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Personal Perspective

Freezing Your Credit

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In early September, the credit reporting agency Equifax announced a significant data breach. Hackers were able to access the names, birth dates, Social Security numbers and addresses of 143 million consumers, which put their identity and credit at risk. A credit report freeze is one protective measure Equifax recommended. Every consumer, including you, should understand this protective measure as you protect your data, identity and credit.

What is a Credit Report Freeze?

A credit report freeze allows you to restrict who can access your credit report. When a freeze is in place, only certain professional entities can see your information, and it’s less likely that an identity theft can access your data.

Ways a Credit Report Freeze Affects You

When you place a credit report freeze on your account, it affects you in several ways.

1. It prevents certain entities from accessing your credit report. This includes potential employers, mortgage companies and car dealers.

2. Existing creditors and any debt collection agencies they hire and government agencies responding to a court order or subpoena may continue to access your credit report.

3. You can continue to access your free annual credit report.

4. It does not affect your credit score.

5. You will continue to receive prescreened credit offers for credit or insurance. Call 888-5OPTOUT (888-567-8688) or go online to optoutprescreen.com if you wish to stop receiving these offers.

How to Place a Credit Report Freeze

Contact the three nationwide credit reporting companies to freeze your credit report.

To place a freeze, you must provide your name, birth date, Social Security number, address and other personal information. You will also have to pay a fee. It typically ranges from $5 to $10 but varies based on where you live.

How to Know if Your Credit Report Freeze is Successful

After placing a credit report freeze, you will receive a confirmation letter from the credit reporting company. It includes a unique password or PIN you will need if you ever choose to lift the freeze.

How to Lift a Credit Report Freeze

Your credit report freeze remains in place indefinitely. However, you may want to lift it so you can apply for a job or credit. To do that, simply contact the credit reporting company to request a lift. You will provide your password or PIN, pay a fee that varies by state and indicate if you want a temporary or permanent lift.

A credit report freeze can protect your personal data and identity. Consider monitoring your bank, insurance and credit card statements, though, too, and purchase cyber liability insurance as a further protective measure.

9 Tips That Prepare Your Teen Driver For The Road

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Your teen is ready to drive, and you have the privilege of preparing them for this responsibility. Use nine tips as you prep your teen to navigate the road safely.

1.Ensure Your Teen Meets State Licensing Guidelines

Teen drivers may officially get behind the wheel after they earn a learners permit. Then they will probably have to complete a certain number of hours behind the wheel while supervised by a licensed driver. Be sure your teen is properly licensed before they drive on the road.

2. Purchase Adequate Auto Insurance

Your teen driver must have auto insurance. Contact your insurance agent  to purchase an individual policy for your teen or discover how to add your teen to your policy.

3. Give Your Teen Real-World Driving Experience

Give your teen time to drive on all types of roads and in all types of weather. They can learn to parallel park in residential areas and merge with existing traffic on the highway. Real-time driving gives your teen the experience they need to drive safely any time.

4. Limit Passengers

Your teen driver should only host one passenger at a time. Otherwise, they become distracted, and their accident risk and aggressive driving incidents increase.

5. Set a Curfew

Driving at night can be tricky due to lower visibility and increased fatigue. Plus, some states limit a teen’s driving to daytime and early evening hours. Reinforce the curfew you or your state set as you encourage safety.

6. Sign a Safe Driving Contract

A driving contract outlines your expectations for your teen driver. It can include where  your teen can drive, who can be in the car, what happens if your teen breaks a law and consequences for breaking the contract.

7. Take a Driver’s Ed or a Defensive Driver Course

During driver’s ed, your teen learns the latest traffic laws, safe driving techniques and strategies to avoid accidents or traffic violations. Your teen may also be eligible for an auto insurance discount after passing the course.

8. Prepare Your Teen for an Accident

Your teen driver could be in an accident even though they’re not at fault. Be sure they know what to do if they are involved in a collision or fender bender.

9. Teach Your Teen to be Cautious but not Scared

With all the dangers on the road, it’s easy for teens to be scared, and then they’re more likely to make a mistake. Instead of scaring your teen, teach them to be cautious and confident as they drive.

Driving is a rite of passage for teens. Prepare your teen to be safe on the road with these nine tips.

