Archive for the ‘Personal Protection’ Category

What to do if Your Tax Refund is Stolen

What to do if Your Tax Refund is Stolen

Imagine this: You’ve collected your W-2, your mortgage and student loan interest statements and your investment earnings documentation. You log into your online tax preparation software and spend the next hour inputting your information. When you hit “submit,” you breathe a sigh of relief; your taxes are complete for another year. Then you get an email saying the IRS has rejected your tax forms. Someone somewhere has already filed in your name.

Tax refund theft is happening more frequently these days than ever before. According to a government accountability office report, scammers snapped up more than $5 billion in 2013 tax returns last year. The IRS expects that number will grow even larger as identity thieves utilize some of the 6.5 million Social Security numbers stolen last year alone. In fact, some states are already seeing a spike in suspicious 2014 returns. According to The Washington Post, most of those were filed using TurboTax, one of the largest providers of tax preparation software.

Officials state filing early is one of the best ways you can protect yourself, essentially by beating criminals to the punch. Hopefully you won’t find yourself among the defrauded. However, if you are, here’s what you need to do to remedy the situation.

Report the fraud to the IRS.

The IRS identity protection division handles fraudulent tax return cases. You’ll need to fill out an Identity Theft Affidavit, which will create an alert on your account. The IRS may ask you to file your return on paper while they work to confirm your identity. You’ll then receive an identity protection personal identification number—or PIN—that you’ll need to use along with your Social Security number on future tax returns. You may also want to report the fraud to your local police department and the Federal Trade Commission.

Review your credit report.

If a thief had enough of your personal information to file a fraudulent tax return, he or she may also attempt to open new credit cards or take out loans in your name. Check your credit report at all three credit-reporting agencies as soon as you become aware of the fraud. At minimum, follow up annually. You can request a free credit report from each agency once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com. You may also want to put a freeze on your credit account. This will restrict anyone from pulling your credit report without your authorization, which will make it more difficult for an identity thief to open credit cards or loans in your name.

Change your passwords.

It may be easier to use the same password on all your financial accounts, and never change it, but you’re increasing your vulnerability to identity theft when you do so. If your information is compromised at one company, criminals will try to use it at others. Don’t let them get lucky. Create unique passwords for every account, and make them a long mix of numbers, letters and symbols. You might also want to take advantage of multi-factor authentication settings when available. These require a user to provide a code or other information in addition to their password when signing into an account, thereby increasing your protection.

 

 

 

Pet Insurance Basics

Pet Insurance Basics

Americans love their pets. According to the American Pet Products Association, pet owners in the U.S. spent more than $58 billion on their cats, dogs, rabbits, horses and other critters in 2014. Of that expenditure, $15.25 billion was for veterinary care and $13.14 billion on related supplies and medications. We can all agree, that’s a lot of scratch! But while some pet moms and dads have to pay for routine wellness exams and unexpected vet visits and treatments out of their general household budget, others are thinking ahead. They bought pet insurance, and can rest assured their furry family member’s healthcare needs are covered.

What is Pet Insurance?

Pet insurance helps you pay veterinary bills if your pet suffers and injury or illness. Some plans even chip in on routine medical care, though it’s usually most helpful when unexpected accidents strike. Those are the ones that usually require expensive procedures—such as cancer treatments that cost tens of thousands, hip replacements in the neighborhood of $10,000, and ACL repairs that carry fees upwards of $2,500. Any of these would decimate the average American’s emergency savings account. However, pet insurance makes these treatments financially possible.

How Much Will it Cost?

Just like your own healthcare insurance, pet insurance is not free. However, it’s likely more affordable than you may think. According to insure.com, you may find basic policies for as little as $10 a month. Policies with broader coverage will carry a higher price tag, of course. According to Insure.com, accident coverage—that would cover your pet’s care if it were hit by a car or fell out a window, for example—can be had for $15 a month. Accident and illness policies start around $20 a month. A premium policy, covering a broad range of services as well as reimbursement for various treatments and preventative care, will cost more. It’s even possible your employer may offer discounted pet insurance as a supplementary benefit. Ask your company’s human resources officer.

