Protect Your College Student’s Possessions

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Do you have a young adult attending college?

College can be a fun time for the student but a stressful one for the parent. Reduce some of the stress by planning ahead to make sure your college student has appropriate insurance protection while away at school.

Insurance companies cover full-time students under age 25 in various ways. If you have any questions at all you'll want to consult with us about your specific policy and situation.

There are three basic ways a student may have coverage:

  1. As a percentage of the personal property limit on the parents' homeowner policy. Many insurance companies consider campus housing a secondary residence for the student and may cover your student's possessions as a percentage of the personal property limit on your homeowner policy – personal property means items you can remove from your home or premises. For example, if you have $75,000 in personal property coverage, your student may have 10 percent of that, or up to $7,500, in coverage for belongings taken to school. Liability coverage – which insures legal liability for bodily injury or property damage to others – may not be included.
  2. As part of the personal property limit included in the parents' homeowner policy. Some insurance companies offer broader coverage through their homeowner policies. These companies allow the parents' personal property limit to include the student's belongings and liability without defining a percentage. For example, if you have $75,000 in personal property coverage on your homeowner policy, this includes items you have in your home as well as those that your student takes to school, and liability coverage is automatically included.
  3. Under a separate renter's insurance policy in the student's name. Some insurance companies contend that being away at school for nine months of the year is long enough to require a separate renter's policy to cover belongings and liability. Liability insurance is usually included in a renter's policy. Keep in mind that a renter's policy in the student's name may be the more expensive option. However, renter's insurance does not cost much to being with. In most situations, each roommate will need a separate insurance policy.

As your child is away at school, remember to ask your independent insurance agent to review your policy if need be so that you and your student can make the transition to college as stress-free as possible.

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.

Source: The Cincinnati Insurance Companies blog

Summer Party Safety

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Safety Makes Your Summer Party Memorable—In the Right Way

Summer is truly party time in America between friends and family. But homeowners should be aware of the risks associated with these get-togethers. Before reviewing safety tips, let's look at three common risks for which a homeowner might need insurance coverage:

Liquor liability: Most homeowners know that they bear some responsibility if a party guest becomes impaired after consuming alcoholic drinks at the homeowner's house, and then drives, causing a car accident. If the party-giver is sued, however, his/her homeowners and automobile insurance policies may not provide liability coverage. (Keep in mind that the legal defense against a claim is another significant expense for anyone who is sued in such a circumstance.)

Changes to homeowners insurance standard contracts over a decade ago may limit the coverage available under a homeowners policy. Homeowners might be well served to check their homeowners and auto insurance policies (contacting their agent, if necessary) to determine what protection they may have.

Personal accidents on the homeowner's property: A homeowners policy and an excess liability policy (dubbed an "umbrella" policy) provide broad protection for accidents on the party host's property. For instance, if a guest tumbles down the steps of an outdoor deck or a child is burned by the outdoor grill, the homeowners policy would pay medical costs for the guest (and, should a lawsuit follow, likely would pay the costs of defending against the lawsuit and any subsequent damages awarded in the case).

No one, of course, wants to see such events occur, but accidents can and do happen. Homeowners coverage is designed to "make whole" a homeowner who is facing a liability claim due to an accident on his or her property.

Property damage liability: When guests drive to your party and park their cars at your home, the homeowner assumes risk. The possibilities of property damage range from a simple dent from a stray baseball, to a young driver releasing the parking brake and rolling the car into a tree. A different example of property damage is the theft of a guest's purse/wallet or valuable articles from the party-giver's property.

Homeowners coverage pays for damage to another person's property, if the homeowner is held liable. A homeowner's negligence and omissions (i.e., failing to take steps that might have prevented an incident) are reasons that he or she can be found liable for damage to another person's property.

