Want to lower your car insurance? Here’s how

via Want to lower your car insurance? Here’s how. But there are some ways to lower the costs, clarionledger.com

PDF: Lowering car insurance

It was another sad statistic in which the Magnolia State didn’t fare well: In November, the Insurance Research Council released statistics showing Mississippi’s rate of insured drivers in 2015 was the second-lowest in the nation, with nearly a quarter of its drivers (23.7 percent) failing to carry required auto insurance.

Only in Florida was there a higher percentage of drivers without insurance; Maine had the lowest rate of uninsured drivers, with less than 5 percent of Pine Tree State drivers uninsured.

The statistics (gleaned from reports from the nation’s largest 14 insurers) illustrated a widespread problem nationwide that appeared to be getting better, but in the past few years has started growing again. Uninsured motorists are a major threat to the financial health and well-being of other drivers on the road, with accidents resulting in higher costs for motorists who do comply with the law. Here in Mississippi, drivers have been required by law to have auto insurance since 2001, and failure to have insurance can cost you steep fines.

As to why people don’t comply with the law, there are probably lots of reasons. Some probably just don’t care, or don’t think they’ll get caught. Others may be unaware of the law, but that would be a hard sell in court. Some may find it difficult to pay the cost of the insurance, perhaps weighing the cost against the possible risks of not having insurance and the likelihood they will get caught.

But there are some ways to lower the costs of auto insurance to make sure you comply with the law while keeping costs more affordable. In a recent article, “Nine ways to lower your auto insurance costs,” the Insurance Industry Institute suggests some ways to decrease the cost of car insurance, and to keep it affordable while at the same time keeping you out of legal trouble. Here are a few of their suggestions:

  • Shop around. Many insurance companies offer coverage to Mississippi drivers, and most will give you a price quote online so you can compare. But don’t just take the first offer, or the offer from the largest company (or the one with the cutest mascot or catchiest ad). Get three quotes, and make sure you’re getting quotes on the same levels of coverage. To provide insurance coverage in Mississippi, companies need to be registered with the Mississippi Insurance Department. Check the financial health of insurance companies with rating companies such as A.M. Best(www.ambest.com) and Standard & Poor’s (www.standardandpoors.com/ratings) and consult consumer magazines and websites.
  • Shop for insurance before you buy a new or used car. Since car insurance costs are affected by several factors, including the car’s price, its repair costs, overall safety record and likelihood of theft, the price you pay for premiums may vary widely by the type of vehicle you get. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety(www.iihs.org) has information about current vehicles.
  • Consider higher deductibles. A deductible is your portion of the cost for getting your vehicle repaired or replaced. In general, having a low deductible is a great thing when your vehicle has to be repaired, but it will cost you more in premiums. The Institute notes that increasing your deductible from $200 to $500 could reduce your collision and comprehensive coverage cost by 15 to 30 percent. Going to a $1,000 deductible can save you 40 percent or more. “Before choosing a higher deductible, be sure you have enough money set aside to pay it if you have a claim,” advises the article.
  • Reduce coverage on older cars. Dropping collision and/or comprehensive coverage on older cars is widely recommended because it will likely lower your premium. As a vehicle gets older and its value drops, it becomes less likely that an insurance payout will cover much (if anything) toward the repair or replacement anyway.

Look for discounts. Insurers want your business in a competitive environment, so many companies offer discounts to lure you. Many insurers offer multi-policy discounts for customers who carry multiple lines of insurance, for example homeowner’s and auto insurance. Also, ask your agent about discounts, including for safe driving records, students with good grades, and others. But in the end, be sure you are actually getting a good, competitive rate by comparing prices.

There are several other good suggestions in the article, at http://bit.ly/2CoyHa0.


Insurance: Having home inventory will help in filing claim

via Insurance: Having home inventory will help in filing claim

PDF: Home inventory 1Home inventory 2

It’s a tragic picture that’s repeated much too often: A family finds itself on the street, staring shell-shocked at the smoldering ruins of their home, or trying to pick their way through the wreckage after a tornado rampages through their town. What follows is a seemingly endless and gut-wrenching process that can take months or even years as the family tries to regain some sense of normalcy.

