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Personal Perspective

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.

Do You Need Insurance For DIY Projects?

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If you’ve been working with your hands for any length of time, then you know that the difference between a professional job and a DIY project isn’t binary, it’s a spectrum. On one end, you’re taking your team out to build a house on a client’s property, and on the other end, you’re building a birdhouse in your garage just because it seemed like a fun way to kill an afternoon. In the middle, you’ve got storage sheds, home repairs, additional rooms, doghouses and so on. At some point along that spectrum, insuring your project becomes a necessity, either for legal or pragmatic reasons. But where exactly is that point? What kind of DIY projects do you need to get insured, and which ones can you afford to not worry about?

You have a few main concerns, here:

    1. Are you investing more than you can afford to lose?
    1. Is liability a concern?
    1. Will this affect any existing insurance policies you hold?

Take, for instance, building an additional room onto your home. This is going to have an effect on your existing homeowner’s policy, and if you don’t inform your insurer about your project, you may wind up invalidating that policy altogether.

On the other hand, spending a weekend erecting a doghouse in your backyard probably won’t affect your homeowner’s policy at all, and you’re probably not spending more than a hundred dollars on lumber and other materials. You may even be piecing it together from scrap wood left over from another project. The only concern here is liability, which might or might not be covered by your current homeowner’s policy. To play it safe you can always build a doghouse in the garage and wheel it out to the yard on a dolly to make sure you don’t wind up with barbecue guests stepping on a nail or something, but it’s generally worth checking your policy before starting any such project, just to be sure.

There are projects that may be covered by your homeowner’s policy in terms of liability, but wind up costing a little more than piecing a doghouse together out of scrap lumber. A shed, for instance, or costly home improvements. In these instances it’s down to peace of mind. Are you comfortable working without insurance, or would you like to have a safety net just in case?

If you’re bringing other people onto a project, then of course you’re probably going to want some basic liability coverage, but for more DIY projects than not, the rule of thumb is not to worry about insurance unless you feel uncomfortable without it, it’s required by law as with larger structures like guest homes, or it’s affecting a policy you already hold.

Home Insurance Facts for Your New Engagement Ring

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Did you buy or receive an engagement ring recently? Congratulations! Now, learn how to insure your valuable investment and protect your new heirloom.

Get an Appraisal

Before your insurance company will add your engagement ring to a policy, it needs to know your ring’s worth, brand, condition and description. If your ring costs under $5,000 and you bought it from a jeweler, the insurance company will probably accept the purchase invoice or receipt. Visit your jeweler for an official appraisal, though, if you bought the ring at an estate sale, inherited it from your grandmother or ordered a custom-made piece.

Purchase Insurance

After getting an appraisal, talk to your insurance agent about insuring it. You may be able to add your ring to your existing homeowners or renters policy. In cases, however, you’ll need  to purchase a rider that provides additional coverage.

Additionally, consider the coverage details. Does your policy cover the replacement cost of your ring if it’s stolen, damaged or lost? Do you have to use a specific jeweler for ring repairs or a replacement? Will you need an annual appraisal? These and other details help you choose the best policy.

Store Your Ring for Safekeeping

Of course, you or your fiancé plan to wear the engagement ring regularly. When you need to store it, though, implement a few safekeeping techniques that protect your ring’s value and deter theft and  damage.

First, use a sturdy case with a hard shell and a soft or padded lining. Then, store the case in a dry environment that features low humidity and a stable temperature.

Next, follow your jeweler’s guidance for your specific ring. Different gems and metals require different storage solutions. For instance, soft pearls are best protected when they’re placed in a soft bag that offers protection from dust, and silver retains its shine when it’s stored in a tarnish proof case.  Likewise, many gems crack or scratch easily, so separate your engagement ring from other items in your jewelry box as you protect it.

Finally, consider locking your ring in your home’s safe or bank’s lock box if you need to store your ring for extended periods of time.

Your engagement ring symbolizes your love. Protect it when you insure it. Your insurance agent will provide additional information as you care for your new ring forever.

DOG-BITES-MAN COSTS INSURERS BIG BUCKS

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Insurance companies shelled out $479 million to pay for dog bites last year, up from $413 million in 2010.

One company alone, State Farm, paid more than $109 million in Homeowner claims related to bites. California – which has more people and dogs than any other state – led the nation with 527 State Farm claims costing more than $20 million, followed by Illinois, Texas, and Ohio. The nationwide average claim was $28,800.

Dogs bite some 4.7 million Americans a year, nearly half of them children, Nearly 400,000 of these bites require medical treatment – and an average of 16 result in death.

