Newlyweds & insurance

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Like 2.3 million other couples this year, you may be putting the finishing touches on your plans for a wedding. On average, there are 6,200 weddings per day in the US, but some months are more popular than others. The Spring is an active time, with 10% of all weddings in May and 11% in June. Statistics say that the average wedding budget is $20,000 and the average number of guests is 178.

From the event to the honeymoon, it’s a big deal with a lot of details, so it can be easy to overlook insurance. But we’re not just talking about wedding event insurance which, if you plan a costly event, you should definitely consider to cover cancellation or losses such as stolen gifts, damaged photos, rings or gowns and other unforeseen problems. In this case, we’re talking about insurance matters that you and your spouse should consider as you embark on a financial life together.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) offers a handy tip sheet about insurance matters that engaged couples should discuss: Combining Your Insurance: Just got engaged? Don’t forget to talk about insurance. It discusses decision points and money saving tips for homeowners and renters insurance, auto insurance, health insurance, and life insurance.

Of course the easiest way to cover insurance is to make an appointment with your local independent insurance agent, who can walk you through all the considerations both for the event itself and for the various coverage options you’ll need going forward. As you embark on a new life together, you no doubt have many hopes, plans and dreams. The right coverage can keep you on track by protecting you from unexpected losses. Your agent will know the best coverage options and the ins and outs for saving money.

Below is an infographic Insurance Survival Guide for Newlyweds, also from NAIC. (For a larger version, click the link or the image).

Insurance survival guide for newlyweds infographic

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

In the market for a new car? Calculate the full costs

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If you’re in the market for a new car over the coming year, there’s a lot more to think about in terms of cost than just the sticker price. If you aren’t figuring in the associated financing costs, taxes, insurance, depreciation, gas and maintenance, you are only getting a partial picture of the true cost to drive a car. According to AAA, the cost of car ownership in 2019 was $9,282 or $773.50 a month. That’s 5% more – or $433 – than the prior year.

One of the key culprits to the costs? Finance charges, which AAA says average about 40% of the total costs.

“A key contributor to the increase was a large jump in financing costs. Rising federal interest rates and higher vehicle prices fueled a spike in finance charges, which rose 24% in 2019 from $744 to $920. It comes as long-term loans are becoming more common. Such loans offer lower monthly payments, but they ultimately cost the consumer more, meaning car buyers are paying more, and longer, for vehicles that lose value the moment they’re sold.”

Although long-term loans might seem cheaper, AAA says that they are ultimately costing the consumer more. They estimate that, on average, every 12 months added to the life of a loan adds nearly $1,000 in total finance charges.

One other key expense factor is that as new cars come equipped with more technology to make driving safer and more convenient, maintenance and repair costs go up. Sophisticated sensor in bumpers mean that a simple fender bender can require a costly replacement and recalibration of sensors. See our prior post on high tech cars equaling high cost repairs.

Because cars can be such a big budget item, it can pay to do advance research to ensure you make the best purchase and consider other factors than just the sticker price. Here are some car-buying tools to help you anticipate and calculate the total cost of ownership of various makes and models.

Talk to your insurance agent!

One other source for keeping annual costs of a new car down is to talk over auto insurance options with your insurance agent.  Be sure you are taking advantage of any available discounts, such as discounts for safe drivers, low mileage, seniors, good students, and more. Plus, bundling your auto and homeowners policies with one insurer can yield discounts on both.

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Insurance and The Oscars

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Americans have about a $40 billion a year love affair with the movies and this weekend, that love culminates in the annual celebration of the Oscars. You can Google “Oscars 2020” for a hub of news, lists, videos, history and more related to events. And check out this handy guide for how to watch or stream the events live.

Behind all the glitz and glamour, insurance is one of the factors that helps make everything run smoothly. No costly event occurs without insurance – there are too many potential things that could go wrong. Expensive events – and these might range from a wedding to something as elaborate as The Oscars – should secure Special Events insurance. For weddings, there are special wedding packages you can purchase; for a complex event, custom packages are tailored to encompass the many risks, which would protect all parties against unforeseen losses due to any number of problems – event cancellation, sudden unavailability of a venue, failure of key vendors, catastrophic weather that might force a cancellation or ill health on the part of key performers, to name a few examples.

But even special events coverage may not be enough to cover the risk. In Insurance Business America, Lauren Ingram talks to insurance experts about a number of insurance risks posed by an event such as the BAFTAs or Oscars that may not be a consideration at another event. As one example: “the accumulation risk of celebrities within one location and the security risk of having a number of high net worth individuals all within one location” might make the event a potential target of terrorism.

