‘I Only Sell Online. Why Do I Need Insurance?’

There’s an easy – and important – answer to this question. The truth is, online entrepreneurs need protection just as much as traditional brick-and-mortar (B&M) businesses. Specific coverage will vary somewhat, but commercial insurance is still a must. Here’s why:

  • Your physical assets, whether inventory or equipment, still need protection.
  • You are not immune to lawsuits simply because you never see your customers in person.
  • You may suffer cyberattacks that cripple your business.

With this in mind, online business owners should discuss with their insurance agent what types of insurance coverage are appropriate for their operations. And soon.

Typically, online business owners should carry:

Commercial property insurance: Many home-based business owners assume their homeowners policy will cover their business assets. This is generally not the case. For proper protection of inventory, tools, materials, or equipment, you should have a commercial property insurance policy. This will provide coverage in case of theft or damage. Without it, one storm or one criminal could bankrupt your operations.

Commercial liability insurance: What happens if a customer sues you? Any lawsuit related to your business operations will not be covered by your homeowners policy. You need commercial liability insurance to provide coverage for the settlement and your defense costs. Even if you win the case, attorney fees add up quickly. Some companies are more likely to be sued than others, but anyone who provides a service or a product (either online or via B&M) is vulnerable.

Cyber liability insurance: Internet security is essential in today’s online marketplace. Even with the best protocols in place, you are still at risk. If your system is hacked, you may lose sensitive information about your business and your clients. You may suffer costly downtime. And it may impact your customers as well. With so much at stake, you can’t afford not to have cyber coverage.

Workers’ compensation: Do you have employees? Even if they don’t work in a B&M location, both full- and part-time employees must have workers’ compensation coverage. Consult with your insurance agent on exactly what coverage you need based on your operations and employee responsibilities.

Professional liability insurance: Those who don’t sell a product can still get sued. If advice provided in a consultation causes harm, or is perceived to have caused harm, you might get sued. This policy will cover you in these potentially costly cases.

Products liability insurance: This coverage is only needed by those who sell a product rather than a service. Even if you believe your product is completely benign, it’s a good idea to have coverage in place. You might be surprised at how children (or even adults) can hurt themselves. As they say: Better safe than sorry.

Loss of income: Do you have a backup plan for a business interruption? Loss of income insurance offers coverage if your online business ceases due to a fire or other covered disaster. With it in place, you can bridge the gap and get things flowing again. Without it, you might be up the creek without a paddle.

Gone Phishing: Don’t Let Your Team Take the Bait

Everyone is aware of potential scams and malware, but cybercriminals are getting more creative every day.

It’s hard to avoid being hooked. And even tech-savvy employees may fall for the latest scam. For example, would your employees second-guess an urgent request sent by you or one of your high-level execs?

With new, and increasingly more sophisticated, phishing tactics, cybercriminals are poised to invade your company, causing you significant loss.

Your employees are your first line of defense, so the best way to prevent the insurance claims and other costs of cyberattacks is to educate employees. Here are some ways you all can fight back.

Train: Show your employees what phishing emails look like. Share real examples. Seeing what these messages actually look like will better equip them to identify red flags and recognize a scam when they see one.

Test: It might be helpful to simulate a phishing campaign. Your employees can learn by direct experience what to do and what not to do. Be sure to keep the focus on what they can do better rather than what they did wrong. The exercise should educate, not develop mistrust.

Reward: Avoiding the negative effects of malware is a big incentive in itself. But a positive reward shows employees the importance you place on their role in stopping it. Consider offering small rewards to employees who identify and avoid phishing emails. The rewards don’t have to be huge: Buy them lunch. Publicize individual successes. It’s worth it to keep your employees vigilant.

No Wildlife, Please: How to Protect Your Property from Pests

You didn’t set up your guest room for a family of squirrels. Or finish your basement to provide a playroom for mice. Yet, as winter approaches, many pests are seeking a good place to nest for the season. If they choose your home, your property may suffer significant damage. Chewed wires, damaged drywall, and shredded insulation are a few potential problems.

To avoid this damage, and the resulting homeowners insurance claims, take the following steps to pest-proof your home:

Remove the welcome mat: Mice only need a quarter-inch hole to enter your space. And you’d be surprised at the spaces other critters can wriggle into. Some pest management companies may offer a free inspection of your garage, roof, and basement; if any unwanted openings are inviting the outdoors in, complete the necessary repairs or seals to block off access. Quickly.

Clear the clutter: Walk around the exterior of your home. Are there piles of trash, leaves, or construction materials around your foundation’s perimeter? Remove them. Piled next to your house, these invite both rodents and bugs to expand into your home.

Trim it up: Branches that hang close to your roofline offer easy jumps from trees onto your home. Trim branches away from your house to prevent squirrels from moving in and starting families. This also helps protect your home from the tree itself. In high winds, branches close to your home can easily damage the roof, siding, or windows.

Keep pesky critters at bay and avoid the need to make an insurance claim.

How to Get the ‘Steal Me’ Sticker Off Your Car

No one wants to attract the attention of thieves. Yet the actions of many vehicle owners practically beg thieves to take a crack at their cars. What are you doing that might tempt thieves? And, just as important, what are you doing to deter them?