In the aftermath of such a calamity, there are a lot of decisions to make and things to do. Homeowners’ insurance is designed to take the brunt of losses and help you get your life back, but most homeowners are ill-prepared to deal with the inevitable question raised by your insurance adjuster: “Do you have a home inventory?”

Simply put, a home inventory is an itemized list (the more detailed, the better) of your home’s contents. Using photos, videos and supporting documents can speed up the claims process. And technology such as smartphones can make the process much easier, but most of us are just not taking the time and effort to do it.

In 2012, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners announced the results of a study that found that only about four in 10 Americans had even attempted to compile a home inventory. That’s probably because it seems like an overwhelming task for homeowners who have more possessions than ever.

The Insurance Information Institute says there are three good reasons to have a home inventory: It helps you purchase the right amount and type of insurance, makes filing a claim simpler, and helps substantiate losses for tax purposes and when applying for financial assistance.

“I tell my clients to think of it this way,” noted Allstate’s Mark Doiron of Madison, who urges all his clients to do a thorough home inventory. “Close your eyes and think about everything that’s in the room around you. Chances are, you are going to miss something. Now, think about trying to do the same thing when your home has just been destroyed.”

Of course, not having a home inventory doesn’t mean you won’t be able to file a successful claim, but it can make the process go much faster, noted Jason Hargraves, managing editor at insuranceQuotes.com. “The inventory is meant to make the process easier for you and the insurance company,” Hargraves told me. “Having to recall your items from memory after a loss can be stressful and you could easily forget something. Giving your adjuster a complete visual inventory also can speed up the process of a claim and serve as documentation for any potential disputes.”

Hargraves advised consumers not to be intimidated by the size of the task at hand, because the best tool to help is probably within your reach right now: your smartphone, which can take and store video. “Just aim, start recording and walk through your house,” he explained. “No special video equipment is required. Several apps are also available to make the process of using your smartphone for this even easier.”

Both Doiron and Hargraves advised consumers to keep receipts for as many items as possible, to document their value. Doiron added that’s especially necessary for any items valued at more than $1,000, such as jewelry, collections or artwork. Update the inventory often, and once you’ve created the record, it’s important to keep it (and supporting documentation) off-site yet accessible, such as in a safe-deposit box. Digital files can be stored in a cloud-based service such as Dropbox.

For more tips, visit the Insurance Information Institute at https://www.iii.org/article/how-create-home-inventory.

Deer crashes costly and potentially life threatening

Source: Deer crashes costly and potentially life threatening, clarionledger.com

If you drive in Mississippi, it’s likely that you’ve hit a deer, witnessed a deer-vehicle collision or had a near-miss with one of these hoofed highway hazards. A drive down any country lane or highway at night in the fall will reveal whole herds of deer grazing near the roadway, their eyes reflecting in your headlights. If you’re lucky, they will just ignore you and keep on munching; if not, you could find yourself in a potentially life-threatening situation.

Mississippi’s deer population has exploded in recent years, and while that’s great news for hunters or those of us who like deer sausage, it’s not so good if you hit one with your vehicle. The MSU Extension Service estimates there are about 1.75 million whitetail deer in the state, the highest population density in the nation. Therefore, the possibility of hitting a deer is pretty high. Often, deer are hit while they’re trying to cross the road or highway, with little ones trailing closely behind. As a vehicle approaches, they’ll often panic and dart in front of oncoming traffic.

Nationally, the statistics are grim. The Insurance Industry Institute estimates there are about 1.5 million deer-vehicle collisions each year, resulting in about 150 occupant deaths, thousands of injuries and more than a billion dollars in damage. (And it doesn’t usually work out too well for the deer, either.)

“Mississippi averages over 3,000 deer-related crashes per year,” MDOT Executive Director Melinda McGrath said in a news release. “Hitting a deer can be a very costly expense and sometimes it can be a life-threatening accident.”