Children age 5 to 9 are the group most likely to be bitten. The ASPCA predicts that one of every two children in the U.S. will suffer a dog bite before he or she turns 12, in most cases by their own dog or a pooch owned by a friend or neighbor. Seniors are the next most vulnerable group, followed by mail carriers. Dogs bit some 5,600 USPS carriers in each of each of the past two years, costing the Postal Service more than $1 million worth of medical bills in 2011.

Heredity, socialization, training, physical condition, and activities of humans can all affect the animal’s propensity to bite. Because children are by far the group most vulnerable to dog bites (a child is 900 times more likely to be attacked than a letter carrier) the ASPCA recommends that youngsters should never:

Maintain eye contact with a dog
Go near a chained canine
Approach or touch a dog who is eating, sleeping, or off-leash
Scream or run if an off-leash dog approaches
Pet a dog without asking its caregiver for permission (it’s wise to have the animal sniff your closed hand first – many dogs perceive an open hand as threatening)
Approach a dog from above its eye level

WHAT FACTORS INFLUENCE CREDIT SCORES

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Credit card companies, lenders, landlords and even prospective employers use credit scores to determine an individual’s level of financial responsibility. Credit scores are supposed to be snapshots of a person’s credit history. They are determined by Fair, Isaac & Co., which is commonly referred to as FICO. When individuals have low scores, their credit applications are usually denied. In some cases, a score that is low but not too low for approval will result in a high interest rate. Many lenders use a person’s credit score to set the loan cost. It is important for everyone to understand how credit scores are calculated.

Factors Affecting Credit Scores.

The method FICO uses to compute scores is very complex. However, several factors represent a percentage of the overall score. Here is a summary of the factors and their corresponding percentages: Payment history comprises 35% of the total score. This includes data from monthly bills, collection accounts and past bankruptcies. In today’s world, a 30-day delinquency is worse than a bankruptcy filed five years ago.

Outstanding debts make up 30% of the score. If the total amount of debts is close to the total amount of available credit, the result is usually a lower score. Having a high balance on one credit card is worse than having low balances on two cards.

Credit history length comprises 15% of the score. Accounts that have been open for a long time are better for a score than new accounts. The types of credit accounts make up 10% of the score. Loans obtained from finance companies usually result in a lower score.

Recent inquiries on a credit history account make up 10% of the score. People who have recently applied for new loans or credit accounts may see negative effects on their scores.

Some credit companies are more concerned about specific parts of a person’s credit history. For example, one company might put a heavy emphasis on payment history. However, another company might be more concerned about the types of accounts open. One of the biggest questions people have about their credit scores is which numbers are good and which ones are bad. As a rule, scores range between 300 and 900.

The average score is about 750. As peoples’ scores increase from this number, their default risk decreases. Research has shown consistent connections between high default rates and low scores. People who have scores below the average number of 750 might have difficulty convincing creditors to offer affordable loan rates. However, it is important to compare rates. Not all lenders gather data from the same reporting bureaus. There are three main bureaus, and each one might have different information than another.

For example, Experian might include information about a sizable collection account that another bureau might not. This can result in a lower score from Experian. If one lender uses Experian and another uses Equifax, the lender using Equifax would probably offer the best deal in such a scenario.

Although credit scores are usually different from one bureau to the next, it is rare to find large gaps. For example, the average person would see a set of scores such as 750, 745 and 760. It would be rare to see a set of scores that include 750, 760 and 505. However, inaccuracies can bring such rarities into reality. This is one of the reasons why it is important to monitor credit scores.

Everyone is entitled to one free annual report copy, so be sure to take advantage of this opportunity. For a fee, consumers can view their credit scores online. Ask our agents about approved sites for obtaining credit scores. Not all sites are reliable, and some are only out to collect personal data. Not all people are happy when they see their scores. If it is necessary to raise them, follow these suggestions:

Keep all payments current, and make up any missed payments.
Pay all obligations on time.
Keep low balances on credit cards and any revolving lines of credit.
Pay off debt constantly instead of letting it pile up or transferring it to a new account.

YOGA HELPS COMBAT STRESS IN SENIORS

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Senior citizens make up the group most affected by stress-related psychological and medical conditions. For such issues, yoga might offer great relief. Recent research shows that it is effective in treating people who suffer from high blood pressure, depression, anxiety and cardiovascular disease. The theory that researchers have might help develop mind-body practices as preventative treatments for such conditions, which are helpful when used with standard treatments.

In their theory, researchers believe that stress is a contributing factor in creating an imbalance in the autonomic nervous system. The result is sympathetic over-activity and parasympathetic under-activity. In addition to this, it causes under-activity of gamma amino-butyric acid, which is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. This transmitter’s long name is often shortened to GABA. With anxiety disorders, there is low GABA activity. Low activity is also present in people with epilepsy, depression, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder. The hypothesis these researchers have could also show why vagal nerve stimulation decreases depression symptoms and seizure frequency.