Steps To Take When Your Electricity Goes Out

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Power outages can occur during storms or because of accidents or blackouts. The next time you experience a power disruption, take these steps to protect your home, valuables and family.

Call the power company. Report the outage and any downed lines, and sign up to receive alerts when the power returns.

Check the circuit breakers. Be sure they’re turned to the “on” position so the power will automatically turn on when it’s restored.

Never touch downed lines. They’re deadly.

Use battery-operated flashlights or lanterns. Candles or oil lamps can be fire hazards, so rely on battery-operated light sources.

Stay warm during winter power outages. Bundle in layers, gather your family and pets in one room and shut the doors. You can also use your wood stove as a heat source if it’s clean and functions properly.

Stay cool during summer outages.
 Dress in lightweight clothing and hang out in the basement. You’ll also want to stay hydrated. If the power outage lasts for an extended time, drive to a mall, movie theater or other cool location.

Preserve foodIn general, food will stay safe in the refrigerator for up to four hours and in the freezer for up to 48 hours, but try to avoid opening these appliances. Wrapping these appliances with blankets might provide further insulation and food protection during short outages.

Fill your water jugs if possible. Grab your spare containers and fill them with water to sustain you during the outage.

Turn on the water. Let your spigots drip to prevent freezing water pipes during winter outages.

Unplug major appliances. Your appliances could be damaged by the surge that sometimes occurs when the power comes back on, so unplug all your appliances and electronics except your fridge or freezer. Consider keeping a single lamp or other electric device plugged in so you know when the power is restored.

Use your generator with caution. Only turn on your generator if it’s installed outdoors, properly connected to your home and fueled properly.

Don’t grill indoors. The carbon monoxide could kill you.

Check on your neighbors. Verify that your neighbors are safe, especially if they’re elderly or disabled, and share any water or food with them.

Stock an emergency supply. After the power returns, prepare for the next outage. Stock non-perishable food, water, flashlights, batteries, a first aid kit, and pet and baby supplies, if necessary.

Review your homeowners insurance coverage. Your policy may cover food losses, power surge damages, burst pipes, and even hotel expenses that you incur because of a power outage. Contact your insurance agent for more details.

A power outage can occur at any time, so be prepared. These steps help you protect your home and your family.

Ways To Make Money With Your Personal Vehicle

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To make extra money, look no further than your vehicle. Your car or truck can become a source of income even if you’re not behind the wheel.

Wrap your Vehicle with Ads

Several companies pay you to wrap your vehicle with their advertisements. You receive payment based on the size of your vehicle and the miles you drive each day.

Become a Personal Driver

In exchange for a fee, give rides to seniors, new parents, college students, and other people who don’t have a vehicle. You can even run your own errands while driving others.

Drive for a Rideshare Service

Uber and Lyft are two rideshare services you can join. You decide where and when to drive, and your passengers pay you for each ride.

Join a Courier Service

Pick up and deliver dry cleaning, coffee, documents, and other items for a fee when you work as a courier. As a bonus, you can choose to accept jobs along your normal commute route and save time, fuel and wear on your vehicle.

Rent your Vehicle to a Peer

While you’re on vacation, at work or home for the weekends, rent your primary or spare car to a peer. Sign up at Turo or make rental arrangements with a friend, neighbor or co-worker.

Join a Carpool

Get paid to drive others to work every day. Alternatively, you can ride daily as a passenger and reduce your vehicle maintenance costs and fuel costs.

Drive Kids to School  

Whether you’re a parent, teacher or friend, offer to drive kids to or from school. Get paid per child per trip.

Deliver Groceries or Pizza

Taxi rides can cost a small fortune, so start a delivery business. Receive payment as you deliver groceries or pizza around town.

Transport Pets

Pet owners who need transportation to the vet or groomer will gladly pay you to provide reliable transportation. You may wish to purchase a sturdy crate to keep your furry passengers safe, and stock treats.

Pick up Large Objects

Put your SUV or truck to good use as a delivery vehicle. Advertise your service around town or sign up for TaskRabbit, and people will hire you to pick up and deliver large objects like furniture, bicycles and firewood.

Become a Tour Guide

Connect with tourists and other out-of-town visitors in your local area. Visit museums, attractions and historic sites during the travel season and share your expertise while making extra money.

