduling.

– Missing officiants are partially covered. When a celebrant or religious officiant does not show up, some costs can be recovered.

– Injuries and illnesses are covered. Members of the wedding party or key persons who become ill may cause the wedding to be delayed. If this happens, the costs involved with postponing are covered.

– The ceremony location is covered. Many reception venues have their own insurance. If they do not have coverage, a wedding insurance policy will cover damage to the site. This includes mechanical problems, electrical damage and fires. Compensation is also provided for making alternate arrangements if the venue goes out of business before the scheduled event.

– Missing vendors are covered. If a photographer, florist, caterer or any other vendor does not show up, some of the initial costs and the expenses involved with rescheduling will be covered.

In addition to these main features, there are riders that can be purchased. When the bride, groom or a key person is on active duty, a military service rider can be added. This ensures the cost of postponing the event until a later date is covered if a service member is deployed. There are riders for wedding clothes, which cover the cost of damage or stores going out of business. Additional damage liability riders are available for couples planning home weddings. For couples whose renters or homeowners insurance does not cover theft or damage of gifts, a gift rider can be purchased. Couples may also purchase a rider for honeymoon cancellation. Wedding insurance policies do not cover cancellation due to something that was known at the time the policy was taken out. In addition to this, it does not cover cancellation due to cold feet. To learn more about this type of coverage, discuss concerns with an agent. 

What is your Earthquake Risk?

In some areas of the country, the risk of an earthquake is never far from people’s minds. In areas along the San Andreas Fault line in California, the earth has a way of nudging people awake if Californians ever feel complacent.

But Americans have been relatively lucky in the last hundred years, as truly devastating earthquakes on the level that we have seen in recent years in China, Mexico, Japan and Haiti, involving thousands and even hundreds of thousands of deaths -have been rare.

That’s due to a combination of strenuously enforced building codes – and pure dumb luck. Yes, we have had several quakes of 9+ magnitude strike sparsely-populated areas of Alaska over the years. But as of this writing, the United States has not had a major metropolitan area host the epicenter of a 7.8 magnitude-plus earthquake in living memory.

But that could change any minute.

The Federal Department of Emergency Management has developed a threat matrix to help gauge your exposure to earthquake threats.

In addition, FEMA has also published maps to help you determine your proximity to fault lines, which are areas with an elevated likelihood of a seismic event.

You can download the maps from FEMA at https://www.fema.gov/earthquake/earthquake-hazard-maps.

The closer you are to a red area on the map, the greater your exposure to seismic forces. But the damage you will incur has a lot to do with the strength of your building as well.

FEMA divides the map into five basic zones, and designates them as threat levels A through E, or “white” through “red.”

If you live in a white area, FEMA assesses your risk as very low. Even if you get a tremor, it would be quite unlikely for you to experience substantial structural damage or loss to property as a result, in these areas. You may want to plus up your coverage for floods, fires, hurricanes or other hazards, but earthquakes are not a huge concern in the white areas on the map.

Your exposure to risk becomes significant in “yellow” areas. These areas can extend a considerable distance from the fault line. If you are in a yellow zone, a strongly fortified modern building will likely withstand the shaking with minimal damage. But poorly-built structures are at substantial risk of significant damage and could be totally written off.

As you move further through the color scale, your risk becomes critical in “red” areas. Poorly-built buildings have a high likelihood of collapse or irreversible structural damage – resulting in a total loss of the building. Even moderately well-built buildings are at risk of collapse or substantial damage. Only the most robust buildings should be considered safe, and even these may well incur substantial structural damage. Buildings can be shaken off of their foundation, and some buildings will be completely destroyed by the quake.

Protecting Yourself and Your Property

The first step should be obvious: Do not skimp on construction quality or building to code. Earthquakes of magnitudes that killed tens of thousands in other countries have not had that effect so far in the United States in living memory, in large part, because of our strong building enforcement in the United States.

Second, if you are in an earthquake danger zone, locate valuable resources – especially people – in solid and well-constructed buildings designed with earthquakes in mind. You can start over if you have a warehouse full of lumber collapse from an earthquake. Having a building full of people collapse is another scenario altogether. No insurance check ever written can compensate a business for that kind of loss.

