Thursday, September 12, 2013

Should You Buy Insurance When Renting a Car?

It’s one of those things that confuses many travelers: you’re about to rent a car and the rental agent asks you if you want to purchase insurance, and you’re just not sure.

It’s happened to most of us and we’re not alone. A survey conducted by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners found that 20% of consumers always buy supplemental insurance, another 20% do occasionally and 62% don’t believe their personal auto insurance automatically covers rental cars.

All this confusion is due to lack of knowledge about your auto insurance. Or you may just have the wrong information. For several years I rented cars in Europe believing I had insurance coverage when, in fact, I didn’t. I’m certainly glad I never got into an accident
If you don’t have some kind of insurance when renting a car you expose yourself to considerable financial risk. Being involved in an accident without insurance coverage could cost you many thousands, or even millions, of dollars.

Here’s an overview of what you need to know.

Types of Insurance
Generally speaking, there are three types of insurance you should know about when renting a car:
Collision/Damage Waiver (sometimes called CDW, LDW or DW): this is not really insurance but a waiver in which the rental company agrees not to make a claim against you if your rental is stolen or damaged. It usually excludes various conditions, such as driving while impaired or driving outside a defined area or country. These costs can vary significantly.
Liability Insurance: it protects you if you damage someone else’s property or vehicle and is usually in a specified amount such as $1 million.
Personal Property / Effects Insurance: it covers your personal property if it is stolen from the rental car or damaged in an accident.
CDW prices can be outrageous, and rental agents are often required to push them since they’re such moneymakers for the company. They can cost anywhere from $15 – $30 per day, depending on the car, the company from which you’re renting and the location where you’re renting the vehicle.

Does Your Personal Auto Insurance Protect You?
For most of us the collision insurance we carry on our private vehicles also covers cars we rent, at least in the U.S. and Canada. Thus, you can usually skip this coverage when you rent but you should check with your insurance company in advance.
·       Important to Knowthe big caveat, however, is that most times your personal auto insurance does not cover vehicles rented outside the U.S. and Canada. Again, call your insurance company (or check its website) to find out in which countries your policy provides coverage.
Even in the U.S. or Canada, though, your personal auto insurance may not cover what is called “loss of use” charges, the amount the rental agency claims to lose from fees while the vehicle is in the repair shop. This, however, is sometimes covered under collision damage waiver (CDW) or loss damage waiver (LDW).  You should be aware that if you are involved in an accident in a rental and are covered by your own personal insurance, inflated damage fees might cause your insurance premiums to go up in the future.
Insurance Provided by Your Credit Cards
All four major card networks (Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express) provide some form of rental car insurance coverage, although MasterCard does not provide coverage to all its cardholders.
This is usually “secondary insurance,” so-called because it only kicks in after your primary insurance (i.e., your personal auto insurance or another policy you’ve purchased) has paid various costs to the rental agency. Many, but not all, credit cards provide “loss of use” coverage when you rent using their card.
Since coverage varies not only by credit card but also by state, you need to check with each of your credit card companies to find out what coverage each provides. Coverage can vary greatly between cards so ascertain which offers the best coverage and then be sure to use only that card when you rent a car.

The 2012 Credit Card Auto Rental Insurance Study by CardHub found that VISA’s rental car insurance received the highest cumulative score (87%), while Discover ranked second (85%), American Express ranked third (82%), and MasterCard last (73%).
·       Important to Know: All four major networks require that you charge the entire rental car purchase on their credit card and decline supplemental insurance/Collision Damage Waivers (CDW) offered by the rental company in order to be eligible. None provide coverage for the rental of exotic, expensive, or antique cars; trucks; vehicles with open beds; or off-road vehicles. VISA and MasterCard do not cover accidents occurring on dirt and gravel roads and American Express will not provide coverage for renting certain popular SUVs.
Other Insurance Options
One of the better insurance programs is offered by American Express. Its 
Premium Car Rental Protection program provides primary insurance protection on a rental car up to $75,000 coverage ($100,000 with its Platinum card) for damage or theft. Since it’s primary insurance there’s no need to file a claim with your personal insurance company so your auto insurance premiums will never be affected if you have an accident in a rental car.
The cost is also comparatively low – a flat rate of $24.95 per rental for a period of up to 42 consecutive days. Enroll in the program and you’re automatically insured anytime you use any of your Amex cards for a rental.
·       Important to Knowthe American Express Premium Car Rental Protection does not cover vehicles that are rented in Australia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica and New Zealand.