These ideas help you earn extra cash with your personal vehicle. Before you start your endeavor, talk to your insurance agent and ensure you have adequate coverage for your new side business. Then hit the road!

Ways To Prevent Home Water Damage During The Spring Thaw

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Spring officially starts on March 20. In addition to rising temperatures and longer daylight hours, melting ice, snow and the ground produce a winter thaw. Take several steps as you prevent water damage to your home.

Inspect Your Roof

Storm debris or heavy snow and ice can damage your roof. Additionally, poor circulation or heat leaks can inhibit proper ice and snow melting.

Visually inspect your roof and remove any ice dams. Then note any damaged areas, including sagging, or areas of unmelted snow. You can hire a roofing professional to take a closer look and perform any necessary repairs.

Repair the Gutters and Downspouts

Ideally, downspouts should direct water at least six feet away from your home. However, the downspouts or gutters may be clogged or damaged.

As you inspect the gutters and downspouts, clear away any debris. Then replace broken pieces or install downspout extenders as you divert water away from your home.

Shovel Snow

Accumulated snow near your home can melt and leak into your home through the foundation or window wells.

When daytime temperatures rise or on sunny afternoons, use a shovel or ice pick to break up large piles of snow and ice. Remove obstructions like wood piles or overgrown shrubs, too, that might prevent proper melting.

Fix the Foundation

Even a tiny crack in your home’s foundation can allow water to seep into the basement or foundation walls. Plus, damaged window well caulk or debris build-up may promote water damage.

As you walk around the exterior of your home, look for evidence of foundation cracks or window well damage. Check the interior basement walls, too, for cracks or discolorations. Seal any cracks as you protect your home.

Prepare the Basement

While you do your best to prevent excess water in the basement, you should be prepared in case the water rises quickly.

First, test the sump pump. Make repairs or purchase spare parts so it’s ready to remove water from your basement if necessary. Then install backflow valves to prevent expensive sewer backups. Finally, move items to higher ground for protection in case water does seep into your basement.

Verify Your Homeowners’ Insurance

Spring flooding around your home can cause damage that affects your home and safety.

Revisit your homeowners’ insurance policy, and verify that it covers damage and repairs caused by excessive water. If your agent recommends flood insurance, purchase a policy as soon as possible so you’re covered before the big thaw.

This spring, melting snow, ice and ground will increase water around your home. Take these steps as you prevent damage and protect your house.

How To Protect Your Home’s Water Pipes All Winter

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Your home’s pipes deliver water to the kitchen and bathrooms. These pipes could freeze during harsh cold winter weather, though, and leave you without water for meals, showers and other activities, which affects your health and wellbeing. Take several steps to prevent frozen pipes, and know how to thaw frozen pipes properly as you protect your home and family this winter.

Prevent Frozen Pipes

Most homes are built to withstand cold temperatures. However, design flaws, foundation weaknesses or unexpectedly low temperatures increase the likelihood that your home’s pipes will freeze. When the weather forecast calls for freezing temperatures, prep your home in several ways as you prevent frozen water pipes.

  • Close crawl space vents and insulate areas around exposed pipes to protect the pipes from cold air.
  • Turn on faucets and let them drip overnight. This tip is particularly important for the faucets attached to exposed pipes or located near exterior walls that get cold quickly.
  • Open cabinet doors to keep the pipes warm. As a side note, remove cleaning solutions and other harmful items from the cabinets to protect your kids and pets.
  • Maintain the same indoor temperature day and night. Turning the thermostat down during the day or at night can save you money, but a consistent indoor temperature of at least 55 degrees can protect your water pipes.

Thaw Frozen Pipes

Despite your best efforts, your water pipes could freeze as temperatures plummet. Thaw pipes properly with several steps.

  • Shut off the main water supply to the frozen pipes. If the pipes have burst, this step will prevent major damage to your home.
  • Turn on the faucets. As the ice melts, water will begin to flow slowly again and speed the thawing process.
  • Apply heat to the frozen pipes until they fully thaw. For safety, wrap a heating pad or hot towels around the pipe or use a hair dryer.
  • Exercise caution when thawing pipes. Never use an open flame or a propane or kerosene heater because these devices could cause a fire. Also, don’t overload circuits, use space heaters or leave your oven door open as you attempt to get your water flowing.
  • Call a plumber if your DIY attempts don’t work. He or she will find the troublesome pipe, fix the problem and restore your running water.

