Most auto policies have exemptions for accidents caused from road rage (image via flickr)

These days it seems like everyone is in a hurry to get everywhere they need to go.  By the way many of us drive, you might think we have someone in the car that is hurt and in dire need of an emergency room because we act as if mere seconds may make the difference between life and death.  Sadly, most of those times, we are just going where we need to go.  This kind of aggressive, me-first, take no prisoners style of driving often leads to road rage, which the NHTSA estimates is a contributing factor in a third of all car accidents and two-thirds of car accidents that result in a fatality.

Whether it is our busy lives, increased traffic, or just the fact that we are used to driving this way, everyone on the road needs to do their part to stop aggressive driving and eliminate road rage.  Not only is this type of driving dangerous and illegal, many auto insurance policies contain exemptions for accidents caused by road rage.  This means that if you are the one raging and you cause an accident, you are on your own; the insurance company won’t cover the damage.  Don’t let your temper get the best of you by following these tips for keeping your anger from affecting how you drive.

1.     Leave Plenty of Time

One of the most common causes of aggressive driving is being late.  When we are trying to get somewhere and the clock is ticking and there isn’t enough time to make the trip, we get stressed and try to make up the time by passing and speeding.  Don’t put yourself in this position, leave early, make sure you have plenty of time, and if you are late, remember that no matter how important it is that you get there on time, it is not more important that your life or the life of someone else.

2.     Give Them the Benefit of the Doubt

Another contributing factor to aggressive driving and road rage is when we develop an Us vs. Them attitude towards the other drivers on the road.  If they are in front of us and going slower than we want to go, we think they are doing it on purpose.  If they merge poorly, and cut us off, they did it on purpose.  If they are driving too close to us, they are tailgating us.  While sometimes these things are true, sometimes they aren’t.  Sometimes other drivers are just not paying enough attention to how their actions are affecting the cars around them.  Give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they are clueless rather than deciding that they are your enemy.

3.     Pay Attention to How You are Driving

Take a few minutes to think about how you drive.  Are you the driver that drives just under the speed limit on every road?  Do you find that other drivers seem to become aggressive towards you on a regular basis?  Even if you aren’t the one who is getting mad, you might be contributing to the problem.  Pay attention to how you are driving and make sure you aren’t the one everyone else has to give the benefit of the doubt.

Aggressive driving and road rage is everyone’s problem.  Pay attention, drive courteously, and remember that everyone on the road is just trying to get where they are going in the shortest amount of time.  Winning the battle against road rage starts with you.

 

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Are you prepared in the event of an emergency? (image via flickr)

Today’s newspapers and internet sites seem to highlight some new catastrophe almost every day.  Whether it is a drought in the U.S., flooding caused by a typhoon in the Philippines, or an earthquake that destroys most of an island nation, emergency situations are all around us.  Now, more than ever, families need to take steps to be ready in case one of these catastrophic events comes to call.

September is National Preparedness Month and organizations like FEMA and the Red Cross will be working with communities and families to raise awareness about the need for emergency preparedness and to offer advice and information on what kind of preparations need to be made.  The primary goal of National Preparedness Month is to get people to understand the importance of preparing before disaster strikes.  To help increase awareness, here are 4 things every household should do in order to be ready and be able to respond.

1.     Fire Evacuation Plan

In 2010, statistics show there were more than 360,000 house fires in the U.S.  and 2,640 people lost their lives as a result.   Unlike some other natural disasters that only impact certain areas, house fires can happen to anyone.  Make sure your family has a fire evacuation plan that includes at least two ways out of every room.

2.     Emergency Contact Information

One of the scariest things family members encounter when there is a crisis is not being able to find loved ones.  Establishing an emergency communication plan that includes meeting places, important contact numbers, and how to use an out of town relay to locate and communicate with each other is your best defense.

3.     Evacuation Plan

If the time ever comes that it is no longer safe to remain in your home, you won’t likely have time to formulate the best evacuation plan either.  In order to be ready if that order ever comes, you need to know where the closest shelter is in your town as well as where emergency shelters can be found in neighboring towns or cities.  You need to have an emergency kit that contains everything your family will need for 72 hours already packed and ready to go with you in the car.

4.     Sheltering in Place

Just like there are times when you must leave your home, there are times when leaving is the last thing you want to do.  Every family should have a plan for remaining in their home for several weeks without access to outside resources like the grocery store or essential services like electricity.   By stocking enough food, water, medicine, and other critical supplies ahead of time, you can feel confident that if there is a reason not to go out, you won’t have to just to survive.

You don’t need to stockpile several years of food, learn to spin your own wool thread, or spend thousands of dollars on tools and equipment it is unlikely you will ever use in order to be prepared.  It only takes a little time, a little effort, and a trip or two to the grocery store to make sure your family is ready to weather whatever storms come your way.

 

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As summer vacation fades in the rearview mirror, it’s time to take a quick look at some ways to make sure all children are as safe as possible as we head into the new school year.  According to the National SAFE KIDS Campaign, more than 2 million children under the age of 14 are injured each year while at school.  Here are 6 tips for helping keep kids safe as school goes back into session.

1.     Make them a Map

Determine which specific routes to and from school and after school activities are acceptable for your child to use and then walk those routes with them.  This is important whether they are walking, riding a bike, riding a scooter, or travelling by any other means.  Mapping out acceptable routes ahead of time helps keep your child safe in several ways.  First, they won’t be taking short cuts that require crossing busier roads or expose them to unnecessary dangers.  Second, you will always know where to look for them if they are running late or do not arrive somewhere as expected.  Mapping out more than one route ensures they have a back-up in case there is an emergency or detour.

2.     Watch for Walkers

When school is in session, there are more children walking on sidewalks and crossing streets.  Drivers need to be aware of where schools are located on their normal commutes and pay attention to school zone signs and speed limit changes.  Pay extra attention whenever there are children walking, running, playing, or waiting to cross.

3.     Remind Kids about the Rules

For the first few weeks of school, parents need to remind their children about important safety rules.  Talking about important safety topics like looking both ways before going into the street, using crosswalks, paying attention to what’s happening around them, and avoiding strangers will help make it a safe school year.

4.     Practice Prevention

With children, many of the most common serious injuries are also the most preventable.  Make sure that children who ride their bikes to school are wearing a helmet.  If your child is going to ride a scooter or skateboard back and forth each day, provide the appropriate safety gear to protect heads, wrists, and knees and instill the importance of wearing it every time.

5.     Create a Contact List

It is important that any school age child knows basic contact information like their home phone, parent cell phone, and home address.  It is also a good idea to create an emergency contact list for them that can be kept in their backpack.  This may include additional phone numbers of grandparents, babysitters, or friend’s houses.  Additionally, make sure your child knows when and how to call 911 if there is an emergency.

6.     Promote Safe Play

Children are injured everyday just by being children.  Running, jumping, and playing often leads to scrapes, bruises, and bumps.  While this is a normal part of being a kid, parents can help protect their children from serious injuries and limit the number of minor ones by promoting safe play practices.  Check out the school’s playground and talk to the school administration about any safety concerns you see.  If the playground isn’t up to par, raise money to build a new one.  Talk to your child about how to play as safely as possible and what kinds of behavior can cause injury.

 

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Are you liable if your tree falls on your neighbor’s car? (image via flickr)

Everyone knows that if you rear-end the car in front of you or start a fist fight in a bar, you are liable for the damage your actions cause.  Liability in these cases is pretty clear cut because your direct action was the cause of another’s injury.  But there are many circumstances where fault is not necessarily the determining factor in liability and where there is no direct link between your actions and the resulting injury.  In order to adequately protect yourself from damage and injury claims you need to have insurance policies that offer the coverage you need.  The key to being protected is to understand both the obvious risks you face and those that are not so obvious.  To help you identify where you may have some hidden risks, here are some common questions about who is liable for indirect injury.

Am I Liable…..If My Child Causes a Car Accident in My Car?

While there are state specific laws that govern liability and insurance, in this case the answer is most likely yes.  If your son or daughter is driving a car that lists you as the registered owner, it is very likely that you could be sued for damages if your child causes an accident.  In order to protect yourself, you need to have a solid insurance policy that lists your child as a driver on any car they may drive.  You may also need an umbrella policy which can protect your assets in the event you are sued.  Check with your insurance agent if you are concerned that allowing your child to drive your car opens you to a liability risk you are not protected against.

Am I Liable……If My Dog Bites Someone on My Property?

This is another case where state law dictates certain rules about liability, but it is a good bet that if your dog bites someone, regardless of where you are at the time, you may be found liable for any injury.   Here in Arizona, unlike other states, there is no “one-free-bite” law which means that pet owners can be held liable for a dog bite even if there was no reasonable expectation that the dog might bite someone.  This means the first bite could land you with a lawsuit.  The law doesn’t only apply to humans either; it also applies to if your dog bites another animal.  If you are unclear about your rights as a property owner, ask your local police department.  If you are concerned about potential liability from a dog bite, talk through your concerns with your insurance agent to ensure you have the coverage you need to protect yourself and your assets as some policies include exclusions regarding animals.

Am I Liable…..If My Tree Falls on My Neighbor’s Car?

Like the other scenarios, this one is not as cut and dry as it may seem. In most cases like this, in order to prove negligence on your part, which is what would be required in order for you to be liable for the damage, your neighbor would have to prove you had a reasonable expectation that the tree might fall and damage his property.  If there is no reason that you would believe that the tree posed a real danger to your neighbor, it is unlikely you will be found liable for the damage.  It is still a good idea to talk to your insurance agent to determine if you would be protected from this type of liability claim.  They can also offer advice on steps you can take to decrease your liability risk.

 

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Do you know how divorce may impact your insurance policies? (image via flickr)

No one likes to think that it will happen to them but with a 50% divorce rate, it is happening to a lot of us.  The last thing you want to think about while you are divvying up your life is insurance, but it should be at the top of your to do list.  In order to ensure you are protected during and after the divorce, you will need to review and make changes to the insurance policies you have individually and together.  Here are 5 of the most common ways getting divorced impacts your insurance.

Policies that Protect Home and Property

These are your homeowner’s policy or your renter’s policy and provide coverage for damage to your home and/or loss or damage to personal property.  Odds are that at least one person is changing residences as a result of the divorce and when they leave, they will be taking property with them.  It is a good idea to reassess your homeowner’s or renter’s policy to ensure you still need all the coverage you have.  For example, if you have a rider that covers an expensive piece of art you may no longer need that rider or to pay for the additional coverage if your former spouse is taking the art.  If you are moving from a home you own to a rented space, you will want to switch your homeowner’s policy for a rental policy.

Policies that Protect Your Cars

There will definitely be changes to your auto policy unless one of you doesn’t drive.  At a minimum, the policy will need to be changed so that it only includes you as an authorized driver.  If you have more than one car, the coverage for any vehicles you no longer own can be removed as well which will save you money.  Don’t wait to make these changes.  As long as you are both listed on the policy, you are both liable for any claims against that policy.

Policies that Cover Your Life

Most people think that one of your first insurance changes you would want to make would be to your life insurance.  You don’t want to take the chance that something happens to you and your former spouse gets your life insurance payout.  However, there are several reasons why you may not want to make any changes to your life insurance as part of the divorce.  First, if you have children, you may want your life insurance proceeds to go to your spouse because they will be the primary caretakers for your children.  Second, if your spouse is paying alimony and child support and something happens to them, life insurance proceeds can help replace that lost resource.  One change you may consider is changing these policies, the ones meant to provide for the care and raising of children, from whole life policies to term policies.  This would enable you to provide means for their care until they are old enough to care for themselves without having to pay premiums for life.

If you are unsure about the insurance implications of your divorce, work with your agent.  They can help you determine what insurance you need going forward and what changes you need to make in order to have the amount of protection that works for you.

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Make sure your child is properly restrained while in your vehicle. (image via Flickr)

It’s hard to remember that there was a time when children rode around in cars completely unencumbered.  No car seats, no booster seats, and much of the time, no seat belts.  It is hard to fathom how that could have been the norm now that we know just how dangerous it can be for children to be unsecured in a collision.  In fact, even now with all the safety measures we have in place, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that car accidents are the number one cause of death for children between the ages of 1 and 12.  Imagine how much higher than number would be without all the safety precautions we have in place.

While we can all agree that taking the right measures to keep kids safe in cars matters, we don’t always know the best way to keep them safe.  The NHTSA recommends all drivers who have occupants under the age 18 follow these general guidelines.

  1. Pick a car seat that is the right type for your child’s age and that is the right size to fit them.
  2. Pick a car seat that fits in your car and is easy to use so that you will use it every time.
  3. Follow the car seat manufacturer’s instructions for installation and use.
  4. Read the owner’s manual for your car to determine if there are any special features for use with car seats or special practices related to their use.
  5. Don’t let children under the age of 12 sit in the front seat.

The ever changing array of child safety seats and laws that are different in each state, you may be unsure if your child or grandchild is properly secured.  Car seats are specifically designed to keep children of specific ages and sizes safe during a collision.  The basic recommendations are as follows?

Birth to 1 Year – Children in this age group should always ride in a rear facing car seat.  As there can be significant differences in size and weight between infants and children approaching their first birthday, there are different kinds of car seats that enable safe riding in the rear facing position.  You can also get car seats that can grow with your child and can be converted to accommodate rear facing positions and forward facing positions.

Age 1-3 – While it is best to keep your child in the rear-facing position as long as possible, once they reach the height or weight limit for the rear facing seat, they are ready to move up to a forward facing seat.

Age 4-7 – Children should ride in the forward facing seat with a harness until they reach the maximum height or weight limit for their seat.  At that point they can transition to a booster seat.

Age 8-12 – It is best for children to ride in a booster seat until they are big enough to fit in a regular seat belt properly.  This means that the lap belt fits snugly across the upper thighs and the shoulder belt goes across the chest and shoulders.

For all the ages above, the child should still ride in the backseat as that is the safest place for them to ride.

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Are you adequately insured? (image via wikipedia)

Most of the time when people talk about specialty insurance, they are talking about insurance coverage that provides companies with specialized protection based on their industry or on specific risks they are face.  However, there is also a side of specialty insurance that is all about covering personal interests.  Many people believe that their auto, renter, or homeowner’s policy provides coverage for these specialty risks and depending on the policy, it might.  But in many cases these specialty items actually indicate a gap in coverage that leaves them open to liability claims and property loss.  To help you understand if you have any of these specialty risks, here is information on some of the most common types of specialty personal coverage.

Boat/Watercraft Insurance

If you own a boat, you may have some coverage under your existing homeowner’s or renter’s policy.  Many companies will provide limited coverage for small boats like canoes as part of their base homeowner’s protection but it would be a mistake to assume any and all watercraft related risks are covered this way.  Even if minimal property coverage is included in your homeowner’s policy, it is unlikely that liability protection will be included.  Additionally, if you have a boat with an engine that can go more than 25 mile per hour, you may need to obtain additional coverage.

Flood Insurance

While most homeowner’s know that damage caused by floods is not covered by their homeowner’s insurance policy, there are still many homes that remain unprotected against this specialized risk.  Additionally, flood damage is also excluded from most renters insurance policies which means that even renters need to secure this specialty protection, especially if they are in a flood zone.

Earthquake Insurance

Damage from earthquakes and other natural disasters is generally excluded from personal insurance coverage which means it must be purchased separately in order for you to be protected.  Most earthquake policies or riders carry a much larger deductible than other personal policies.  If you live in an area where earthquakes happen often, having this insurance is critical to protecting your financial future.  But remember, earthquakes can happen almost everywhere and in areas with low risk, the cost of adding this coverage is often minimal.

Motorcycle Insurance

Riding a motorcycle, just like driving a car, carries certain risks and responsibilities and most states require drivers to carry a certain amount of insurance.  However, your motorcycle is not always automatically covered under your existing auto policy.   A motorcycle insurance policy protects you from property loss or damage if something happens to your bike and with liability coverage in the event you are responsible for causing damage to something or someone else.   In addition to this base coverage, you may also need to add coverage for accessories or specialized equipment.

Recreational Vehicle Insurance

Like other types of specialty coverage, recreational vehicle insurance provides additional protection from risks specific to your RV.   This type of insurance goes beyond what is covered by auto policies, property damage and liability coverage, and often offers additional protection from breakdowns and travel related risks.

If you are concerned that you have a specialty risk that may not be covered by your existing policies, talk to your insurance agent.  They can walk through the details of your policies and help you determine if you need additional coverage and which type you need.

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Do you know the role Crash Test Dummies play in your safety while riding in a car? (image via google)

Many of us change our diet to lose weight, watch our salt to lower our blood pressure, and take medication to help with cholesterol because we know that heart disease and stroke are two of the leading causes of death for adults in the U.S.  But we rarely think about, let alone change our driving habits to make driving safer.  Yet car accidents, which claim the lives of more than 30,000 Americans each year, are also amongst the leading causes of death.

Fortunately, even though we aren’t thinking about how to be safer drivers, other people are thinking about how to make driving safer and their efforts are making a difference.  These are the people who work in the area of crash test science which uses crash test dummies to learn how car accidents affect the human body so that cars can be designed to provide more protection.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), efforts in this area have helped to decrease the number of fatalities from 23 per 100,000 licensed drivers to 16 during the 15 year period from 1994 to 2009.