Can All Pets Get Health Insurance?

As was the case with human health insurance before the Affordable Care Act, not all pet insurers are going to cover all pets. Plans vary, but some will not apply if your pet is more than 10 years old, is a certain breed (like Great Dane) or species (like horse), or has serious pre-existing conditions. Purchasing pet insurance before your cat or dog needs it is the best way to ensure he or she will be eligible for coverage. Buying a plan while your pet is younger is also a good idea.

As is always the case in life, no two situations are identical. Ask your personal insurance agent to help you select a pet insurance plan that offers the solutions you need at a price you can afford. Your pets—and your wallet—will thank you.

Why You Need More Personal Liability Insurance

personal liability insuranceAccording to the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, civil lawsuits, including those involving personal liability claims, cost the U.S. economy $233 billion each year. The average compensation payout for a civil injury suit is $60,000. The average awarded in a punitive damage lawsuit is $50,000. Most of us don’t have that kind of cash to spare. If we accidentally injure another person—or they injure themselves on our property—we could lose our savings, our home equity and our other assets. Fortunately, insurance offers some protection.

Homeowner’s and Auto Insurance

While your homeowner’s and auto insurance policies offer some liability protection, it may not be enough in the event of a serious incident—or even a minor incident when experienced lawyers get involved. According to an article by CBS Money Watch, most homeowner’s insurance policies only cover personal liability claims up to $300,000. Most auto insurance policies provide up to $250,000 per person and $500,000 per accident for bodily injury—though few drivers actually purchase that much.

Experts advise you review your current liability coverage under both your homeowner’s and auto insurance policies with your agent. While most states set minimum liability requirements, it may make sense to increase your coverage limits. For example, to thoroughly protect your home, investments and other assets, it may be wise to increase the bodily injury liability limit on your auto insurance policy to the maximum, even if your state of residence requires less. You may also want to buy additional personal liability insurance equal to or greater than your net worth.

Additional Personal Liability Insurance

Don’t think you actually need additional liability coverage? You might be surprised. Experts suggest purchasing personal liability insurance of at least your net worth if you have teenage drivers at home, keep dogs as pets, regularly entertain on your property, have a pool at your residence, keep guns around or own a boat. All of these factors, and many others, can increase your chances of eventually facing a liability claim.

Additionally, auto and homeowner’s insurance policies never cover all the types of liability claims you may encounter. Typically excluded are defamation of character, libel, slander and false arrest. Personal liability insurance—in the form of an umbrella liability policy or personal excess liability insurance—does cover these charges.

Personal Liability Insurance is Affordable

Personal liability insurance is a valuable supplement to your existing insurance policies and may cost less than you expect. In fact, according to CBS Money Watch, you may be able to obtain $1 million to $2 million in supplemental coverage for as little as $250 to $300 per year. Contact your insurance agent or financial advisor for assistance with choosing the right policy as well as advice on how much coverage you need in your particular financial situation.

Are You at Risk for Medical Identity Theft?

Are You at Risk for Medical Identity Theft?

When you think about the dangers associated with identity theft, you likely imagine shadowy criminals using your financial information to apply for credit cards or take out loans. While these actions can devastate your credit score—and often take years to repair—there’s another hazard that goes beyond that important number. It’s the theft of your medical identity, and according to experts at the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) in San Diego, more than 1.8 million Americans became victims of this crime in 2013.

In fact, according to the ITRC, stealing medical insurance information and using it to obtain treatment and medication or submit false billings is the fastest-growing type of identity theft. Reports of the crime are increasing at an annual rate of 32 percent, and unlike credit cards—which offer some protection should you discover bogus charges—you’ll be on the hook for the costs incurred.

These costs can be quite large. According to the Ponemon Institute, which studies medical identity theft, 36 percent of the victims of medical identity theft encounter out of pocket insurance costs that average $18,660. Some have even lost their insurance or been charged higher premiums as a result.