Third, get earthquake insurance – and keep your policy updated.

Some states, like California, have a state sponsored risk pool to indemnify residents against earthquake risk. In other areas, you’ll need to get specialized coverage.

Don’t assume a regular homeowners or business policy will necessarily cover you for damage or loss from earthquakes. Generally, you must obtain separate coverage specifically to cover earthquake damage – just as those who live in a flood plain must carry separate flood insurance. 

Benefits Of Pay-As-You-Drive Insurance

Usage-based insurance may also be called pay-as-you-drive insurance. It is based on a driver’s vehicle, the distance driven, the time spent driving and the driver’s behavior. When compared with traditional insurance, this type of coverage is much different. Traditional insurers attempt to reward the drivers they classify as safe, and their assessment is based on past documentation and the individual’s record. The new method uses current behavior instead of past patterns. With the traditional method, drivers must wait longer to establish themselves as safe or reckless drivers. However, the new method does not require as much time for drivers’ habits to catch up with them and affect their insurance rates.

Many transportation and environmental groups approve the new usage-based coverage. They claim it makes people more aware of what they are doing. For most people, this means they will drive more responsibly. It also encourages people to use their cars only when they need them. For example, driving a few blocks to the grocery store instead of walking would look less tempting with usage-based coverage.

How Usage-Based Coverage Works
The simplest form of this type of insurance assesses costs based on the amount of miles driven. When, where and how a person drives may also be factored in with several insurance models. Premium amounts are based on how much a person drives, and coverage is based on the vehicle’s odometer. To track how many minutes a car is in use, a vehicle-independent module is used to transmit data using RF technology or cellphone features. The time of day, speeds, distance, driving actions and time traveled are also sent regularly. Formulas can be basic enough to include only the amount of miles driven. Alternately, they may be much more complex and include a wide array of features. With advanced features, the device is able to determine if a person should pay a higher premium for speeding, using a cellphone while driving or driving for a long period of time without a break.

Another type of system in existence is telematic usage. This system uses a device that immediately relays information as it happens, which keeps a constant feedback loop for drivers. When drivers increase their risks, their premiums change immediately. Although some drivers may think this sounds intimidating, it is actually a helpful way to enforce good driving behavior and make the road safer. The following are benefits of usage-based insurance:

– People are more socially and environmentally responsible.
– Actual risk for each driver is assessed on a more concise and up-to-date basis.
– Consumers enjoy more choices between types of car insurance.
– Responsible drivers can save more money without having to wait to clear old records.
– High-risk drivers pay more, so they are less inclined to spend time on the road.
– For responsible young people, rates are not based on group averages of peers.
– With telematic coverage, continuous tracking may help people who are stranded or hurt.

To learn more about this type of insurance and to find out what options are available, discuss questions with an agent.

Why Bundling Benefits Customers & Insurers

Following the worst CAT in the history of the United States, the homeowners insurance industry is heavily focusing on property lines. In the past few years, premiums have spiked almost 20 percent. Many professionals are predicting a time of policy churning ahead. However, customers can benefit from bundling their policies by saving money, and insurers can benefit from offering this option by enjoying better customer retention rates. Insurance companies must understand customers’ attitudes toward bundling coverage compared with their attitudes toward competitors’ options.

Research shows that several factors influence the retention rate of customers. The customer’s tenure and bundle choice often reflect how likely that individual is to stay with the company or look elsewhere. Research shows that the overall retention rate for homeowners insurance was almost 90 percent between 2011 and 2012. Of that percentage, the amount of retained customers who had bundled policies was 95 percent. Retention rates for customers who used multiple insurers was slightly more than 80 percent.

The discovery that customers who pay for multiple policies with one insurer are more likely to stay with that company is something that remains consistent across various generations. This study surveyed people who bought a combination of homeowners and auto policies. However, the retention averages were higher for people who had more than two policies with one insurer.