So, how does crash test science help make you safer?

The use of crash test dummies in one form or another started early on in the evolution of the car.  Car makers realized that in order to make cars safer, they needed to understand what happened to the occupants of the car when collisions occurred.  In the first half of the 20th century, cadavers and pigs acted as crash test subjects, allowing car makers to see the types of damage caused from things hitting bodies and from bodies impacting other things.    While this was helpful, it didn’t show the other kinds of damage that collisions cause like those resulting from gravitational force and kinetic energy.   It was also impossible to conduct standardized testing.

Then, in 1949, came Sierra Sam, the first real crash test dummy.  Sierra Sam was originally designed to test what happened when a person was ejected using an ejector seat in an aircraft.  From Sam, crash test dummies have developed into very sophisticated pieces of equipment that can cost as much as $400,000.  Crash test dummies allow for standardized tests to be conducted across multiple vehicles and different scenarios.  This enables car makers to learn how to make cars safer and to test changes to ensure changes actually improve safety in the ways they expect.

As long as there are cars being driven by people, there will be accidents.  This means that making crashes more survivable is the key to further decreasing the fatality rate.  Survivability goes beyond keeping people inside the car and keeping the passenger compartment intact, although improvements in these areas have dramatically increased the safety of our cars.  This is where crash test dummies and the data they provide make a real difference.  Gaining a real understanding of the kinetic energy a body is subjected to during a collision enables car designers to design cars in ways to reduce those effects.

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Are you properly insured if you’re considering a remodel? (Image via google)

You have a big remodel planned this summer that includes a revamped master bedroom and bath, a new kitchen, and a small addition that will create a family room off the back of the house.  You have been dreaming about cooking in your new kitchen and waking up in your new bedroom for months.  You have all the contractors you need lined up.  Your permits are in place and you feel like you have everything taken care.  But, have you called your insurance agent?

One mistake that many homeowners make is doing major improvements to their home without consulting their insurance agent.  There are several areas where this oversight can lead to problems with your coverage while the remodeling work is underway and after it is complete.   First, you need to make sure you have the right kind and right amount of coverage to protect you during the construction.   Don’t wait until work has already started as you don’t want to find out you are underinsured when it is too late to rectify that problem.  Second, your insurance needs may change based on the outcome of the remodel.

Here are some steps you need to take to ensure you have the coverage you need to protect you during the process.

1.     Call Your Agent

It is important to do this before work starts.  There may be additional coverage you need to secure during the remodel.  If you or a family member will be doing most of the work, you may need to boost or enhance your liability coverage in the event someone is injured.  Your agent can also advise you if there are additional coverage’s you need to have in place during the project.

2.     Increase Your No Fault Medical Protection

The medical payments portion of your homeowners insurance is likely very low as the primary concern under normal circumstances is liability.  However, if you or members of your family or even other people like friends are going to be doing some of the work, you should increase this limit.  In the event someone is injured during construction, any medical bills can be submitted to the insurance company for payment.

3.     Check Out You Subcontractors

While many homeowners think to check the references of subcontractors, they don’t always think to inquire about the subcontractors insurance and bonding.  If the person doing work at your house damages your property or injures someone, you need to know that they are carrying adequate insurance to cover those losses.  If they do not, the liability may fall on you and your homeowner’s policy may not cover these kinds of claims, leaving you to pay the bill out of pocket.  Verify coverage by asking for proof of insurance from any company or individual that will be performing work on your house.  If a subcontractor is unable or unwilling to provide proof of insurance, you may want to hire someone else.

4.     Consider Additional Coverage

If you are doing a large project, you may want to purchase additional coverage like a Builder’s Risk policy.  This type of policy protects you from any damage to your house during the course of construction including damage from wind or rain, theft of materials, and vandalism.

 

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Does your insurance policy cover “acts of God?” (image via google)

If you own a car, own a house, or have a family, it’s a good bet you have some kind of insurance.  Odds are you have at least some kind of coverage for the car you drive and the place you live.  If you have personal insurance, you understand the importance of protecting yourself, your financial future, and your property.  But even savvy insurance consumers don’t always know all the ins and outs of their policies.  Here are 4 things customers commonly do not know about their personal insurance policies.

1.     Your Car Insurance Won’t Buy You a New Phone

If you have car insurance and your car is stolen, you know your policy will replace your car or reimburse you for its loss.  But, most car insurance policies will not replace or reimburse you for any personal property that was in the car at the time it was taken.  This also holds true for items stolen from your car.  Let’s say you leave your laptop under the backseat and your cell phone in the center console and someone breaks the window and steals both.  Your car insurance will cover the cost of repairing the window, but you are on your own for the loss of your laptop and phone.

2.     Losing Your Home Won’t Make You Homeless

One thing many people don’t realize about their homeowner’s policy is that it provides for the payment of expenses you incur if you have to live somewhere other than your home for a period of time while repairs are made.  For example, there is a fire in your house that causes significant enough damage that you will have to live somewhere else for 6 months; your policy will pay for the initial stay in a hotel as well as your rent and some other expenses.

3.     Life Insurance Benefits are Not Automatically Tax Free

If you die, the proceeds of any and all life insurance policies go to your beneficiaries’ tax free, right?  Not always.  Whether or not your life insurance payout will be subject to taxes completely depends on the details of your policy.  If you have a term policy where you are the policy owner and your spouse is the beneficiary, if you die during the policy term, the payout will likely be tax free.  However, if someone else, like your parent is the policy owner, there may be tax implications.  Talk to your insurance agent and an accountant to ensure you have a complete understanding of any tax implications.

4.     Natural Disasters are Not Generally Covered

An unfortunate truth in the world is that Mother Nature is unpredictable and sometimes leaves devastation in her wake.  Another unfortunate truth is that many of these disasters are excluded from standard personal insurance policies.  While most people know that flooding is not covered by their homeowners policy, they don’t realize that damage caused by tornados, earthquakes, and other “acts of god” is not covered without purchasing additional coverage.

The best protection you have is to read your policy all the way through and make sure you understand all its provisions and exclusions.  If you are unsure about whether or not something is covered, ask your insurance agent for clarification.

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Does your business need Kidnap Ransom Insurance? (image via google)

When it comes to insuring your business, there is basic coverage and what is called specialty coverage.  Basic coverage is the standard type of insurance almost every business needs to have, property, liability, business auto, and worker’s comp.  Specialty coverage is less standard and is provided to cover specific types of risks some businesses face and therefore must mitigate.

There are a wide range of specialty insurance products that are industry specific.  If you are an exporter, you will need Ocean Cargo coverage.  If you are a financial advisor, you might need special coverage specific to any fiduciary responsibilities you might have.  As these products can be very industry specific, you will want to talk to your agent, check with any professional organizations you belong to, and ask your industry contacts for more information on the specific types of coverage you need.

There are also a few specialty products that may be needed across a variety of industries.  Here is a brief overview of each of these types of coverage and information on what kind of businesses may need to secure it.

Key Employee Life Insurance

Regardless of how big your business is, there are likely people within in, including yourself, that may need separate life insurance policies in order to protect the company.  Generally when we talk about life insurance as it relates to an employee, it is the life insurance policy the company provides or arranges for the employee.  The beneficiary is chosen by the employee and the intent is to take care of the employee’s family in the event of their death.  Key employee life insurance is exactly the same except that the beneficiary is the business and the intent is to help the business recover from the loss of a key employee.

Businesses whose income is completely generated by or reliant on the participation or involvement of specific people may need to purchase this type of policy.  Law firms, doctor’s offices, financial advisors, and small business owners are all examples of the type of business that can benefit from this type of policy.   Generally, this type of policy is a term life policy and it only remains in effect so long as the employee is employed by the business.

Kidnap and Ransom Insurance

Around the world, research shows that criminal gangs kidnap an estimated 25,000 people each year with the sole intent of collecting ransom payments and making money.  In many countries, kidnap and ransom is an industry bringing in millions of dollars a year.   For businesses operating in these countries, this fact can pose significant risks to employee welfare and financial health.

A kidnap and ransom policy is designed to provide a limited amount of protection for businesses operating in these areas of the world.  The type of policy determines what expenses and costs are covered.  Most individual polices will not cover the cost of the actual ransom payments but does include the expense of negotiating the ransom and securing the safe return of the person who was kidnapped.   Most corporate policies cover negotiation expenses, ransom payments, and lost wages owed to the kidnapped employee.

Companies of any size that are operating in parts of the world where kidnap and ransom activities are prevalent need this kind of coverage.

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Be safe while bicycling this summer (image via The Coalition of Arizona Bicyclists)

Arizona’s natural beauty and climate make it the perfect place to ride a bike.  The blue skies, warm weather, and breathtaking vistas elevate a bike ride to a cycling experience.  But while you are out, relishing the feel of the wind on your face and the warmth of the sun on your back, make sure you are taking steps to stay safe and secure.

Be Safe

Whenever you are on your bike, safety has to be a top concern.  The dangers of cycling are inherent wherever you choose to ride, but here in Arizona you are also dealing with the dangers of the desert like dehydration and heat stroke.  Sharing the road with automobiles also increases the risk of riding your bike.  In 2009, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicates that 2% of all traffic fatalities involved cyclists.  Be safe whenever and wherever you ride by following these simple safety rules.

  1. Use your head and wear a helmet.  Never, ever ride without a helmet.  According to the NHTSA, 70% of fatal bicycle accidents involve brain injuries and bike helmets are 85% effective at preventing these types of injuries.
  2. Follow the rules.  When you are on the road, even if you are on a bike, you need to follow the rules of the road just as you would if you were driving a car.  This helps keep you safe by making your behavior predictable to those you are sharing the road with.  Always stay as far to the right side of the road as you can safely ride.
  3. See and be seen.  The unfortunate fact is that some automobile drivers won’t see you which means you must assume that none of them see you and make sure you do everything you can to ensure motorists and other cyclists see you.
  4. Pay attention.  Don’t let yourself become distracted.  Don’t wear headphones which block out the sounds of oncoming traffic which could alert you to a dangerous situation.  Don’t talk or text on your cell phone.  Don’t try to visit with your friend while you are riding together.  The best way to stay safe is to stay focused and remain alert to potential dangers around you.

Be Secure

Even when you are not on your bike, security should be your top concern.  Bikes range in cost from a hundred dollars to several thousand dollars and are easier to steal and resell than a car.  The good news is that most standard homeowner’s and renter’s insurance policies cover losses to bicycles.  Your policy should cover the same kinds of losses that are covered if you have comprehensive car insurance like damage caused by weather, fire, or theft.  Although this is generally the case, you should check your policy or speak to your representative to make sure this coverage is provided in your policy.

As part of this check, you also need to ask if there is a limit on the recoverable amount for bicycles under your policy.  Even though your homeowner’s or renter’s policy covers damage to bicycles, the amount of coverage may be less than the actual limits on your policy.  This is especially important for anyone with expensive bicycles.  Don’t assume your policy will automatically cover the cost of a new bike.  If there is a limit, ask your agent to explain what options are available to you to increase coverage to cover the full cost of replacement.

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Are your belongings insured while they’re stored in a storage unit? (image via google)

Being able to rent storage space can be a godsend in certain situations.  You might be downsizing to a smaller home but want to keep family heirlooms for your children.  You may be moving from one place to another and need a temporary place to keep your stuff safe and secure.  You might have outgrown the house you have now and need the extra room while you search for a house that better meets your needs.  No matter the reason you need it, having the option to store your things in a rented space can be the difference between keeping things you love and being forced to sell, giveaway, or toss things you would really rather keep.

When it comes to solving these problems, self-storage units and even those storage solutions that offer amenities like climate control and added security provide an easy solution.  This is why so many of us, nearly 1 in 10 according to the Self Storage Association, have rented storage space separate from our primary housing.  When looking for the right storage space, many of us consider things like location, cost, security, and the reputation of the company managing the storage units.  We often go to great lengths to ensure we are storing our belongings in a safe, secure location without ever asking the most obvious security-related question: “If there is a fire and the items I store in my storage unit are damaged, will my loss be covered by insurance?”

The answer is… it depends.

1.     Storage Company

Start with the storage company where you are planning to store your possessions.  It is important to ask the right questions because the answers provided may be true but may lead you to believe you are protected when you are not.  First, ask about if the company is insured.  You are trying to determine if the company is covered by basic insurance policies any business should have like liability and property.  Once you have established that they are insured, ask if their policy provides any protection for your property in the event that fire, nature, or theft damages or destroys your property.  If the answer is yes, verify how much coverage your personal property is provided under their policy and check that against what you plan to store to ensure it is enough to cover any potential losses.

2.     Homeowner’s and Renter’s Policies

If the storage company does not have insurance that covers your property, this is your next stop.  Any items that you store off your property may be covered by your homeowner/renter policy which makes that a good starting point.  Talk to your agent to find out if offsite storage is covered by your policy.  If it isn’t, you will need to secure this coverage somewhere else.  If it is, you aren’t out of the woods yet.  Some insurance companies limit the value of property that can be stored offsite and still covered.  In order to determine if you have the insurance protection you need, you will need to know if your policy includes this provision and what that maximum value is.  You also want to make sure that there aren’t any other provisions in your policy specific to stored property like higher deductibles.

It isn’t difficult to protect all of your property, regardless of where it is kept.  You just need to make sure you have proper coverage or take the steps to get the coverage you need.

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Does your business need umbrella coverage? (Image via FreeFoto)

When it comes to buying the insurance you need to protect your small business, the wide range of options can be confusing and overwhelming.  There are so many different types of policies and different level of coverage that it isn’t always easy to know if you have all the coverage you need, if you are underinsured, or if you have policies that provide coverage for risks you don’t face.  One of the most common questions small business owners ask about the coverage they need is about umbrella coverage and whether or not they need it.

Surprisingly, although it is the type of insurance almost everyone and almost every business should have, it is not as well understood as the other common coverage types like auto, liability, and worker’s comp.  This can have serious, long lasting consequences for business owners of all types.  To understand why Umbrella coverage is so critical to small businesses, you need to first understand what it is and what it does.

Umbrella insurance is a kind of liability coverage.  These policies extend, like an umbrella, over most of your other liability policies like your business auto and your general liability.  If there is a claim that breaches the upper limit of one of your base policies, the Umbrella policy provides coverage over and above that limit.  For example, if you or one of your employees were at fault in an auto accident where your company’s car caused damage in excess of the $50,000 property damage limit on your business auto policy, your company would be responsible for paying every dollar over that limit out of pocket.  The insurance company pays $50,000, you pay the rest.   Now, if your business has a $5M Umbrella policy, the insurance company for your base policy would pay for any damages up to $50,000 and then the Umbrella carrier would pay for any damages from $50,001 to $5M.  To break this down, having that Umbrella policy in place could mean the difference between your company paying nothing and your company being responsible for millions of dollars of damages.

When looked at from this perspective, it is clear why many businesses must have an Umbrella policy in place to protect the viability of the business.  In order to determine if your business needs this type of coverage, here are some things to consider.

If your business requires you or any employee to operate a motor vehicle as part of doing business, you must have an umbrella policy over your business auto policy.  Car accidents can lead to incredibly expensive liability lawsuits and even minor accidents can result in medical bills that exceed your business auto policy limits.  Don’t take the risk; if your business has auto coverage, you need an umbrella policy.

If your business has assets, you need umbrella coverage.  It doesn’t take much these days for someone to file a lawsuit and even if you win, the cost of defending yourself can wipe out your available cash and even your businesses assets.  If you lose, the situation can quickly compromise your entire business.  Umbrella coverage protects you from the high costs associated with getting sued.

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Are your custom car parts covered by your insurance policy? (image via Beaulieu_Hants on Flickr)

You have a sweet ride.  You have spent a lot of money making it as unique as you are including a custom paint job, an aftermarket exhaust, and custom alloy wheels with chrome rims.   You installed a hi-end stereo system with subwoofer, amp, and speakers.  You park your car in the same place every day while you are at work.  You just left work and are heading across the parking lot to your space.  At first, you are merely confused to find some other car in your spot.  But as minutes tick by and you look around for your car, confused, understanding settles over you.  You had a sweet ride.  Now, someone else is driving it.

This is not the moment that you want to find out that all those custom parts aren’t covered by your auto insurance policy.  Unfortunately for you, that is most likely what you will find out when the auto adjuster meets with you to talk about your car.   Standard policies do not generally cover add-ons and upgrades like custom wheels and special speakers.  This means that any loss to your vehicle that damages these parts won’t be covered by your insurance company.

How to Determine What is Covered and What is Not

The best way to figure out what your auto policy covers is to read the entire policy that was provided with your policy when you bought it.  Your auto policy usually comes with at least two standard pieces, the Dec Page (Declaration Page) and the full policy document.  Each year at renewal, your insurance company likely sends you a new Dec Page which lists start and end dates, limits, coverage’s, and deductibles.  Most insurance companies do not provide the full policy document at renewal unless it has fundamentally changed.  If you have had your policy for several years, it is likely a good idea to call the insurance company and request a new copy.  This saves you from having to dig through old paperwork to find it and also ensures you have the most up to date version.