Keep in mind also that associations such as the AAA, AARP, etc. sometimes provide rental car insurance. If you’re a member of an association contact them to ascertain your benefits. It’s a call that can save you money when you’re traveling.

Four Other Good Things to Know
A good thing to do is to always inspect any rental vehicle and make the rental agent note even the most minor damage or scratches on your rental form. Also take a picture of it with the rental facility in the background. It’s easy enough to do since today just about every smart phone has a camera built into it.
If you’re renting overseas always get an English version of the contract, which you typically must do in advance, usually online. After all, you don’t know what you’re signing if it’s in a foreign language and you could be accepting all sorts of liabilities and additional charges. It has happened.

Rental agencies usually charge you a “loss of use” administration fee since they claim, and rightfully so in most cases, that the resale value of the car has been reduced if you were involved in an accident. Some insurance companies will not pay extra fees such as this, so it’s wise to check with your own company.  If you are to be covered by your credit card for rental insurance you usually must have that rental billed to that card. If you have a coupon for a free rental or if you’re renting with frequent flyer points, even though you provide the credit card number at time of rental to hold the reservation, if no charges are made to the card by the rental company you may not be covered by the card company’s insurance.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Using your car for business? Are you covered?

So many people use their cars for work that they probably don’t think about insurance consequences.  Make sure you know what’s covered the next time you take your auto on the road for business.

Physical Damage
As long as you purchased physical damage insurance for your vehicle, you have the same coverage if you get in an accident when using your car for work.

You receive the same liability protection when using your auto for business as you would for personal use.  But there are a few nuances you should know about:

1.     Your personal auto must be a car.  It cannot be a commercial auto, like a dump truck, 18 wheeler, or pick-up truck.  These types of vehicles should be on a commercial auto policy instead.  There may be an exception for your van or truck; talk to your independent agent about how you use your auto.

2.    If the business you work for sells, repairs, services, stores, or parks vehicles, including road tests and delivery, your personal insurance policy will not cover liability protection for your own car.

3.    Your employer might offer some liability insurance for you in your personal car if you’re using it for work.  If that’s the case, your insurance and theirs will both cover a liability claim-proportionately-if you’re in an accident.  For example, if you have a $25,000 limit and your employer offers $75,000, your employer’s insurance will cover 75% of the claim.

Medical Payments
As with liability protection, you’re likely covered.  The only exception is that your personal auto must not be a commercial vehicle.

Generally speaking, most insurance companies cover you in these situation.  But, as always, you should read your policy carefully or call your independent agent to know exactly what’s covered.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Will My Home Insurance Cover Leaky old Plumbing?

Will your home owner’s insurance policy cover leaks from old plumbing fixtures?  The answer is, well maybe. 

Virtually all home insurance policies today cover plumbing leaks that are sudden and accidental. In other words, you're covered for a pipe that abruptly springs a leak, as opposed to one than trickles out water over months or years.

Older policies also cover that long-term type of pipe failure, provided that you could not know about the problem until you discovered it.

So, the answer to the question hinges on the type of policy and type of leak. There is no uniformity, though even a policy that covers leaks of any kind will significantly limit or exclude any related mold damage. Your agent should be able to explain your coverage to you.

Let's assume you do have good leak coverage. In that case, your policy will pay for: the cost to tear out the wall to get at the leak; all resulting water damage, including mold repair that's covered; and the expense of repairing the wall and replacing tiles, etc. In short, the only part of a covered loss that's not covered is the cost of repairing the leak itself.

As for the question of whether you can still file a claim after the repair has been fixed, that depends on how long it has been since the work was done. Technically, you have violated a condition that gives the insurance company the right to inspect damage before repairs are made. However, in practice, most home insurance companies will not deny your claim solely based on late reporting. But when insurers can't inspect the damage themselves, it can be tough sledding for the policyholder.

You should always contact your insurance agent first for direction.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Which Old Insurance Policies Can Be Tossed?

Are you trying to get organized but are having trouble deciding what to keep and what to toss?  For property and liability policies, such as auto, home, umbrella, etc., you need to keep only the most current coverage summary page, called the "declarations." Your agent will keep electronic copies for years and so will your insurance companies. Once your policy period has ended and your current declaration has been replaced, shred the expired one. Also keep the most recent policy booklet -- the legal contract itself. From time to time, the insurance company will send you a new booklet because the insurer will have made some contract changes. When that happens, it's safe to recycle the outdated policy contract/booklet.

For individual life, health, disability and long-term care insurance and other policies that are continuous until they're canceled, you should keep the policy papers and any amendments until the coverage ends or is canceled. Since these policies often include the original application containing a lot of personal information, it's probably safest to shred the whole policy.