While you cannot prevent data breaches or ensure criminals will not steal your personal information directly from a medical professional’s office, you can take the following steps to promptly spot and address problems.

Read your mail. Whenever you receive a letter from your health insurance carrier or your medical provider, review it carefully. If you notice listed doctors, treatments or facilities that are not familiar, notify your carrier immediately.

Request an annual list of benefits. Once a year, ask your insurer to provide you with a list of the benefits paid out in your name for the previous 12 months. Verify that all the information included on that list is accurate.

Check your credit report. Of course, you should already be doing this to look for other signs of identity theft. Unfamiliar medical collections included in the report may indicate medical identity theft. Contact the major credit-reporting firms immediately if you discover one.

Keep your health insurance numbers confidential. You wouldn’t give your credit card or social security number to just anyone, so don’t hand out your medical plan number either. Avoid health fairs or free screening kiosks that request your insurance information. Never give your number over the phone (unless you’ve called the insurer’s direct line yourself). And if you lose or misplace your card, contact your insurance provider as soon as possible.

Request a copy of your medical file. While you may have to pay for this service, ask your doctor to provide you with a copy of everything in your medical file. This is your “paper trail” in the event that you must dispute charges for visits or treatments you did not receive.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, medical identity theft is already a multi-billion dollar industry. Don’t become a victim. Protect your health insurance information, review all related records carefully, and contact me today about investing in identity theft insurance.

 

 

Do You Really Need that Car Rental Insurance?

Do You Really Need that Car Rental Insurance?

It’s a question you hear every time you rent a car: “Would you like to purchase insurance for this rental?” If you’re particularly cautious, you may even be tempted to answer in the affirmative, despite the fact that full supplemental coverage is prohibitively expensive, actually doubling the cost of rentals according to the United Services Automobile Association. Fortunately, there’s a good chance you don’t even need it. Consider the following before you approach the rental counter.

Your regular auto insurance may already cover your rental.

In many cases, the liability coverage you have on your day-to-day vehicle will extend to damages to other cars or property caused while driving a rental car. If you carry collision coverage as part of your regular policy, it may cover accident-related damages to the rental vehicle as well. Comprehensive coverage on your regular automobile can even cover vandalism or theft of your rental car.

What is actually covered depends on your particular policy, so you should consult with your car insurance agent before renting any vehicle. You should also keep in mind that even full coverage under your primary auto policy might not cover every charge—such as loss of use and administrative fees—the rental company will impose in the case of an accident.

You may already have rental car insurance through your credit card.

Some credit cards include supplemental benefits such as rental car insurance. In order to apply this benefit, you have to reserve and pay for the rental using that particular card. Terms and conditions vary widely, from primary coverage—that won’t require you to make a claim under your regular insurance policy—to secondary coverage—that will help you out with the deductible and other costs. In most cases, you must decline the supplemental insurance offered by the car rental company in order to obtain the credit card company’s insurance coverage.

Keep in mind, any coverage you receive from your credit card issuer is going to come with restrictions. For example, you may not be able to rent certain types of vehicles. Or the insurance may not cover damages that occur under particular situations (such as on a dirt road) or to specific parts of the car (such as the wheels). Card issuers frequently cap rental periods as well. Make sure you know what your credit card company offers before you rent a vehicle.

Sometimes, additional rental insurance coverage is still a good idea.

If your personal insurance policy does not include comprehensive or collision coverage, it may make sense to purchase liability coverage from the rental company. You might reach the same conclusion if your current car insurance policy carries a high deductible. Additionally, if you’re renting a car on a business trip, or intend to drive it into another country (other than Canada), you will likely need additional insurance coverage. Give me a call to discuss your particular car insurance policy’s declarations and limitations before proceeding.

 

 

 

Have You Cosigned Student Loans?

Have You Cosigned Student Loans?

If amassing the largest quantity of college debt is a contest, it appears that the Class of 2014 has won. According to one analysis of government data, the average graduating college student this year had $33,000 in student loans. After adjusting for inflation, that’s nearly twice the amount students borrowed two decades ago. And parents who cosigned loans for their children may be on the hook for it.