This winter, take several steps to protect your water pipes from freezing or to thaw frozen pipes safely. You should also update your homeowners insurance policy. It provides valuable protection if a frozen or burst pipe damages your home. Your insurance agent can also share tips that protect your water pipes and home this winter.

Car Seat Safety Tips For Your Growing Family

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Safety remains your first priority as a parent. Whether you have one or a dozen kids, follow several car seat safety tips and protect your growing family.

Use a Rear-Facing Seat for as Long as Possible

Infants always sit in a rear-facing car seat to protect their legs, spine and brain. However, even after your child grows into a convertible seat, keep him facing backward until he’s at least two years old for maximum safety.

Ensure Safety in Front-Facing Seats

When you decide to place your child in a front-facing car seat, utilize a tether strap. It secures to your vehicle’s top tether anchor, available in most vehicles sold in the U.S. since 2000, and decreases your child’s head movement during a crash.

Tighten Straps

Secure harness straps protect kids and won’t cause pain. To ensure the straps are tight enough, check them before each trip. Only one finger should fit under the harness by your child’s collarbone.

Ask a Technician to Check Installation

certified installation technician can ensure the proper installation of your car seat. Schedule a free check every time you install a new seat or move the car seat to a different vehicle.

Use a Booster Seat Properly

To use a booster seat, your child should be at least four years old, weigh 40 pounds and sit without slouching or playing with the seat belt. Even if your child is not mature enough for a booster seat until he’s six, that’s okay because you want your child to be safe.

Alternatively, keep your child in a booster seat until she can sit in the regular seat with the lap belt resting across her lower hips, even if that doesn’t happen until she’s 12 years old.

Track the Car Seat’s Expiration Date

The plastic material in a car seat becomes brittle over time, so car seats include an expiration date. Whether you use the car seat for one or multiple kids, know its expiration date and retire your car seat on time.

Replace the Car Seat After an Accident

After an accident, a car seat absorbs force from the crash. Typically, it must be replaced, but you can check your car seat’s manufacturer for details.

Beware of Used Car Seats

Unless you’re 100 percent certain about the car seat’s history, don’t purchase or use a used car seat. Your child’s safety must remain your first priority regardless of the financial cost.

Car seat safety protects your child, so follow these tips as you install and use your car seat properly. For additional tips on car seat and overall driving safety, contact your auto insurance agent.

Winter Auto Maintenance Tips That Improve Safety And Reduce Accidents

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Winter is almost over, but a variety of risks affect your safety as you drive. This month, perform a maintenance check on your vehicle as you improve safety and reduce accidents.

Tires

Improve traction on slippery, snowy and cold surfaces with maintained tires. Check the tread, and inflate the tires based on manufacturer’s recommendations.

Brakes

While you want to drive cautiously in winter weather, you also need a quality brake system. Check the entire system and replace worn parts as you ensure your vehicle’s brakes operate efficiently.

Battery

Cold weather can compromise your vehicle’s battery performance. Volt test the battery to verify that it’s working properly, and check the connections. If your battery is weak or older than three years, replace it and prevent the chances of being stranded in cold weather.

Fluids

Numerous fluids protect your vehicle and help it operate properly despite plummeting temperatures.

  • Gasoline – Keep the gas tank full to prevent the fuel pump from freezing and to help you stay warm if you’re stranded.
  • Oil – A low-viscosity oil flows easily through your engine. Check the oil level, too, to keep your vehicle operating properly.
  • Coolant –  Fill the coolant reservoir with a solution of 50/50 antifreeze and water, and inspect the engine for leaks to ensure your engine doesn’t freeze.
  • Washer Fluid – Top off the washer fluid so you can remove debris and slush and see properly as you drive.

Lights and Wipers

Daylight may last longer now, but your visibility can decrease when you drive at night or during storms. Replace broken light bulbs, restore foggy or yellowed headlights and replace wipers if necessary.

Defroster and Climate Control

To keep your windows clear of snow, ice or fog and to keep you and your passengers warm, check your vehicle’s defroster and climate control system. If you notice anything wrong with the performance of these essential features, visit your mechanic for a repair.