The policy document outlines every detail about your policy and includes what it covered and what is excluded.  Most insurance companies have a standard policy form that they use for all policies.  Unless you requested additional coverage’s or different limits, it is likely that your policy follows this standard form.

You can also discuss your policy with your agent and ask them to walk you through your policy and explain what is covered and what is not.

How to Cover Your Customizations

Once you understand what is covered, you can talk to your insurance agent about how to get your custom parts and features covered.  The extra coverage you need and which insurance company you use will determine how the additional items you need to insure will be covered.  You may need to schedule the items, which will add them as covered items to your original policy.  You may need to purchase a rider which adds additional coverage to your policy to provide coverage for your custom items.  You may also need to buy a separate policy in order to secure the coverage you need.  You agent can assist you in determining the best way to meet your needs.

Don’t wait until the worst happens to determine if your custom car has the coverage you need.  Check your policy and talk to an agent today.

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What are you looking for in a new car? (image via Technosailor on flickr)

In 2010, statistics show that more than 700 people lost their lives in automobile accidents on Arizona roads according to ADOT.   There were more than 100,000 accidents that year that also resulted in more than 50,000 reported injuries.  These statistics are the reason that one of the most important things families must look for when shopping for a new car is safety features.  Many people assume that mandatory government safety standards mean that one car is just as safe as another.  However, while there are minimum safety standards required by the government, this does not mean that all cars are created equal.  Manufacturers meet those minimum standards in different ways.  Some meet the minimum and no more.  Others invest in more advanced safety measures.  In order to find the car that meets your safety requirements, you need to know what to look for.  Here are 4 tips to help you shop for a safe car.

1.    Passenger Restraints

It wasn’t that long ago that not every car came with seatbelts, but unlike the cars of the past, today’s cars come with comprehensive passenger safety restraint systems(SRS).  The SRS starts with the seatbelt and also includes air bags, head rests, and even the windshield.  These components all work together to protect drivers and passengers during collisions.  The seatbelt helps keep you in your seat, the air bags help keep you from hitting anything inside the car, the head rest protects your neck from whiplash or other injury, and the windshield, in some cars, helps maintain the structural integrity of the passenger compartment.

2.     Anti-Lock Brakes

Anti-lock brakes are crucial to helping the driver maintain control of the vehicle in certain circumstances.  In older cars, slamming on the brakes would often cause the brakes to lock up, sending the car into an uncontrolled skid.  Anti-lock brakes keep that from happening.  However, it is important for all drivers to understand that anti-lock brakes help you maintain control of the car in a skid, but they do not help you stop more quickly.

3.     Weight

Heavier cars are safer, especially in crashes between two vehicles.  Collision damage is all about physics, the transferring of force from one state to another.  In an accident with a large heavy vehicle and a small light vehicle, the heavier car has more force behind it.  This is why it takes longer to stop your car if you have it fully loaded.  Because it has more force, the heavier car wins, pushing the lighter car backwards increasing the gravitational force on the occupants of the smaller car.  This force, all by itself, can cause serious injuries.

4.     Crash Test Rating

When it comes down to it, the primary danger of being in a car only occurs when there is an accident.  This is why it is important to understand the crash test rating of any car you are considering purchasing.   The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the government agency responsible for conducting all crash tests on new cars.  They assess each car on how much protection it offers occupants of the passenger compartment during front impact collisions, side impact collisions, and roll-over accidents.  Using crash test dummies, the NHTSA tests and rates vehicles based on how likely it is that a person in the front seat of the vehicle who is wearing their seatbelt will suffer a serious head or chest injury during a front impact collision or a serious chest injury in a side impact collision.  Rollover testing rates how likely a vehicle is to rollover if involved in a single car accident.  These ratings are provided for all new cars each year at www.safercar.gov.

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Be safe on the lakes this summer (image via macbiff on Flickr)

Summer is here which means the temps are high, the skies are clear, and people across the state can’t wait to take their boats out every chance they get.  We may not have as many options for boating and water sports as some other states, but our lakes and waterways have some of the highest activity levels in the country.  Unfortunately, with so many boats and watercrafts in the water, accidents happen.  Even seasoned boaters need to refresh themselves on safe operation and common sense safety precautions.   Despite having few lakes and waterways, in 2010 Arizona ranked thirteenth in the nation for both the number of boating accidents and the number of boating injuries.

Here is a picture of Arizona’s Boating accidents in 2010 based on the information provided in the 2010 Boating Safety Report.

  • In 2010, there were 142 watercraft accidents on Arizona’s waterways.
  • Those 142 accidents involved 197 vessels, causing 89 injuries and 6 fatalities.
  • The 142 accidents resulted in almost $500,000 in damages.
  • The most common causes of boating accidents were operator inattention, operator inexperience, and passenger/behavior.
  • 34% of all accidents in 2010 involved colliding with other vessels.
  • Open motor boats and personal watercraft like jet skis were the type of vessel most commonly involved in an accident, accounting for 43% and 40% of all vessels respectively.
  • Watercraft spanning 9’ to 11’ in length accounted for the highest number of vessels (37%) involved in accidents.
  • The majority of accidents (42%) happen between noon and 4PM on clear, calm days.
  • The most dangerous days are Saturday which saw 35% of all accidents and Sunday, which saw 27%.
  • The most dangerous month for boating was May which saw 22% of the accidents for the entire year.  July was a close second with 19% and third by June with 18%.
  • Most accidents, nearly 76%, involved operators from either Arizona or California.
  • The Middle Colorado River span, which goes from David Dam to 1-40 was the most accident prone waterway in the state.  There were 29 accidents on this span which accounted for 20% of the annual total.
  • The most dangerous waterways, those resulting in the highest ratio of casualties per accident were the Verde River with an average 3 casualties per accident, Parker Canyon Lake and Lake Mary which both averaged two casualties per accident, and Bartlett Lake and the Upper span of the Colorado River which both average 1 casualty per accident.
  • The most deadly waterways were Verde River which only had one accident but that resulted in three deaths and Parker Canton Lake which also only had one accident but that resulted in 2 fatalities.
  • Since 1998, the numbers show that almost half of all fatal boating accidents in Arizona involve alcohol.
  • In 2010, law enforcement officials arrested almost 300 people for operating a watercraft under the influence.

Making Our Waterways Safer

Education is the best way to decrease the number of accidents and save lives on our lakes and rivers.  Although boater safety training is not mandatory in Arizona, it is provided by the state.  There is an 8 hour core boating safety class offered at several locations.  Additionally, in an effort to reverse the growing trend of paddle craft related fatalities, Arizona is one of the first states to create and provide a boating safety course specifically designed around safe operation of paddle craft.  You can find a schedule of the classes being offered here.

With the July 4th holiday and summer vacations upon us, the lakes and rivers will be full of those celebrating the holiday.  If you or someone you love will be boating, please take all precautions to follow the rules of the waterways, don’t operate a boat if you’ve consumed alcohol, and ensure everyone onboard has a lifejacket accessible to them.

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Don’t Drink and Drive (image via google)

Everyone knows that fireworks are dangerous and must be handled appropriately if they are going to be part of your July 4th celebration.  The same holds true for alcohol.  It can be dangerous if not handled appropriately.  This July 4th, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) wants to make sure you are being as careful around alcohol as you are around fireworks.

As people across the country get ready to celebrate Independence Day, officers at all levels of law enforcement are preparing for one of the deadliest holidays of the year.  In 2010, nearly 400 people lost their lives over the July 4th holiday and 39%of those fatalities involved one or more drivers with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of more than .08 according to the NHTSA.  Here in Arizona, the NHTSA reports that July 4th, 2010 was the deadliest holiday of the year with 6 alcohol-related fatal accidents resulting in 7 fatalities, almost twice the number of any other holiday that year.

This year, police departments all over the country will be participating in an enforcement campaign designed to crack down on impaired driving of all kinds and reduce the loss of life over the holiday.  The motto this year is “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” which highlights the nationwide zero tolerance for impaired driving.  Law enforcement officers will be manning additional sobriety checkpoints, heading out on patrol, and participating in other activities to raise awareness of the danger and encourage drivers to make the right choice.

Here are some tips to help you and the other drivers in your life celebrate Independence Day without risking your life or the lives of others by getting behind the wheel when you are too impaired to drive safely.

1.     Stay Sober or Stay the Night

Making plans ahead of time to spend the night wherever you are going to be celebrating allows you to drink and make merry without worrying about having to drive.  Night driving during the holiday is even more dangerous than driving during the day and driving fatalities involving impaired drivers go up as soon as the sun goes down.  According to the NHTSA, over the 2010 July 4th holiday 80% of nearly 400 alcohol related fatalities happened at night.  Staying the night, even if you aren’t drinking, can save your life.

2.     Designate a Driver

The best way to make sure everyone gets to have fun and get home safely is to make sure there is someone designated to drive.  If you are heading out for the day, the afternoon, or all night, decide ahead of time who is going to be getting you back home.  This is important even if you are going out and have no intention of drinking or getting drunk.  Having a designated driver every time ensures you will never be behind the wheel because you are the “most sober” one.

3.     Don’t Play the Odds

Many people think that if they just drive this one time, it will be fine.  They think that the odds are in their favor because they are focusing on whether or not they will get caught, rather than whether or not they will get killed.  If someone told you that you could stay the night and be fine but if you walked out the front door you stood a 26% (1 in 4) chance that something would fall on you, would you walk out the door?  What if you knew that 40% of the time that something falling on you would kill you?  Would you take the risk?  The odds of getting pulled over, losing your license, and going to jail may not be high enough to make you stay out of the game, but maybe understanding that you are playing with your life will.

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Do you know losing a job will affect your insurance? (image via fairfaxcounty on flickr)

Times are tough and the economic turmoil of recent years continues to claim jobs almost every day.  The loss of a job presents problems on several fronts, first and foremost, the loss of income.  For many people who become unemployed, this problem overwhelms any others and makes it difficult to see how losing a job impacts other areas of your life.  Unfortunately, not dealing with these other areas can lead to more problems down the road.  One of these areas is your insurance coverage.

The last thing you need when you lose your job is to add to your family’s financial burden by purchasing insurance policies.  However, if you are like most people, you have been getting at least some of your insurance coverage through your employer.  Some of this coverage, like health and disability coverage was provided by your employer.  Other types of coverage like life, auto, and even homeowner’s coverage were purchased through your employer.  When your job goes away, in almost all cases, so does this coverage.   You may find yourself without life insurance, auto coverage, or a homeowner’s policy which further endangers the financial future of your family.

Here are things you must consider in terms of your insurance policies when you lose your job.

Health Insurance

Most people will have the option of continuing employer offered health insurance through the COBRA program once their employment ends.  This can be a lifesaver for families where the primary insurance provider suffers a job loss.  However, be prepared to pay significantly more for the same coverage.  Shop around to see if you can find an individual policy that is more cost effective.

Life Insurance

If your life insurance was provided by or through your employer, you will need to find a new individual policy to meet your life insurance needs.  This should be a top priority in order to protect your family’s future.  Temporary loss of your income is challenging enough; don’t take the chance that the worst happens and your family must figure out how to move forward without you while also dealing with the permanent loss of your income.

Disability Insurance

Life insurance is important, but disability coverage is just as important, especially for those in their middle years with families.  People in this age group are actually more likely to become disabled than to die, according to the Social Security Administration. This means that protecting your family’s finances may mean you need to secure a disability insurance policy that is separate and distinct from your employment.

Auto and Home

Many employers offer group insurance coverage for auto and homeowner’s policies that enables their employees to purchase this coverage at a discount.  When your employment ends, these policies may remain in effect but the cost to keep them may increase because you are no longer part of the group.  There is also a chance that this coverage will no longer be available.  Make an appointment with your insurance agent to discuss these policies and make sure you have the coverage you need at the best possible price.

Losing a job is difficult enough; make sure you don’t compound the problem by failing to attend to your family’s insurance needs.

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http://www.iii.org/articles/life-stages/employment-change.html

Has your home or car been affected by a hail storm? (image via google)

Luckily, here in Arizona, hail doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it can do serious damage.  According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA), hail causes more than $1B in damage each year.  It flattens crops, breaks windows, damages roofs, and dents cars.  Even small hail stones can cause major problems because of the speed at which they hit, often approaching 90 miles per hour.  The Insurance Information Institute reports that in 2011, Arizona experienced 20 hail events.  In comparison to some other states, that number is very small, but as we learned in October of 2010, it only takes one storm to cause widespread losses.   The best way to protect yourself and your property from damage is to know what to do when hail happens.

What is Hail?

Hail starts out as small chunks of ice that become larger when they collide with water droplets.  The churning nature of the storm, filled with updrafts and downdrafts, sends these little pieces of ice up and down through the varying temperatures contained within the cloud layer.  When the ice pellets go up, the water freezes around them, increasing their size and causing them to fall.  This can happen over and over again and determines the size of the hailstone.

Hail happens most frequently during thunderstorms in the spring and summer months, but can occur anytime the conditions are right.   In order for a thunderstorm to produce hail, the cloud layer needs to have a high liquid content, large water droplets, the right temperature, and sufficient buoyancy.  The kind of intense updraft winds found with tornados also help create the conditions for producing hail.

The Damage it Does

Hail can cause damage to anything it can hit which includes your home, your car, your crops, your animals, your business, and of course, yourself.  Hail can cause serious damage to the roof of your home, breaking shingles, causing structural damage, and creating leaks.  It can also break windows in your home or business which allows accompanying weather phenomena like rain and wind to damage the building’s interior.  Hail can also break the windows and windshields of cars, trucks, RVs, and airplanes.  Although only cosmetic, hail can also cause hundreds of small dents all over the vehicle, decreasing its value.  Hail can injury humans and animals and destroy crops.

How to Protect Yourself

The best way to protect yourself and your property from hail damage is to ensure you have adequate insurance coverage in place that protects you from losses from hail.  Hail damage to a home is generally covered under most standard homeowner’s policies.  It is also included in most comprehensive auto coverage.  However, it is important to read through your policies to ensure this coverage is included in your actual policy.  If your policies do not provide protection from losses resulting from hail, talk to your insurance agent about the options you have to secure this coverage.

You can also take important steps when a hail storm is eminent to limit the damage to your property.  Move any vehicle inside a garage, car port, or covered parking lot.  If none of these are available, you can cover the car with thick blankets that will help cushion the impact of any hailstones and limit the damage.   Bring any animals indoors and take shelter in a room without windows.  There is little you can do to protect crops, homes, or buildings when a storm is coming, which is why it is so important to have the right insurance coverage in place before hail happens.

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How far away is the lightning you see? (Image via weatherwizkids on google)

Lightning Safety Week begins on June 24th and runs through the end of the month this year.   Groups of all types from your insurance provider to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric  Administration (NOAA) will be spreading the word and making sure everyone knows how dangerous lightning can be and what steps to take when a thunderstorm rolls through.   The National Weather Service’s motto this year is “When the thunder roars, get indoors!” which is a reminder to everyone that in a thunder storm the safest place for people is inside of a building.

According to the National Weather Service, about 54 people are killed each year by lightning strikes.  There are also hundreds that are injured or disabled, sometimes seriously when they are struck.  For those that survive, symptoms like memory loss, chronic pain, dizziness, muscle spasms, and fatigue can persist for years after the initial injury.  This is why it is so important for everyone to be safe when lightning starts to strike.

How Close is Too Close?

New information into how lightning behaves in a storm and how far from the center of the storm it can strike has changed many of the safety protocols and concepts previously taught.  For example, children used to be taught that if you counted the number of seconds between the flash of the lightning and the roar of the thunder, you would know how many miles there were between you and the storm.  Each second equated to one mile so 10 seconds meant 10 miles.  Now, that formula is a little different.  If you count the number of seconds between the lightning and the thunder and divide it by 5, you know how many miles the storm is from you.  In the previous example, that 10 becomes a 2.  When you pair that with the new understanding of lightning’s range, it is easy to understand why the recommendation is to get inside as soon as you hear that first roar of thunder.

The Dangers of Lightning

Beyond the obvious physical harm people face of with a direct strike, lightning also poses other dangers.  One of the biggest is fire.  Lightning strikes can ignite forest and brush fires, especially in places that are very dry.  Lightning striking your home can also result in fire, which makes it even more important to have a family fire evacuation plan and fire protection supplies like fire extinguishers and smoke detectors in place.  If your home catches fire as the result of a lightning strike, it is very likely that the loss is covered by your homeowners insurance.  The next danger, power surges, may not be covered, which means you need to check with your insurance agent to determine if your possessions are protected.  When lightning strikes, it can cause power surges to race through the power grid, affecting homes far from the actual storm.   Make sure all electronic equipment, which is the most vulnerable to power surge damage, is plugged into a surge strip that protects against the type of surges caused by lightning.

