Insure Your Hot Summer Ride With Seasonal Insurance

Winter, spring, summer and fall. Each season has its unique characteristics. But depending on where you live, one season may last longer than the others. Do you tough it out through a long, harsh Vermont winter? Or do you escape to the beaches of sunny Florida? Either way, you quite possibly will need a vehicle that you may not use the rest of the year. Whether you’ve got sand in your tires – or snow – seasonal auto insurance is an affordable way to insure a car that has limited seasonal use.

Coverage Options

A seasonal auto insurance policy can be as minimal or as comprehensive as you want. You still must meet legal minimum liability requirements, but after that it depends on the primary purpose of your vehicle. If you’re tooling around in a summer Jeep, you may not need as much coverage as for a four-wheel drive used as a snow plow. It’s a good idea to obtain collision as well as uninsured/underinsured coverage.

Cost

Short-term coverage is typically more affordable, but your premiums are still subject to normal factors, including your driving history, the vehicle make and model, and location. Compare the cost of a temporary policy with a full-year policy to see which one would provide the most protection at the best price.

You also might consider using a temporary policy when transporting a car you just purchased or when borrowing a vehicle from a friend for an extended period of time. Remember, if you’re driving, make sure you’re insured.

Puppy Shopping? Avoid the Insurance Doghouse

Dogs may be man’s best friend, but when you introduce your new friend to your home insurance company, watch out. Some breeds make the unofficial “Bad Dog” list – which may mean higher premiums, or even worse, difficulty in obtaining insurance coverage.

While you see your dog as a family member, your insurance company sees him or her as a liability. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) more than 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs each year. Insurance companies must look at the bottom line and gauge the risk your dog poses. Below are five breeds that make insurance companies howl.

Pit Bulls

Owners claim this breed is unfairly judged; insurance companies are wary. One study reports that Pit Bull type dogs were responsible for 32 percent of deaths from dog bites.

Rottweilers

Originally bred as herding dogs, Rottweilers are calm and confident, but very protective. Their strength and bark can intimidate strangers.

German Shepherds

Known for their intelligence, German Shepherds are one of the most common breeds used for police work. As a house pet, they must have proper socialization training.

Doberman Pinschers

Dobermans were originally used as protection, so their size and inherent need to protect and defend make them easy targets for shady breeders and dog fight promoters.

Chow Chows

Originating in China, Chow Chows are one of the oldest dog breeds around. These dogs are fiercely protective and dislike strangers, a combination your insurance company doesn’t like.

To some owners, the companionship offered by a dog outweighs a potential premium increase; for others, it’s a deciding factor when picking out a puppy. Regardless, the worst thing you can do is not change your policy. So, be honest with your insurance company, and you won’t end up in the dog house.

Maximize Your Pension Using Life Insurance

Life insurance is effective for more than the traditional use, which is to provide a cushion of liquidity for your loved ones when you’re no longer around.

Alternative life-insurance strategies can help achieve a number of goals, including replacing pension income.

Consider the case of a couple who plan to live their retirement on one spouse’s pension, not taking into account that when this spouse dies the pension will stop, and the remaining partner is left with little to live on.

In this case, the couple can purchase life insurance that will provide a similar level of income for the survivor after his or her partner’s death. The death of a spouse is traumatic enough for the survivor without the added burden of financial worries.

This is such an effective strategy, you may wish to make retirement decisions – such as when to take Social Security benefits – with a life insurance policy in mind; knowing that both spouses will receive an insurance payout upon the other’s death allows the couple to make decisions that maximize their benefits.

This life insurance strategy is not just for the wealthy.

To pay for their insurance premiums, many average couples are using reverse mortgages – loans available to homeowners that allow them to access a portion of their home equity; couples who take out reverse mortgages can use a portion of this money to pay for a life insurance policy.

It’s a win-win. The couple has the remainder of the money to use in their lifetime, and in the event of one spouse’s death, the survivor can pay off the reverse mortgage and still hold on to the family home.

The price of an insurance premium is small compared to the peace of mind it can give both partners.

But ensure you consult your advisor to be certain this is the right strategy for you.

Can I Self-Direct my HSA…and Should I?

There’s a lot in the news these days about self-directed retirement accounts, such as real estate IRAs, gold IRAs, and the like. Some people with health savings accounts (HSAs) have been wondering if HSAs can be self-directed, and if they should be moving in the same direction.

What is a self-directed HSA?

It is possible to self-direct your health savings account. You aren’t limited to investing it in conventional bonds, stocks, mutual funds and CDs.

In fact, just like self-directed retirement accounts, it’s possible for you to be more aggressive with your self-directed HSA and put your money in a whole variety of investment vehicles, including real estate, precious metals, closely-held businesses, and more.

Is it right for you?

That doesn’t mean it’s always a good idea.

The primary purpose of a health savings account is to pay for medical expenses that happen before you reach your deductible. Therefore, you need income, and you need to maintain liquidity in the account. You either may need to quickly pay up to your deductible amount for a big expense or parcel it out over the year on routine medical expenses before reaching the deductible.

Liquidity is key

If you have your HSA invested in raw land or real estate, you might not be able to sell it quickly enough; you’d have to liquidate other assets to pay your medical bills. And this defeats the purpose of the health savings account.

As a result, many don’t believe self-directed HSAs are worth it, given the liquidity issue as well as the limited contributions and all the special rules.