Not all students are eligible for federal financial aid in the form of subsidized college loans. Some have to turn to private loans for all—or at least a portion—of their tuition and fees. With a cosigner, these young people increase their chance of approval, and parents are often the first choice.

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as providing a reference. When you cosign a student loan, you basically put yourself on the hook in the case of a default. Debt collectors will call you if your son or daughter misses a payment. Your credit will suffer. And if—heaven forbid—your child dies, you’ll find yourself responsible for the entire amount. It is often impossible to have private student loan debt discharged in bankruptcy.

Back in August, CNN Money reported the story of one couple who lost their daughter and face paying back the $100,000 in private student loans they had cosigned. Their credit is ruined, and they continue to struggle with the additional burden of debts that have ballooned to $200,000 due to interest and late fees. If they had a life insurance policy on their child, the story might have had a happier ending. One equal to the student loan balance, with the parents as beneficiaries, would have cost as little as $150 a year—a small price to pay for protection from financial devastation.

If you’re cosigning or have already cosigned private student loans for your child, you can avoid making this all too common mistake. Consider these tips for taking out a life insurance policy on your college-age child.

  • First, check with the lender. Some larger private lenders—from Sallie Mae to Wells Fargo—have begun providing debt relief when a primary borrower dies. If that is the case with your child’s student loans, life insurance may be unnecessary.
  • If the lender does not offer such protection, talk to your financial advisor about the best possible life insurance plan. He or she can explain the differences between policies and help you find adequate coverage at a price you can afford.
  • In many cases, a term life insurance policy (in which you can choose the length of coverage) may be best. You’ll want a term that is long enough to cover you throughout your child’s repayment of the loans.
  • The coverage you purchase should be equal to the balance on the loans. If your child has not finished school, your financial advisor can help you estimate the final cost of his or her education.

 

 

Defend Your Home Against Burglaries and Home Invasions

Defend Your Home Against Burglaries and Home Invasions

If you were anywhere near a television in June of 2013, you likely saw this graphic video of a horrifying New Jersey home invasion broadcast repeatedly on national news programs. It’s the stuff of nightmares, and unfortunately, according to the FBI, these violent break-ins—and less violent burglaries—are not as uncommon as you may think. Nearly 50,000 “robberies within residences” occurred in 2011. That’s a rate of nearly 137 per day.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to defend your home against these types of attacks. In most cases, both violent home invaders and simple burglars target properties where they’re less likely to face resistance. The more difficult you make it to access your home uninvited, the less likely you are to become a victim. Consider the following home-defense suggestions.

  • Install motion-detecting lights around the perimeter of your home.
  • Install motion-detecting infrared security cameras that record to a DVR. Enclose the recording system in a lockbox so invaders cannot remove the visual evidence of their crime.
  • If you’re often away from your home and want to monitor it remotely, choose security cameras you can also connect to the Internet.
  • Always lock your windows, even on upper floors.
  • Install secondary locking devices on ground floor windows to prevent them from opening more than a narrow gap or width.
  • Apply anti-break window film as well. If you have glass doors, make sure they are double paned and laminated.
  • Keep a dowel rod in the track of your sliding glass door. This will keep it from sliding open even if a burglar bypasses the lock.
  • Keep bushes and trees trimmed to reduce potential hiding places and eliminate easy upper story or roof access.
  • Install deadbolts on all your exterior doors, including the one leading into your home from the garage. Use them at all times.
  • Ensure your exterior doors are solid core models; replace them if not.
  • Invest in an anti-kick door device, like the Door Devil or Door Stopper, to make brute force entry more difficult.
  • Upgrade your locks to high security models and install 3-inch screws in your doorjambs and hinges.
  • Invest in a security alarm with motion detectors, and keep it set even when you are at home—day and night.
  • Install a secondary alarm keypad in your bedroom.
  • Keep your cell phone handy at all times so you can call 911 from any room of your home.
  • Put your keys on your nightstand when you go to bed. You can use your car alarm as a deterrent if you hear someone outside your home.
  • If you have a garage door opener, make sure you’re not using the factory-set entry code.
  • Never answer your door if you don’t know the person on the other side.