Protecting Yourself

Although the safest place to be in a thunder storm is inside a building like your home, this won’t keep you 100% safe from lightning strikes.  When a building is struck by lightning, the electric current can travel through the building in a number of ways.  It can use the electrical system, the plumbing system, and even the metal bars used to reinforce the building.  These currents surging through the house can hurt you if you are not careful.  During a thunderstorm, stay away from all electronics including computers and appliances.  Don’t take a shower or come in contact with water from your plumbing system.  Don’t talk on the phone unless you are using your cell phone.  These steps will help keep you safe if the house or building you are in is struck.

Take some time over the next week to help educate others about lightning safety and spread awareness for lightning safety week.  Just remember, if you hear the thunder roar, get indoors.

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Remember as you’re having fun, be safe this summer (image via google)

When most of us think of summer, we don’t think of the increased safety risk associated with everyone’s favorite season.  Along with cloudless skies and outdoor fun, summer brings a new set of safety concerns and homeowners need to take specific steps to safeguard their family, friends, and property from these additional dangers.

Here are 7 tips sure to make your summer as safe as it is sunny.

1.     Secure Your Pool

If you have a pool, you have a problem – you must secure the pool and take serious measures to keep everyone with access to the pool safe.  According to the CDC, of the 3,400 people who drown each year, 20% of them are under the age of 14.  Make sure your pool is secure by erecting a solid barrier around the entire perimeter and installing alarms that will ensure no one can enter unsupervised or unattended.

2.     Supervise Children

Adults don’t realize that it only takes a few moments of inattention for a child’s life to be lost.  This is especially true when children are near a pool, lake, or other body of water.

3.     Don’t Mix Alcohol and Water

If you are doing something around water, like swimming, boating, fishing, or waterskiing, save the drinks for another day.  According to information gathered by the CDC, 70% of adolescent and adult deaths resulting from water recreation involved alcohol.

4.     Get Certified

From drowning to dehydration, the dangers of this season are present in almost every summertime activity.  The best way to protect your family is prevention.  The second best way is to be able to respond immediately in the right way to preserve life.  Becoming certified in basic first aid and CPR will give you the skills and knowledge you need if the worst happens.

5.     Mow with Care

According to the Insurance Information Institute, more than 75,000 people must be taken to the emergency room each year because of lawn mower related injuries.  Almost all of these are caused by human error.  Make sure you know how to use your mower properly and that you are vigilant in your attention while the mower is on.

6.     Dress Appropriately

This holds true no matter what you are doing.  If you are mowing the lawn, wear clothing that protects your legs from flying objects.  If you are hiking, wear layers.  If you are lounging by the pool, wear sunscreen and a hat.   If you are in a boat, wear a life jacket.  If you are using the grill, wear protective gloves and a heavy apron.

7.     Grill Responsibly

Grills present several possible dangers ranging from serious burns to starting house fires.   To protect your family and property, make sure that your grill is stored and used in a safe location.   Never use a gas or charcoal grill in the house and store all gas canisters outside and away from the house.  Check to make sure that all grill components are working properly before using the grill each time and keep a fire extinguisher close by in case there is an emergency.

Summer is supposed to be about having fun, being on vacation, and enjoying the best of what nature has to offer.  Keep your summer fun and carefree by paying attention, taking the right precautions, and eliminating those risks that you can control.

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Are you properly insured in the event you become disabled? (image via goingslo on Flickr)

Many working Americans don’t have the right insurance in place to provide their family with the protection they need.  If you asked most people in their 30’s and 40’s what kind of insurance they need in order to protect their family, they would likely answer auto, home, and/or life insurance.  While these types of coverage do provide protection and are a necessary, they don’t cover all the bases by themselves.  In fact, people in this age group actually need another type of insurance even more than they need life insurance.  What coverage are they missing?  Disability insurance.

Most people have some kind of disability insurance through their employer but for many of us, that coverage isn’t enough to protect our family’s financial security.  The root of the problem is that people are worried about things in the wrong order.  People in this age group are aware of their own mortality and concerned about how their death would impact their families.  What they don’t realize however, is that they have a 30% chance of becoming disabled before retirement age and only a 17% chance of dying before retirement age according to the Social Security Administration.

But My Employer Provides Disability Coverage

Many people receive short term disability coverage through their employer, but if you become disabled, this coverage may not be enough. Consider this; you are the primary breadwinner for your family and become temporarily disabled, your employer offered coverage will likely only pay you 60% of your regular salary.  If your family had to get by for several months on little more than half your salary, could you do it?  This is one of the most important questions you need to answer in order to determine if you need additional disability insurance.

But I Work for Myself

If you are self-employed, that picture may be bleaker.  Would your business be able to survive without you for several months?  Would it continue to pay you the money you need to take care of your family?  Those who own their own business and who work for themselves must have some kind of safety net in place to protect themselves in the event of a disabling event.  Even if you have money in reserves to help cover your personal income, you may not have thought about how the business will continue if you cannot function in the same role you are in right now.  Understanding how this kind of event will impact you personally and your business is the key to determining how much disability coverage you need in order to have the protection you need in place.

Short vs. Long Term Coverage

Additionally, even if your short term coverage is in place and seems adequate, you may not be protected if you become disabled for a longer term or even for life.  There are two different kinds of disability coverage, short term and long term.  Short term coverage generally covers qualifying disabilities for a period that is generally less than one year and may be tied to the amount of time you have been with the company.  If you remain disabled after the timeframe covered by the short term policy, you will need a long term disability policy in order to continue receiving benefits.

Because disability insurance policies can be complex with many restrictions and a wide range of options, you should work with an insurance professional to find the right policy to provide the coverage you need to protect your financial future.

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Do you know where the hidden dangers in your home are located? (image via google)

When it comes to keeping our homes safe and secure, we all know the basics.  Don’t leave candles unattended, test your smoke detectors, and clean out the lint tray in the dryer.  But there are many other dangers lurking in our living rooms and cavorting in our kitchens that can be even more dangerous because we don’t think of them and therefore, don’t take the steps to protect against them.  June is Home Safety Month and to help you create the safest and most secure home possible, here are some of the most common hazards that may be hiding in your home.

Smoke Detectors without Batteries

It is great to have smoke detectors, but they need to be operational.  More than two-thirds of all home fire fatalities occur in homes without working smoke detectors according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.   Note: this fact doesn’t say homes without smoke detectors; it says homes without working smoke detectors.  Check your smoke detectors to ensure that they contain batteries and that the batteries are working.

Clutter

Clutter can drive you crazy but it can also endanger your life.  It might sound strange but there are several ways that living in a cluttered environment can pose a danger.  First, you increase your risk of tripping and falling when the pathways through your home are not clear.  Second, clutter can provide a great source of fuel for home fires.   Third, clutter can make it difficult to navigate through your home in situations with poor visibility.  This can impede your ability to evacuate in the event of a fire or find a flashlight if the power goes out.

Blocked or Permanently Closed Windows

Take a minute to look around your house from the perspective of having to get out of the house in the event of a fire.  Pay particular attention to the windows.  Could you get to at least one window in every room, get it open, and get out of it if there was a fire?  Blocked windows and windows that have been nailed or painted shut can pose a danger by blocking an intended evacuation route from a room. Make sure each room has an accessible window that provides an exit in the event of a fire or other emergency.

Frayed Cords on Electronic Equipment

When was the last time you routed around behind your entertainment center to ensure that all the cords coming out of your various pieces of electronic equipment are in good working order?  Odds are the only time you think about the cords plugged into your outlets is when you plug something in or unplug it.  Unfortunately, cords can become frayed over time which creates a very dangerous situation.  Add checking your cords to your annual safety check.

Combustible Kitchens

Stand facing your stove and look at what is within 3 feet of the heating sources.  If your house is like most houses, you will see paper towels, pot holders, recipe cards, magazines, papers from your child’s school, and several other combustible materials.  This may explain why almost half of all home fires start in the kitchen.  Keep a combustible free zone around the stove and oven to decrease your risk of becoming a fire statistic.

Dirty Dryers

Everyone knows that cleaning out the lint tray in the dryer helps prevent house fires.  However, just cleaning the lint tray isn’t enough.  Dirt and lint still builds up inside the machine increasing the risk of fire.  Clean this out at least once a year and have it professionally cleaned on a regular basis.

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If your home were destroyed, is your insurance policy enough to rebuild and replace your possessions? (image via Delaware state fire school)

When was the last time you looked at your homeowner’s policy If you are like most homeowners, you looked at it when you bought it and then you filed it away in your filing cabinet or fireproof box for safe keeping.  But like the other insurance policies you have to protect you, you need to review and reassess your homeowners policy on a regular basis.  June is Home Safety Month which provides a great opportunity to review everything related to the safety and security of your home, including your homeowner’s policy.

Start by reading through your policy to make sure you understand all the terms and conditions and any exclusions.  Don’t hesitate to ask your insurance agent to explain anything that is unclear or answer any questions that come up during your review.  One of the most important things you need to understand about your policy is the type of replacement coverage that it provides.  This makes a big difference in determining the amount of coverage you need and explains how the insurance company will assign a value to your home and its contents if you experience any losses.

There are two primary types of replacement coverage, actual cash value and replacement value.  If your policy provides actual cash value for your losses, the insurance company will value your possessions and your home at the actual cash value minus any depreciation.  If your policy provides replacement value coverage, the insurance company will value your possessions and home at the current cost to replace them.  Understanding the difference between these two types of coverage is critical to understanding how much protection your homeowner’s policy is actually providing.

Let’s look at how the amount the insurance company would pay differs for the same loss under each of these coverage types.  There is a fire in your home that causes damage to the kitchen and the living room.  Both rooms have extensive damage and will require significant work to repair.  The fire destroys your stove, refrigerator, television, couch, and an antique desk.  Here is how the payout would differ.

If you have actual cash value coverage, the insurance company would use the value of the home to calculate the value of the portion of the house that was damaged.  Once that value was established, any depreciation would be subtracted from that value and that is the amount the insurance company would pay out for the damage to your home.  If your policy provides replacement coverage, the insurance company would get an estimate from a contractor on the cost to repair the damage and the payout would cover the cost of the repairs regardless of the value of the home or any depreciation.

The same process would be applied to the possessions damaged in the fire.  If your policy provides actual cash value, the current value of your stove, refrigerator, television, couch and antique desk would be determined and if appropriate, any depreciation would be subtracted in order to determine the payout.  If your policy provides replacement value, the cost to purchase comparable items to replace those that were destroyed would determine the amount of the payout.

As you can see from these examples, if your policy provides actual cash value coverage, you may not receive enough money from the insurance company to repair your home or replace your possessions.  Since most people don’t have the cash on hand to make up the difference in costs, most homeowners should consider having a policy that provides replacement value coverage.

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Double check these items to make sure your home is safe (image via Arrow Fence Co)

June is National Home Safety Month and the National Safety Council, in conjunction with partners across the country, is encouraging everyone to participate by doing their part to make their home a safer place to live. 

Here are 8 things you can do this month to reduce the risk of preventable injuries and property damage.

1.     Check Your Smoke Alarms

This is something you are likely to hear several times a year, but there is a reason that it comes up so often – it is important.  According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, two thirds of home fire fatalities occur in homes without working smoke alarms.  Check that each alarm has good batteries and that the alarm itself is in good working condition. Make sure you have enough smoke detectors to provide proper protection for all members of your family.

2.     Have a Fire Drill

Your family needs to practice escaping from a home fire for the same reason that children practice evacuating their school building in the event of a fire; practice makes it easier to do what you need to during a crisis.  The best way to protect your family in a fire is to make sure they know what to do and how to get out of the house.

3.     Make a List of Emergency Phone Numbers

We sometimes take for granted that everyone knows what to do and who to call when there is a crisis but this isn’t always the case.  Make a list of important phone numbers including the police and fire station, close family members, the poison center, neighbors, and family doctors and dentists.

4.     Create a Basic Emergency Plan

Make a plan for basic emergencies that lets all family members know what to do and where to go when something happens.  Your basic plan should include an outside meeting place, the location of basic emergency supplies like flashlights, and the process for shutting off utilities like water and electricity.

5.     Do More than Spring Clean

Clean all lint out of your dryer and exhaust hose.  Have your furnace cleaned and inspected.  Get your septic system pumped.

6.     Keep Things Grounded

Make sure all major appliances like refrigerators, dryers, washers, and dishwashers are grounded.  Locate and test all the GFCI outlets in your house and make sure other family members know where they are.  Don’t overload outlets.

7.     Place Emergency Supplies Throughout the House

You don’t just need a fire extinguisher in the kitchen or near the woodstove.  To be safe, put a fire extinguisher, carbon monoxide detector, flashlight, and first aid kit on each floor of the house.  Make sure all family members know where these supplies are located and how to use them.

8.     Eliminate  or Mitigate Risky Areas

If you have a swimming pool, make sure there is a solid fence around the pool that is locked when you are not paying attention to it.  If you have a hot tub, keep it covered when it is not in use.  Protect your family and your neighbors by making it difficult to use these things without you being present.

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The National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) Phoenix announced finalists for its annual chapter awards, honoring its members for their achievements. The winners of the six awards will be announced at the annual Desert Diamonds Awards Gala on Wednesday, June 6, 2012 at the Phoenix Country Club. More than 40 Members were nominated in six categories.

Finalists for the Business Owner of the Year are:
• Amy Bruske (Kolbe Corp.)
• Robin Orchard (Orchard Medical Consulting)
• Nancy Sanders (Three Dog Marketing)

Finalists for Member of the Year include:
• Amy Bruske (Kolbe Corp)
• Kristine Kassel (Benefits by Design)
• Dorothy Wolden (Creative Intuition)

Bridge Builder finalists are:
• Dawnyel Smink (Canyon Lands Insurance)
• Connie Zimmerlich (Click Chick Photography)

Unsung Hero Finalists include:
• Susan Ratliff (Susan Ratliff Presents)
• Nancy Sanders (Three Dog Marketing)
• Marnee Weber (The Caregiving Coach)

Corporate Partner finalists are:
• National Bank of Arizona (Stephanie Poure)
• Southwest Gas (Cheryl Boone)
• State Farm (Jan McDaniel)

A new award category was added this year – the Spirit of NAWBO Sisterhood. Finalists are:
• Melanie Dunlap (Aunt Mel’s Herbs and Insights)
• Phaedra Earhardt (Farmers Insurance)
• Julie Kern (Bridge Financial Strategies).

Fire

Is your business adequately insured in the event of an unplanned event? (image via public domain image.com)

One of the mostly costly mistakes business owners make is not having the right kind or amount of insurance in place to protect their business and their income.   Thinking they understand the ins and outs of business insurance, they forge ahead without working with an expert or getting a true picture of their true needs and the insurance coverage they need to mitigate their exposure.  Unfortunately, making this kind of mistake can actually cost more than just money; it can cost you your business.

Here are 6 common mistakes businesses make with their insurance.

  1. Not Buying Insurance

This is by far the biggest mistake business owners make.  Whether it seems like the benefit doesn’t seem to justify the cost or they don’t realize they need coverage, not buying insurance is the biggest mistake any business can make.  Business owners don’t realize that it only takes one lawsuit to wipe them out.  They feel that as long as they follow the rules, operate legally, and do what they are supposed to do, they will be ok.   What they don’t realize is that even if they are sued and win, the cost of defending themselves against even an unfounded lawsuit may be enough to bankrupt their business.

  1. Buying Inadequate Coverage

Many businesses that do purchase insurance don’t actually buy enough to cover their potential losses.  Business owners don’t realize this mistake until it’s too late and they are stuck paying for attorney fees and legal settlements out of pocket.  Purchasing inadequate coverage is only slightly better than not having any coverage at all.

  1. Buying the Wrong Coverage

Alongside buying inadequate coverage is buying the wrong coverage.  Business owners who don’t work with an insurance professional to assess their risk and secure the right coverage to protect their business from losses, run the risk of having to cover costs that are not covered by the policy they purchase.

  1. Going Without Business Income Coverage

Business income coverage which is also called business interruption insurance provides financial support when something interrupts your ability to conduct business.  Going without this coverage can endanger the business as much as going without liability or property coverage.  For example, there is a fire in a retail shop that destroys or damages all the merchandise forcing the shop to close for three weeks.  The business owner’s property insurance covers the lost merchandise, but without business income coverage, the business owner has no way to recover the lost income from having the shop closed for three weeks.

  1. Misunderstanding Coverage

Business owners who buy the right amount of the right coverage can still run into problems if they don’t understand what things are specifically excluded from their policy.  Most business insurance policies are full of exclusions and business owners who don’t understand these exclusions can be left holding the bag when they thought they were covered.

  1. Carrying Low Deductibles

Business owners can decrease their costs while still protecting their business by increasing the deductible on their policies.  Carrying a low deductible on your policy may seem like the better business decision because it offers more protection, but it may not be the right decision for your business.  High deductibles reduce your overall operating costs while offering protecting you from the kinds of losses that could compromise your business.

The best way for business owners to ensure they have the coverage and protection they need is to work with a qualified insurance professional.  Their agent or broker can assess their needs and then help them find the best insurance package to meet them.

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What impact does your credit score have on what you pay for insurance? (image via Flickr)

In a nutshell, yes.  Insurance companies use a variety of factors to develop a risk profile for you when they are underwriting your insurance policy and determining your rate.  One of these factors may be your personal credit history and not because they are weighing the likelihood that you will pay for your policy.