When it may work

Where it may make sense is if you are in excellent health, with no children, and every expectation of reaching age 65 without a significant health issue. At 65, you would qualify for Medicare, and then could take a longer-term view with the investments inside your HSA.

Don’t Tempt Fate Waiting for the ACA to Cover You

Some people are tempted to tempt fate by going without health insurance coverage until they get sick.

The provision in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) covering pre-existing conditions such as cancer and diabetes comes into effect on January 1, 2014. At this time, no one can be refused coverage or charged extra because of a pre-existing condition.

As a result, many people go without health insurance now, hoping they’ll stay well until 2014. And this decision may have devastating consequences.

For example, in the event of a severe accident, you may not be able to get coverage in place until after you’ve incurred thousands of dollars of medical expenses; your 2014 plan won’t help you with 2013 accidents.

Furthermore, the IRS assesses a penalty on anyone who does not have medical coverage in place in 2014. For the first year, that penalty is only $95 per adult and $47.50 per child, up to $285 for a family, or 1 percent of family income, whichever is greater.

But in 2015, it rises to $325 per adult, and $162.50 per child, up to $975 per family, or 2 percent of family income, whichever is greater. And it increases again in 2016, with a penalty of $695 per adult and $347.50 per child, or 2.5 percent of family income.

In the long run, going without health insurance does not save that much, and the chance of an injury such as a serious car crash introduces a devastating risk. Meanwhile, there are affordable solutions. Consult your advisor.

How to Reduce the Chances of Employee Theft

Your belief that “my organization is immune to fraud” may cost you thousands of dollars, or even destroy your business.

Fraud is a global problem. According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners’ (ACFE) 2012 Report to the Nations, the typical organization loses 5 percent of its revenues to fraud annually. In global terms, that’s $3.5 trillion in 2011 – the most recent information available. The median loss of cases reported to ACFE was $140,000, but more than one-fifth of reported cases had losses exceeding $1 million.

At the top of the list of those companies most affected by occupational fraud is small business, which, according to the report, suffers the highest median losses. Almost half of the companies who fell victim to fraud in 2011 didn’t recover any of their losses caused by fraud.

What the report doesn’t highlight is the feelings of betrayal on the part of employers who have discovered that a trusted employee has bilked them of their hard-won revenue.

Employees likely to steal

So how can you spot a fraudster in your midst?

They are usually in high-level positions, and the vast majority of those fraudsters known to ACFE worked in the accounting, operations, sales, executive/upper management, customer service, and purchasing departments. More than 80 percent were first-time offenders, and on average, the fraudulent behavior went on for a year-and-a-half or longer.

What contributes to fraud? According to ACFE, most of the companies, particularly small businesses, lacked anti-fraud measures. Those who had 16 of the most effective anti-fraud measures in place had reduced losses from fraud.

Here are several tips to help your organization combat fraud:

Institute a fraud-reporting hotline. Tips from employees, vendors, and customers accounted for 50 percent of detected frauds in 2011.

Don’t expect internal audits to catch every fraud. Only some 16 percent of frauds were identified by audits.

Don’t be lulled by background checks. Fewer than 6 percent had previous fraud convictions, and that number has shrunk over the years.

Watch for lifestyle indicators. The two most common are employees who are experiencing financial difficulties and those living beyond their means. In 36 percent of the study cases, employees were living a lifestyle far above their salaries. Employees who steal are often “control freaks.” They often refuse to allow oversight. Watch for that “Do not question me” attitude or for employees who refuse to take vacations. If you suspect substance abuse or other personal problems, heighten internal controls. Refer such workers to employee assistance programs if your organization offers this benefit.

Prohibit and monitor employees’ vendor relationships. Almost 20 percent of fraudsters had unusually close relationships with vendors or customers. Kickback-type losses can be costly.

Never assume. Don’t think your employees are too loyal or that you treat them too well for them to steal. Most employees are trustworthy. However, one worker with personal problems or a grudge can devastate your business. The best way to prevent fraud is to be aware. Most importantly, bulletproof your business with insurance coverage designed to protect against these types of losses.

BOP Offers One-Stop Property and Liability Coverage

Today’s businesses require both property and liability coverage to avoid uninsured losses. Fortunately, those small and medium-sized business that don’t provide professional services can obtain both with a Business Owner’s Policy (BOP).

A BOP provides both property and liability coverage in one package, so you can avoid purchasing separate policies. With packaged coverage, you benefit from the lower cost and avoid gaps in coverage.

Your BOP provides protection for buildings and contents, as well as for others’ personal property brought into your facility. BOPs also cover fire and theft hazards; however, certain occurrences such as floods and earthquakes require separate coverage.

The BOP premium is based on your business’s location, financial stability, the type of construction of your business premises, fire protection, and other factors. Each business has unique liability risks; with a BOP policy, you can choose how much liability insurance you need. Liability coverage provides a defense and pays damages if you are sued for business reasons, subject to certain exclusions: If a customer falls on your premises, the injury would be covered by the BOP; if an employee is injured at work, it wouldn’t be.

The BOP also provides limited business interruption coverage, as well as “personal injury” liability – such things as slander suits against you for allegedly using copyrighted material. Employee theft may also be covered, while other coverages, such as mechanical breakdown, are available for additional premiums.

If you’re interested in discussing Business Owners’ Policies, contact your advisor, who is experienced in helping businesses like yours protect themselves against loss.