Customers who were insured with companies that did not offer multiple coverage options did not say that they were certain about renewing their coverage. However, more of the customers who used insurers with added benefits answered that they would definitely renew their policies. Offering the option to bundle auto and home insurance is usually the first and most important step toward building a long-lasting relationship between insurers and customers. In customer satisfaction surveys, customers who bundled two policies were more satisfied. The customers who were most satisfied had three or more policies bundled.

The study also looked at what specific products were the most influential for bundling options. In addition to the combination of homeowners and auto policies, personal liability umbrella coverage followed close behind. This type of coverage has a high bundling rate overall. Secondary residence coverage also had favorable feedback. However, life insurance policies did not have a major impact on retention in relation to bundling. This is likely true because of the uniqueness of life coverage and the issue that customers do not always have the ability to transfer such a policy to another company. However, the option of offering life coverage certainly does not create a disadvantage.

Understanding bundling trends and preferences of customers will help insurers market their products better and provide more efficient options for consumers. It is also important to remember that a customer’s income affects what type of coverage he or she is more likely to buy. For example, people with higher incomes are more likely to purchase umbrella coverage to protect their assets. However, younger people are more likely to bundle life insurance if the option is presented to them. This is due to people in this age group getting married, buying homes and having children. Overall, bundling products with homeowners and auto coverage is something that both customers and insurers can benefit from. Customers who are interested in this option should discuss their concerns and needs with an agent.

10 Ways to Gear Up for a Family Road Trip

Summer is in full-swing, which means families across the nation are hitting the road for fun-filled vacations. Of course, road trips don’t always go as smoothly as planned-especially when you have your food-munching, giggling, bickering brood in tow.

Before you load up the family truckster and head out on the highway, take some time to prepare for all the possible bumps in the road ahead. If you want to ensure a low-stress excursion, consider these ten smart road trip tips:

Road Trip Tip #1: Book well in advance.

If you’re loading up the car and still haven’t made hotel reservations, you may have a problem. When you wait until the last minute to book a room, you run the risk of seeing “No Vacancy” signs everywhere you turn.

The sooner you make your vacation reservations, the better. Not only are you more likely to score a great bargain earlier in the game, but you’ll also have plenty of time to do some research. Hunt around for fun hotels that will best suit your family’s wants and needs, whether it’s a pool, a fitness center or a complimentary breakfast.

Road Trip Tip #2: Get the kids involved.

As you plan ahead for your family road trip, try to get the kids in on the action. Sit down together and take a look at the map so you can discuss where you may want to stop along your journey. Not only will the kids feel like they have a hand in the vacation planning, but they’ll also be much more excited about the trip.

Road Trip Tip #3: Load up with snacks.

“Are we there yet?” and “I’m hungry!” are probably the two most common exclamations parents hear from their kids on any road trip. While there’s not much you can do to get to your destination faster, you can keep your kids’ bellies full.

Pack a variety of car-friendly snacks like fruit, crackers, juice and water. To keep the peace, you may consider offering your kids a special sweet treat they don’t usually get to eat at home. This makes road trips seem much more exciting for the kids.

Road Trip Tip #4: Pack plenty of games.

Another common road trip phrase? “I’m bored!” Fight road trip tedium with a big bag full of games, toys, coloring books, electronics and even a portable DVD player. These fun activities will help the time pass by more quickly and keep the kids happy.

Road Trip Tip #5: Make some pit stops.

Don’t expect your kids to sit contentedly in the backseat for a full 10 hours. Be sure to plan some stops along the way, whether it’s a state park, a fast-food playground or a museum. This will make the trip more exciting and give everyone a chance to stretch their legs and burn off some energy-which will make the rest of riding time much more bearable for everyone.

Road Trip Tip #6: Give kids some space.

Try not to pack your car so tightly that the kids have no wiggle room in the backseat. Make sure they have some personal space so they can stretch out their legs and arms. Bring a pillow for each child so they can take a nap along the way.

Road Trip Tip #7: Bring a camera.

Be sure to pack a digital or disposable camera for the kids so they can take lots of photos to document their journey. After the trip, you can help them make travel scrapbooks.

Road Trip Tip #8: Plan carefully to avoid major disappointments.

