Car Shopping? Look for These Safety Features

Not all cars are created equal. Some offer greater speed. Others offer better gas mileage. Another important difference is safety. Did you know certain safety features can reduce insurance costs and claims? To protect your passengers and your wallet, look for some of these top safety features the next time you’re in the market for a new vehicle.

Crashworthiness: If you’re considering a car, check out its crashworthiness rating. This indicates the vehicle’s ability to reduce the risk of injury and death during a crash based on its roof strength, front and side structures, head restraints, and seat design. You can look up a specific vehicle’s rating on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety website.

Size and weight: A tank offers more protection than a smart car does. But bigger isn’t always better. An SUV may be more likely to roll over than a sports car. Be sure to review all factors of size and weight as you choose your vehicle. The safest option is typically a midsize sedan with a high safety rating.

Restraints: Modern vehicles offer far more than a simple seatbelt. For the best restraint systems, look for side airbags, locking head restraints, and lap and shoulder belts with crash tensioners. For steering column airbags, make sure you can reach the pedals without putting yourself too close to the steering wheel, as close proximity can cause serious injury if the bag is deployed.

Daytime lights: Many cars now feature daytime running lights that are activated when you turn on the car. These make vehicles more visible to other drivers and decrease the chances of daytime accidents.

Backup cameras: Rear-view video systems allow you to see the area behind your vehicle when you drive in reverse. These cameras can be very helpful in avoiding collisions with cars, objects, and pedestrians.

Additional safety features such as anti-lock brakes and warning systems can help you steer clear of crashes and further reduce the likelihood of claims. Check with your insurance provider about potential discounts on premiums based on specific vehicle features.

Most important, stay safe out there!

Generous Gifts Might Call for New Coverage

Did you get a big gift over the holidays or some nice jewelry for Valentine’s Day? Luxury items often need proper insurance for protection, as they are valuable possessions. In some cases, your current coverage is sufficient. However, many times, a change or expansion of coverage is needed.

If a special occasion has added a luxury item to your personal inventory, it might fall into one of the following categories.

It needs expanded coverage: Your homeowners or renters insurance has certain coverage limits. Standard policies typically top out at $5,000 for personal belongings. If your new fur coat pushes beyond these limits, you can expand your current policy. Ask your insurance provider about adding a rider, floater, or endorsement. You will most likely need a receipt or appraisal to verify the value of the item.

It needs increased value coverage: Some items appreciate in value over time. If you received a family heirloom or a work of art, you can obtain special coverage that will keep up with this increase. Consider adding a rider that will provide this coverage. You will probably need to reappraise the item every one to three years in order to keep the policy active.

It needs a standalone policy: Single high-ticket items such as jewelry, electronics, or boats may require a separate policy. These standalone policies are definitely needed if the items cannot fall under existing homeowners insurance. For example, if the item might be used for work, it would be excluded from most homeowners policies.

Contact your insurance agent to determine whether any of your recently received treasures need additional coverage.

The Role of Life Insurance in Financial Planning

Many people don’t think they need life insurance unless they provide heavily for a spouse and children. Even then, it’s often overlooked. But life insurance should be part of any comprehensive financial plan. Here are three reasons why you might need it.

Your family is blended: Life insurance can provide for the equal transfer of wealth among different family members when you or your spouse are divorced and remarried.

If you’re remarried, for example, life insurance can provide for your new spouse while your children inherit other assets, such as property or valuables. Similarly, you may have children from multiple unions, in which case life insurance can help you ensure that all of your children are provided for equally.

You will have end-of-life expenses: Most of us have various end-of-life expenses, and life insurance can create a reserve to pay those expenses upon your death.

For example, it can fund the tax liability of your estate when it’s inherited by your loved ones. It can also pay for medical bills and funeral arrangements. It can even provide much-needed daily liquidity for your loved ones if other assets, such as property, are hard to convert to cash.

You own a small business: If you own a small or family business, life insurance can provide for the ongoing survival of this company.

It can fund the sale or purchase of your business, for example, or it can provide for family members who won’t receive a share of the business when it’s handed over to someone else upon your demise.

Finally, remember that your life-insurance needs are likely to change over the course of your life as your personal and financial circumstances evolve. As a result, it’s important to check in regularly with an insurance agent to ensure that you’re properly covered for your current needs.

A good rule of thumb is to contact your agent once a year to review your needs. Make it a habit to get in touch at the beginning of each calendar year, or use your birthday as a cue to contact your agent.

Is There a Virtual Doctor in the House?

Back in the 1940s, 40% of physician visits were house calls. This trend declined over the next two decades, but now it’s resurfacing in a whole new way. Your doctor can now visit you at home – virtually.

Using your smartphone, tablet, or any similar electronic device that has a camera, you can visit a doctor without leaving home. This method, called telemedicine, is exploding in the United States. According to the American Telemedicine Association, at least 200 telemedicine networks now serve 3,500 sites.

Of course, telemedicine is not appropriate for complaints such as wounds, chest pains, or broken bones. However, virtual visits offer many advantages for an initial visit if you have a minor, temporary health issue, such as cold or flu, sore throat, headache, back pain, diarrhea or vomiting, rash, or pink eye.

What are the advantages of telemedicine? Convenience is major, especially if you live in a rural area or if leaving home is difficult. In addition, you save driving time, and you avoid sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, exposed to other patients’ illnesses.

Further, your doctor can easily monitor any chronic condition you have, such as high blood pressure, and you can often get a second opinion from an expert no matter where that health care professional lives.

Finally, telemedicine saves money. According to Berkeley Wellness at the University of California, doctors often charge less than half the cost of an office visit for a telemedicine consultation.

If you think telemedicine might work for you, contact your health insurer to see whether they offer this technology.