Insurance rates are based in part on how much risk the insurance company believes they will be taking on by underwriting your policy.  In order to determine that risk level, they rely on real world statistics and actuarial tables built from those statistics.  By looking at large amounts of data, the insurance industry can make certain assumptions about you based on specific characteristics like your gender, age, marital status, etc.  This is how insurance companies determine that teenage boys are more likely to be in accidents than teenage girls and that married people are less likely to file an insurance claim than single people.

When it comes to your credit, the statistics can tell the insurance company some important things about how much of a risk you are.  The industry has demonstrated that there is a very strong relationship between credit history and risk level meaning that just looking at a person’s credit history can be used as an objective measurement of their insurance risk.  The bottom line is that people who pay their bills on time and are good stewards of their finances are more careful and conscientious with their cars and homes, which makes them a lower risk from an insurance perspective.

This means that the insurance company is using your credit history in a very different way than your bank might.  When your bank looks at your credit, they are assessing your income, assets, debts, and financial history to determine how likely it is that you actually meet the financial obligation of a loan or line of credit.  They are looking at your individual details to make a decision about your ability to pay.  The insurance company is looking at your credit as an objective way to assess how risky you are from an insurance standpoint.  They are looking at your individual details as compared to other people.  The bank cares about where you work, how long you have been there, how much you make, and how much you owe.  The insurance company only cares about how your credit history informs your risk profile based on the actuarial data.

Using information like your credit history to determine your insurance rates is one way that insurance companies guarantee that they are offering their products at fair prices.  The use of statistics and actuarial information in determining risk helps remove any subjective decision making from the process.  Insurance companies can offer better prices to a broader range of consumers by using factors like their credit history.

The score used by the insurance company however, is different than your standard credit score used by banks and other financial institutions.  In order to determine your insurance score, the credit bureaus use a formula that looks at things like the number of accounts you have, how good you have been at paying your bills, how stable your finances are, any negative factors like liens and bankruptcies, and how much you currently owe.  Unlike your regular credit score, occasional late payments have less of an impact on your insurance score than patterns of financial irresponsibility.

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Do you know what questions to ask when buying your auto insurance policy? (image via public domain image)

Whether you are buying car insurance for the first time or shopping around for the best possible renewal price, understanding the basics of purchasing auto insurance is the key to getting the right coverage at the right price.  Here are some of the factors to consider when you are buying car insurance.

State Requirements

Unless you live in New Hampshire, you are required to have car insurance or prove your ability to cover a certain amount of liability losses in order to drive a car.  However, each state has different requirements around how much insurance drivers must carry.  Make sure you understand your state’s requirements before you start shopping around.

Your Needs

The amount of insurance the state requires is one thing, but it may not be enough insurance to meet your needs.  The liability coverage within your auto policy is there to protect you from losses incurred if you are at fault in an accident.  If you have liability coverage that is 50,000/100,000/50,000, the policy will cover a maximum of $50,000 per person who is injured in the other vehicle up to $100,000 total.  It will also cover up to $50,000 in property damage to the other vehicle.

What most people don’t consider is that any liability over that limit is your responsibility.  If you cause an accident that results moderately serious injuries to 4 people, you may not have enough coverage to pay for their losses.  If someone is seriously injured, it is very unlikely that $100,000 will be enough to pay for medical expenses, lost wages, long term disability, etc.  If the accident involves two other cars that are worth $30,000 each, you won’t have enough coverage to take care of those losses.

In the event that you are responsible for damages over and above what your policy will cover, your assets can be seized and your wages can be garnished in order to pay off the difference.  For this reason alone, it is important to understand your policy limits and purchase a policy that protects you now and in the future.

Rate Factors

Insurance rates are based on actuarial analysis and statistics and every company does this kind of pricing differently using different models.  This means prices can vary dramatically between companies.  It also means that your individual rate depends on many factors that change how you fit into the insurance company’s model.  Things like your age and the age of the other driver’s on your policy, where you park the car on the policy, the type of car, and the experience level of all drivers can cause big differences in your rates.  Your driving record also plays an important role in determining the amount you will pay for coverage.

Coverage’s

The cost of your policy will also be largely dependent on the coverage you choose.  Most states require a certain amount of liability coverage because it protects other people, but collision and comprehensive coverage’s are not usually mandated.  These types of coverage protect you from loss to your own property and will increase the cost of your policy.  The same is true for uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage.

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Do you have an adequate amount of life insurance? (image via Tetra Pak on Flickr)

1.    Your life insurance needs are as unique as you are.

There is no such thing as a one size fits all life insurance policy which is one reason it can take longer to get a life insurance policy in place.  The key to achieving your life insurance goals is to know what you are trying to achieve and then buy a policy or policies that allow you to achieve them.

2.     The life insurance you get through your employer may not be sufficient.

Many people have a basic life insurance policy through their employer and assume that this is all they need to do from a life insurance perspective.  Unfortunately, if that policy doesn’t match your needs, you may not have the coverage you need.

3.     Relying solely on employer offered life insurance may leave you with no coverage.

Even if your employer offered coverage meets your needs, if you leave your job or lose your job, you may find yourself without any coverage.  The older you get, the more your life insurance premiums will be if you purchase a new policy and if you get a serious illness, you may not be able to get coverage at all.

4.     The insurance you need will change over the course of your life.

The life insurance you need when you have small children and a mortgage is very different than what you will need when you are an empty nester on the verge of retirement.

5.     Match your policy to your needs.

The amount of insurance you need changes as you move through your life.  This is why it is important to match the amount of coverage you have to your needs.  A mixture of whole and term policies can enable you to vary the amount of coverage you need over your lifetime.

6.     Tell the truth on your application. 

You will be required to undergo some kind of medical evaluation in order to obtain most life insurance policies.  If you are not up front on your application, it may cost you your coverage right away or compromise your beneficiary’s ability to collect.

7.     Your premium will depend on your health at the time of purchase. 

The amount of your premium will depend on several factors, one of which is your health at the time of your application.  Medical conditions like high blood pressure or high cholesterol can increase your premium, even if they are controlled with medication.

8.     It saves to purchase your policies when you are young and in good health.

The amount you pay for a life insurance policy is generally set for the life of the policy when you purchase the policy, no matter how many years you have the policy.  This is one reason that it makes sense to purchase coverage when you are younger rather than waiting until you feel like you can afford it.

9.     Understand the policy terms.

In order to compare policies from different companies or even within the same company, you need to read through and understand the terms of the policy.  You also need to understand if there are any conditions so that you don’t inadvertently do anything that compromises your coverage.

10.  Shop around for the right policy at the right price.

Different companies have different offerings and use different pricing models.  You may be paying for this policy for 30 years or more and it makes sense to make sure you are getting the best price for the coverage you need.

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Commercial Auto Policy

Does your job constitute your needing a Commercial Auto Policy? (Image via Can ‘o’ Rye on Flickr)

Do you need a Commercial Auto Policy? This is a question many small business owners ask themselves, their friends, and hopefully their insurance agents.  There is a common misconception that your personal auto policy will cover any losses incurred while driving for the business if you are driving your personal automobile which is covered under your personal auto policy.  This makes a certain kind of sense on the surface.  In essence, you are buying two insurance policies to cover the same exact circumstance, you, driving your car.

Commercial vs. Personal

The main difference between the two types of coverage is how you are using the car.  If you are only using it to drive your family around or to commute to your job, you only need a personal auto policy.  This is true in almost every case, although there are some circumstances where the type of vehicle you own may require you to purchase a commercial auto policy regardless of whether or not you are using it for commercial purposes.  If, however, you are using your vehicle for business activities, you likely need some type of commercial coverage since the majority of personal auto policies exclude losses resulting from business activity.

What Constitutes Business Activity?

This can be a complex question, especially for small business owners.  If you drive your son to school on the way to an appointment with a client, it isn’t always clear which part of the trip is business from an insurance coverage perspective.  The best way to understand what is business activity and what is not is to ask your insurance agent.  If in doubt, assume that anything related to your business requires commercial coverage.

There are some things you can ask yourself that may help you determine if the driving you do would fall under commercial or business activity.

  • Do you deliver anything to customers or clients using your car?  Things like pizza, newspapers, Avon, or any other product that you put in your car and then transport for delivery can be considered commercial activity.
  • Who is driving the vehicle?  If you allow employees or contract workers to drive the car for business purposes, this won’t usually be covered by your personal policy.  Even if you are the only driver, there is a good chance that commercial coverage will be required.
  • Who is riding in the vehicle? If you are using the vehicle to transport other people and getting paid for it, you absolutely need commercial coverage.
  • What percentage of use is personal and what percentage is commercial?  Although this doesn’t always factor into coverage determinations, some insurance companies require commercial coverage if the vehicle is being used primarily for business use.  Check with your agent to see if this applies to your coverage.

The bottom line is that most small businesses cannot afford to take the chance that they have an accident or become liable for damage caused by their car that their personal auto policy carrier refuses to cover.  If there is a question in your mind about whether or not you need to purchase a commercial auto policy, the odds are that you do and you should contact your insurance agent as soon as possible.

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Homeowners Insurance

Is your homeowners policy enough to cover you in the event of a loss? (Image via PrimeImageMedia.com on Flickr)

There is no question that the volatility in the housing market in recent years has affected the price and value of almost every house in America.   Most homeowner’s have seen the value of their home drop, rebound a little, and then drop some more.   People everywhere are focused on keeping their homes or refinancing their homes to get more affordable rates.  All this change means it is time to take a look at your homeowner’s insurance in order to make sure you still have adequate coverage.  Many homeowners think their homeowner’s policy covers what they are expecting it to cover without really understanding how the kinds of economic changes we are currently experiencing can impact their coverage.  Take a few minutes to walk through your policy and make sure it still offers the coverage you need.

Here are some of the key components you need to look for to ensure you are covered no matter what comes your way.

1.     Replacement Value

Although the policy limits for your homeowner’s insurance policy are based on the estimated value of your home, the coverage you need is how much it will cost to rebuild or replace your home.  This means that a significant drop in your home’s value doesn’t necessarily equate to a decrease in the coverage you need.  It could be a big mistake to decrease your policy limit based on a lower assessment or appraisal.

Economic turmoil and inflation have taken their toll on everything we buy and building supplies are no exception.    This means that even though the value of your house has decreased, the costs to rebuild it have not.  In fact, it is very likely that the cost to rebuild your home is actually higher than it was as little as two years ago.  Check with your insurance agent to make sure your policy limit reflects a current estimate of replacement cost.

It is also a good idea to review the policy limit for replacing your personal property which is based on a percentage of the overall replacement value.  If your personal property would cost more to replace than the current limit, talk to your agent about increasing the limit or scheduling high dollar items to ensure they are covered.

2.     Improvements and Additions

If you have made significant home improvements or added an addition, the value of your home has changed and your insurance may need to change to reflect the increase.  Things like adding a bathroom, changing to a more eco-friendly heating system, or replacing the roof may increase the value of your home but more importantly, they may increase the replacement cost of your home.  Make sure you notify your insurance agent of these kinds of changes and verify that the policy limit will be enough to cover the improvements.

In order to make sure you have the protection you need, you need to review and update your homeowner’s policy regularly.  Remember that the policy limits need to cover the cost of rebuilding your home and replacing your possessions and therefore need to be based on current cost not retail value.  You don’t need to change your limits based on changes in the value of your house, but if building supplies and construction costs continue to rise, that may mean you need to make a change to your policy limits.

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Renters

Have you ever wondered why you need renters insurance? Read more to find out. (Image via Intermedia Images on Flickr)

If you are like the majority of renters in the U.S., you do not currently have a renter’s insurance policy.  In fact, the Insurance Information Institute claims that only about 43% of those who rent their living space have an insurance policy protecting their property.   The reasons so many renters are uninsured vary but there are some common themes.  Some have never really thought about needing a policy that will cover the loss of their property if the place they live is damaged.  Others assume the cost is too high and decide to take the risk rather than obtain a policy.  Another group believes that the insurance their landlord carries on the property also covers their belongings as long as they are in the rental property.

The problem with all of these reasons is that they leave renters exposed to the loss of all their property and no avenue for recovery.  Let’s look at why each reason trades short sighted thinking or misinformation for security.

1.     I Never Really Thought About It

If you are a first time renter, you may fall into this category.  Unfortunately, life doesn’t come with an instruction manual and unless someone points the need for this type of coverage out, you may not realize this is something you need.  Many people never really think about what will happen if there is a fire or a flood and they suddenly lose everything they own.  Many people assume there is some government agency or charitable organization that will help them rebuild their life.  While this may be true, they will help make sure you have clothes on your back, food in your stomach, and a roof over your head but they aren’t going to buy you a new computer, replace your designer wardrobe, or pay to repair the damage to your antique armoire.  If you live in a rental property and do not have insurance to cover your property, call your insurance agent tomorrow for a quote.  Don’t wait until you have to deal with it to do something about it.

2.    I Can’t Afford It

Renter’s insurance generally costs less than $20/month.  If there is a fire and you cannot live in your apartment, are you going to find a hotel that will cost you less than $20/month?  Replacing all your belongings, even if you don’t own anything you consider valuable, is going to cost far more than $20 or $200 or even $2000, which would cover the cost of a renter’s insurance policy for 10 years.  This is an excellent example of being penny wise and pound foolish.

3.    My Landlord has Insurance

While this is very likely to be true it is also very likely that your landlord’s coverage offers you no protection.  Most landlords have a policy that covers the structure and any property they have in the home like appliances.  It doesn’t cover your property or provide you with any liability protection if someone sues you.  If there is a natural disaster like a hurricane or a flood, you will have to bear the full cost of replacing any of your possessions that are damaged or destroyed unless you have a renter’s insurance policy protecting you.

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Liquor

Does your business need Liquor Liability Coverage? (Image via AjDele Photography on Flickr)

Liquor liability coverage is a unique type of insurance that is only needed when a business has some involvement with alcohol.  While it is extremely important that those businesses that need liquor liability coverage have it in place, many who need it don’t have it.  Some business owners forgo coverage because of the expense, but in many cases, businesses do not have coverage because they don’t know they need it, think it is already provided as part of another policy, or don’t understand the implications of not having it.

What is Liquor Liability Coverage?

This is a type of insurance purchased by businesses that offers protection from loss or damage resulting from the actions of a customer that is intoxicated.  It covers property damage and liability claims for injuries to others and for self-inflicted injuries by the drunken customer.  It can be sold as add-on coverage to a commercial general liability policy or as a separate policy all together.

One of the most common misconceptions that open business owners to huge losses is that they are not responsible for the actions of their customers including those who are intoxicated.  Unfortunately, this is not the case.  Another common misconception is that this type of liability is covered under a general liability policy.  Most business liability insurance policies specifically exclude any liability resulting from this kind of loss.

Who Needs It?

Any business that is involved in the manufacture, sale, or service of alcohol or who assists in the purchase or use of alcohol generally needs this kind of coverage.  If there is a possibility that a customer, client, or patron could become intoxicated using alcohol that a business made it possible for them to obtain, that business needs this kind of coverage.  Courts have ruled time and again that purveyors of alcohol can be held liable for the actions of their intoxicated customers which means the only way to protect the business is to have the right coverage.

What Does it Cover?

A Liquor Liability policy will generally offer the following types of coverage:

  • Liability – This coverage protects the business from losses resulting from a lawsuit filed by someone injured by the intoxicated customer.  A common example is a lawsuit resulting from a drunk driving accident.  This also covers lawsuits filed by the customer for injuries or damage they caused to themselves while they were intoxicated.
  • Property – This covers property damage caused by the intoxicated customer.
  • Assault and Battery – This covers your liability to injuries and damages caused by intoxicated patrons fighting.

What to Look for in a Policy?

When purchasing this type of coverage, make sure it includes the following:

  • Defense Costs – Make sure the policy you purchase doesn’t exclude this or decrease your limit to cover legal defense costs.
  • Employees – Make sure the policy does not exclude employees.
  • Mental Damages – Make sure that mental damages like mental anguish and stress are included in your policy.

Businesses that are involved in the creation, sale, and distribution of liquor and alcohol need to take steps to protect themselves from liability claims resulting from intoxicated patrons.  Purchasing a liquor liability policy is one of the best steps a business can take to secure this kind of protection.

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Employees

Good group benefits can help you land a great employee. (Image via Inkyhack on Flickr)

There are many factors that contribute to having a happy, productive workforce.  Human resources experts could give you a list a mile long of why things like company culture, employee appreciation, and providing meaningful work for a living wage would be near the top of that list of factors.  Group benefits, the ones that are optional, not the ones required by law, would also be up near the top of the list.  Group coverage often fulfills more than one need for your employees and can be a powerful way to express the company’s gratitude and appreciation for all the work employees do.  Providing these kinds of benefits can even be the thing that sets your company apart in the eyes of potential employees.

Here are 5 reasons small business owners should consider adding group benefits for their employees.

1.     Providing Peace of Mind

Two of the most common group benefits are life insurance and disability insurance, both of which protect the financial future of the employee and/or their family.  With these kinds of group benefits, employees can feel confident in their ability to support their family in trying times.