Sometimes the unexpected happens, but I hope these tips help you protect your home and your family. If you’d like to learn how homeowner’s insurance, life insurance and other insurance products can also offer protection in the event of a burglary, invasion, natural disaster or other emergency, contact me today.

Steps to Take After an Auto Accident

Steps to Take After an Auto Accident

Automobile accidents on America’s busy roadways—from minor fender-benders to fatal pile-ups—are more common than you may imagine. According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 9,387,000 passenger vehicles were involved in police-reported traffic crashes in 2012. More than 35,000 of these vehicles were involved in fatal crashes, 21,667 occupants lost their lives, and 2.09 million were injured.

While auto accidents are always stressful, it’s important to remain calm and take the necessary steps to ensure injured parties receive medical attention and you’re prepared to submit an auto insurance claim. Experts recommend the following:

  1. If the accident appears to be minor, move your car to a safe place, out of traffic. This may be the shoulder of the highway or a nearby side road or parking lot.
  2. Check yourself and your passengers for injuries. If another vehicle was involved in the accident, ascertain if the passengers within it are okay. When in doubt, call an ambulance.
  3. Turn on your vehicle’s hazards lights. If you have cones, warning triangles or emergency flares in your trunk—and you are still on the roadway or shoulder—use them.
  4. Call the police, even if the accident is minor or other parties involved suggest that you don’t contact law enforcement.
  5. Call your insurance agent while you’re waiting for the police to arrive.
  6. Use your cell phone to take pictures of the accident location and any damage on all vehicles involved.
  7. If there were witnesses to the accident (pedestrians, uninvolved drivers who stopped to make sure everyone was okay), get their names and phone numbers.
  8. Note the names, addresses and phone numbers of the other drivers. Write down their license plate numbers, vehicle identification numbers and auto insurance information as well. Some insurance companies offer free mobile apps to help you collect these details.
  9. Do not admit fault for the accident, even if you think you are to blame. Don’t discuss the accident with other involved drivers and passengers. That said, be as polite as possible.
  10. Do not sign any documents that your insurance agent or the police do not require.
  11. Collect the name, badge number and phone number of the police officer investigating your accident. Ask for a copy of the accident report as well, though you may need to wait a day or so for the officer to file it. This report will include the officer’s assessment of the accident, which can be helpful if the parties involved do not agree on who was at fault.


The claims process itself may vary by insurance company. If you’d like to find out more about what to expect when filing a claim through your auto insurance provider—or ask other questions about your policy—contact your insurance agent.

 

 

The Dangers of Poor Sleep

The Dangers of Poor Sleep

We all have the occasional night where we just can’t manage to fall asleep or stay asleep long enough to feel rested. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), insufficient sleep is rapidly becoming a public health epidemic, with lack of quality slumber linked to motor vehicle crashes, industrial disasters and medical errors as well as a number of chronic diseases. In fact, the National Sleep Foundation reports that 20 percent of American adults show signs of chronic sleep deprivation including decreased performance and alertness as well as memory impairment.

Short-Term Dangers of Poor Sleep

According to WebMD, losing as little as 1.5 hours of sleep one night can reduce daytime alertness by as much as 32 percent. This might not seem like a big deal—especially if you spend most of your workday sitting at a desk—but the less alert you are, the slower your reaction time. This can make you more prone to accidents in your home and place of business as well as behind the wheel of your car. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has conservatively estimated that driver fatigue causes 100,000 police-reported crashes every year, resulting in 1,550 deaths and 71,000 injuries.

Poor sleep also impairs your memory and cognitive ability. Research cited by the National Sleep Foundation found that loss of less than a half night’s sleep can alter the normal behavior of brain cells, negatively impacting your ability to think and process information. When you’re tired, you’re less able to focus, missing fine details and putting information together incorrectly as a result. Depending on your occupation, this can lead to life-threatening errors at work.