If you’ve ever seen the classic Chevy Chase movie, “Vacation,” you probably remember the parking lot scene. After a long, difficult road trip, the Griswold family happily races across an empty parking lot only to discover their final destination, the Walley World theme park, is closed. The Griswold kids’ miserable faces are enough to drive their dad Clark into temporary insanity.

Steer clear of these terrible family disappointments by doing you research and planning ahead. Carefully check the operating hours of all the places you plan to visit. The smiles on your kids’ faces will be well worth the extra effort.

Road Trip Tip #9: Play it safe.

No matter what kind of challenges you may face on your journey, always put safety first. Make sure that all of the passengers in your car buckle up and double-check all your child safety seats before you hit the road. While it’s easy to get distracted by the commotion in the backseat, make sure the driver always keeps their eyes and full attention on the road. If you’re driving, let the other adult handle backseat requests, spills or squabbles.

Road Trip Tip #10: Be prepared for emergencies.

Always keep an emergency kit in your car. Stock the kit with first-aid supplies, blankets, flares, flashlights, extra water, non-perishable snacks and any prescription medication your family would need if you were to become stranded.

Tips for Hiring a Contractor for Your Home Repairs

When hiring a contractor to add value to your home investment, it makes dollars and sense to verify the contractor’s workers’ compensation coverage. Otherwise, you may be responsible for injuries incurred by the workers while they are remodeling or repairing your home.

With this in mind, take a look at some important insurance issues before you select a contractor. To start, verify that the contractor you want to hire carries workers’ compensation coverage. If a contractor does not have this coverage, workers who are injured while working on your home could sue you. You may also want to see a copy of the contractor’s workers’ compensation policy and ask the same of subcontractors such as electricians and plumbers. It is important to make sure all of the contractor’s employees are covered – full and part time. It is advisable to get insurance policy numbers and to take that extra minute to call and verify that the insurance is still in effect.

You can also check the contractor or remodeler’s credentials, including whether the contractor or remodeler is licensed and/or a member of an applicable trade group. Of course, you will want to compare costs and solicit bids from more than one contractor or remodeler. When doing so, get all bids in writing and make sure each bid includes building specifications (what is being worked on and to what extent), labor costs, material costs, and time needed to complete the project. This will protect you from unforeseen costs while further protecting you from future misunderstandings and project mishaps.

You can call Better Business Bureau (BBB) to quickly and easily verify local references. The local BBB office will also be a good source for letting you know if there have been complaints made against the contractor or remodeler.

Lastly, most contractors and remodelers will gladly show you work done at other nearby homes. Take them up on this offer and see for yourself their workmanship and check customer satisfaction. Talk to former clients and see what they think of the contractor’s ability to meet their needs while staying on schedule and within the projected budget.

Child Safety Belts Keep Kids Safe

When you pack your family into the car this summer to head to the beach, the park, or the grocery store, the most important thing you can do for your children is to make sure they are properly secured in their seat belts. Safe adult drivers begin as safe child passengers. Teach your kids safe habits before they learn unsafe ones from someone else. 

The National Highway Safety Administration has created some important guidelines every parent should follow when securing their children in the car. As a general rule, children 12 and under should always sit in the back seat where they are away from active air bags. Air bags are made for adults and the force of the deployment may seriously injure a young child. 

Infants from birth to 20-22 pounds and at least one year old have special guidelines for safety. Adults should make sure to use a rear-facing infant seat or a rear-facing convertible seat when securing a child in the back seat. If you have a car that seats only two, the air bag should be deactivated before placing the child in the passenger seat. The harness straps should be snug and taught and should be placed in the lower slots at or below shoulder level. The top of the harness clip should be at armpit level. And the child passenger restraint should be installed at no greater than a 45-degree angle. 

The switch to a forward-facing car seat can be made for toddlers 20-40 pounds and over one year of age. Again, secure harness straps snugly in the appropriate reinforced slots at or above shoulder level and fasten the harness clip at armpit level.     

Once your child has exceeded 40 pounds, is between ages 4 to 8 and is up to 4′ 9″ tall, they may use a booster seat. Secure the booster seat much the same way as with the child seat. Using a lap and shoulder belt, make sure to place the shoulder strap over the shoulder of your child and across their chest. The shoulder strap should never go across the neck, face or arm of your child. Place the lap belt low and snug on the hips – never over the stomach. If the shoulder or lap belt is in the wrong place during an accident, it could cause serious abdominal injury. 

