Take The Scream Out Of Halloween By Having The Right Insurance

Halloween can be a fright when trick-or-treaters flock to your property. But taking reasonable steps to safeguard your home and having the right homeowners or renters insurance makes it easier to get into the spirit of things, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

Your homeowners or renters policy provides financial protection for a number of disasters, whether they occur on Halloween or any other day of the year—including the following:

Fire: If a jack-o-lantern or other decoration goes up in flames and damages your property, your homeowners or renters policy covers fire-related losses. And, if your home is uninhabitable following a covered peril like a fire, additional living expenses (ALE) coverage will pay for alternate accommodations, such as a hotel, while your home is being repaired.

Vandalism. In the event your home or your personal possessions are damaged by neighborhood tricksters, homeowners and renters insurance policies provide coverage for vandalism and malicious mischief.

Injuries. The liability portion of a homeowners or renters policy comes into play if a trick-or-treater is injured while at your home. This would provide coverage for legal expenses and possible judgments against you—up to the policy limits. Your policy also includes no-fault medical coverage so the injured person can file their claim directly with your insurer—without having to sue you. And if your dog gets a little skittish from all the commotion and accidently nips a trick-or-treater, your liability coverage includes damages or injuries caused by pets.

Of course, the best solution is to prevent damage or injury from happening in the first place.

For Homeowners: 

  1. Keep walkways well-lit and free of clutter.  Not only will a well-lit home send a message to your neighborhood that you are participating in the festivities, but it will also ensure that those goblins can see where they are going as they approach your door.
  2. Keep electrical wires tied down so that scampering trick or treaters don’t stumble. Many long trailing costumes put kids at risk of tripping, especially if they are wearing masks and are unfamiliar with the property. Electrical cords should be securely tied down and out of the path.
  3. Make sure handrails/railings are secure. A child can easily fall when mounting the stairs if railings are wobbly or come loose. Fix or reinforce your railings a few weeks before the witching hour.
  4. Use battery-operated bulbs instead of candles in pumpkins. The National Fire Protection Association’s most recent statistics show that decorations were the first items to be ignited in 920 reported home structure fires on average each year, resulting in six civilian deaths, 47 civilian injuries and $12.9 million in direct property damage.
  5. Consider raising liability limits. Generally, most homeowners insurance policies provide a minimum of $100,000 worth of liability insurance. It is generally recommended that homeowners consider purchasing at least $300,000 to $500,000 worth of liability protection. If you own property or assets that are worth more than the liability limits in your policy, a separate umbrella or excess liability policy can provides extra coverage.

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Stay alert for hurricane-damaged vehicles

The counts vary, but it has been estimated that a million or more vehicles sustained flood damage as a result of hurricanes in 2017. What will happen to those vehicles? In some cases, unscrupulous opportunists may buy them for pennies on the dollar and offer them for resale to the public.

Vehicles can be dried out, fitted with new carpet, shined up and offered for resale for hundreds — sometimes thousands — less than the fair market value. Good deal? Maybe, if you don’t mind the vehicle’s mechanical, electrical or safety systems potentially (more like probably) failing at any time.

Water, especially salt water, causes early corrosion to the electrical components of a vehicle, significantly decreasing their useful life expectancy and causing their failure. In addition, mold and bacteria can grow in the soft materials of the vehicle, creating an undesirable odor and even impacting your health.

If you are considering buying a used vehicle, attempt to know its history. Consider purchasing a vehicle history report.

The Better Business Bureau offers some guidance, and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ consumer alert after Hurricane Sandy in 2012 offers tips that apply to any hurricane-damaged vehicle.

Look for visible signs of potential water damage:

  • Rust on screws and bolts in unusual places for water contact
  • Water stains on upholstery, seat belts, door panels, etc.; look under the trunk carpet
  • Strong moldy/musty smell OR a strong disinfectant or deodorizer smell
  • Lights or gauges that do not work

Seek the history of that used car you are considering, and educate yourself on the practice of flood vehicle resales. Don’t get caught with a flood of vehicle repair bills.

