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Monthly Archives

February 2016

How To Keep Pipes From Freezing

By Personal Perspective | No Comments

pp-feb-2016-2 (1)Dropping winter temperatures affect your home in numerous ways, including your water system and pipes. If the system or pipes freeze, you and your family will experience an inconvenient and expensive mess. Use several tips that prevent this mess.

    • Insulate pipes in unheated areas of your home, such as the attic, basement or crawl spaces. If you live in a moderately cold climate, foam pipe insulation will work. Use thermostatically controlled heat tape if you live in a severe climate.
    • Protect pipes located in exterior walls of your home with extra insulation. That may mean removing part of the wall to get insulation on the pipes, but you can check for and repair any water damage or mold growth as you complete this project.
    • Turn off outdoor spigots and disconnect hoses. A frozen garden hose can expand pressure in the entire plumbing system of your home. Disconnect and drain the hose, then close off the valve to outdoor faucet as you protect your house.
    • Allow five drops of water per minute to drip from faucets when temperatures plummet. This action keeps the water moving and can slow the freezing process.
    • Open cabinet doors that cover kitchen and bathroom plumbing. Your home’s warm air can then circulate around exposed pipes and protect them from freezing.
    • Wrap warm towels around slow pipes. The warmth may loosen accumulated ice and assist your water system in operating properly again. To warm the towels, place them over the pipes and pour boiling water on top or make the towels wet first and place them over the pipes.
    • Use a hairdryer or heat gun to blow hot air directly on freezing pipes and melt ice. Remember to avoid using any heating tool with an open flame so you don’t burn your pipes.
    • Shut off the water if your pipes are already frozen. By preventing additional ice from forming, you reduce the risk of flooding your system, and you make cleanup easier.
  • Winterize your pipes before you head south for the winter. Set the furnace to at least 55 degrees, and shut off your home’s main water supply. You’ll also want to drain the water system by opening the faucets and flushing the toilets.

Protecting your home’s pipes from freezing this winter means you avoid the inconvenience of not having indoor water and an expensive repair. In addition to following these tips, update your home insurance. It can cover necessary repairs that occur if your pipes freeze despite your efforts to keep them running properly.

Do I Need Wedding Insurance?

By Personal Perspective | No Comments

pp-feb-2016-1You spend months and thousands of dollars on creating the perfect wedding day. From the invitations to the reception, you want everything to be perfect. All your best planning can’t prevent poor weather, vendor cancellation or lost photographs, though. Consider the benefits of wedding insurance as you protect your special day. What Is Wedding Insurance?

Wedding insurance reimburses you for lost items associated with your big day. Maybe your gown is damaged as you transport it from your home to the venue, the caterer cancels at the last minute or one of your wedding presents is stolen. Use wedding insurance to reimburse your financial losses.

What Does Wedding Insurance Cover?

Basic wedding insurance covers problems with the wedding and reception site, vendors, key people, weather, injury and sickness. You can also purchase additional coverage for the photography, videography, gifts, attire, medical payment, personal liability and honeymoon. Keep in mind that wedding insurance usually doesn’t cover cold feet, precious jewels on the dress or jewelry.

For a complete list of what your wedding insurance will cover, check your policy. It usually includes a deductible and a limit on the maximum amount of coverage it provides.

How Much Does Wedding Insurance Cost?

Typically, wedding insurance coverage will run you between $150 and $550. The total cost depends on which types of things you want to insure and on the amount of coverage you want. As a reference, general liability insurance covers accidents and costs an average of $185.

Is Wedding Insurance a Necessity?

Before you buy a wedding insurance policy, do your homework. Ask each of your vendors if they have their own insurance policies. If so, you can examine copies of their policies and make sure you’re not purchasing overlapping coverage. If they don’t have insurance, consider whether or not you have enough money to cover a cancellation, loss or other unforeseen circumstance. Also, decide if you need the peace of mind insurance can provide.

When Should You Buy Wedding Insurance? If you decide to purchase wedding insurance, buy a policy as soon as you start booking venues. Be sure to ask your insurance company if they have a limit on how long a policy can be in place.

Your wedding is one of the biggest and most special events you’ll ever plan. Protect every detail of the day and your peace of mind with wedding insurance. Your agent will discuss your wedding details and assist you in finding the right coverage and policy for your needs.

6 Times to Reevaluate Your Life Insurance Coverage

By Life and Health | No Comments

lh-feb-2016-4Life insurance provides financial compensation to your loved ones after your death. Your policy is not like a slow cooker where you set the timer and walk away, though. You’ll need to reevaluate your policy when six life events occur.