Hold on to group insurance policies, such as employer-sponsored health, disability or life insurance, until the insurer issues you a new policy or you are no longer part of the group or the group no longer exists. When it's time to get rid of those documents, shred any personal pages and recycle the rest.

There is one exception to the above tips: Keep an old policy for which a pending or ongoing claim is being filed or adjusted. You or your attorney may need the paperwork for reference.

I hope this helps you streamline your insurance file.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Covering Your Home on The Road, RV Insurance

If the open road is calling you and a recreational vehicle, or RV, is the way you want to go, it may be smart to hitch on some RV insurance. While some owners opt to cover their RV with an endorsement on their auto insurance policy, many insurance companies offer specialized RV insurance that resembles a combination of car insurance, home or renters insurance, and travel insurance rolled into one policy.
While some of the coverage a RV policy offers is similar to regular car insurance to cover accidents, you also need specific coverage that's like property insurance because you essentially live in the vehicle when you're using it.  You also need liability insurance to protect you if someone trips and falls on your campsite or slips inside your RV.

Why consider RV insurance?
A lot of agents would not recommend putting your RV on an auto insurance policy because of liability issues and the potential for loss.  Some people think their belongings (in the RV) are covered by their home insurance, but if you carry expensive things like a digital camera, binoculars, jewelry and electronics, you can easily exceed your coverage.  RV’s often carry special equipment such as a generator, a water pump and a refrigerator that also needs to be covered.

What does RV insurance cost?
Like most insurance policies, RV insurance premiums vary widely because RV’s vary widely.  RV’s can run anywhere from $5,000 for a non-motorized trailer to several million for a top-of-the-line luxury RV with a hot tub and crystal chandeliers.  RV insurance is usually less expensive than car insurance because the RV isn't driven as often and because RV drivers tend to be more experienced.  Variables that go into determining RV insurance rates include:

·         Your driving record.
·         Your age.
·         Your gender.
·         Your marital status.
·         Your credit score.
·         The model, type and age of your RV.
·         Its storage location.
·         Usage for vacation or as a primary residence.
·         Average number of days per year you intend to use the RV.

RV insurance can cover the actual cash value (depreciated value) or the total replacement cost in the event that your RV is totaled or stolen.  Companies tend to limit total replacement cost coverage to newer RVs.

RV owners also can choose optional coverage for:
·      Pet injuries.
·      Vacation liability.  One of the most important types of optional RV coverage is vacation liability insurance, which will pay for bodily injury and property damage if someone or something gets hurt in or around your RV.
·      Personal effects.  The biggest mistake people make is not covering their stuff.  You can get basic personal property coverage up to a specific limit or schedule individual items.
·      Trip insurance. A traffic accident in an RV can be even more of an emergency because you're normally far from home when it happens, you can purchase coverage for living expenses and transportation in case your trip gets interrupted.
·      Trailer and golf cart coverage.
·      Roadside assistance.  Towing an RV can cost a lot more than a regular car, so you should buy a higher level of roadside assistance coverage.

Are there any discounts?
In addition to discounts similar to those available on car insurance, (such as for a good driving record) RV drivers can get a discount for membership in an RV association or for taking an RV safety course, says Blanchard. You also can cut your RV insurance premiums based on the time your vehicle spends off the road.
Most companies also offer layover or storage insurance to reduce the cost of insuring the RV when it's in storage, typically up to 50% off the normal premium.

Before you get behind the wheel of your RV, make sure you've got enough protection to keep the fun going even if you hit a bump in the road.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Tips for Choosing a Nursing Home

It’s not easy deciding which nursing home (or assisted-care facility) would best suit an aging loved one. Unfortunately, often times the person in question is no help at all.   For those who find choosing a nursing home too daunting, there are professional services that can help, such as Aidin, Assisted Transition, SilverLiving, and HealthAdvocate.

Here are some things you should consider when taking on this daunting experience

Understand your needs
A basic understanding of what you need can drastically reduce the number of places to consider:  For example, does your loved one have memory loss? If so you’ll want to decrease your choices to only those with memory-loss units and programs. Do they like to socialize and take part in activities? If they like such things, you’ll want to find a place with appropriate programs.

Talk with your community
Ask around for referrals.  Ask the staff at your loved one’s doctor’s office or social workers at your local hospital or home-care agency where they would choose for their parents. Ask friends, co-workers, people at church or other organization you belong to. Attend a local caregiver support group and ask the family members to recommend a place.