This loss control information is advisory only. The author assumes no responsibility for management or control of loss control activities. Not all exposures are identified in this article. Contact your local, independent insurance agent for coverage advice and loss control services.

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Boat Trailering Tips

A day spent boating is the kind of thing you daydream about—many of us crave time on the water, rocking with the waves and basking in the sun. But before getting to smooth sailing, you need to try your hand at the art of boat trailering.

If you’re new to hauling a boat, these tips will help you build confidence and get comfortable with towing a boat from point A to point B. If you’re already an experienced boat-trailering captain, this will serve as a helpful refresher course before your next outing.

Without further ado, here are eight tips for a trouble-free trip to the boat ramp!

  1. Experience leads to confidence.
    Practice so you can get comfortable with trailering. Find a large, open space—like an empty parking lot—and put down some orange cones or life jackets. Then spend time learning to back up, make turns and avoid obstacles.
  2. Backing up takes extra practice.
    Most people find driving in reverse while towing a boat to be the toughest, so work on honing this skill. Remember that backing up in a straight line is almost impossible. Instead, focus on moving in the right direction with slow, slight turns.
  3. Level-up your mirrors.
    Big, extended side-view mirrors are definitely a great idea for trailering, especially when you tow on busy roads. Attachable side-view mirrors are available for purchase when you need to increase visibility.
  4. Swing wide when tackling turns.
    To ensure you don’t hit curbs or other vehicles with your boat, take turns extra-wide. If you can, try to prepare for turns by staying in the outside lane to give yourself more room.
  5. Keep it roomy with stopping distance.
    Extra distance between your vehicle and those ahead of you is crucial. You don’t want to slam on the breaks with a boat in tow—that could cause jackknifing. So slow down and be alert… patience you must have, my young Padawan.
  6. Be conscience of large vehicles.
    If semi-trucks and other big vehicles pass you, briefly lift your foot off the accelerator. This little trick will help reduce buffeting by the truck’s wind and keep your rig from swaying. If you notice swaying, take your foot off the gas to minimize it.
  7. If swaying—stop, inspect and adjust.
    Taking your foot off the gas will minimize swaying, but if it seems to be a constant problem, get out and examine your rig. Try adjusting the trailer’s tongue weight—it should be between 10 and 15 percent of the rig’s overall weight.
  8. Conduct a post-arrival check-up.
    When you reach your destination, feel your trailer’s wheel hubs. They should be cool or slightly warm. If they’re hot, there may be problems with your bearings; get them serviced as soon as possible!

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Florida contractor requirements: Know before you go

If you’re a contractor thinking about traveling to Florida to help rebuild in the wake of a hurricane, we want you to be aware of contractor requirements to avoid fines or potential criminal charges from the state.

Even if you hold a contractor’s license in your home state, here is some key information:

  • To work in Florida, you must prove you passed an exam that’s substantially similar to the exam Florida resident contractors are required to pass. If your state doesn’t require you to take a written exam, you must successfully complete the Florida exam before you can work there.
  • You can only do work for which you hold a license.
  • You must provide your credit report and proof of financial stability, including net worth requirements, or provide a bond.
  • You must register with the Florida Secretary of State before you conduct business in the state.
  • You must have Florida listed under 3A on the declarations page of your workers’ compensation policy because Florida does not accept “other states” coverage.

Florida selects contractors at random for inspections. If you’re working there without proper coverage under 3A, you could be fined thousands of dollars for not having proper insurance coverage in place. In addition, contractors may not provide claim advice or filing assistance unless they hold a public adjuster license. Out-of-state contractors are responsible for knowing the rules and regulations of the state in which they want to work. So please know before you go, and seek advice from your attorney for specific instructions.

MORE INFORMATION

Each county or municipal jurisdiction in Florida may have additional requirements, so be sure to check with authorities in the location where you plan to work, for example, in Indian River County

Property owners seeking assistance from a contractor during rebuilding should question contractors and ask for a certificate of insurance before engaging work. Please see our blog post “Entrust storm repairs to honest contractors.”

This loss control information is advisory only. The author assumes no responsibility for management or control of loss control activities. Not all exposures are identified in this article. Contact your local, independent insurance agent for coverage advice and loss control services.