2.     Cost Control

The group nature of the benefits helps keep the costs down which means the company can offer things like health insurance or dental coverage because they are affordable.  It is also common practice to require that employees contribute toward the cost of many group benefits so that the costs are shared.  When you add in cost savings you may achieve by reducing turnover, benefits make good financial sense for most businesses.

3.     Tailored Solutions

Most insurance companies that provide this type of coverage will allow you to tailor the type of benefits you offer to meet the specific needs of your employees.  Additionally, there are other things, like subsidized gym memberships, which can be counted under the group benefits umbrella that are not related to or provided by an insurance company.

4.     Benefits Support

Many insurance programs offer support for their group benefits product lines that can provide real benefit to the business owner or manager.  When a group benefits package comes with this kind of support, it alleviates the need for HR staff or business owners to take time away from other things in order to answer questions.

5.     Recruiting and Employee Retention

One of the best reasons to offer group benefits is because benefits make employees happy and happy employees don’t leave for other opportunities.   The cost to the company of finding, hiring, and training a new person is likely much higher than the company’s contribution to the cost of benefits for that role.  If you are looking to attract the best and brightest people, you need to offer a work environment that doesn’t just compare with the completion, but surpasses it.  Group benefits can be the thing that turns your job offer into a candidate’s best offer.

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Motorcycle Insurance

Are you properly insured while you’re riding your motorcycle? (image via gullevek on Flickr)

Beautiful weather just begs for an afternoon spent on a motorcycle, enjoying the open road and the gorgeous scenery.   There is nothing quite like a long ride in the desert; few things can rival the feeling of freedom offered by the wind on your face and the wide open spaces of the Southwest.  Protecting that freedom and your future requires the right kind of insurance.  Motorcycle insurance will protect you and your bike.

What Kinds of Bikes are Covered?

Most major insurers cover any factory-built motorcycle that can be licensed for use on public roadways.  This includes custom bikes, classic motorcycles, motor scooters, minibikes and trail/dirt bikes.

How is Motorcycle Coverage Different than Auto Insurance

Generally speaking, insurance is insurance. Where things differ is in the types of coverage a specific policy provides.  There are many similarities between an auto policy and a motorcycle policy, but there are some coverage’s available for bikes that you don’t need for cars, like safety apparel coverage.

Types of Coverage

Like the insurance policies you may have in place for your home and car, motorcycle insurance comes with different kinds of coverage.  The key to putting the right policy in place is finding one that offers the coverage you need.  The following types of coverage are commonly included or available for motorcycle policies:

  • Liability Coverage – Similar to the liability coverage you carry on your car, this coverage protects you if you are in an accident or cause damage for which you are found liable. It covers bodily injury and property damage to someone else’s person or property.  It may also include a small amount of coverage to pay medical payments for yourself or a passenger.  Depending on your state, you may be required to carry liability insurance for your motorcycle just like you would for a car.  Policies come with a variety of liability limits.
  • Collision Coverage – Just like an auto policy, collision coverage pays for damage to your motorcycle that is caused by you colliding with something or by someone or something else colliding with your motorcycle.
  • Comprehensive Coverage – This fills the gaps left if you only have collision coverage and pays for damages caused to your motorcycle by things other than collisions like fire, theft, or vandalism.
  • Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage – This type of coverage pays for those things that the other driver’s insurance would pay for if you are in an accident caused by another driver who does not have their own insurance.
  • Accessory Coverage/Safety Apparel Coverage – This covers customized parts, special equipment, paint, helmets and safety apparel, and may provide coverage for travel interruptions.  Damage to these items is generally covered but loss resulting from theft may not be so check with your carrier to make sure.
  • Towing and Roadside Assistance – This provides access to roadside assistance resources if your motorcycle breaks down and provides for a specific amount of towing.
  • Gap Coverage – This type of coverage only makes sense if you have a loan on your motorcycle.  If you are in an accident or experience a loss that totals your bike, gap coverage will pay the difference between the amount you owe on your bike and the actual value provided by the insurance company.  Purchasing this coverage insures you won’t ever owe on a bike that is totaled.

Most auto policies don’t cover motorcycles without a special endorsement that adds motorcycle coverage.  Don’t assume yours does. Check with your agent and make sure you have the coverage you need.

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Is your property in danger of flooding? If so, would it be insured? Photo Credit: deborah.soltesz on Flickr

If you are like many homeowners who believe that water damage caused by flooding is covered under their homeowners policy, you probably think the answer to that question is no.  However, if you own a home and it ever rains where you live, the answer to this question is probably yes.  If it rains, it can flood, and if it floods, any damage caused to your home and property will not be covered unless you have a flood insurance policy.

Flood insurance in the U.S. is not included in homeowner’s policies or business property insurance policies; it is provided by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to homeowners and businesses in participating NFIP communities.  In order to become a participating community, a town or city must agree to adopt, uphold, and enforce ordinances that help reduce the risk of flooding as mandated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  If your town or city is not an NFIP participating community, flood insurance is not available to you.  To find out if your community participates in the National Flood Insurance Program, visit the National Flood Insurance Program Community Status Book on FEMA’s website and click on your state.

What Causes Flooding?

A flood is defined as “the temporary inundation of two or more normally dry acres of land or two or more adjoining properties by water or mudflow.”  There are a number of circumstances that can cause flooding and the danger exists is areas prone to rain and areas that are generally very dry.  Common causes of flooding are hurricanes, tropical storms, excessive or heavy rainfall, and snowmelt.  While we often think of weather conditions as the main threat for flooding, there are also circumstances that can result in flooding where it is not usually expected and without any forewarning.  Things like a dam break, ice jam, or a clogged drainage system can also result in flooding that would not be covered by a homeowner’s policy.

Flooding in Arizona

Here in Arizona, floods are a common hazard that results from heavy rains, monsoons, or other storms that result in excessive rainfall.  According to FEMA’s Arizona FloodSmart Fact Sheet, the state is particularly prone to flash floods which come out of nowhere and can happen after only a few minutes of heavy rainfall.   Arizona residents are also at a higher risk for flooding after seasons with a significant number of wildfires, like last year.  Wildfires change the landscape and alter the ground conditions making it possible for flooding to occur in different areas than prior years.    According to FEMA, there were five federally declared flood disasters in Arizona between 2000 and 2010.  These historical disasters provide a detailed picture of how flooding can happen here and how devastating its effects can be for communities and residents.

  • 2010 – Combination of the damage caused by the Schultz Wildfire and heavy rains in July and August left 38 homes flooded and damaged by mud and debris.
  • 2006 – July and August monsoons caused widespread flooding that affected 93 communities across the state and cost more than $4M in damages.
  • 2000 – During a three week period at the end of October and beginning of November, 440 homes were damaged by flooding resulting in more than $4M in damages.

Protect your home, your possessions, and your peace of mind by purchasing a flood insurance policy today.  Don’t wait until you are knee deep in water and watching your furniture float out the window to decide you need flood insurance.

 
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Builder's Risk Insurance

Do you need Builder's Risk Insurance? Photo credit: monivhs1947 on Flickr

Builder’s risk coverage falls under the category of specialty insurance products and provides property insurance for buildings while they are still being built.  Standard property coverage would not cover damage to the building while it is under construction.    Once the building is complete, the property owner would purchase a more standard property insurance policy to cover any damage to the building.  It is kind of like a homeowner-to-be who has to get a construction loan in order to finance the cost of building a house and then get a mortgage once the house is complete.

This type of insurance also covers materials and equipment that are being used to construct the building and may be purchased to cover any loss exposure during renovations, not just for new construction.

Who Needs Builder’s Risk Insurance

During construction, the conditions are very different than they will be once the building is complete and there are more ways that losses can occur.  Building owners are generally liable for anything that happens on their site.  Builder’s risk offers the owner some protection from any loss of property.

What Does it Cover

Most Builder’s Risk coverage protects the land/building owner’s interest against losses resulting from fire, vandalism, lightning, wind, and other non-excluded weather conditions.  Similarly to homeowner’s insurance, Builder’s Risk policies do not generally protect against losses caused by earthquakes, flooding, acts of war, or intentional damage caused by the owner.   The timeframe of the policy generally aligns with the timeframe of the construction or renovation and expires once the work on the building has been completed.  Builder’s Risk coverage would not usually continue to offer protection to the owner after the building is certified for occupancy.

The standard Builder’s Risk policy offers site-specific coverage which means that any materials and equipment that are not onsite would not be covered under the policy.  If there are materials and/or equipment that is being stored in a different location for use on the project, a broader policy would be required.  This type of coverage can be obtained through a Builder’s Risk policy that contains Inland Marine provisions.

Although the type of coverage provided at a high level is common across the majority of Builder’s Risk policies, the actual policies are often very detailed and tailored to the specific needs of the building project that is being insured.  This ensures that the policy meets the specific needs of the individual project but also requires that the building owner and any other interested parties pay close attention to what is covered and not covered by the policy.

Who Buys Builder’s Risk Coverage

In most cases, the owner of the building being constructed would purchase the Builder’s Risk policy.  In some circumstances, building owners may require that the general contractor or the company completing the construction secure this kind of coverage as part of the contract to build the building or complete the renovation.

Sometimes, the existing property insurance will cover any losses during building renovations or while an addition is being built.  However, it is important for the building owner to verify that coverage with their current carrier prior to any work being done.  If the renovation or addition is covered by an existing property insurance policy, there is no need to purchase an additional Builder’s Risk policy.

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BOP Coverage

What kind of insurance is right for your business? Image via Grand Velas Riviera Maya on Flickr

Business owner’s policies, which are also called BOPs, can be a great fit to cover the insurance needs of many small businesses. This type of policy combines commercial general liability coverage and property coverage into a single packaged product that is generally more affordable than purchasing these coverage’s as separate policies.  Small businesses that are in the market for insurance coverage should look at whether there is a BOP available that meets their needs.

Here are 7 things business owners need to know about BOP coverage.

1.     Packaged Coverage Can Save You Money

By combining several standard coverage’s required by small businesses into a packaged product, insurers can offer that coverage at a lower price.  As long as the limits and coverage’s offered in a specific insurer’s BOP product meet your needs, this can make getting the insurance your company needs at a price that fits within your budget.

2.     Provides Business Interruption Protection

The one coverage that is frequently included in a BOP package is business continuity coverage.  This type of insurance is often overlooked but it is one of the most important kinds of insurance for small business owners.  Business interruption coverage pays you a specific amount if your business cannot be operated which can make the difference between being able to rebuild after a disaster and having to file bankruptcy.

3.     Often Excludes Professional Liability Coverage

Although BOP coverage generally provides the kinds of insurance small businesses need, one area that is not usually included isprofessional liability coverage.  This means that any business that has professional liability exposure will need to purchase that coverage in addition to BOP.

4.     Tailored to Small Businesses

BOP policies are generally only available to companies that have less than 100 employees and bring in less than $1M in annual revenue.  If your company is larger than that it may not qualify for BOP coverage and buying the specific individual policies your company needs will be more cost effective.

5.     BOP Property Coverage Will Pay to Replace Property

Most BOPs provide protection against the loss or damage of property and will cover the cost of replacing the business property.  This is an important detail to confirm with your insurance agent as the difference between replacement value and actual value can be significant.  Replacement value ensures you will have the resources to replace any lost or damaged property.

6.     Offers Protection Against Libel, Slander, and False Advertising

BOP coverage will protect your business against claims of libelslander, and false advertising in addition to shielding the business from liability for bodily injury and property damage.  This can not only save the company money in the event there is a groundless claim filed, but can also save the company in the event there is a successful claim.

7.     Lower Premium Usually Means Less Flexibility

One thing many business owners do not like about BOP insurance is the lack of flexibility these kinds of policies provide.  Business owner’s need to realize that there is a trade-off when they select BOP coverage.  Because the product is standardized and therefore easier for the company to sell and service, it is offered at a lower cost.  However, in order to maintain that standardization, BOPs don’t usually allow for any customizations or deviations from the base product.  If the BOP you are looking at doesn’t provide exactly what you need, you may need to purchase additional coverage which must be factored into your overall cost/benefit analysis.

A business owner’s policy (BOP) might be the perfect fit for your small business insurance needs.  Make sure you understand exactly what is and what is not covered and if needed, secure additional coverage to fill in any gaps.  By leveraging the cost savings provided by BOP coverage, businesses can ensure they have the protection they need at a price they can afford.

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Earthquake

Are you protected in the event of an earthquake? image via martinluff on Flickr

No matter where in the U.S. you live, there is a chance that there could be an earthquake in your area.  Of the 50 states, there are only 8 that haven’t experienced a single earthquake in the last 30 years according to the United State Geological Survey (USGS).  But even those states that have been safe the past thirty years are not immune from quakes or from damage caused by quakes occurring in adjoining states.  The simple fact is, if you live in the U.S., you run the risk that an earthquake will cause damage to your home.   If that happens, the only way that your insurance company will pay for the damage is if you have purchased additional coverage specific to earthquakes.

For those living in Hawaii, Alaska, and California, the three most seismically active states, earthquake insurance may seem to be a requirement.  However, even in those states, many homeowners haven’t purchased the extra coverage that would protect them from large losses.  According to the California Earthquake Authority (CEA), which provides the majority of earthquake coverage to California homeowners, only 12% have purchased earthquake coverage.   In Alaska, which is one of the most seismically active areas in the entire world, this number is only a little higher at about 33%.

Why Don’t Homeowners in High Risk Areas Buy Coverage

There are several reasons that even homeowners in Alaska and California don’t have earthquake insurance.  Unfortunately, one of the main reasons is that there are still people who believe that their homeowner’s policy will cover any losses resulting from an earthquake.  In almost every case, this simply isn’t true.  Other homeowners have made the conscious decision not to purchase this additional coverage because they feel the cost of the coverage plus the high deductible that is standard on earthquake policies makes the coverage unaffordable.  Still others believe that if there is a disaster, the government will be there to help make them whole and help them rebuild their house.

So, Why Do I Need it?

There are four reasons that every homeowner should look into purchasing an earthquake policy, even those who live in states that are not high on the earthquake risk list.

1.     If you live outside the big three, coverage is likely much less expensive than you think.

2.     Houses outside of the big three are rarely built with earthquake resilience in mind.  This means that if there is an earthquake, there is likely to be more damage to structures and property than there would be in California, Alaska, or Hawaii.

3.     It doesn’t take a catastrophic quake to cause catastrophic losses.

4.     Between 2001 and 2011, the USGS reports that there were more than 40,000 earthquakes in the U.S., almost 5,000 of which did not occur in the big three states.

5.     FEMA estimates that a major earthquake in a city with a large population could result in damages exceeding $200B.  Without insurance, you will be completely reliant on federal and state disaster relief for any assistance.  As the average award individual/family falls between $2,000 and $4,000 per family and the maximum grant is less than $15,000, you will be hard pressed to rebuild and recover.

Earthquake insurance is the kind of thing that it is easy to convince yourself you don’t need… until you do.  Then, it’s too late.

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Marriage

Are you properly insured after a major life-changing event? Image via cheesy42 on Flickr

Many people don’t realize that different life events can have an impact on their insurance needs as well as their insurance premiums.  You might think that turning 25 will bring your auto insurance down or realize that getting married means you need to combine your coverage into a single policy, but there are many other ways that major life events can impact your insurance.   A survey conducted by Trusted Choice and reported in Insurance Journal found that more than 30 million U.S. households have insurance policies and/or coverage that don’t fit their current needs.

Here are 3 of the major life events that can change what kind of insurance you need, how much insurance you need, or how much your insurance costs.

1.     Getting Married

When you tie the knot, your insurance needs and costs can change in a couple different areas.  First, your car insurance rates may go down because you are married and combining policies may qualify you for a multi-car discount.  If you are purchasing a house, you will need a new homeowner’s policy.  If you are moving in together but renting, you will want to combine your renter’s insurance and make sure the coverage limits of the policy are enough to replace both of your possessions.  Regardless of whether you are a renter or a homeowner, you may want to make sure your property replacement coverage will cover your wedding rings.  Finally, now that you are married, your life insurance needs may be drastically different and should be reviewed.  Even if you have enough insurance, you will likely need to make beneficiary changes at a minimum.  Talk to your insurance agent to make sure the coverage you have is the coverage you need and that you aren’t paying more for it than you should be.

2.     Getting Divorced or Becoming Widowed

A change in marital status can mean that you need to make changes to your insurance coverage.  Going from two cars to one, moving to a smaller house, selling valuables, and splitting assets can all result in the need for less coverage and lower limits.  This can be a big cost savings for you that you may not think of during such a difficult time.  You will also want to change any beneficiaries on life insurance or other policy payouts.

3.     Having Children

Becoming a parent for the first time or the last time is a big change and it can mean you need to make changes to your insurance coverage.  According to a life insurance fact sheet put out by LIMRA, almost 70% of U.S. Households with children under 18 would be in jeopardy and destabilized financially if the primary bread winner died.    If you have added a new family member by birth or adoption, it is a good idea to sit down with your insurance agent and make sure you have enough life insurance coverage to meet the needs of your family and that beneficiaries are designated properly.  You may also want to review your auto and home insurance policies to ensure that coverage limits are adequate for your larger family.