McGrath notes the increase in vehicle-deer crashes in the fall and winter months is partially a result of higher traffic volumes, higher vehicle speed and shorter daylight hours, coupled with the fact deer move around a lot more during the fall. Insurance claims for deer collisions increase dramatically from October through November each year, note industry experts. According to a 2014 Insurance Industry Institute study, most damage claims (87 percent) submitted to insurance companies are for damage to the front of the vehicle, followed by the driver’s side, passenger side and rear.

 While there is little you can do to avoid a collision, technology may have some answers in the future. For example, Swedish automaker Volvo is testing a Large Animal Detection System that will scan the scene in front of the vehicle and hit the brakes if a deer (or horse, cow, or other large critter) is in the roadway. Similar systems have been available for years in other brands, but they work mainly at night, since they use infrared technology.

So, until your car is smart enough to figure out if you’re about to hit a deer and make you safe, the job is up to you and me. MDOT has these tips for avoiding crashes:

  • Don’t swerve. “Swerving can cause drivers to lose control of their vehicle, causing an even more serious accident,” MDOT notes.
  • Remember that deer are herd animals that live in families, so if you see one, watch for others.
  • Pay attention when driving at dawn and dusk. About 20 percent of crashes occur in early morning, while more than half occur between 5 p.m. and midnight, MDOT advises.
  • Wear your seat belts and drive at a safe, sensible speed.
  • If possible, use high beams at night when no traffic is approaching. This will illuminate deer eyes better.

“No matter if a driver is traveling rural roads or busy highways, the threat of hitting a deer while driving is very real,” McGrath noted. “All motorists should take extra precautions during deer season to ensure their safety while traveling.”

 For tips, visit GoMDOT.com/drivesmartms or follow @MississippiDOT on Twitter.

Flood insurance scammers could be calling

From: Harvey bring out flood insurance scammers, clarionledger.com

Flood insurance is one of the most misunderstood types of insurance, and scammers are taking advantage of that fact to make money off victims of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and other agencies are warning that residents of south Texas and Louisiana have reported getting robocalls saying their flood insurance premiums are past-due, and they need to pay right away to avoid a lapse in coverage.

This type of predatory behavior happens frequently after major floods, but given the size and scope of the unfolding devastation from Harvey, it’s likely many people will be taken in by this scheme. And as the storm moves east and north, it’s likely Mississippians will be getting such calls, too. FEMA warns homeowners not to fall for it. If you are really behind on your flood insurance, an automated phone call in the middle of the disaster won’t be your first notification.

“Insurance companies and agents selling flood insurance policies do not use this process to communicate with customers about their flood insurance policies,” noted a FEMA blog post. “In fact, if your payment is past due, your insurance company will send you several pieces of mail 90, 60, and 30 days before the policy expires.”

 Floods are so costly that only the federal government covers it. The National Flood Insurance Program began in 1968 to address the rising costs of floods. But despite nearly 50 years of the program, there is a lot of misinformation out there. According to the Insurance Information Institute, more than 40 percent of homeowners mistakenly think their standard homeowner’s policy covers rising water.

The institute notes that only about 12 percent of homeowners have flood insurance today, the lowest number since 2010, and down 14 percent from 2015. “Furthermore,” notes the organization, “the number of people buying NFIP policies nationwide has plunged by 549,000 — almost 10 percent —since 2009, even as coastal development surges and sea levels rise.”

 Many consumers might not realize they need flood insurance, as FEMA reports that more than 20 percent of claims come from outside areas considered to be at high risk for flooding. To find out about flood insurance, contact your insurance agent.

According to data on FEMA’s website, the average U.S. flood insurance claim is about $43,000, with the average homeowner paying $700 annually for premiums. (Some are much higher, depending on the area in which you live and the risk.) To get an idea of the history of flood events in your county, you can use an interactive map at https://www.fema.gov/data-visualization-floods-data-visualization.

And if you get a call informing you that your flood insurance policy has lapsed and you need to pay immediately, FEMA advises you hang up the phone. Don’t press 1 or obey other instructions. Once you’ve done that, contact your insurance agent to check the status of your policy (if you have one), or call (800) 638-6620 if your policy is through NFIP Direct.

To find out more about flood insurance, visit https://www.fema.gov/national-flood-insurance-program.

