March 2012

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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Medicare Coverage

Which Medicare coverage is right for you? Image via Old Shoe Woman on Flickr

There is no way to sugar coat it; Medicare can be mindboggling.  For people moving to Medicare from private insurance, switching over can be a frustrating time because you have a lot of questions and aren’t sure where to get the answers.  If you are used to the relatively straightforward private insurance company plans offered through employers, navigating the many parts of Medicare is often the first obstacle you have to overcome.  With so many parts and a late enrollment penalty hanging over your head, it’s hard to know what you need, which parts to choose, and who you need to work with to get all the parts and pieces in place before you run out of time.

To ease the adjustment, here is a basic breakdown of the different parts of Medicare, what each part covers, and how they work in conjunction with each other to provide the health insurance coverage you need.  For more information, you can visit the Medicare website or talk to your insurance agent.

1.     First Things First

Let’s review what Medicare is and who is eligible for it.  The Medicare program provides health insurance for people in specific situations and is funded by the Federal Government.  In order to qualify for Medicare, you must be either 65 years old or older, under 65 with a specific disability, or any age with end-stage renal disease.

2.     Medicare Part A: When You Need to Go to the Hospital

Medicare Part A is part of your base Medicare coverage.  It pays for your medical expenses when you are admitted to a hospital and receive inpatient care.  Additionally, it may provide some coverage or assistance in paying for a skilled nursing facility, hospice care, and some of your home health care needs.  If you qualify for Medicare, Part A is automatically part of your coverage unless you opt for Part C below.

3.     Medicare Part B: When You Need Medical Care Outside the Hospital

Medicare Part B is also part of your base Medicare coverage and it pays for your medical expenses outside of the circumstances covered by Part A.  If you need to see a doctor, have an outpatient procedure at the hospital, or other eligible expenses, Part B pays for 80% of the cost after you meet your Part B deductible.  Preventative care and care associated with managing long term illnesses are also covered by Part B but are generally covered at 100%.  Unlike Medicare Part A, there is a monthly premium that must be paid for Part B coverage.

4.     Medicare Part C: aka Medicare Advantage Plans

Medicare Part C encompasses both Part A and Part B and offers Medicare recipients another option for health insurance.  A Medicare Advantage Plan is run by a private insurance company and functions like the HMO or PPO you likely had through your employer prior to switching to Medicare.   If you choose Medicare Part C, any hospital stays, medical treatments, preventative care, hospice, skilled nursing, or home health care would be covered under the Medicare Advantage Plan you select.  In addition to those Part A and B services, a Medicare Advantage Plan may also cover other costs including prescription drugs.  Medicare Advantage plans have a monthly premium that you must pay.  If you choose Medicare Part C, you do not need Part A or Part B and depending on the plan you choose, you may not need Part D either.

5.     Medicare Part D: Prescription Drug Coverage

Medicare Part D is an optional coverage offered by private insurance companies that have been approved by Medicare to offer coverage for prescription medication.  If you have Medicare Parts A and B, you will more than likely want to purchase a Medicare Part D plan to help cover the cost of any medication.  If you have a Medicare Advantage Plan that doesn’t offer the prescription drug coverage you need, you may want to find out if a Medicare Part D plan could help save money on your prescription drugs.  Part D requires you to pay a monthly premium and has an annual limit.

6.     Medicare Supplemental Insurance: Medigap

This is an extra policy you can purchase to help cover your out of pocket expenses and things that are not covered by Medicare.  If you purchase a Medicare Advantage program, you are not eligible for Medigap coverage as it only applies to those with traditional (Parts A, B, and maybe D) Medicare coverage.  Although there are 12 different types of Medigap coverage offered, each type provides the same coverage regardless of which insurance company you purchase it from.  You will need to pay an additional premium each month if you decide to purchase Medigap coverage.

The complexities of Medicare may seem overwhelming, but once you understand what each part covers and how the different combinations work together to cover your health care costs, you can make the right decision for you.
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Flood Insurance

Does your insurance cover you in the event of a flood? Image via freefotouk on Flickr

The majority of homeowner’s policies written today provide three types of coverage: damage to or loss of your house, damage to or loss of your possessions, and protection from liability claims.  These standard coverages protect you from losses resulting from most natural causes including fire, wind storms which includes hurricanes and tornados, lightning, hail, and the weight of ice and snow.  It also covers losses that are not caused by Mother Nature like riots, civil unrest, aircraft collision or other falling objects, theft, and vandalism.  The personal liability coverage included in most standard policies is enough to protect against small to medium sized liabilityclaims against you.

Most homeowner’s policies are fairly comprehensive in the type of protection they provide, which leads many homeowner’s to assume that any loss to their house or property and any lawsuit against them will be covered by the insurance company.  However, a quick review of the list of natural disasters above makes it clear that this is a bad assumption since floods and earthquakes are not covered by a standard policy.

The best way to make sure you know exactly what your policy covers and what it does not, is to read your policy from cover to cover.  If you find anything that you thought was covered that is not, you may be able to increase your coverage by adding a rider or extension to your existing policy or by purchasing an additional policy.

Here are some of the most common types of extra coverage homeowners add to their policies.

1.     Scheduled Items

One of the misconceptions about property replacement under a homeowner’s policy is that there are no limits on individual items. You assume that if everything you own is worth less than your policy limit, everything will be covered and replaced.  However, most policies include specific limits on high value items like jewelry, furs, expensive collections, and even computer equipment.  If the value of your property in one of the specified areas is higher than the limit listed in your policy, you need to add a higher limit or schedule those items for additional coverage.

2.     Special Coverage for Specific Threats

As mentioned above, there are two specific natural threats that are almost always excluded from a standard homeowner’s policy, floodsand earthquakes.

If you live in a flood zone, you will need to secure flood insurance from the National Flood Insurance Program separately from your standard homeowner’s policy.

When it comes to earthquakes, many homeowners’ don’t feel they need extra coverage because it is unlikely that an earthquake would damage their home.  This is especially true if they live outside of the most seismically active states, Alaska, Hawaii, and California.  If you think it will never happen to you, consider this.  There were 43,458 earthquakes in the U.S. between 2001 and 2011 according to theUnited States Geological Survey (USGS).  Even if you take out the quakes in the three states above, roughly 90% based on earthquake data for the last 40 years, 4,348 quakes remain.  This equates to more than one quake for each day of the 10 year timeframe from 2001 to 2011.   If you believe that earthquakes never happen where you live, you may want to take a look at the stats; there are only 8 states that have not experienced a single earthquake since 1974.

3.     Umbrella Coverage

Umbrella coverage is a separate policy that goes over your homeowner’s policy and provides an extra layer of protection in the event of a substantial loss.  For homeowners, this type of coverage can protect your assets, including your house, if someone sues you.  There is a limit, indicated in your policy, on how much your homeowner’s policy will pay out for personal liability losses.  If someone is hurt or killed on your property and you are found liable, that standard limit may not be enough to cover any judgment or settlement resulting from a lawsuit.  This type of coverage is one of the most important things you can add to your existing homeowner’s policy because of the broad protection it provides.

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