Other parties – vendors and even the stars themselves – might need coverage of their own for various risks related to the events. For just one example, consider this: The New York Times notes that the expensive jewels adorning the stars – ranging in value up to $12 million – are generally rented. The jewelers who loan them out require the stars to secure their own insurance coverage for the gems. But according to Chubb, the lending jewelers will generally provide security and someone to escort them. The article offers an interesting behind-the-curtains look at a little known aspect of the gala. (By the way, if you own expensive jewelry, you should make sure you have a special policy to cover it. This is true of any expensive collections – talk with your agent about the limits of your homeowners policy.)

Here are a few other Oscars and insurance-related items of interest:

Personal events such as weddings benefit from insurance, too
Private events can also benefit by similar types of coverage. As the average cost of a wedding climbs – in the U.S., the average cost of a wedding in 2019 was a whopping $38,700. with he ceremony and reception taking up a huge chunk of that, at $29,200. Wedding insurance can cover costs for cancellation due to weather, illness, or venue unavailability. It can also cover losses if gifts are stolen, damage or loss of photos, rings, gowns, and the like, and other unforeseen problems. If you are planning a costly reception, you may want to discuss wedding insurance options with your agent. In addition to insurance for cancellation or other problems, your reception venue may require liability insurance. You should also be sure to verify that your wedding venue and your vendors are properly insured, and learn exactly what and how their insurance might extend to cover any problems you might experience. Your local independent insurance agent can help you find the right coverage for your event.

 

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Tax scam season: Be on high alert for these fraud schemes

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From now through April 15, it’s the top tax scam season. Not that tax scams only happen in the first few months of the year, they can occur year-round. But criminals know that taxes are on your mind and they will try to take advantage of that.

Be alert for tax-related identity theft
With the frequency of large-scale data breaches, there’s a better than average chance that your personal information has been breached. Your data may even be in the hands of criminals, making you susceptible to identity theft. You may not be aware of this at all until you get a notice from the IRS about a tax filing that you never made. When you look into it, your realize that it is not just a mistake – you are the victim of a crime.

The IRS says that it’s not uncommon for identity theft victims to be unaware that they are compromised until they run into some type of tax problem or tax alert.

Here are warning signs that that the IRS says may indicate that you are a victim of tax-related identity theft:

  • You get a letter from the IRS inquiring about a suspicious tax return that you did not file.
  • You can’t e-file your tax return because of a duplicate Social Security number.
  • You get a tax transcript in the mail that you did not request.
  • You get an IRS notice that an online account has been created in your name.
  • You get an IRS notice that your existing online account has been accessed or disabled when you took no action.
  • You get an IRS notice that you owe additional tax or refund offset, or that you have had collection actions taken against you for a year you did not file a tax return.
  • IRS records indicate you received wages or other income from an employer you didn’t work for.

The IRS offers steps to take if you are a victim of tax-related identity theft, a data breach or employment related identity theft in their Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft.

Phone impersonation and other common tax scams

Tax-related identity theft is only one type of season tax crime – be alert for these “usual suspects” that the IRS has identified as some of the most common scams:

Impersonation Telephone Scams – The IRS won’t call you to demand immediate payment via a debit card or gift card. They won’t send the police to your house to collect a debt or arrest you. See: How to know it’s really the IRS calling or knocking on your door

Impersonation email scams – the IRS does not send unsolicited emails.

Fake calls from Taxpayer Advocate Service numbers – spoofed calls from criminals  posing as IRS assistance services trying to extract personal information.

‘Ghost’ tax return preparer “Tax Transcript” email scam –  Don’t get caught by a phony tax prep scammer or promises to get your you refunds sooner.

A new version of a Social Security scam – A criminal poses as the IRS and threatens to cancel your SS number.

Check out our other fraud posts for more alerts on scams and tips to stay safe.. And here are more tax season tips from prior years:

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Super Bowl LIV Party Planning: Snacks, safety & more

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This Sunday, Super Bowl LIV returns to South Florida for a record 11th time. The game will kick off at approximately 6:30 p.m. ET at the Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens. This year’s contenders are the San Francisco 49ers who haven’t won in 25 years vs the Kansas City Chiefs, who haven’t won in 50 years – so it should be a great game with a lot of fan excitement and passion on both sides. We’ve got some ideas for your Super Bowl party ranging from party foods to guest safety … and a few fun odds and ends.