At 8 years of age and 4′ 9″ or taller, your child has graduated to an adult restraint system. As with the booster seat, use a lap and shoulder belt to secure your child, taking care not to have the belts cross the stomach, neck, or arms. Children should learn that they cannot place the shoulder belt behind their back or under their arms, as this defeats the purpose of being restrained.  

For general information on the proper use of child restraint devices, always consult the instructions that come with your child safety seat, as well as the information provided by your vehicle’s owner’s manual.

Yet Another Reason to Improve Your Credit – Lower Insurance Rates

Your credit rating can affect a lot more than you may think. Almost all insurance companies factor in credit ratings to set rates for new and existing auto insurance customers. Yet, blemished credit doesn’t necessarily translate into higher insurance premium rates. Instead, it is the overall insurance risk score that can cause a rise in your rates. 

Insurance risk scores are similar to those used by lenders to determine whether or not to approve a loan or line of credit because both look at your credit information.  But credit risk models are formulated to predict the likelihood of loan default. Insurance risk models, by contrast, are built to predict the likely loss ratio of any particular individual. In other words, whether you will result in more or fewer losses than average to the insurer. The higher your insurance risk score, the less likely you are to file a claim.

Following is the information many insurance companies use to formulate a risk score and how each is weighted:

  • ·         Past payment history (approximately 35%)

A past payment history is determined by:  how you’ve paid your credit bills in the past; if your bills have been paid on time; items in collection status; the number of adverse public records (bankruptcy, wage attachments, liens); and the number and length of delinquencies or items in collection.  

  • ·         Credit owed (approximately 30%)

Credit owed is how many accounts, what kind of accounts, and how close you are to your credit limits. 

  • ·         Length of time credit has been established (approximately 15%)

Length of time credit established is how long you have had your credit accounts and how long you have had other specific accounts. 

  • ·         New credit (approximately 10%)

New credit is the number and proportion of recently opened accounts versus already established accounts; the number of credit inquiries; and the reestablishment of credit history after payment problems. 

  • ·         Types of credit established (approximately 10%)

Types of credit established are the various types of credit accounts including credit cards, retail store accounts, installment loans and mortgages. 

In summary, insurers rely on factors that show long-term stability. So, by demonstrating responsible use of credit and keeping your balances low, you should be able to improve you insurance risk score. A lower insurance risk score could translate into lower insurance premiums if you’ve been impacted by a negative credit history in the past.

Traffic Deaths Decline to Lowest Levels Since 1961

The number of Americans killed on U.S. highways in 2008 reached the lowest level since 1961, according to a recent release from the Department of Transportation. Higher gas prices, which caused many to limit their driving activity, certainly helped the cause along with increased seat belt usage in many states.

The Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that 37,313 people were killed in vehicle traffic crashes during 2008. That’s 9.1 percent lower than in 2007, when 41,059 died, and the fewest since 1961, when 36,285 deaths were reported.

Another positive, the nation’s fatality rate, the number of deaths per 100 million miles driven, reached a record low at 1.28 in 2008 down from 1.36 in 2007.

It’s not uncommon for tough economic times to cause similar declines in traffic deaths. From 1973 to 1974, such deaths fell more than 16 percent as the U.S. dealt with the oil crisis and rampant inflation. Similarly, deaths dropped nearly 11 percent from 1981 to 1982 as the nation battled a recession.

The government reported that miles driven in 2008 fell by about 3.6 percent, to 2.92 trillion miles, proving that many adjusted their driving habits as gas prices rose and the economy tumbled. The number of miles driven by motorists had risen steadily over the past three decades.

Nationwide seat belt usage reached a record 83 percent in 2008. Fourteen states and the Washington, D.C. had usage rates of 90 percent or better. Michigan was the highest at 97.2 percent, followed by Hawaii with 97 percent and Washington state at 96.5 percent. Massachusetts had the lowest rate, 66.8 percent, while New Hampshire and Wyoming were also both under 70 percent.