Although there are differences between the two, Eastern Medicine and Western Medicine are complementary. Yoga originated in the East, but professionals in the West are embracing its benefits. Recent research contributes to the theory that seniors feel better by simply relieving symptoms that present themselves in several common disorders.

Seniors & Yoga. Fitness experts believe that yoga is one of the best tools for combating the negative aspects of aging. With seniors, it can be used to reduce health concerns and increase mobility. It reduces or helps alleviate several health challenges, which means it is easier for seniors to adopt this form of therapeutic exercise.

Yoga & Walking. Walking is a common fitness choice for the aging population. Researchers compared two groups of people over a span of 12 weeks. One group walked for fitness, and the other group participated in yoga. The results showed that there were no increases in GABA levels for the walking group. However, the yoga group showed increased GABA levels. In addition to this, their anxiety levels had decreased. In a separate study, patients suffering from chronic pain in their lower backs were studied. Over a span of 12 weeks, they also experienced increases in their GABA levels. Their pain levels were greatly reduced in comparison with the levels commonly seen in conventional treatment results.

THINK YOU DON’T NEED FLOOD INSURANCE? THINK AGAIN

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Last month, the President signed a bill extending the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) for five years. This means that millions of Americans will be able to protect themselves against a risk that can cost the nation billions a year in property damage.

It makes sense to consider buying this coverage. For one thing, the chances are that your Homeowners policy does not cover losses from floods. For another, about one in four NFIP claims come from areas with a low or moderate risk of flooding, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Before you make a decision, see if you’re eligible for the program: Make sure that your community meets NFIP zoning and construction guidelines for floodplain management, crafted to reduce the danger of flooding:

To determine the degree of risk in your area, go to http://www.floodsmart.gov/floodsmart/ (a site that offers a wealth of information on Flood insurance) and enter your name and address. If you live in a community with low to moderate risk, you might qualify for Preferred Risk coverage, with an annual premium as low as $129.

Bear in mind that:

The maximum payout under a Flood policy is $250,000 (for your building) and $100,000 (for its contents)
If you need more coverage, you can purchase Excess insurance
After you buy a policy, there’s a 30-day waiting period before it goes into effect. 

If you don’t have coverage for a flood loss, don’t expect a bailout from Uncle Sam. Although you might be eligible for a federal disaster assistance loan, you’ll have to repay it, with interest.

Before you make a decision on Flood insurance, feel free to get in touch with us — we’d be happy to review the pros and cons of this valuable coverage.

10 Holiday Meal Kitchen Safety Tips

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It’s your turn to host the family holiday meal, and you’re prepared with the menu, table decorations and updated homeowners insurance. Is your kitchen safe? Consider 10 kitchen safety tips for your holiday meal.

    • Handle Raw Meat Properly

      Raw meats can spread salmonella and other bacteria if they’re handled improperly. Thaw meats in the refrigerator, never rinse raw meat, use separate cutting boards and knives for meats, and cook meats thoroughly.

    • Greasy Range Hood

      Accumulated grease on range hood can start a fire. Clean the hood thoroughly, and check the filter to make sure it’s clean, too.

    • Dirty Sponges, Dishcloths and Kitchen Towels

      Sponges, dishcloths and towels can harbor bacteria that can spread throughout your kitchen as you wipe spills and messes. Disinfect wet sponges for one minute in the microwave. Remember to replace used sponges, dishcloths and towels often, too. As an alternative, spray surfaces with sanitizing spray and wipe with paper towels.

    • Poor Refrigerator Storage Habits

      Holiday meals include all your favorite dishes. Keep the food safe and prevent bacteria growth when you:

      • Place raw meats in a sealed container.
      • Store raw fruits and vegetables in a plastic bag or container.
      • Immediately wipe up spills.
      • Refrigerate prepared foods as soon as possible.
      • Refrigerate leftovers within four hours of cooking.
    • Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

      Gas ranges and ovens can emit carbon monoxide, an odorless, invisible gas that can make you sick. Hire a professional to clean and inspect your range and oven to ensure they work properly and safely.

    • Overloaded Circuits

      Faulty wiring accounts for 33 percent of all residential fires according to the U.S. Fire Administration. When you must plug multiple appliances into your electrical outlets, use power strips. If possible, unplug the appliances you don’t need.

    • No Fire Extinguisher

      Your kitchen fire extinguisher can prevent the spread of a fire and protect your family. Buy a multi-purpose fire extinguisher, and be sure you know how to use it.

    • Unattended Food

      While cooking, you may get distracted with a conversation, cleaning or other duties. Unattended food or oil can start a fire, so stay focused as you cook.

    • Unwashed Hands

      Your aunt arrives and immediately volunteers to prep the dinner salad. Be sure she washes her hands first, and insist on proper handwashing for all your kitchen helpers.