Get Married

When you get married, your spouse depends on your income and contributions to the home. Take a look at your insurance policy. Is the death benefit adequate for your life partner in case something happens to you? Update your policy or purchase a secondary policy, and make your spouse your primary beneficiary of the benefits. You can also purchase a life insurance policy for your spouse as you give him or her peace of mind.

Have a Baby or Become a Primary Caregiver

Add a baby to the family, adopt a child or begin caring for an aging parent, and you now have another dependent who relies on you for support. Life insurance benefits help to pay for expenses associated with dependent care. In addition to ensuring your policy provides adequate financial assistance, consider making your dependent a secondary or contingent beneficiary on your policy.

Buy or Sell a House

Mortgage payments are probably a significant portion of your monthly budget. Could your surviving spouse pay the mortgage and other household expenses without your income? Make sure your life insurance policy covers the mortgage repayment if you die before the house is paid off. If you downsize or repay the mortgage, consider cancelling the policy if you no longer need it.

Incur or Pay Off Significant Debt

Student loans, credit card bills and other significant debts put a damper on your monthly budget. Repaying those expenses could also affect your survivors. Ensure your life insurance policy covers any significant debt repayment as you care for the people you love. Once the debt is repaid, you can decide if you wish to keep or cancel the policy.

Experience Income Changes

Lose a job, switch jobs or get a large raise, and you’ll also want to check your life insurance policy. Make sure it provides adequate resources to replace your income. Ideally, your policy should be at least five-to-10-times your annual salary.

Begin Planning for Retirement

As you begin planning for your future retirement, remember to update your life insurance policy. The benefits can assist your surviving spouse in maintaining his or her current lifestyle, traveling the world or covering nursing and medical care. With it, your spouse has peace of mind and financial security even during the retirement years.

Life insurance provides peace of mind. Regularly evaluate your policy with your insurance agent to ensure it meets your needs.

Natural Ways to Improve Oral Health

By Life and Health | No Comments

lh-feb-2016-3Your oral health affects your physical health. Heart disease and osteoporosis are two health challenges that can stem from poor oral health. Try several natural methods that improve your oral health. To figure out if the methods work for you, try them for at least two months.

Eat Whole Foods

When you eat only whole, unprocessed foods, your oral health improves. That’s because refined flours and sugars promote tooth decay. Alternatively, fresh foods contain vitamins, minerals and nutrients that grow strong teeth and healthy gums.

Choose Sugar Substitutes

If you have to consume sweets, look for foods made with sugar substitutes such as xylitol and sorbitol. These substitutes fight cavities.

Drink Tea

Green and black teas contain flavonoids. They stop the bacteria growth that causes tooth decay. Teas can also contain fluoride that reduces cavities and strengthens teeth.

Take a Multivitamin

A quality multivitamin reduces dietary deficiencies. It also contains selenium and zinc, two minerals that improve your immune system which then fights dental bacteria.

Avoid Environmental Toxins

Lead breaks down tooth enamel and creates chalky lesions on your teeth. By avoiding exposure to it, you can improve your oral health.

Use Mouthwash That’s Alcohol-Free

Alcohol dries your mouth, which allows bacteria to grow. Mouthwashes with chamomile, myrrh and Echinacea kill germs and reduce dryness.

Minimize Medication Usage

Certain medications cause oral health problems. For example, antidepressants reduce saliva levels, which can cause tooth decay. Birth control pills also promote bacterial growth and increase your risk of developing gum disease. If you must take medications, ask your doctor for a lower the dose or take extra vitamin C and chew sugar-free gum to reduce the adverse oral effects.

Replace Your Toothbrush Regularly

Worn toothbrush heads don’t remove food and plaque effectively. You could end up with tooth decay, gum inflammation and gingivitis. At least once a month, replace your toothbrush.

Improve Your Brushing Technique

The way you brush your teeth can efficiently remove food debris and plaque. Use five to 10 strokes on all surfaces of each tooth. Brush downwards on your upper teeth, upwards on the bottom teeth and in a circular motion on your back teeth.

Brush Regularly

At least once a day, brush your teeth. For optimal oral health, brush after every meal.

Take these natural steps to strengthen your teeth, prevent cavities, reduce gum disease and improve your overall oral health. You should also use your dental insurance benefits and visit your dentist at least once every six months. Receive a thorough cleaning and an oral exam as you prevent dental problems and promote oral health.