Sleep deprivation can put a strain on your home life as well. If your partner’s habits (snoring, tossing and turning) are causing you to lose sleep, it can add stress to your relationship. And when you’re tired, you’re less likely to feel like doing usually fun things such as playing with your children, going to the movies with friends, or exercising.

Long-Term Dangers of Poor Sleep

While a single restless night can certainly wreak havoc on your day, chronic insufficient sleep can have serious long-term consequences. These include increasing your risks of developing high blood pressure, heart failure, and obesity as well as having a heart attack or stroke. Lack of sleep can also lead to psychiatric problems such as depression and attention deficit disorder.

According to WebMD, numerous studies have shown an increased mortality risk for adults who report sleeping less than six or seven hours each night. One study even discovered that lack of sleep increases mortality risk more than smoking, high blood pressure or heart disease does.

What You Can Do

The American Sleep Disorders Association recognizes more than 85 sleep disorders—ranging from insomnia to sleep apnea—that affect more than 70 million people. Unfortunately, most cases remain undiagnosed and untreated. If you believe you are suffering from chronic sleep deprivation, talk to your doctor. And if you suffer from even the occasional night of low-quality sleep, you may want to speak with your auto insurance agent about increasing your coverage. According to the National Sleep Foundation, courts have awarded crash victim families multi-million dollar settlements in the past as a result of drowsy driving lawsuits.

 

 

 

Save Money with Home Insurance Credits

Save Money with Home Insurance Credits

Do you own a home? If so, you probably pay for homeowners insurance. It’s likely your mortgage lender required you to show proof of coverage before you closed on your loan. And if you’re among the lucky Americans who own their homes outright, you may still have insurance to protect your investment in case of damage caused by fire and wind, property theft or liability lawsuits. You may even be aware that you can cut your premiums by installing and maintaining smoke detectors and security systems as well as insuring your vehicles through the same company. But do you know about the many other credits available to reduce the costs of homeowners insurance?

Gated Community Credit: According to Bankrate, if you own a home within a gated community, you may be able to shave 5 percent to 20 percent off your premium. The discount falls under loss mitigation, as the extra security of such a location makes your property a less attractive burglary target.

New Wiring Credit: According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), electrical failures and malfunctions contributed to an estimated 47,700 home fires in 2011—causing $1.4 billion in direct property damage. If you’ve purchased an older home, you may qualify for a 10 percent credit on your insurance premium if you replace the wiring.

Impact-Resistant Roofing Credit: The average roof takes a beating in the form of rain, hail and wind, and damage caused by compromised roofing can lead to significant home insurance claims. As a result, many insurers offer homeowners a 5 percent to 10 percent discount on premiums if they upgrade to an impact-resistant roofing material (such as Class 4 impact-resistant UL 2218).

Claims-Free Credit: According to Bankrate, if you’ve gone a decade without filing a claim, your insurer may be willing to knock as much as 20 percent off the annual cost of your coverage. If you’ve been with the same company for years but have had a claim or two in the past, you may still qualify for a long-term customer discount.

New Home/Home Renovation Credit: Buy a brand new property and you could score an insurance premium that is as much as 25 percent less than that required for a comparable previously owned home. You can earn the same discount if you renovate an older property. However, check with your insurance agent for suggestions on maximizing credits before you begin.

Non-Smoker Credit: Data compiled by the NFPA shows that smoking caused an estimated 17,600 home structure files in 2011. These fires resulted in 490 civilian deaths, 1,370 civilian injuries and $516 million in direct property damage. While insurers generally raise their rates if there is a smoker in the household, many will also give you a 5 percent to 15 percent discount if you keep your home smokeless.

Retiree Credit: Retired homeowners tend to spend more time at home, and this means they are more likely to be able to prevent an emergency—such as a gas leak or broken pipe—from becoming a disaster. According to Bankrate, if your household includes an adult who is 55 years or older and retired, you may qualify for a discount of 10 percent to 25 percent.

Homeowners insurance costs vary based on many factors including your location and the coverage you select. Contact your agent today to review your policy and learn if you qualify for any of these cost-reducing credits.

 

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