Survival Kit

A survival kit could save your life if you become stuck in snow or are involved in an accident. Check your survival kit now and replenish any items you may have used previously this season. Essential gear includes:

  • Shovel, de-icer and cat litter or sand
  • Blankets, gloves, hats, extra socks and heavy boots
  • First aid kit
  • Knife and waterproof matches
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Jumper cables
  • Cellphone charger
  • Snacks and water

Maintaining your vehicle this winter can improve your safety and reduce accidents. In addition to vehicle maintenance, talk to your insurance agent. Update your auto insurance policy to ensure it covers accidents, and discover additional ways to improve safety as you drive this winter.

Umbrella Insurance Offers Libel and Slander Protection

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During a party at your home, you get caught up in the moment and say something that’s untrue about a friend. Or you write a letter to the editor and use unfounded statements about someone. Unfortunately, everyone makes mistakes. You might find yourself facing a libel or slander lawsuit, though, because of your judgment lapse or other mistakes. An umbrella insurance policy can protect you.

What is Libel and Slander?

Libel and slander fall under the category of defamation. Typically, libel covers written statements and slander covers speech. Because both forms of defamation damage a person’s reputation, the victim could file a lawsuit that threatens your home, financial savings and other assets.

You Need an Umbrella Insurance to Have Libel and Slander Coverage

Whether you committed libel in a written letter or email or spoke slander at a party or during a phone conversation, your homeowners or renters insurance policy probably doesn’t protect you. However, it might if you:

*Sign a personal injury endorsement that covers unintentional acts of libel or slander.
*Obtain personal injury coverage that offers additional liability coverage for at-home or off-site remarks that are considered libelous or slanderous.

For maximum and guaranteed protection, buy an umbrella policy that covers personal injury. It’s an additional endorsement that takes effect after your homeowners insurance is exhausted.

Your umbrella policy can also provide financial protection and pay for defense costs if you’re sued in certain cases. Those cases include invasion of privacy, defamation of character or wrongful imprisonment.

How Much Coverage Should you Buy?

With help from your insurance agent, decide how much umbrella insurance coverage you need. If you have a large number of assets or a high net worth, consider purchasing a large umbrella policy to protect yourself. No matter how much money or valuables you own, however, consider purchasing this  beneficial coverage.

No one usually plans to commit libel or slander, but accidents happen. Umbrella insurance can protect you. Discuss your options with an insurance agent today, and think twice before writing or saying something that might come out the wrong way.

Do You Have to Buy Renters Insurance?

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Now that you found an apartment, it’s time to sign the lease. Before you move in, though, decide if you need to purchase renters insurance.

What is Renters Insurance?

Let’s say the roof leaks and floods your bedroom. Your landlord will pay for structural repairs, but you’re responsible to replace your personal property. That’s why you have renter’s insurance. It pays to repair or replace items that are damaged or stolen.

Is Renters Insurance Required?

Your lease may include a clause that requires you to carry renter’s insurance. It protects him or her from a lawsuit you may file if your personal property is damaged or stolen. Additionally, the building’s mortgage holder or insurer may require tenants to carry renters insurance. However, there is no universal law that makes renters insurance mandatory for all tenants.

Decide How Much Insurance Coverage You Need

Although you have the option to choose or decline renters insurance, it’s a wise investment. A small grease fire and the smoke and water damage that result can quickly ruin everything you own. If you can’t afford to replace your property, purchase renters insurance.

Determining how much insurance you need to buy can be tricky. First, decide if you want full replacement cost or actual cash value (ACV).

Replacement Cost pays for you to buy new items at today’s cost no matter what you paid for the item. So even though your laptop is six years old, you can buy a new one with replacement cost renters insurance. This type of policy is a bit more expensive than actual cash value.

Actual Cash Value (ACV) ACV covers the item’s current worth at the time it’s lost, stolen or damaged. This option is affordable, but if a fire damages your secondhand futon, you only receive a few bucks, which won’t be enough to buy a quality replacement. 

Next, figure out the value of what you own. Make a detailed inventory list and assign each item a fair value. With this list, you can decide on a coverage amount that provides the protection and peace of mind you need.

You’re now ready to choose a deductible. Higher deductibles usually mean lower premiums, but make sure you can afford the higher deductible.

Finally, talk to your insurance agent. He or she can help you find the coverage that fits your budget and needs. While renters insurance is usually optional, it’s a wise investment that you’ll probably be glad you made.