What to Know Before you Schedule an Overseas Surgery

By Life and Health | No Comments

lh-feb-2016-2Because of high deductibles in the United States and affordable treatment overseas, medical travel continues to gain popularity. Almost one million Americans traveled overseas for medical treatment in 2014. One-third of these patients had dental work done, and one-fourth went for surgeries like bariatric operations and coronary bypasses. Cosmetic surgeries and hip and knee replacements were also popular. If you’re considering getting your next medical procedure done overseas, do your research.

Who Will Pay for Your Overseas Procedures?

In 2014, roughly five percent of employers covered surgeries aboard. Up to 25 percent plan to add that coverage by 2019. These companies pay for overseas surgeries and may even offer employees a cash bonus because medical travel saves them money. For example, one company saved $11 million since it started offering a medical travel program in 2010.

However, the majority of employers do not cover medical travel. Your health insurance may not cover it, either. That means you will pay the full cost out-of-pocket. Figure out the payment details before you schedule your procedure.

How do you Choose a Facility?

The Joint Commission International website can assist you in finding accredited hospitals that meet high quality and safety standards. Be sure the specialist you choose is board-certified, and ask for references. You may also hire a third-party facilitator. He or she will introduce you to specialists, manage appointments and assist you in making travel arrangements.

Next, confirm the treatment with your primary care physician. He or she needs to ensure you are healthy enough to travel and approve the procedure. You are then ready to get a written agreement from your chosen facility and specialist. The agreement includes details about the procedure, including the covered treatment, care, supplies and extra amenities. It should also outline what happens if there’s a complication or you need additional medical care during or after the procedure.

What Happens While You’re Overseas?

An English-speaking concierge will meet you at the airport and drive you to the hospital where you’ll meet your surgeon and get any blood work or required tests. After the procedure, you’ll receive any necessary therapy. Someone will give you after care instructions and possibly a hard copy of your medical records before you’re driven to the airport when you’re well enough to return home.

Medical travel can save you big bucks on your next procedure. Do your homework before you schedule the appointment. Then consider purchasing medical travel insurance that covers medical malpractice and includes a death or disability benefit. This insurance gives you peace of mind as you travel overseas for your next medical procedure.

Show Your Love This Valentine’s Day With Life Insurance

By Life and Health | No Comments

lh-feb-2016-1February is the month of love. Millions of couples will get engaged on Valentine’s Day or get married this month, and couples spend an average of $260 on cards, flowers, jewelry and other gifts. Those gifts could include life insurance. It’s not the first gift you think of when you consider romance, but it’s a good way to express your love to the important people in your life. In fact, you could think of life insurance as love insurance. Seventy-five percent of life insurance purchasers buy a policy because of love. This February, show your love with a life insurance policy, too.

Life Insurance for Yourself

When you buy a life insurance policy for yourself, you give your loved ones financial security and peace of mind. While life insurance benefits don’t replace you, they are a small way you can continue to provide for your loved ones after you’re gone. Your beneficiaries can use the money for miscellaneous purposes, including daily living expenses, an emergency fund for the future, debt repayment, school tuition or retirement account funding.

Life Insurance for Your Fiancé or Spouse

Maybe you won’t give your fiancĂ© a life insurance policy along with the engagement ring, and a policy is probably not the first thing you buy together as a newly married couple. However, life insurance is an expression of your love and care. Your partner can choose the beneficiary and provide financial assistance to children or aging parents. The policy payout could also repay your partner’s outstanding debts, fund a favorite charity, cover end of life expenses or boost your retirement savings.

Life Insurance for Your Children

Kids have their whole lives in front of them, but they aren’t immune to birth defects, accidents and diseases like cancer. You can’t protect your kids from everything, but you can give them life insurance. A child’s life insurance policy can pay for medical expenses, funeral expenses and other end of life arrangements. It can also be donated in your child memory to his or her favorite charity or be used for the educational costs of surviving siblings. Whole life insurance policies also grow with your child. When they turn 21, they take over the policy and keep the same coverage or purchase additional insurance for their future.

This February, purchase life Insurance for your loved ones. A policy can cost less per day than your daily coffee, and it provides peace of mind. It’s a loving gift that keeps on giving. Discuss available policies with your insurance agent today.