Health Care Eligibility Audits: Are You at Risk?

In today’s environment of rising health care costs, employers are searching for ways to decrease their expenses. One method is the dependent eligibility audit (DEA).

A DEA occurs when an employer examines its health and welfare plans to determine whether all enrolled participants are eligible for benefits under that employer’s plan. According to one large health care broker, typically 5% to 7% of dependents on the employer’s plan are ineligible for benefits.

When an employer conducts an audit, an auditor reviews the employer’s group plan and looks for any dependents who lack documentation in the employer’s file. These can include noncustodial grandchildren, young adults older than 26, and ex-spouses. If they flag your name, auditors may request marriage certificates, birth certificates, tax returns, adoption papers, or other documentation.

In one case, an employer found a claimant ineligible after a divorce. Before the company audited, he had accrued thousands of dollars in medical payments under his ex-wife’s plan. The health care insurer can demand repayment in a case like this.

If you face a DEA inquiry, respond quickly. Your company will normally allow 30 days or so for you to gather documentation, but do not miss the deadline. If you have primary coverage like Medicare for your spouse, for example, you can be held responsible for returning monies paid under your own group plan. To avoid facing reimbursement demands, review your company’s eligibility requirements to ensure all your dependents meet its criteria. If in doubt, schedule a meeting with the human resources person responsible for benefits. While it’s hard to lose coverage for someone you love, facing thousands in medical bill repayment if your loved one is ineligible for coverage can be disastrous.

If you’re getting divorced, larger employers offer COBRA coverage, which allows the ex-spouse to purchase group coverage for up to 18 months by paying the whole premium. If you face a loss of coverage, contact your health insurance agent, who can offer short-term health plans if needed.

Top 10 Small-Business Insurance Claims

There’s a common mentality among insurance policy holders: “It’s a fail-safe, but I probably won’t need it.” Perhaps it’s denial, or perhaps it’s part of a natural self-preservation mentality. For whatever reason, many assume insurance is “for the other guy.” Someone else may need to make a claim someday, but I probably won’t.

While it’s good to take steps to reduce the likelihood of claims, it’s also good to know that many small businesses do indeed rely on their insurance coverage for incidents. In fact, a study by financial services company The Hartford revealed that 40% of small businesses incur property or liability losses each 10-year period. What types of losses are businesses experiencing? Here are the top 10 insurance claims they make (and some tips on how to avoid them).

1. Theft: The top reason for small- business claims is burglary and theft. Some of these crimes are committed by outsiders. Others are the result of dishonest employee activity. Strong, consistent security measures and employee accountability can reduce the chances of these claims.

2. Water: Coming in second is damage caused by water from roof leaks, snow, ice, and frozen pipes. To minimize the risk of water damage, inspect roofing and plumbing features and perform maintenance regularly.

3. Wind: Hail and wind damage are frequent culprits when it comes to small-business damage. These elements can destroy equipment, buildings, and commercial vehicles. To protect assets, store vehicles and equipment indoors as much as possible.

4. Fire: Don’t underestimate the destructiveness of this force. Fire can cause major property damage and even wipe out a business. Always follow fire safety guidelines to ensure warning, extinguishing, and evacuation measures are up to date and fully operational.

5. Accidents: Customer slips and falls take the number five slot. Some businesses are more vulnerable to this risk than others. To minimize risk, keep interior and exterior walkways free of ice, water, debris, and damage.

6. Injuries/Damage: In addition to slips and falls, customers sometimes sustain other injuries or damage to their property. Establish protocols for creating a safe environment to reduce the chances of these occurrences.

7. Liability: Businesses that sell products run the risk of product liability claims. Perform proper testing before releasing anything to the public. Ensure consumer warnings and warranties are worded appropriately.

8. Objects: Some claims are the result of injuries caused by moving objects. Customers or employees may be struck by falling products, mobile equipment, or vehicles. Again, solid safety protocols can help keep your work environment accident-free.

9. Libel: A third party may sue a business for reputational harm. These claims resulting from libel and slander suits don’t account for a huge proportion of claims, but they still make the top 10. Businesses should use caution when mentioning anyone in media reports or marketing efforts in order to reduce the likelihood of libel claims.

10. Vehicles: Auto accidents complete the list of top small-business claims. To prevent these, small-business owners can enact a vehicle safety program. Proper training and qualifications for commercial vehicle operators is key. Is your business prepared for these incidents? Do you have the appropriate policies in place? If you’re unsure, contact your insurance provider to review your policies and make sure your company is covered.

Pets at Work: Animal Lover’s Dream or Liability Nightmare?

Americans love their pets. In fact, pets have become such a part of our lives that we celebrate National Bring Your Pet to Work Day each June. Some employers are even known for making this a year-round event. Corporate giants Amazon, Google, and Salesforce all have open-door policies for employees’ dogs.

But is this a good idea for your small business? That depends. If you want to make your company paw-friendly, it’s important to keep PUPS in mind.

Property damage: Allowing animals in your work space increases your risk for property damage. From chewing to scratching to surprise restroom breaks, pets can wreak havoc on your surroundings. It’s important to weigh these risks with the benefits.

Unproductive workforce: The presence of animals could increase morale and improve productivity, or it could have the opposite effect. Employees might be distracted with pet care. Others might not be fans of animals or may suffer from allergies.

Personal injury: Bites are the obvious concern if dogs are in the workplace, but scratches, allergic reactions, and trips-and-falls are also possibilities.

Standards: If you rent your office space, you must adhere to the regulations established by your landlord. Your lease may have a standard no-pet policy. Be sure to check this out before you decide to put out the animal welcome mat.

As you determine your pet policy, consult with your insurance agent to determine whether these pet-related incidents are covered under your property and liability policies.