Check with the regulators
Inquire about the agency that oversees eldercare in your state.

Ask about costs
Will your state’s public programs cover the bill – does your loved one qualify? Find out what’s included in your monthly fee: they can add up quickly, especially if services are a la carte. For example, make sure the basic fee covers essentials like three meals a day.

Ask probing questions
A few productive questions to ask about the key medical and safety issues that nursing homes are responsible for. These may be depressing to think about, but your elderly loved one has fragile health already, and needs to be in a protected and sanitary environment:
·         How does the facility rank for their patients’ falling rate?
·         Where do they rank with nosocomial (hospital-acquired) infections?
·         What does the institution do to prevent the spread of staph infections?
·         What’s their policy toward preventing patient-to-patient infections?
·         What’s their record of maintaining patients’ ideal weight?

What about when staffing’s tight?
How does the facility handle staffing shortages? Some facilities will use an agency which is not the best way to handle a shortage because the agency staff will be unfamiliar with resident needs. Some facilities will have administrative staff (those who are nurses) take a shift. Be sure to understand how shortages are handled – they will occur.

Do your homework before the legwork
Narrow the number of facilities to see down to 3-5 facilities after considering your needs, as well as costs, ratings and referrals. If you hear a facility is great from more than one person, put it at the top of your list.

Make a surprise visit
Visit the facility unannounced: Are they receptive to unannounced visits? If they welcome you, ask for a tour, take notes, and meet the staff. Keep visiting once you’ve made your choice. Drop-in visits at varying times of day and night, and active questions about care plans, let the staff know that you care.”

There’s no point in feeling overwhelmed: you only have to take this one step at a time. And now you know some of the important steps.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

How to Talk to Aging Parents about Moving to a Nursing Home

The conversation between adult children and their aging parents about the possibility of moving into an assisted-living facility or nursing home can be tough and change family dynamics, but it needs to happen.

Children can generally see clear warning signs when it is time for their parent to enter an assisted living home or a nursing home.  The sad reality is that it often takes an adverse event to make the elderly parent realize that such a placement is needed.

The earlier you can react to warnings signs the easier the transition can be on parents, so it’s important to know what signs to look out for and address.

According to health experts, signs include forgetfulness when it comes to basic daily events like leaving the stove on, a lack of appetite or ability to eat, inability to food shop and constantly forgetting to take medication.

When a parent is unable to care for himself/herself and needs help with everyday things like bathing, dressing and making meals, it may be time to consider a nursing home or an assisted living facility.  Other reasons for considering professional help for parent include if he/she has memory problems, has physical limitations and is prone to falls, and/or has side effects from multiple medications.

If warning signs are present, the next step is to figure the level of care options and approach your parents and family members about moving into a facility.

Costs will be a major factor as will insurance coverage and how much the family has to cover the expenses.  It’s important that family members agree before making the decision.  If there are some disagreements, a geriatric case manager can help with the situation.

When it comes to starting the conversation with parents, be as direct as possible. The main reason people resist the idea of a nursing home or assisted living is over fear of losing their independence. Some parents are also in denial about needing care and help, which can also make the conversation tough.  You should provide parents evidence of why they need help: Point out aimless wondering, forgetting to turn off the stove and the dangers that came with these actions.

It’s also important to make it clear to parents they are not a burden and that you are not trying to pass off their care and simply want them to have the best options and lifestyle. Children should put forth a well-discussed and thorough plan to their parents that covers financials.
If possible, ask parents what they want from a facility, including location and amenities, to get them involved in the decision. Same goes with at-home care. If they can, have them discuss who they would want to be the caregiver whether it’s a relative, friend or professional.
If possible, it’s a good idea to take the parent to visit possible places to talk to the staff and residents.

If they say no at first, continue the conversation in a kind way.  After an adverse event occurs, they will either be willing or be forced into such a situation.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

How to Create a Home Inventory

Would you be able to remember all the possessions you have accumulated over the years if they were destroyed by a fire or other disaster?

Having an up-to-date home inventory will help you get your insurance claim settled faster, verify losses for your income tax return and help you purchase the correct amount of insurance.

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

     Don't be put off!  
If you are just setting up a household, starting an inventory list can be relatively simple. If you have been living in the same house for many years, however, the task of creating a list can be daunting. Still, it’s better to have an incomplete inventory than nothing at all. Start with recent purchases, then try to remember what you can about older possessions.