While these are 3 of the major life events that can affect your insurance costs and needs, there are several other events that should trigger a review of your policies with your agent.  If you have a new teenage driver, buy a vacation home, have a significant change in income, buy or inherit valuable property, or as you get ready to retire, sitting down with your agent can make sure you and the ones you love are protected.
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RV Insurance

Is your vacation insured properly? Read more to learn about RV Insurance (image via _escalade328s_ on Flickr)

The summer season is fast approaching and if you are planning to head out on the open road for a family RV adventure, make sure you take a couple minutes to ensure you have the insurance coverage you need before you leave.  Many people share the common misconception that adding their RV to their auto policy provides them with adequate protection during their trip.  While your auto policy may offer some of the coverage you need, it won’t protect you completely which is why it makes more sense to invest in an RV insurance policy.  Buying a separate policy ensures you have all the coverage you need to keep your trip on track and protect yourself while you are on the road.

What is the Difference between Auto Insurance and RV Insurance?

The primary differences between auto coverage and RV coverage result from the primary differences between your car and your RV.  An RV is more than just an RV; it is a house on wheels.  This means you need more coverage than you have on your car in order to cover potential losses that you are open to with an RV that you wouldn’t be with a car.

You keep significantly more property in your RV than you do in your car, some of which can be valuable like laptops, televisions, and other equipment.  When your house on wheels is parked at a campsite, the area around it can be considered your “yard” which makes you liable for things that happen there.  There isn’t really a situation where your car could be thought to have its own yard.  If your RV is damaged while you are on the road, you will need somewhere else to stay just like you would if your house was damaged.

If you are traveling with only your auto policy, the loss of your property, your liability for the campsite, and the expenses related to staying somewhere other than the RV won’t likely be covered which means you will be paying out of pocket.  That might break your vacation budget and force you to cut your trip short.

Common RV Coverage’s

There are several different types of RV coverage available from most insurers, although they may call the coverage by a different name.  Here are the most common coverage types:

  • Bodily Injury – Covers you if there is an accident where you are liable for someone else’s injuries including medical bills, lost wages, and other legal obligations relating to the injury.
  • Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist—Covers the cost of repairs when you are involved in an accident and the driver at fault doesn’t have insurance or doesn’t have enough insurance to cover your losses.
  • Property Damage— Covers the repair or replacement of damage done by you or your RV to other people’s property
  • Comprehensive – Covers damage or losses to your RV and/or personal property from all covered threats except collision.  This includes things like theft, vandalism, and weather.
  • Collision – Covers the cost of repair or replacement of the RV and all components if it is damaged in a collision.
  • Vacation Liability— Covers your liability for bodily injury and property damage while on a vacation site or camp site.
  • Towing & Labor—Covers the cost of towing by a tow truck capable of handling the RV.
  • Roadside Assistance—Covers the cost of roadside assistance when you break down or run out of gas.
  • Emergency Expense – Covers your costs to live outside the RV in the event it is damaged and needs to be repaired.  Generally includes lodging, meals, and travel.
  • Personal Effects Replacement Cost – Covers the expanded personal property you are likely to have in the RV against loss or damage.
  • Full Timer’s Package – Provides a package of coverage’s that usually includes liability, coverage specific to when the RV is parked and being used as a residence.

Purchasing RV insurance protects you no matter what comes your way and gives you the peace of mind to sit back, relax, and enjoy your vacation.

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Health Insurance

Which type of health insurance is right for you? Image via combusean on Flickr

With the cost of health insurance on the rise, many employers are shopping around for new coverage every year and entertaining plans they would never have considered before.  If you are like many Americans who have had health insurance over the years, you have had an HMO or Health Maintenance Organization, at one point or another.  You may also have had a PPO or Preferred Provider Plan.  But as companies continue to search for health care options that are affordable, you may begin to hear about alternative plans, if you haven’t already.

To aid in your understanding of what the different types of plans are and how they differ, here is a basic overview of each of the main types of health insurance plans.

HMO – Health Maintenance Organization

HMO’s are often the lowest cost plans from both a premium and an out-of-pocket perspective.  Insurance companies lower costs by limiting which providers plan participants can visit.   The insurance company creates a network of doctors and hospitals that agree to accept lower fees in exchange for membership in the HMO.  Plan participants must go to an in-network provider or facility in order for it to be covered.  Participants choose a Primary Care Physician (PCP) that must refer them out to all other doctors and specialists.

Most HMO plans require participants to pay a premium and a co-pay with each service.  However, HMOs do not have a deductible and co-pays are always the same amount.

Bottomline on HMOs – Lowest out of pocket cost, lowest premium, least amount of choice

PPO – Preferred Provider Organization

PPO plans are similar to HMOs in that the insurance company negotiates lower rates with a network of providers and facilities.   Rather than having a set co-pay amount, a PPO will require a certain percentage of co-insurance, which means you pay a certain percentage of every bill.  Another difference with a PPO is that you have the option of going to a provider outside the company’s network that is covered, although, your percentage of the cost will be higher if you go out of network.

Bottomline on PPOs – Out of pocket depends on services received, slightly more expensive premium, more freedom of choice.

POS – Point of Service

Point of Service or POS plans take the freedom of choice provided in the PPO and the cost savings enabled by HMO coverage and melds them together.  Plan participants can go through their PCP and have services covered like in an HMO.  They can also choose a provider from the PPO network and coverage will be covered per the PPO rules, or they can go outside both networks and choose any provider they want.  If they decide to go outside the networks, they are subject to out-of-network rules.

Bottomline on POS – Out of pocket depends on services received, more expensive premium than HMO, and more freedom of choice.

Fee-For-Service Plan

In a Fee-For Service Plan, also called an indemnity plan, the insurance company pays for each service you receive.  Most FFS plans have a deductible that must be met before coverage kicks in which can be significant depending on the plan.

Bottomline of FFS – Out of pocket depends on services received, most expensive premium of the four main types of coverage, and complete freedom of choice.

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Apartment

Do you know what mistakes to avoid when renting? Image via AugustRode on Flickr

Moving out on your own for the first time can mean freedom, but it also mean financial responsibility.  While living at home, you likely had a little leeway in covering your expenses, a leeway that will no longer be there once you sign that first lease and settle into your first place.  Make this process as painless as possible by not making these common mistakes.

1.     Not Purchasing Renter’s Insurance

The number one mistake first time renters make is not understanding the importance of purchasing renter’s insurance.  Many believe that the loss of their property in a fire or theft would be covered by any insurance policy the landlord has on the property.  However, most homeowner’s insurance policies relating to investment or rental property specifically exclude property owned by tenants.  In the event of a loss, not having a renter’s insurance policy means you won’t have any help replacing the personal items that are lost or damaged.

2.     Not Knowing How Much You Need

For those moving out on their own for the first time, there are lots of unexpected expenses that can creep up and bite you if you aren’t prepared.  In order to determine how much rent you can afford, you will need to create a budget that shows all the money coming in and going out.  The consequences of breaking a lease can be expensive and breaking a lease can make it difficult to get another lease in the future.  Before you sign a lease, make sure you can afford the rent and all other expenses relating to the property.

3.     Not Paying Attention to How Much You Have

Now that you are going to have a financial obligation, you need to pay attention to where your money is going.  It is great to have a budget, but you also need a way to track that budget and make sure you are spending your money where it matters most.   Living on your own means you will need money for things you haven’t likely been responsible for before like toilet paper, groceries, and gas.

4.     Not Reading the Lease

Just like with any other legal document that you must sign, you need to read the lease in full before signing.  This is important advice for all renters, not just those who are renting for the first time.  The lease is the contract between you and the landlord and outlines all the conditions and exclusions associated with the rental agreement.  In order to be sure you know what you are responsible for and what the landlord expects from you, you must read the lease prior to signing it.

5.     Not Completing a Formal Move-In Inspection

Prior to moving into your apartment, it is critical that you perform a walk-though with the landlord that results in a documented list of any defects in the property.   You need to take this step to protect yourself before you take possession of the property.  Documenting any flaws or damage before you move in ensures you won’t be held accountable for those damages when you move out.

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Article provided by The Hartford

Are you prepared if you get stranded in your car? Image via MJIphotos on Flickr.

Having an emergency preparedness kit in your car is sort of like having good insurance. You hope you’ll never need it—but boy are you glad it’s there on road trips if you have an accident or need to help others.

If you become stranded, it can be critical to have the right supplies to speed up being rescued, say driver-safety experts. This is especially true in winter weather, when having the right supplies could also mean your survival.

It’s easy to be prepared for road trips. Emergency kits with most of these essentials cost $30 to $100 at stores that sell auto accessories. But you can also assemble your own emergency preparedness kit. To be ready for any roadside emergency, here’s what you should include.

In the Trunk

Use a sturdy canvas bag with handles or a plastic bin to store your emergency preparedness kit, and secure it so it doesn’t roll or bounce around when the car is moving. Include the following:

  •  Flashlight and extra batteries
  •  Cloth or roll of paper towels
  •  Jumper cables
  •  Blankets
  •  Flares or warning triangles
  •  Drinking water
  •  Nonperishable snacks, such as energy or granola bars
  •  Extra clothes
  •  First-aid kit
  • Basic tool kit that includes, at minimum, flat-head and Phillips screwdrivers, pliers, and adjustable wrench

Winter Add-ons

Inventory your items in the winter and spring, and include these six items before the winter months:

  • Window washer solvent
  • Ice scraper
  • Bag of sand, salt, or cat litter, or traction mats
  • Snow shovel
  • Snow brush
  • Gloves, hats, and additional blanket
  • Glove Compartment

Not all emergency equipment should be behind the backseat or in the trunk. Here are three essential items to stow within the driver’s reach:

  • Mobile phone
  • Phone charger
  • Auto-safety hammer (some have an emergency beacon and belt-cutting tool, too)

7 Simple Ways To Change Your Driving Habits For a Safer Trip

by: The Hartford

Safe Driving

Are you doing things to jeopardize driving safely? Image via paulswansen on Flickr

Within a matter of seconds, a loss of attention can lead to a car accident. Sadly, accidents from distracted driving are often more than mere fender-benders. Distracted driving has led to more than 5,400 highway deaths and 448,000 accidents this past year, according to theNational Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA).

To keep your mind on the road and your car out of an accident, follow these seven easy safe driving tips that have been recommended by car safety experts.

1. Stow all phones—even hands-free ones

Talking or texting behind the wheel is perhaps the most important driving habit to break. Of all highway deaths last year, 18 percent involved drivers using a cell phone before the crash, according to NHTSA. Driving while using a handheld or hands-free cell phone makes you as impaired as a drunk driver, according to a University of Utah study. When talking on a cell phone, your risk of accident quadruples, and texting makes you eight times as likely to crash. Because even hands-free devices cause distraction, get into a driving habit of putting phones in a purse or briefcase out of reach in the backseat.

2. Listen to—don’t watch—GPS devices.

These high-tech gadgets are supposed to help you navigate unknown streets, but if you fiddle with the controls or pay more attention to the screen than the road, you jeopardize your car safety. Program your destination before you start driving. And rely on the verbal cues from the GPS instead of the screen. If you know your nature is to keep looking at the screen, dim it.

3. Go 3-D when looking for an address

Before you leave for an unfamiliar destination, review maps and directions. One tool you might find useful is Google Map’s Street View. These 3-D views give you visual clues (turn right at that bright red gas station) so you don’t have to take your eyes off the road to look for street signs and house addresses.

4. Adjust controls and set the playlist before you roll

Don’t fiddle with gadgets like the radio, iPod, or climate controls while driving. Set up your playlist before you turn on the ignition. And set climate controls to a comfortable level before you put the car in drive. This advice is particularly important if you’re driving a rental car. Take a couple seconds to familiarize yourself with the controls. If it takes more than a glance to adjust a control, wait until you’re stopped to fix it.

5. Ban conflict-inducing conversations

When you talk with others in the car, heated arguments may pull your attention away from the traffic signals and pedestrians. Make it a driving habit that you’ll save the big, deep discussions of finance, child-rearing philosophies, and politics for outside the car. The same can be said for handling misbehaving children. If a child acts up in the backseat, the safest thing to do is pull off the road and give everyone a chance to cool down.

6. Buckle up Rex

Unpredictable, unsecured pets can cause major distracted driving concerns. There are a variety of restraints suitable for your type of pet and car, from a cage in the back of a station wagon to a harness that can be buckled with the seat belt. The backseat is also the best place for pets. That way you won’t be tempted to pet or feed them.

7. Take breaks to avoid spacing out

Daydreaming in a car can end up as a nightmare. If your mind is wandering to a problem at work or home, pull over to jot it down or make a phone call. Don’t let it keep running through your head. Also, take regular breaks—one at least every two hours (or about every 100 miles) on longer road trips.

Car Insurance Rates

Do you know what affects your car insurance rates? Image via harry_nl on Flickr

If you have recently gone through the process of reassessing your car insurance policy, you know that it can be a confusing and sometimes frustrating experience.  The difference between one company’s quote and another company’s quote can be minimal or massive and it isn’t always easy to compare apples to apples since companies package their products differently.  Since most companies use complex actuarial formulas to determine their rates and proprietary processes for quoting, you may not ever be able to understand why two policies that seem the same can carry such different price tags.

However, you do have some control over the cost of your car insurance if you understand how your decisions and your actions can impact the rates insurance companies are willing to give you.

Here is an overview of the 7 most important things that can affect your car insurance rate and which you can change to get a better price.

1.     You

Unfortunately, some of the factors that contribute to your auto insurance rates are things about you that you can’t change like your age or gender.   There are some personal details that affect your rates, like where you live and what you do for a job that can change how much you pay for car insurance.  If you are thinking about moving to another town or state, it may be worth it to find out if your insurance rates will be higher or lower in your new location.

2.     Your Car

According to the Insurance Information Institute, the cost of your car insurance is driven in part by the car you drive.  The insurance company looks at things like the original, replacement, and repair costs, safety rating, and prevalence of theft for your car to determine your rate.  This is why it costs more to insure a brand new car even if your driving record and coverage remains the same.

3.     Your Driver Profile

Insurance companies also look at how many miles a day you drive to and from work as part of determining how much your policy will cost.  The more miles you drive, the more likely it is that you will be in an accident and file a claim which makes your rates higher.

4.     Your Driving History

How you drive has a big impact on your car insurance costs.  If you have points on your license from past moving violations, your costs will be higher.  Companies consider your driving history as an indication of how safe a driver you are and safe drivers don’t do things that result in moving violations.

5.     Your Credit History

Depending on the state you live in, your credit history may be a factor in how much you pay for car insurance.  Insurance companies believe that people who are conscientious about their financial affairs are less likely to take risks behind the wheel.  Additionally, actuarial research has shown that how you manage your money can predict how many insurance claims you are likely to file and how big those claims are likely to be, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

6.     Coverage

The coverage you choose including limits, deductibles, and exclusions can have a big impact on the price you are going to pay.  If you choose comprehensive coverage, your costs will be higher.  If you choose a higher deductible, your costs will be lower.

7.     Claims

Your auto claim history is also a factor in how much your insurance will cost.  If you have a history of claims, your rate will be higher as past claims history can be an indicator of the likelihood of future claims.

While there are many factors that affect your car insurance rate that you cannot control, there are some things you can do to keep your cost low.  Drive carefully, stay on top of your credit score, and choose the right coverage for your needs to keep the price you pay for your auto policy as low as possible.


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Evacuation Plan

Do you have an evacuation plan in the event of a natural disaster? Image via YardSale on Flickr

No matter where you live, there is always the possibility that an emergency can arise and that disaster can strike.  The most important thing in any emergency is to preserve life, but after that, there are things that every homeowner should know that can help protect and preserve their home and property.  There is a reason that school children practice what they would do if there was a fire at the school.  Planning what to do in the event of a crisis and practicing carrying out that plan builds up muscle memory that can make all the difference when stress hormones and adrenaline make it difficult to think clearly.

Make sure you are prepared for whatever comes your way; here are four things to get you started.

1.     How to Shut Off Utilities

According to FEMA, homeowners may need to shut off the utilities following a disaster.  Ruptured gas lines and electrical sparks can cause fires or explosions and broken water mains can pollute the water stored in your house.  It is important that everyone in your household knows where the shut-off valves for all utilities are located and how to shut them off.  Make sure you also understand the proper procedure for turning utilities back on as things like propane and natural gas must be turned on by a professional.

2.     How You Will Be Notified if You Must Evacuate

The order for a community to evacuate comes from local government officials.  FEMA states that the first and most common method for notification of the public is the media.  Officials may also use sirens, phone calls, and door to door sweeps to alert homeowners in the evacuation zone.  If there is an emergency situation and your family does not feel safe remaining at home, you don’t have to wait for the order to leave, you can choose to evacuate on your own.  In the event that you have to evacuate, the time you have can vary.  Depending on the situation you may have as long as a day or two or as little as minutes.  In addition to knowing how you will be notified, you should have an evacuation plan that includes more than one way to leave your area.  This ensures you won’t be trying to figure out another way out of the city if your primary route is blocked.