    • Tripping Hazards

      Keep your floors and walkways clear to avoid tripping. As guests arrive, they should place their bags and other items in a designated spot away from the kitchen

Your holiday celebration can be a safe and fun event when you follow these 10 kitchen safety tips.

Nine Reasons Why Employees Need A Vacation

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At the end of the year, many companies encourage employees to take accrued vacation time. While you may be tempted to forfeit your earned days off, vacations are important for nine reasons.

    • Improve Productivity

      You might think that working longer hours make you more productive, but longer work hours actually decrease your productivity. Take a break and reboot. You’ll return to your job refreshed and ready to tackle your workload.

    • Enhance Decision-Making Skills

      When you’re overworked and tired, your brain gets fuzzy, and you may make poor decisions. Spend time relaxing as you enhance your decision-making skills at work.

    • Recover Creativity

      Your job may depend on your creativity, but your brain needs breaks to function at its creative capacity. While you recharge and focus on non-work activities, you may be surprised at all your new ideas.

    • Bolster Physical Health

      Overwork can affect your immune system, making you more vulnerable to illness. It can also contribute to obesity and heart disease. While your health insurance covers medical care, add regular vacations to your wellness routine. They can bolster your overall physical health.

    • Reduce Stress Levels

      Stress affects nearly every part of your physical, mental and emotional health. It also prevents you from doing your best work on the job. On a vacation, you can unwind, relax and leave work behind as you refresh your brain, body and emotions.

    • Support Mental Health

      Long hours at work can increase depression, anxiety and loneliness. Take a vacation and surround yourself with activities and people you love. Your vacation can decrease depression and support your mental health.

    • Boost Energy

      It’s easy to feel sluggish, unmotivated and disengaged when you spend every day in the same way. Planning and anticipating a vacation temporarily boosts your energy, and that energy and excitement stays with you after you return to the daily grind.

    • Expand Your Perspective

      Every day, you’re surrounded by the same people, activities and tasks. Step away and experience new things. Whether you visit an exotic location, sit on your deck with a book or explore your hometown, your vacation will expand your outlook and perspective on life and on the job.

    • Invest in Your Family

      You may work long hours in part to provide for your family, but work can actually interfere with your family life. On vacation, you reconnect with your loved ones. Spend time enjoying each other as you remember one of the reasons you work.

Instead of avoiding vacation, see it as a chance to improve your job performance and your quality of life in nine ways. You’ll be glad you took your well-deserved vacation time this year.

Seven Tips To Negotiate An Auto Insurance Claim

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After a severe hail storm or vehicle accident, your insurance company totals your car. The settlement amount they offer is fairly low, though. Use seven tips to negotiate your auto insurance claim.

  • Prove the Vehicle’s Worth

    If you can prove that your vehicle is worth more than the insurance company offers, you may get more money. Examples of acceptable proof include:

    • The vehicle’s purchase price if you bought it recently
    • Recent photos that show your vehicle in pristine condition
    • Receipts for recent upgrades such as new tires, a security system or a paint job

    While it will take time for you to assemble this proof and submit it to the insurance company, the extra cash could make the effort worthwhile.

  • Ask for Financial Sources

    The insurance company should provide you with a detailed report of the figures they used to determine your settlement amount. Ask them to provide sources for their numbers, too. You can use those sources to verify the insurance settlement or run your own comparison.

  • Find a Comparable Vehicle

    Most states require auto insurance companies to provide a fair settlement. It allows you to purchase a comparable vehicle to the one that’s totaled. You can do your own search for a comparable vehicle if you don’t think the insurance company has offered a fair settlement.

    Search online and in person to find a local vehicle that’s the same make, model, year, mileage, options and condition as your totaled vehicle. Share your findings with the insurance company, and they may accept this proof and give you more money.

  • Ask if you can Keep the Car

    Sometimes, a totaled car is still drivable. If that’s the case, the insurance company may allow you to keep and drive the car. However, you may need to pay a salvage fee and drop comprehensive coverage.

  • Remain Calm

    After an accident, you may feel stressed and upset as you navigate the insurance claim and adjust to life without your vehicle. Try to remain calm, however, as you state your case and show that you are confident in your facts and serious about your desire to get a larger settlement.

  • Contact the State Insurance Commissioner

    Your state’s Insurance Commissioner protects citizens like you. Appeal to the office if your settlement amount truly is low and your negotiation efforts are unsuccessful.

  • Give it a Try

    You may doubt that your efforts to negotiate will succeed. It’s always a good idea to try. You may surprise yourself and succeed!

Sometimes, you can get more money for your vehicle after it’s totaled. These seven tips can help you successfully negotiate a new settlement.