     Big ticket items  
Valuable items like jewelry, art work and collectibles may have increased in value since you received them. Check with your agent to make sure that you have adequate insurance for these items. They may need to be insured separately and it is important that your insurance company know about these items before there is a loss.
·         Take a picture 
You can also take pictures of rooms and important individual items to have a visual record of your belongings. On the back of the photos, note what is shown and where you bought it or the make. Don’t forget things that are in closets or drawers. If you use your phone or a digital camera, you may also be able to add a description of the item when saving the photo.

     Videotape it  
Walk through your house or apartment videotaping and describing the contents. Or do the same thing using a tape recorder. This can be useful for items such as clothing or kitchenware. You can simply open a kitchen shelf or closet and describe the contents. For instance, in the kitchen, it would be sufficient to state that you have a set of dishes for 12 that includes a dinner plate, salad plate, etch with when and where it was purchased.

     Create a digital record  
Use your computer or mobile device to make your inventory list. There are many software options and mobile apps that can help you create a room-by-room record of your belongings.

Storing your list 
Regardless of how you do it (written list, photos, computer hard drive, flash-drive, or in the cloud), keep a record of your inventory. If it is a physical document, store it along with the receipts in your safe deposit box or at a friend's or relative's home. If it is a digital file, make sure to back it up and keep a copy on an external drive or online storage account. That way it will be easily available to give your insurance representative if your home is damaged. When you make a significant purchase, add the information to your inventory while the details are fresh in your mind.

Friday, May 31, 2013

What Is Long Term Care Insurance

Long-term care insurance (LTC or LTCI), is an insurance product that helps provide for the cost of long term care beyond a predetermined period. Long-term care insurance covers care generally not covered by health insurance, Medicare or Medicaid.  Individuals who require long-term care are generally not sick in the traditional sense, but instead, are unable to perform basic activities of daily living (ADLs) such as dressing, bathing, eating, toileting, continence, transferring (getting in and out of a bed or chair), and walking.
Age is not a determining factor in needing long-term care. About 60 percent of individuals over age 65 will require at least some type of long-term care services during their lifetime.  About 40% of those receiving long-term care today are between  the ages of 18 and 64. Once a change of health occurs long-term care insurance may not be available. 
Long-term care insurance generally covers home care, assisted living, adult daycare, respite care, hospice care, nursing home and Alzheimer's facilities. If home care coverage is purchased, long-term care insurance can pay for home care, often from the first day it is needed. It will pay for a visiting or live-in caregiver, companion, housekeeper, therapist or private duty nurse up to seven days a week, 24 hours a day (up to the policy benefit maximum).
Another benefit of long term care insurance is that individuals may feel uncomfortable relying on their children or family members for support, and find that long-term care insurance could help cover out of pocket expenses.  Without long-term care insurance, the cost of providing these services may quickly deplete the savings of the individual and/or their family.
Long-term care insurance rates are determined by six main factors: the person's age, the daily (or monthly) benefit, how long the benefits pay, the elimination period, inflation protection, and the health rating (preferred, standard, sub-standard). Most companies will offer couples and multi-life discounts on individual policies. Some companies define “couples” not only to spouses, but also to two people who meet criteria for living together in a committed relationship and sharing basic living expenses. The average age of purchasers has dropped from 68 years in 1990 to 61 years in 2005, and the number of purchasers who are under age 65 has increased significantly.
There are many different benefit options that can be added to a long term care policy.  To get more information and discussion on your specific needs, see your local independent insurance agent.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Why Use an Independent Insurance Agent?

Perhaps a better question is, "Why choose an insurance agent at all?" According to some insurance companies, an agent is an unnecessary middleman who brings nothing to the transaction but added cost. Before you buy into that argument, ask yourself a few questions.

What do you really know about insurance? Not what you read in financial magazines or the newspaper, or what a friend or neighbor has told you, but the nuts and bolts of insurance. Do you fully understand why insurance exists and how it is supposed to work? Can you read and understand an insurance policy? Are you familiar with insurance law? If you are like most people, your answers to these questions is no. This is why you need an agent.

Now, why an independent agency? Independent agents are not contractually obligated to any one insurance company. By being independent, we offer you choice—tailoring price, service and coverage to fit your individual needs. By representing more than one insurance company, we have access to the finest insurance products, best coverage, and the right prices.

In today's marketplace, people are constantly trying to find the best price for product and service. Unfortunately, sometimes we forget the difference between price and value. With some products, it is fairly easy to compare the features and prices of the various models available. But how do you do that with insurance?  We have been comparing insurance companies and policies since 1931. We are a member of your community and understand your needs by sharing them.  We provide choices, personal service, and client commitment.