Vehicle owners can easily reduce the risk of car theft and resulting insurance claims with a few simple steps. To properly protect your asset, consider the following list of dos and don’ts:

Do:

  • Lock your vehicle at all times. Even when you’re in it. When choosing their prey, car thieves look for the easiest mark. It doesn’t get much easier than an open car.
  • Etch your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) into each of the windows. Stolen cars are stripped of their identity for resale. Thieves would rather not replace all the glass.
  • If necessary, take a longer route to avoid high-crime areas. It’s worth the extra few minutes to protect yourself and your car.
  • Park in well-lit areas. This removes the dark and shadowy atmosphere that thieves prefer for their work.
  • Install an anti-theft system. Good options include steering wheel locks, ignition cut-off systems, alarms, and police-signaling systems. Check with your insurance agent to see which systems might make you eligible for a discount on your premium.

Don’t:

  • Leave your keys in your car, and NEVER leave it running unattended. This seems obvious, but many car owners are guilty of this one.
  • Leave valuables visible in your vehicle. Nothing says “smash my window for some quick cash” like a purse, electronic device, or other potential prize sitting out in plain view.
  • Leave ownership information in your car. If a thief steals your vehicle, you don’t want him or her to also have “proof” that they own it.

The Big Dilemma: Supplement or Advantage?

One of the leading causes of US bankruptcies among the elderly is healthcare costs. If you’re on Medicare, managing your healthcare spending is critical. So choosing the right plan that aligns with Medicare is key.

Medicare supplement plans

Private insurers sell Medicare supplement plans to help recipients defray some of Medicare’s uncovered costs, such as coinsurance, copays, and deductibles. One upside is that most supplemental plans cover supported benefits at 100%. As well, supplemental plans usually allow you to visit any doctor who accepts Medicare. However, premiums may increase yearly.

Medicare supplement plans have remained stable since their inception, except for the removal of prescription benefits in 2006. Each plan has a letter from A to N (some letters are skipped), and benefits vary by plan. Your insurance agent can help you decide which supplement plan is right for you.

Medicare Advantage plans

Medicare Advantage (MA) plans (also called Part C plans) are popular with many receiving Medicare. If you buy a MA plan, you usually get HMO or PPO health coverage through the insurer’s network. Your MA plan may also offer prescription drug coverage.

You still pay your Medicare Part B premiums, but the plan shares coinsurance costs with the MA insurer. This means you may more easily predict copays. MA plans also offer maximum out-of-pocket limits that cap your costs if a catastrophic illness occurs. Typically, MA plans cost less per month than supplement plans, and you pay only the Part B premiums in some areas.

If you need help

As you approach Medicare age, one of your most important financial decisions involves your health insurance. An insurance agent can guide you toward the right choice for you. Schedule an appointment with your agent at least three months before you turn 65. If you’re already on Medicare, check soon with your agent to see if and when you can switch plans.

ACA Enrollment Period Looms: And It’s Shorter This Year

Despite recent discussions on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), one thing is clear: The deadline for 2018 ACA enrollment is looming. And it will be a shorter period than in previous years.

Don’t procrastinate: Open enrollment begins on November 1, 2017, and ends on December 15, 2017. All plans are set to take effect on January 1, 2018.

Generally, you cannot enroll or change plans after December 15, 2017, unless you experience a “qualifying event.” This may include loss of “minimum essential coverage” such as employer plans, Medicaid, or TRICARE; becoming a US. citizen; a permanent move to another state; and marriage or divorce.

Don’t miss the deadline: In many states, insurers have left the exchanges that provide coverage, so choices may be limited. Since open enrollment this year is brief and choices are possibly narrower, be sure you don’t miss the deadline.

Safety first: If you enroll through the Health Insurance Marketplace and are contacted by phone, ensure the caller is an authorized representative who will provide a first name and agent identification number. Never give your Social Security number, or your credit card or banking information, to anyone not affiliated with the Marketplace.

Work with an agent: Working with a licensed health insurance agent is always the best way to obtain health insurance. He or she can review your medical history and suggest alternatives to the Marketplace if you are eligible. And note: Be sure to contact your agent as soon as possible, because most become very busy as enrollment time approaches.

Happy 100! Has Your Insurance Policy Expired?

As life expectancy increases, some individuals are discovering they’ve outlived their life insurance policy.

Some, for example, may have purchased a term life insurance policy with too short a term (like buying a 20-year policy at 60, expecting to live to 80, but your 80th birthday has come and gone).

For others, the problem is a provision in some life insurance policies that sets an expiration date at a specified age. It may be a high age – such as 100 – but it does expire.

Thanks in part to a healthier lifestyle and major advances in medical science, we are living longer. And like many other recent changes, this may be a mixed blessing.

The age limits were not a problem when few people lived beyond 100; but according to census data, there were 72,197 centenarians in the US in 2014, up from 50,281 in 2000.

A new standard: 121

The industry is moving to correct this standard; since the mid-2000s, age 121 has been used as the standard maturity date in new contracts. However, contracts issued before that date still have the previous 100-year-old expiry limit. For those approaching that milestone, it may be time to look at your policy.

In some cases, an expiring policy may not be an issue. The purpose of life insurance is to replace income lost if you die earlier than expected; it’s important when you are a breadwinner, but perhaps not as essential at age 80 or 90.

In other cases, policyholders still hope to be able to provide a payout from their insurance policy to their beneficiaries. In this situation, you may want to contact your insurance company. Some companies have offered older policyholders the opportunity to extend the age limit stated in previous policies. Note that financial terms may vary.

If you have questions or concerns, contact your life insurance agent as soon as possible.