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Winterizing Your Seasonal Home

It’s a necessary task for any seasonal home owner, and you still have time to get it done: preparing your seasonal home for the rigors of winter. Properly planning now can help you avoid damage and expensive repairs in the spring.

The best preparation is to develop a checklist of tasks and then follow it faithfully. Here are the major areas for winterization that Foremost recommends your list includes:

  • Plumbing. This is one of the most important areas to address when winterizing a seasonal home. If your furnace fails, any water in the house could possibly freeze and cause major damage. Make sure the water system is turned off at its supply point and any pipes are cleared to prevent possible freezing and bursting. Further, the toilet as well as the shower and sink traps should be flushed and protected with non-toxic antifreeze.
  • Appliances. You should drain any appliance that may hold water, including the water heater, washing machines, dishwashers or ice makers Also make sure the refrigerator and freezer are properly defrosted and propped open to prevent mold and mildew from growing. Unplug all devices that don’t need to be powered and shut off the valves for any gas appliances.
  • Furnace. Turn down the thermostat to about 55 degrees to help prevent freezing problems unless your home is an area that doesn’t get too cold in the winter. If your heater will be turned off over the winter, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for winterizing the system.
  • Structural repairs. Check the roof and siding to make sure it’s secure and intact. If a shingle or piece were to blow off while the house is empty and go unnoticed, it could cause bigger water or structural damage problems. Examine the exterior around windows, doors and any pipe openings and caulk any areas that could let air, water, bugs or rodents into the house.
  • Outdoor work. Clean up the yard and trim back bushes from the home to make it harder for burglars to hide. Secure all outdoor furniture in a locked garage or shed.
  • Indoor cleaning. Thoroughly clean the house before closing it for winter to help prevent mold, mildew or insect and rodent problems. Remove all perishable items and any boxed food that animals could eat. Move electronics, TVs or computers from plain sight so anyone looking in the windows won’t see them. Consider removing any other small valuables from the premises altogether.
  • Security. Make sure all windows are closed and locked and sliding doors are secured with bars in the track to prevent entry. Check door locks to make sure the latch plates are screwed into the wall studs and not just the door frame. Close the curtains and if any neighbors are permanent residents, consider giving a trustworthy one a spare key to check on the place. Otherwise, arrange to have someone check on the place weekly, or install a remotely monitored security system.

It’s also important to do an insurance check-up with your insurance agency to make sure your home’s policy adequately covers it while it’s closed. Seasonal homes often require a specialized policy that addresses the specific situation of a homeowner who only occupies a residence for part of the year.

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Seeking Shelter During a Tornado

The images from Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama after this week’s devastating storms are the latest evidence of the power of Mother Nature. They’re also reminder that disaster can strike quickly, with little warning.

It’s hard not to worry about the safety of my own family and consider what I would do if my house is in the path of a tornado. But I counter that fear by telling myself I don’t live in tornado alley, so it can’t happen where I live.

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Wrong.

Tornadoes can happen anywhere in the U.S. at any time of the year. According to the National Weather Service, 46 different states experienced a tornado in 2012 with property and crop damage of an estimated $1.6 billion. OK, but the greatest threat for tornadoes is in tornado alley and I don’t live there.

Well, where exactly is tornado alley? It typically includes the plains states from South Dakota down through central Texas. But did you know that as of last year, researchers at CoreLogic Storm Prediction Center have questioned the geography of tornado alley and suggest expanding its footprint. According to their data, only one tornado alley state —Kansas — fell in the top five states for tornado occurrences from 1980 to 2009. The others in the top five were Florida, Iowa, Louisiana and Mississippi. Based on that frequency and the severity of the storms, here’s an article from USA Today that illustrates CoreLogic’s suggested “new tornado alley.”

While the new tornado alley doesn’t encompass my home in Michigan, this graphic from the National Weather Service does. It maps the EF5/F5 tornadoes in this country since 1950. See number eight, that tornado’s path was about fifteen miles from my house. Just ask the resilient people of Moore, OK if a tornado can strike the same place twice.