Does it cost more to insure a red car?

via Moak: Does it cost more to insure a red car?, clarionledger.com.

Bankrate.com sends out a lot of news releases. Almost daily, the website puts out news related to the financial industry, including many about insurance. One factoid sent on Monday caught my eye with this headline: “44 percent of Americans incorrectly thinkdriving a red car affects your insurance payments.” Included was a link to a study conducted by Princeton Research.

“Really?” I thought to myself. “How could anybody think the color of your car has anything whatsoever to do with your insurance rates?” But it’s true; ask around, and a significant percentage of people think red cars cost more to insure than others. If this research is accurate, nearly half of Americans believe this, and younger drivers (18-24) are even more prone to believe it. So, for some advice, I asked my friend (and insurance agent) Mark Doiron of Allstate.

“The auto insurance premium rating on a vehicle is based on the year, make, model and price of car, as well as limits of personal liability, deductibles and safety features such as air bags and anti-lock brakes,” he noted. “Color of the vehicle doesn’t affect the vehicle rating.” He added that other factors can also influence the rate, including driving experience, tickets, accidents, the driver’s age, distance to and from work and school, and whether the vehicle is being driven for business. Various discounts can also come into play, he added, but must be earned.

The origin of the “red-costs-more” myth is murky, but it can be reasonably inferred that, since red is often the color of iconic sports cars, and red is associated with risk-taking, that conclusion might make sense if you didn’t know the facts.

Now, of course that bright red Ferrari driven by Tom Selleck in Magnum P.I. would cost more to insure; not because of its color, but because its cost. And people who drive snazzy red sports cars might get tickets slightly more often, simply because more of those vehicles are likely to be red in the first place, and being behind the wheel of that vehicle might make you take more chances on the road. (Actually, an Australian studyfound that black vehicles are more likely to be in a daytime crash than other colors; the study suggested this had a lot to do with the visibility of the vehicles.)

The Bankrate.com study contained some more insurance-related myths. Here are a few:

  • Car insurance doesn’t cover you if a crash is your fault. If you have only liability insurance, you would only be covered for damage caused to the health or property of others. But collision coverage will kick in in an accident, regardless of who’s at fault. This distinction causes a lot of confusion among the insurance-buying public; it’s a good idea to talk to your agent to make sure you understand what’s being covered and what’s not.
  • Auto insurance pays for mechanical repairs. Younger consumers, especially, were more prone to believe this. But unless those repairs are the result of a covered accident, you’re on your own if you need to get a tuneup or to replace your brakes.
  • Car insurance covers belongings stolen from your car. This is one of the more pervasive myths, but actually, your homeowners’ or renters’ policy would be the one to pay if you’re the victim of a car burglary.

For the complete list of myths, visit http://www.insurancequotes.com/auto/common-car-insurance-myths-92115.

Should you buy earthquake insurance?

via Should you buy earthquake insurance? on Clarionledger.com

PDF: Should you purchase earthquake insurance

It was likely a cool, quiet night on Dec. 16, 1811. Residents sleeping soundly in their beds throughout the Mississippi River basin were awakened by a sudden, sustained jolt. They didn’t know it at the time, but a giant crack in the earth miles below their beds had suddenly roared back to life after lying dormant for centuries.

As the New Madrid fault shifted over the next few months, the resulting earthquakes and aftershocks sent tsunamis roaring up and down the Mississippi River, split the earth in many places and changed the landscape forever. The reported loss of life was minimal, thanks to the sparse population at the time. But it was a reminder of nature’s power and man’s helplessness in the face of it.

If the same series of earthquakes were to happen today, however, the results would be much different. The area is now heavily populated, with cities and towns having been built throughout the lower Mississippi region. Cities like St. Louis and Memphis would likely be hit hard. And the potential loss of life could dwarf any natural disaster the nation has ever faced.

Here in Mississippi, experts say, we could expect significant damage — even from a more modest quake. Some estimates have placed the potential damage in Mississippi at $9.5 billion from an earthquake of 7.7 magnitude, resulting in moderate-to-total damage to more than 45,000 buildings.