Here’s a pre-game preview:

To follow before, during and after the game on Social Media:

Party Snacks:  If you’re are planning a party but haven’t set your menu yet, we have some ideas. Here’s a how-to on building a Super Bowl snack stadium, and here are 12 football-shaped foods. For a few other menu planning ideas, check out 80 touchdown-worthy party foods and Big Game Bash party recipes.

Party Safety: If you are attending a party, make sure you have a designated driver or alternate transportation planned in advance. Keep an eye on your friends and don’t let them drive under the influence either. If you are the host, you need to plan for more than just the menu – it’s important to look after guest safety to avoid any host liability. The Insurance Information Institute explains:

Social host liability, also known as “Dram Shop Liability” laws vary widely from state to state, but 43 states have them on the books. Most of these laws also offer an injured person, such as the victim of a drunk driver, a method to sue the person who served the alcohol. There are circumstances under these laws where criminal charges may also apply.

Here are some hosting safety tips:

  • Make sure all of your guests designate their sober drivers in advance, or help arrange alternate transportation.
  • Serve lots of food and include lots of non-alcoholic beverages at the party.
  • Stop serving alcohol at the end of the third quarter of the game and begin serving coffee and dessert.
  • Keep the numbers for local cab companies handy, and take the keys away from anyone who has had too much to drink.

It’s a little late for this year’s Super Bowl, but if you are a homeowner who likes to host parties, you might want to talk to your independent insurance agent about umbrella liability insurance, which increases your protection.

Something for everyone

If you’re into the Super Bowl more for the party and less for the sport, you might find Puppy Bowl 2020 more to your style. Meet the stars Puppy Bowl stars and starting lineup. See the preview below.

Some people are only it for the halftime show or the ads. Here’s everything you need to know about the halftime show, featuring Jennifer Lopez and Shakira. NBC sports has an overview of Super Bowl ads including the cost of the ads and spots to watch or preview: Check out the Super Bowl Commercials for 2020.

Every year, we also wait for the hilarious annual posting of the NFL Bad Lip Reading – it’s usually posted sometime near the Super Bowl. As of this today, it isn’t up yet, but here’s the 2019 version to get you in the mood.

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Buying a new home? Add your insurance agent and an inspector to your advisory team

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Thinking about buying a new home this spring? Do your homework now because home buying is likely to be the single biggest purchase you’ll ever make.

If you’re in the market for a new home, you’ll probably work with a professional realtor and a mortgage lender. You should also add a private home inspector to your advisory team – we make the case with some rather alarming “what can go wrong” video clips below. And here’s another professional that you might not think to add to your team but that you should: your independent insurance agent.

The Hanover offers a great post on five ways your insurance agent can help in the home-buying process. Insurance agents are local experts who know the neighborhoods, school systems and community safety. As you narrow down choices, they can give you insurance cost estimates. Hanover notes that “the neighborhood, the size of the home, the presence of a pool or trampoline, and the distance from a fire hydrant and fire station are just a few of the things that can impact your home insurance premium.” We’d add checking to see if your home is in a flood zone.

Once you pick out the home you want, The Hanover says there is another important role your agent can play:

Insurance claims filed by previous owners can impact your home insurance premiums. Your independent insurance agent should be able to access this information using the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (CLUE). If several claims have been made on the property, insurance carriers may be concerned that the house may have long-term problems, resulting in higher premiums. It is particularly important to pay attention to water damage claims that have been filed.

Whether you’re contemplating new home construction or buying an older home, hiring a private inspector can help you avoid winding up with a lemon. Make sure the inspector you hire is licensed and credentialed.

An inspection usually occurs after you’ve made an offer on a home but prior to the close. An inspector will provide a report that will allow you to identify any problems and make remedial requests of the seller. You can also share the report with your agent to highlight any red flags.

Hiring an inspector isn’t a step you should skip. Sometimes, buyers who are looking at newly constructed homes have the misconception that because the home is new, they don’t need to hire an inspector before buying. That can be a big mistake learned the hard way.

The clips below make this case. They were compiled by Reuben Saltzman, who has a blog called The Home Inspector in the (Minnesota) Star Tribune. Saltzman has an annual tradition of compiling his top 20 funny/scary inspection photos, along with video compilations. We’ve included clips for this year and last, but you can find more of his annual top 20 inspection pics at this company website and also on his Facebook page. His pics and videos are amusing – but they are also an insurance agent’s nightmare, graphically illustrating problems that run the gamut: roofs, cellars, decks, plumbing, attic leaks, deck issues, water management and more. Chances are your own home walk through would spot many of these blatant problems – it’s what you don’t see but that a trained inspector would that could trip you up!