What’s your plan should a tornado strike quickly? Take some time to become “Red Cross Ready” for disasters. Preparing now could be the difference when you only seconds to respond. For me, I would I go to the basement. While it’s completely below ground, it has a few basement windows to get away from. My tornado plan now includes taking shelter in this small bathroom.

We do have plans to do some work on our basement eventually, so I will definitely make it a priority to have a safe place to hide. Where will you take shelter? I can’t reiterate how important it is for you to know where you will go should disaster strike. Your safety is important to us.

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How to protect that ‘new car feeling’

It’s hard to describe that little rush you feel when you drive away from the dealership in a shiny new car. Maybe you’ve finally purchased the car of your dreams or are proud that you’ve found a safe vehicle to transport your growing family. One thing you shouldn’t have to feel is concern about car insurance.

This is especially true when you’ve purchased a new car – which can depreciate as much as 15-20 percent in the first few years. You’ll rest better knowing you’ve got the right coverage.

Most personal auto policies cover ACV or “actual cash value,” which equals replacement cost minus depreciation. Factors including model year, mileage, previous damage and wear and tear are considered.

You may be eligible to increase your coverage beyond ACV by adding replacement cost coverage for a total loss. This coverage allows you to upgrade your physical damage coverage to replace your auto with a new auto of the same make, model and equipment in the event of a total covered loss. The payment for loss will be reduced by any applicable deductible for the scheduled vehicle. (Specific exclusions – including fire, theft or vandalism – may apply depending on your state or insurance carrier.)

There may be a time limit for adding this coverage after purchasing your car, or there may be restrictions on how many times you can renew the coverage, so contact your independent agent for more information as soon as you buy your car.

Finally, consider adding gap coverage to any auto policy, even if your car isn’t new. In the event of a total loss, most insurance policies pay the depreciated value of your auto, which may be lower than what you owe on it. This would leave you to “cover the gap” and pay the balance of any loans or leases, which could be thousands of dollars. By purchasing gap coverage, the difference between the value of your auto and the unpaid balance on your lease or loan agreement is covered if you experience a total loss.

Making sure you’ve got superior protection for your car will help you keep that “new car feeling” a little longer!

Coverages described here are in the most general terms and are subject to actual policy conditions and exclusions. For actual coverage wording, conditions and exclusions, refer to the policy or contact your independent agent.

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Equifax Hack — How To Protect Your Credit And Identity If Your Data Was Compromised

As widely reported, the credit reporting bureau Equifax was recently hacked. If you have a credit report, you’re likely one of the 143 million Americans whose data may have been exposed, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

According to Equifax, the breach lasted more than a month, from mid-May until July of this year. The hackers gained access to people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and even some driver’s license numbers. They also got credit card numbers for 209,000 people and dispute documents with personal information for 182,000 consumers.

Unfortunately, at least some of your information was likely involved in this breach if you had a credit file with Equifax. I can tell you that my data was compromised. Let’s walk through what you need to do to first determine whether your information was compromised. Then we’ll look at what you can do about it.

The first step is to visit www.equifaxsecurity2017.com to find out if your information was exposed. The site includes a Potential Impact tab, where you can enter your last name and the last six digits of your social security number. (Be sure you’re on a secure computer and internet connection when you’re doing this!) This will tell you whether or not your information was compromised.

Enroll in free credit monitoring even if the site doesn’t say you were affected. You’ll be able to find out when you can enroll at the site linked above. You’ll have from that date until November 21, 2017 to enroll for a free year of credit monitoring.

Here I should add that one year of free credit monitoring is totally inadequate. The Equifax data theft can have life-long consequences for consumers. When a credit card number is stolen, you simply get a new card with a new number. You can’t, however, get a new date of birth or Social Security number.

For this reason, consumers should also enroll in several free credit score services. I use several of them and receive email alerts when changes appear on my credit report. You can find a list of free credit score services here.

Next, check your credit reports now so that you have a baseline. You can get your free annual credit reports from www.annualcrediterport.com. You can also get your reports along with your credit scores directly from FICO.

I write about building wealth and achieving financial freedom.

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

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