3.    How to Get Out of the House if There is a Fire

According to the National Fire Protection Association, there were more than 350,000 house fires in 2010 resulting in almost 3,000 deaths.  Many homeowners don’t realize that they may have less than 2 minutes to escape.  When time is that short and the house is filling with smoke, you want every member in your family to know exactly what to do without having to think about it.  Your fire evacuation plan should include two ways to get out of every room.   Take a lesson from those school children and practice your home evacuation plan at least twice a year.

4.     How to Deal with Natural Threats
Where you live will determine which natural threats you need to be prepared for and in order to be ready for an emergency, you need to know what threats can happen where you live.  The plans and preparations you need to have in place vary depending on which natural threats are likely in your area.  Once you have identified the natural threats, take time to learn what to do in the event a natural threat becomes a reality.

With a little thought and planning, homeowners may be able to minimize the damage to their home and loss of their possessions when an emergency arises.

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Teen drivingWe’ve all heard the saying “it takes two” and when it comes to teaching your teen good driving habits, it couldn’t be truer.  Take yourself back a bit if you will and try to remember the first time your parents handed you the car keys. The excitement was nearly uncontainable and the freedom you felt was like nothing you had ever experienced up until that point in your teenage life.  National Teen Driver Safety Week starts October 20th and carries on through the 26th.  This year, the NTDSW theme is “It Takes Two: Shared Expectations for Teens and Parents for Driving.”  Hold on tight with these tips to help you and your teen overcome the (sometimes stressful) training that it takes to become a great driver!

For Parents

Set the bar high. Lead by example by following the rules of the road. Don’t talk or text on your cell phone and always wear your seatbelt.

Practice makes perfect.  Well…maybe that’s a stretch, but the more practice your teen has at driving, the more likely they are to make good judgments and begin developing habits that will keep them safe behind the wheel. Start by driving during the daytime and slowly graduate into driving at night.  Keep track of your training hours by downloading a driving log at http://www.teendriversource.org/index.php/tools/for_parents/detail/42 or by using a phone app like www.timetodriveapp.com.

Reward responsible behavior.  Reinforce responsible behavior by rewarding your teen with greater privileges that will allow them to become more independent.

Set boundaries and expectations.  Communicate with your teen and be clear on what you expect from them.  Be firm, but also provide an explanation in regards to the do’s and don’ts of driving and help them better understand that it’s not about control, but safety.

Be reliable. Showing your teen that you are available for their support anytime and anyplace is essential.  Peer pressure can take on many shapes and forms.  Make certain that your teen knows they can count on you by creating a code word they can use if they are in an unsafe situation.  If they call or text you, pick them up immediately, no questions asked.

For Teens

Know the facts.  You’re young, but you are NOT invincible.  Teenagers (16-19) are three times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident than all other age groups. In fact, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens.  Educate yourself and know what situations (not all are obvious) can put you at risk.

Be involved. Groups like Students Against Destructive Driving (SADD) and Project Ignition provide education and tools that promote good decision making skills when it comes to driving.  Let your voice be heard and make a difference in your community!

Listen well and don’t resist. Although it seems as though parents just don’t understand, they do.  Believe it or not, your parent was 16 once and behind the wheel for the first time too.  Sure times have changed, but not too much is different in respect to being a teenage driver.  Listen to your parents and be attentive to the direction they are giving you.  They aren’t telling you what or how to do something to be mean or controlling.  They want you to make the right choices so that you come home safe and sound.

Don’t be afraid to call your parents.  You may think that your parents will be angry with you if you call them in the middle of the night asking for a ride home.  Trust me, your parents want you to be safe and if it means coming to pick you up, no matter what the situation or what time it is, don’t be afraid to make that call.  It may save a life, even your own!

Whether you are the parent or the teen, it takes two to make safe driving a success. Be smart, be responsible, and above all be calm when you get behind the wheel!

Grill BlogJuly is National Grilling Safety month and whether you are deemed the “Barbeque Master” on your block or not, safety still matters! Most all safety tips really are just common sense, but with the regularity in which we barbeque each summer comes a comfort level that sometimes allows for us to overlook one or more safety items that can put  you, your loved ones, or property at risk.  Knowing what risks you are taking each time you fire up your grill puts you one step ahead of the fire and the potential damage that can come from simply doing something you do quite often.  Here are just a few things to keep in mind when grilling this season or any other season for that matter.

1.       Respect the Fire

I don’t think I need to tell you that fire is a destructive force that can quickly turn into a nightmare if taken for granted.  There are thousands of fires each year that evolve from grilling, causing injury, death and millions of dollars in property damage.  Knowing your flame and how to control it is number one.  Designate one person to watch the fire that is aware of how to cut fuel supplies, extinguish fires, and call the Fire Department. This person should also be familiar with how to treat burns.

2.       Food Safety

Although it’s probably the most obvious risk, fire is not the only one when grilling.  Food safety is key to being able to enjoy the outdoors when on vacation, at a party, or even just a quiet family dinner.  Bacteria can eat and exist on every kind of food that you possibly imagine.  It can grow and multiply at any temperature and if you aren’t careful, can prove to be one of the worst experiences of your life (no joke).  If you’ve ever had food poisoning, you may agree that it may just be the worst type of “sick” you’ve ever been.  Keep in mind when you are done serving up yourself and your guests, everything gets put into the fridge.  A few rules of thumb: Wash your Hands, Cover it Up, Keep it Cool, Get it Hot!, and simply put…Use your Head.   Bacteria can grow on anything that is above freezing and can stay alive until the temperature hit’s 165 degrees F.

3.       Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH)…aka Smoke

Acenaphthene, acenaphthylene, and fluoranthene…wait what????  These are just 3 of the 18 of the Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH) that can take flight when grease begins to burn.  Just like second hand cigarette smoke can give you cancer, so can smoke from grilling.  Although, the smell of a grill can be nostalgic and somewhat enjoyable when cooking up your hamburgers and hotdogs, be sure to keep your distance.  The younger you are, the worse effect it can have on you.

4.       Gas Safety

Do you know what the some of the number one causes of a gas fire is?

a. Gas leak

b. Bugs

c. Organic Materials

d. All of the Above

If you chose “d”, congratulations!  You are one step closer to knowing your grilling safety and keeping yourself, loved ones and your property out of harm’s way.  Any of the items listed above can ignite a gas fire when you start up your grill because they are “hidden” behind, underneath, or inside your grill where you don’t often look.  Check out your grill from all angles before firing it up. Look for anything that could be flammable near or around your grill and remove it accordingly.  In addition to being gross and annoying, bugs can cause all kinds of damage in regards to your grill that may result in a gas flowing where it shouldn’t.  Check for leaks and other possible breakages that can result in a fire.

5.       Drink Responsibly

Most of us like to cool it down with a tasty alcoholic beverage when grilling, but much like driving, alcohol and grilling do not go hand in hand.  Grilling requires clear a mind.  Be sober, be alert, and above all be responsible when grilling!

For more safety tips on grilling, please visit http://www.usfa.fema.gov/citizens/home_fire_prev/cooking.shtm.  Be calm and grill on my friends!

distracted drivingIf you haven’t heard yet, April is “Distracted Driving Awareness” month. Although we aren’t perfect, I think the majority of us consider ourselves to be excellent drivers. Every now and again, however, I think that we can all honestly say that there may be something that causes us to take our eyes off the road, even if it’s just for a few seconds. Whether it’s a text, an incoming call, or even your crying baby in the backseat, it’s a distraction none the less. Although texting is probably the most common thing that you hear about these days, surprisingly, it is not the number one reason with respect to distracted driving.

Using data collected from 2010 and 2011, an analysis was performed by an insurer out of Erie, PA. By using some of the top resources and information such as police report data in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), a nationwide census of fatal motor vehicle traffic crashes maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and also the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the insurer was able to determine the top ten distractions involved in fatal car crashes.

Still think texting was the number one reason? Think again! The analysis reported that a whopping 62% of distracted drivers were either “lost in thought” or “generally distracted”….aka daydreaming. When I think about it, I can honestly say that I have definitely been guilty of daydreaming while at the wheel. With the busy schedules we keep and the hustle and bustle of getting from here to there, it’s easy to “zone out” while you are driving. Our minds are in a constant state of thought. Whether you are thinking about what you should make for dinner, wondering if you packed everything you needed for your weekend getaway, or simply trying to decide what exit you want to take, you are putting yourself, your loved ones, and others at risk. So the question now is how do you stop daydreaming and stay focused on the road? There are a number of things that you can do to accomplish this.

1 – Control Your Emotions: Do not let a fight with a friend or significant other interfere with your drive. Before you get behind the wheel, make the decision to put your emotions aside and make a plan. For example, tell yourself “When I get home, I’m going to call my friend Jenny to vent, because she gives good advice and perspective”.

2 – Pump Up the Jam: Put together a playlist or cd with music that gets you going. Songs that have 100-175 BPM (beats per minute) can help keep you alert.

3 – Let Some Air In: Open your windows. Seat warmers and heaters during the winter months, although cozy, can relax you right into the thought of being snuggled up in your own bed. Crack the windows, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Just like a cold shower can wake us up, so can a blast of cold air.

Whether it’s daydreaming, texting, or putting on your lipstick, there is no doubt that distracted driving is a growing epidemic. Be mindful of how you are feeling, both physically and mentally, before you start the ignition. Consider your drive a mission, even if it’s just to the grocery store, and get from point A to B in one piece. Carry on and drive safe!

AccidentsMost of us know that each individual state requires that you carry auto liability insurance. In the state of Arizona, you are required to carry at the least 15/30/10. To break it down, what this means is that you have up to $15k (per person) and $30k maximum (per accident) for BI (bodily injury) should you cause injury to someone during an accident for which you are at fault. The $10k is the maximum coverage for PD (property damage) that was caused by you. Although your premiums for this type of coverage are very cheap and may be within your tight budget, there are several things to consider before making a quick, impulsive decision that might end up haunting you for the rest of your life.

The average cost of a vehicle these days is a little over $30k. Sure, you wouldn’t be responsible for the cost of a brand new vehicle if you caused an accident because we all know that the value of a car depreciates immediately after you drive it off of the lot. In fact, the average cost of an accident in which there is ONLY property damage was $9078 in 2011, according the AZ Motor Vehicle Department. You have $10k in coverage, no big deal, it’s just under your limit right? Keep in mind that this is an average figure only! This doesn’t guarantee that any damages caused by you won’t be over $10k. You should also consider that property damage is not just limited to someone else’s vehicle. You can damage a number of things…a lamp post, a yard, or even a house. PD coverage also pays for your legal defense costs if you are sued as a result of these damages and you don’t need to be an expert to guess how much that could run you.

Now it’s time to get serious and address bodily injury. If you have the required state liability limits in the state of Arizona, then you are covered up to $15k (per person) which maxes out at $30k (per accident). We all know that accidents happen and according to the AZ Motor Vehicle Department, the average cost per incident in 2011 in regards to BI was $22,746 and this was just for Non-incapacitating injuries. The average cost per incident for incapacitating injuries jumps to $70,854 and the average cost per incident for accidents that involved fatalities was $1,438,200. I don’t think anyone is in disagreement that 15/30 is definitely not enough BI coverage for anyone.

What can you expect if your insurance coverage comes up short? It’s simple really. If the amount of BI and/or PD exceeds the limits of your coverage, you are at risk of being sued. Depending on the amount in which you are sued for, you can potentially have your wages garnished for the rest of your life. Think for a moment of the victims as well. Not only have you disrupted your own life financially, mentally, and possibly physically, you have also disrupted someone else’s life in the same manner. Think of it in terms of your family and if the tables were turned. It’s not something we are necessarily comfortable thinking about, but what would the implications be if someone caused an accident involving you or your family members and they did not have the coverage to make you whole again? It’s a disturbing scenario.

We choose not to write state limits for any of our clients. It’s something that we feel strongly about and believe it is in the best interest of our clientele to carry liability limits of at least 100/300/100. If you currently have state liability limits, ask yourself “How much am I really saving in the long run?” There is no better time than now to get with your agent or insurance carrier to discuss increasing your auto insurance limits. Be safe, but most importantly, be protected! Call our office for a free quote today at 480-288-5900!

iknowinsurance

Luckily, here in Arizona, hail doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it can do serious damage.  According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA), hail causes more than $1B in damage each year.  It flattens crops, breaks windows, damages roofs, and dents cars.  Even small hail stones can cause major problems because of the speed at which they hit, often approaching 90 miles per hour.  The Insurance Information Institute reports that in 2011, Arizona experienced 20 hail events.  In comparison to some other states, that number is very small, but as we learned in October of 2010, it only takes one storm to cause widespread losses.   The best way to protect yourself and your property from damage is to know what to do when hail happens.

What is Hail?

Hail starts out as small chunks of ice that become larger when they collide with water droplets.  The…

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HomeOne of the most common questions that we are asked in our office is “Why is my dwelling coverage so high?”  We all know that the housing market is not where it used to be. This has been the case for some time and probably isn’t changing any time soon. So why does the insurance company insure your home for more than it’s worth?

Amongst other things, home insurance is there to protect you in event that there is a complete and total loss. Regardless of whether you would purchase a new home or rebuild your home, it doesn’t change the fact that the company who is insuring your home is just that….insuring your home. They aren’t necessarily insuring you to go out and purchase another home, but rather are insuring the home that you currently live in and the coverage is determined by how much it would cost to actually rebuild your home from the ground up.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when considering the differences between Replacement Cost and Market Value:

1. The Market Value for a home generally includes the value of the land on which the home sits. The Replacement Cost of a home does not include any land values, but is only concerned with the home itself.

2. The Market Value for a home is affected by changes in the real estate market. When homes in a particular area are in high demand the Market Value of a home in that area will generally go up. In the same way, when demand for homes in a particular area is low, the Market Value of homes in that area may remain level or even go down. Replacement Cost is not affected by the real estate market but is instead affected by the fluctuations in material and labor costs to build a home. For example, if the cost of material such as lumber, concrete, drywall, and carpet are higher in a particular area, then the Replacement Cost of a home in that area will be higher than the Replacement Cost of the same home in an area where materials are less expensive.

3. The Market Value of a new home generally factors in the cost that was required to build the home new. Replacement Cost, however, is looking at the cost to re-build the home, if it were completely destroyed, using all of the same materials and construction techniques originally used to build the home. The cost to build a new home can be quite different from the cost to re-build a pre-existing home due to access issues, labor efficiencies, economies of scale, debris removal and higher price of materials that may no longer be in common use (such as lath and plaster vs. drywall).

When insuring a home, we always use the Replacement Cost of the home to determine the amount of insurance required as this is what it will cost to replace or repair the home should it be damaged or destroyed. Understanding your coverage and what it means for you is just one of the many things that we offer here at Canyon Lands Insurance. If you are interested in a free quote, please visit our website at http://www.canyonlandsagency.com or give us a call at 480-288-5900. Hope to hear from you soon!

Keeping your Holidays Happy – 5 Holiday Safety Tips

It’s that time of year again! The holidays are here and between all of the “hustle and bustle” we can sometimes forget the little things which can potentially turn into something much bigger. Here are a few tips on keeping you and your loved ones safe and happy for the upcoming New Year.

1. Be cautious with candles.

Which are the top days for candle fires? You got it! It’s Christmas Eve and Day, New Year’s Eve and Day and Halloween too!

More than one-quarter of candle fires occur because they were too close to something that was flammable, such as curtains or gifts. This can be prevented by simply moving your lit candle at least a foot away from any other potentially flammable objects.

You should never leave a candle unattended. Whether you leave your home or go to bed, be sure to blow out all of your candles.

LED “candles” are the new craze. They are battery-powered and flicker, creating a flame-like appearance.

2. Set a timer when you cook.

With all of the holiday meal preparations, it’s easy to get side tracked. To avoid a fire started by unattended food, be sure to use a timer. If you have multiple dishes cooking, try more than one timer. Label the timer with a sticky note so when it goes off, you know which dish needs your attention.

3. Properly dispose of live trees.

I think most everyone knows just how quickly an evergreen tree can burn. Never try to dispose of your tree or wreath by tossing it into your fireplace. Not only are they hazardous because the burn so fast, but burning evergreens can also mean creosote buildup which is another fire hazard in itself.

Visit http://www.mesaaz.gov/waste/Christmas_Tree_Recycling.aspx to find out more about the Christmas Tree Recycling Program in the City of Mesa.

4. Mask high-priced gift boxes.

There is no better way to announce your new flat-screen TV or LED Laptop to an unsuspecting burglar than leaving out the trash. Instead of leaving the box intact, break it down for recycling, turn it inside out or simply tear it into pieces small enough to fit inside a garbage bag.

5. Designate a driver.

Celebrate holiday parties with peace of mind! Always have a plan that will end with your safe arrival home. Visit http://www.taxifarefinder.com/main.php?city=Mesa-AZ to find a list of local taxi companies. You can estimate your fare too!

From my family to yours, happy holidays! Please enjoy and be safe!