How to Handle a Drug Addicted Coworker

By Employment Resources | No Comments

er-feb-2016-4Drug addiction is a serious problem, particularly in the workplace. It affects performance, culture and even safety. If you suspect that a coworker has a drug problem, handle the situation with tact.

What are the Signs of a Drug Addiction?

The construction, manufacturing, wholesale and mining industries have the highest rates of drug use among employees, but drug addicts work everywhere. In fact, two out of every 10 employees could test positive for drugs.

You don’t have to be an ex-addict or an addiction specialist to recognize addiction. Look for signs like:

  • Attendance problems, including tardiness, regular, unexplained disappearance during the day and Monday Flu
  • Consistent tiredness
  • Frequent illnesses
  • Drastic weight loss
  • Unhealthy demeanor
  • Unusual behavior – irritability, borrowing money or theft

Who Should Report a Suspected Addict?

Even if you’re not a manager, you should report suspicious activity. Since an addicted coworker compromises your safety, work environment and the company’s future, it’s in your best interests to tell a manager when you suspect a coworker is using drugs. However, also exercise caution because some addiction signs could also be contributed to legitimate medical conditions, stress or family issues.

How to Report a Suspected Addiction

You might be tempted to confront your coworker directly. That confrontation could end in a physical confrontation or lawsuit, especially if the person is not using drugs. Plus, most addicts do not willingly admit to their drug use. The only time you should immediately report suspected drug use is if your coworker appears impaired while operating heavy machinery or otherwise putting people at risk.

You also shouldn’t leave recovery literature on your coworker’s desk or chat with coworkers about your suspicions. Instead, keep detailed notes of any suspected behavior. Include dates and times. Then share the information with your supervisor or Human Resources department. They can then handle the situation and possibly order a drug test if your company has a drug testing policy in place.

If you are a manager and suspect drug use, order a drug test. The company could face a lawsuit if you fire the employee without offering recovery options. You should also post drug policy notices in the breakroom and bathrooms and make sure current and new employees have a copy of it.

What to do if you Have an Addiction

Maybe you’re the one who struggles with drug addiction. Seek private counseling. Your health insurance may cover therapy and other treatment. You can also request assistance from your employer as outlined in the drug use policy.

Drug addiction is a serious matter. Handle it the right way, though, as you promote workplace safety and avoid expensive lawsuits.

Information to Know About the Medical Expense Tax Deduction

By Employment Resources | No Comments

er-feb-2016-3Tax season is here, and it’s time to start thinking about getting your tax paperwork in order. If you itemize your deductions and spent a large portion of your 2015 budget on medical-related expenses, you might get a tax break. Learn more about the guidelines for this deduction as you decide whether or not to take the deduction.

How Much do you Have to Spend Before It’s Deductible?

You can deduct medical expenses that exceed 10 percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI). As an example, your AGI is $60,000 and your medical expenses are $7,000. Ten percent of your AGI is $6,000, and you can deduct $1,000.

What Medical Expenses can you Deduct?

A variety of medical expenses qualify for the tax deduction. You can deduct tax-free reimbursements you receive from your:

  • Flexible Spending Account (FSA), a pre-tax account set up through your employer and used to pay medical expenses insurance doesn’t cover.
  • Health Savings Account (HSA), a pre-tax account set up through your employer’s group plan or on your own and used to pay for medical expenses not covered by insurance.
  • Health Reimbursement Account (HRA), money your employer reimburses you for medical expenses.

Other qualifying expenses include costs related to finding a diagnosis, cure, treatment, mitigation or prevention of a disease. You can also deduct expenses related to treatment that affects a body part or function. See the complete list of deductible medical expenses at IRS.gov. Here’s a short list.

  • Medical services, including appointments to see physicians, dentists, psychiatrists, optometrists, surgeons and other medical professionals
  • Medications, eye glasses, contacts, false teeth, hearing aids and other necessary heath aides a medical professional prescribes
  • Health, dental, vision and long-term insurance premiums
  • Long-term care
  • Transportation and lodging costs associated with travel to a health care facility
  • Mileage when you drive for medical care at a rate of 16.5 cents per mile (for 2010).

What Medical Expenses are not Deductible?

You cannot deduct anything insurance covers or certain medical items, including over-the-counter treatments, first aid supplies, vitamins and nutritional supplements that are not prescribed by a medical professional. Controlled substances, such as marijuana, are also not deductible even if it’s prescribed.

What Paperwork do you Need?

While you might have enough medical expenses to qualify for a tax deduction, be sure to show proof. Save receipts and other forms that verify how much you spent on medical care.