 

 

 

 

 

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Home & yard safety: Deterring coyotes

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Over the last day or two, headlines are filled with the story of a New Hampshire hero Dad who killed a coyote with his bare hands after it attacked his 2-year old son. There had been reports of coyote attacks in the area for a few days. Authorities caught and killed the animal and testing showed that it had rabies. This is a frightening story, but the Humane Society reports that thankfully, coyote attacks on humans are relatively rare.

Coyotes live in every US state except Hawaii. They are very adaptable to almost any environment – including cities and suburbs. They are scavengers that will eat just about anything. Right now, we are in peak breeding season, which generally runs from January to March.

One of the problems with living close to humans is that coyotes start to lose their fear of people. Instead of hiding, they can become bolder. Many pet owners have heartbreaking stories about having small pets grabbed from their yard by a coyote – or even snatched  right off a leash in front of a horrified pet owner. While coyotes tend to be nocturnal, they can also roam around during the day. They are often spotted at daylight and dusk.

The Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services offer steps you can take to reduce the chance of human-coyote conflicts:

  • Do not feed coyotes!
  • Eliminate sources of water, particularly in dry climates.
  • Bird feeders should be positioned so that coyotes cannot get feed.
  • Do not discard edible garbage where coyotes can get to it.
  • Secure garbage containers and eliminate garbage odors.
  • Feed pets indoors whenever possible. Pick up any leftovers and store pet and livestock feed where it is inaccessible to wildlife.
  • Trim and clean, near ground level, any shrubbery that provides hiding cover for coyotes or prey
  • Fencing your yard could deter coyotes. The fence should be at least 6 feet high with the bottom extending at least 6 inches below ground level for best results.
  • Don’t leave small children unattended outside if coyotes have been frequenting the area.
  • Don’t allow pets to run free. Keep them safely confined and provide secure nighttime housing for them. Walk your dog on a leash and accompany your pet outside, especially at night.
  • Discourage coyotes from frequenting your area. If you start seeing coyotes around your home or property, chase them away by shouting, making loud noises, or throwing rocks.

This last tip is commonly referred to as “coyote hazing”. The Humane Society has great resources on this topic – see Coyote hazing: Guidelines for discouraging neighborhood coyotes that focus on steps to change coyote behavior. Hazing is method that makes use of deterrents to move an animal out of an area or discourage an undesirable behavior or activity. Hazing can help maintain a coyote’s fear of humans and deter them from backyards and play spaces. The article suggests dog-walking tools and ways to keep them out of your yard.

Prior wildlife posts:

 

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Do you fly in the U.S.? You might need REAL ID by October 1, 2020

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Do you fly on commercial airplanes for work or for pleasure in the U.S.? Do you regularly visit military bases or secure federal facilities? If so, this is the year you will need to have either a REAL ID-compliant license or a valid US passport to take commercial flights within the US or gain access to secure federal facilities. The law goes into effect on October 1, 2020 so there is still plenty of time to assess whether this is something you need or not and, if so, time to get the required documents.

Here’s the scoop. After 9/11, federal legislators and security officials established consistent, minimum security standards that would be enforced in all states and territories. Beginning on October 1 of this year, federal agencies, including DHS and TSA, will only accept compliant documentation at TSA airport security checkpoints and some federal facilities, such as military bases and nuclear power plants. The most common forms of documents are REAL ID-compliant licenses or US passports or passport cards. A handful of states (Michigan, Vermont, Minnesota, New York and Washington) issue enhanced driver’s licenses, which are also acceptable.

You do NOT need a REAL ID if:

  • you have a valid U.S. passport or passport card
  • you don’t use commercial airplanes to travel domestically
  • you don’t visit military bases
  • you don’t visit secure federal facilities
  • you are under 18 years of age

You can use a passport if you have one, but you have to remember to bring it with you in instances where it wasn’t required previously.

What is a Real ID and how do you get one?

It’s possible that if you renewed your license in recent years, you have a Real ID-compliant license because states have been phasing them in. Homeland Security says that “REAL ID-compliant cards will have of one of the following markings on the upper top portion of the card. If the card does not have one of these markings, it is not REAL ID-compliant and won’t be accepted as proof of identity in order to board commercial aircraft.”