Some residents of central Mississippi got a couple of reminders over the past couple of months, as three small earthquakes jolted residents in Madison County. These were minor quakes that would hardly merit attention in quake-prone areas such as the West Coast, but they obviously got a lot of people thinking about earthquake insurance; many agents’ phones were ringing the next morning.

Most homeowner’s insurance policies don’t cover movement of the earth. Earthquake insurance is an add-on, or endorsement, to a standard homeowner’s policy. It’s different from flood insurance, which is a policy purchased separately through a program called the National Flood Insurance Program. (Statistically, Mississippians are more likely to be affected by floods than any other disaster, so it’s a good idea to consider flood coverage.)

But with the likelihood of an earthquake affecting Mississippians rising with the passage of time, Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney urges homeowners to consider earthquake insurance as part of their total coverage.

“The more prepared you are helps save lives and property,” he said. “Being prepared can help prevent unpleasant insurance surprises should disaster strike, and one of the first steps of preparedness is to talk to your agent for a policy review to make sure you have the proper coverage.”

Here are a few things to think about as you speak with your agent:

Consider the potential damage. If your home is made of brick, wood-frame with a crawl space or has more than one story, damage from a quake is more likely.

Plan ahead. Many companies won’t sell new earthquake insurance policies for 30-60 days after a quake because of the expectation of aftershocks.

Read the fine print. Earthquake policies typically don’t cover damage to your lot or land, such as sinkholes, or damage to vehicles or external damage caused by water, and some policies don’t cover replacement of masonry veneers such as brick or stucco.

Decide how much coverage you need. Your agent can walk you through the coverage options for the structure and contents. The cost will vary depending on a number of factors, and there are limits of coverage on most policies. Be sure you have enough coverage not only to reimburse the mortgage lender, but also to make repairs.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners has produced a brochure called A Consumers’ Guide to Earthquake Insurance, located at http://bit.ly/1HHk3FU. It has a lot of great advice to help you think through your options.

“Bogus association” busted by feds

In all the chaos surrounding health insurance these days, scammers are looking to take advantage. Case in point: a group of marketers who allegedly tricked consumers into buying phony health insurance are permanently banned from selling healthcare-related products under a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, the agency announced in a news release Tuesday.

The company, operating as Independent Association of Businesses (IAB) — which the FTC labels a “bogus association” — is alleged to have preyed on consumers looking for health insurance. According to the FTC, consumers would sign up for what they thought was solid health insurance, but instead found they had signed up for an IAB “membership”.

Consumers allegedly paid initial fees ranging from $50 to several hundred dollars, and then, monthly fees ranging from $40 to $1,000. The health insurance product was said to be sketchy, at best, limiting doctor and hospital visits with “broad exclusions and limitations.” It wasn’t disclosed how many consumers were victimized.

This ends a saga that began back in 2012, when the company was cited by the feds for violating the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule. Now, the owners will be permanently banned from selling healthcare-related products. The ill-gotten gains from the operation will have to be returned to settle about $2 million of the $125 million penalty. The plunder included a Lamborghini, two Mercedes, a Porsche and an MG Roadster, as well as $562,000 put into retirement accounts. Of course, that will be a drop in the proverbial bucket, but it does send a message.

IAB has been on the radar of many consumer watchdogs around the nation in the past couple of years, and there are other scams out there right now. So, how do you know what’s a scam and what’s not? The FTC has these tips and others at http://1.usa.gov/1se1Bju:

  • We’ll help you…for a fee. If someone offers to help you find insurance on the Healthcare Marketplace for a fee, look out. Legitimate employees of the Marketplace will not charge you anything.
  • The Medicare scare. Scammers will try to convince you that you need a new Medicare card, or you’ll lose your coverage. Don’t believe it. Call 1-800-MEDICARE if you’re concerned about the status of your coverage.
  • This is insurance. Medical discount plans aren’t insurance, and don’t believe their claims to be providing insurance. Some of these are actually just trying to get your personal information to use for identity theft.
  • I’m from the government. If someone says they’re from the government, then asks for your personal information (such as your Social Security Number) don’t give it. Government agencies aren’t going to call you and ask for that information.