When you do your taxes this year, consider the medical deduction. Even if you don’t qualify this year, talk with your tax professional and Human Resources department about ways you can maximize your medical savings for next year.

Paternity Leave Options for Dads

By Employment Resources | No Comments

er-feb-2016-1Maternity leave guidelines in the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) give new moms 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Most companies don’t offer the same benefits to dads, though. They usually have to take sick or vacation days to welcome a new child into their family. If you’re a dad who’s adopting or fostering a child or having a biological baby, learn about your paternity leave options.

Do You Qualify for FMLA Paternity Leave

Even if your company does not specifically offer paternity leave, you qualify for FMLA leave if you:

  • Work for the government, a school or a company with 50 or more employees
  • Worked more than 20 weeks in the current or former calendar year
  • Worked in one place for 12 months
  • Worked at least 1,250 hours in the previous year
  • Live less than 75 miles from work

Your Benefits During Paternity Leave

Federal law requires you to give your employer at least 30-days notice when you want to take your leave. You may then take a bulk 12 weeks off, spread the time out over the year or reduce your normal work schedule as long as your employer approves.

According to the FMLA, you also retain your current position or a similar one with the same salary, seniority, benefits and working conditions. There are exceptions you’ll need to discuss with your Human Resources department.

You also keep your health insurance. However, you may need to reimburse the company for the premium they would normally take out of your paycheck.

Paternity Leave if You’re Self-employed

When you work for yourself, you have greater freedom in when you take off. However, carefully consider how you’ll cover duties, communicate with clients and cover expenses while you’re away.

Planning Paternity Leave From College

If you’re enrolled in college or taking a graduate program, talk to your faculty advisor or department head. Discuss details about any financial aid you may receive, and decide how you’ll make up assignments or complete your work load during your leave.

What to do if Your Leave is Denied

If your employer denies your paternity leave request, file a complaint with the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division regional office. You may also hire an attorney to pursue your employee rights.

If You Don’t Qualify for FMLA Leave

Maybe you work for a small company or only part-time. Find out if your state or labor union offers any type of leave benefit. You can also accrue extra vacation hours before your child arrives or arrange for an extended time off.

In most cases, dads can take paternity leave, but know your options first. Discuss your company’s specific paternity leave policy with your Human Resources department as you prepare to spend time with your new child.

How to Reduce Risks When a Key Employee Leaves

By Risk Management Bulletin | No Comments

rr-feb-2016-4Losing a key employee can cripple a small business. That person may hold responsibility for essential tasks, know your clients or be in charge of a large project. If you’re not prepared for the loss, your entire company will be affected by low morale, loss of productivity and an economic hit. Minimize the risks when you take several steps.

Identify Your Key Employees

Who in your organization can you not afford to lose? Which employees keep your company running or boost sales each month? These employees are the ones you need to be prepared to lose. Otherwise, your company is at risk of failing when that person decides to move on.

Develop a Knowledge Management Program

In many organizations, the key employees have important knowledge in their head but not on paper. Develop a knowledge management program that documents this vital information for the next person in the position.

Cross-Train

Instead of resting important responsibilities or projects solely on one person’s shoulders, cross-train at least one other employee in the job or position. That way, you’re not left hanging as you search for and train a replacement.

Hold Regular Update Meetings

Cross-training may not be possible for you. In this case, hold regular staff meetings where you update everyone on the project and prevent your staff from being blindsided if a key employee leaves.

Communicate the Good and the Bad

Improve employee retention and satisfaction when you keep communication lines open. Discussing the good and the bad can prevent small problems from growing and help key employees feel included and valued.

Stay in Touch With a Staffing or Recruiting Firm

If you don’t have a current employee who can step in and take over the key spot, have a staffing or recruiting firm on call. They have access to professionals who are experienced, trained and ready to step in with minimal effort from you.

Conduct an Exit Interview

When possible, interview the employees who leave your company. Discover the reasons for the departure and use that information to improve your salary, benefits package, company culture or other deficits as you prevent the loss of other key employees.

Focus on Current Employees

Even though a key employee left, you still have staff members who need you. Communicate clearly about the departure and discuss the impact it will make on the department or company as a whole. Restructure as needed, too, to keep business going.

Embrace Change

It’s easy to see a departure as a bad thing. However, a new employee brings fresh perspective, business connections and great skills that can improve your organization.

While losing a key employee is not easy, you can make the transition as smooth as possible when you’re prepared.