REAL ID symbols

And here is a sample of a Massachusetts REAL ID-compliant license vs a noncompliant one. The designation in the upper right-hand corner varies by state.

Massachusetts REAl-ID compliant license sample

Homeland Security has many resources to learn more, including

You can also check with your state’s registry of motor vehicles to see if your license is REAL ID compliant. Here are links to REAL ID info for state RMVs in the New England region

 

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Quick best practice tip for your 2020 financial and legal documents

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It’s a new year – time to get in the habit of changing the year that you use when you write a quick check or date documents. But there’s another habit you should alter this year, according to police and other crime experts: write out the full year of 2020 in your handwritten dated documents, not just the abbreviated ’20. Failing to write the full year of 2020 might open you to costly fraud.

While it’s common to date documents in this format – 1/7/20 – the unique nature of this year’s date makes it too easy for a fraudster to change the year by simply adding more digits on the end. So your check or contract dated 1/7/20 could easily be altered to backdate it to 1/7/2019 or date it into the future as 1/7/2021.

Elizabeth Whitman of Whitman Legal Solutions talks about this in her article Will Abbreviating 2020 on Legal Documents Make You Vulnerable to Fraud?

She talks about why someone might do this, using an example of vintage violins with label changes that made the instruments older and consequently more valuable than they were. While labeling fraud on vintage musical instruments may not be something you have to worry about, she offers examples of why it might be worth your attention:

“Those who warn against abbreviating 2020 theorize that a scammer could backdate a document, such as a promissory note, to 2019. After that, the scammer could try to collect an extra year’s interest on the loan.

Commentators express similar concerns about postdating–that someone could change the date to try to cash a stale check. Or, they could try to force performance of an expired contract by make it appear that the contract was signed later than it was.”

Some say this fear might be overblown, that in prior years scammers might have altered dates on any two-digit year — but that just reinforces the importance of using a 4-digit year on written legal and financial documents – why take the risk? Whitman notes that while a consumer may be able to ultimately prove the fraud, that might entail an expenditure of time and money. Whitman says that although the risk of using an abbreviated date might be minimal, “it also doesn’t hurt to use the full year in a document signed in 2020–or in any other year.”

Her article also offers an handy list of document signature best practices, such as using a digital signature when possible, signing in blue ink, maintaining time-stamped paper copies and using dated cover letters – read more about these suggestions in her post.

Forged, altered or fake paperwork is a real thing – see our prior post on title washing scams that occur in used car purchases – a crime that costs $30 billion a year! Thieves and scammers are very creative in separating you from your money – a small step like using a 4-digit year in financial and legal documents that would make their job harder seems worth it.

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Favorite blog posts for 2019 and all-time

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Here are the Top 10 Blog Posts that were reader favorites in 2019

1. Never plug a space heater into a power strip

2. New Massachusetts hands-free driving law to go into effect in February 2020

3. Update your life insurance beneficiaries!

4. Keyless car owner alert: Carbon monoxide poisonings

5. Buying a used car? Don’t get scammed by title washing

6. Home burglars reveal the tricks of the trade

7. Fraud alert: This is (not) the government calling

8. What’s most likely to kill you? Check out your odds for National Safety Month

9. Thinking of a side hustle? Check with your insurance agent

10. Get rid of that junk: where and how to recycle your stuff

Top 20 All-time Favorite Blog Posts

1. Does homeowners insurance cover a flooded basement?
2. Do I Need Condo Insurance?
3. What are the odds? Mortality calculators
4. Car thieves have new tricks: VIN cloning
5. What to do if you have a car breakdown while on the road
6. Does your new car have a spare tire? Don’t count on it!
7. Does my car insurance cover me when I rent a car?
8. New Massachusetts hands-free driving law to go into effect in February 2020
9. Drunk Driving Simulator shows effects of impaired driving
10. Puffback: Avoid This Homeowners’ Nightmare
11. Totaled: Upside-down car loans and when Gap Insurance could be a good idea
12. Is Your Home’s Vinyl Siding Melting?
13. Behind the wheel: when being too polite is dangerous
14. Drowning doesn’t look like what we see in the movies
15. MA commercial truckers take note: New requirement to carry US DOT number in September
16. Preventing frozen pipes: tips from the experts
17. Ten dog breeds that might cause problems with your home insurance
18. Life events that should trigger a call to your insurance agent
19. Water in the basement: What does insurance cover?
20. Ice Dams 101: How to handle winter roof hazards

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.