To prevent accidents, consider some sensible safety precautions:

Grilling

Some 5,000 people are injured by charcoal, wood-burning and propane grill fires each year, according to the U.S. Fire Administration of the Federal Emergency Management Administration. Good safety practices include:

  • Before using a propane gas grill, check the connection between the tank and the fuel line. Make sure the Venturi tubes (where the air and gas mix) are not blocked, and check hoses for cracks or damage.
  • Never use a propane barbecue grill on a balcony, terrace or roof. And never grill/barbecue in enclosed areas, as deadly carbon monoxide can be produced.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher or a source of water (a garden hose or four-gallon pail of water) near an outdoor grill or barbecue.
  • While barbecuing, don't wear loose clothing. Use long-handled barbecue tools and/or mitts that are flame resistant.
  • Don't squirt flammable liquids onto an open flame.
  • Don't leave a grill unattended.
  • Keep matches and lighters away from children. Supervise children around outdoor grills, which are objects of curiosity.
  • If using a charcoal or wood fire, dispose of hot coals properly by soaking them with water, then stirring to ensure that fire is extinguished. Never place them in plastic, paper or wooden containers.
  • Keep alcoholic beverages away from the grill since they are flammable.

Drinking
Liquids containing alcohol cause the human body to lose more fluid, say health educators. So summertime drinking in the sun or heat can present hazards to health, including impaired judgment, balance and coordination. Consider these safety tips if serving:

  • Use designated drivers.
  • Make non-alcoholic beverages as available as alcoholic drinks.
  • Stop serving alcohol well before the party ends.
  • If children are attending the event, remember that alcohol may seem more available to them at a party.

Dining Outdoors
Food-borne illnesses favor the hot conditions found at outdoor events where food is not refrigerated or may be undercooked. The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers food safety tips:

  • Cook foods thoroughly to safe minimum internal temperatures.
  • Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Hot foods should be heated and maintained at 140 °F or warmer. Cold foods should be held at 40 °F or colder. Maintain cold by placing food dishes in bowls of ice or in a cooler.
  • Live by the "two-hour rule": Foods should not sit at room temperature for more than two hours.

Everyone likes a great summer party, especially when they're safe. As always, if you have questions or desire more information about homeowners insurance and umbrella coverage simply contact us... you local independent insurance agent.

Source: The Cincinnati Insurance Companies blog

Refresher on Water Sport and Boating Safety

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Stay safe while enjoying the water this summer.

As we enter the start of summer, people will spend more time on the water skiing, boating and riding personal watercraft.

But with more people on the water comes more potential for injuries. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, nearly 80 percent of all recreational boating injuries occur from May to September.

The personal and economic costs of boating injuries are high ̶-in 2013, the Coast Guard counted more than 4,000 accidents involving 560 deaths, 2,620 injuries and nearly $40 million in property damage.

According to the Boats U.S. trade association, 36 percent of boating fatalities involved an accident where someone went overboard, and 18 percent resulted from a collision ̶ usually with a pier or another boat.

What are the five primary contributing factors in recreational boating accidents? Operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, excessive speed and defective machinery.

Here are some boating safety tips to prevent you from being injured while on the water this summer:

  • Wear a life jacket – In 2013, the Coast Guard reported 77 percent of boating deaths were caused by drowning, and a shocking 84 percent of those victims were not wearing life jackets. Be sure to wear Coast Guard-approved life jackets. Blow-up mattresses, water wings, foam "noodles" or inner tubes are not a substitute for life jackets.
  • Avoid alcohol – Whether boating, water-skiing or riding personal watercraft, alcohol greatly increases the risks of an accident, regardless of whether the operator or passengers are drinking. Alcohol influences balance, coordination and judgment, and its effects are magnified by the summer sun and heat.According to the Coast Guard, where the primary accident cause is known, alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in nearly 16 percent of all fatal boating accidents. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates alcohol use may be involved in nearly 70 percent of deaths associated with water recreation.
  • Use the buddy system if swimming – Make sure someone knows where you are at all times and know the water terrain. Scan swimming areas for drop-offs, and be aware of hidden obstacles in the water.
  • Watch for rip tides – Rip tides can occur along any coastline. Signs of a rip tide include discolored or foamy water that moves in a narrow channel away from the shore. If you find yourself caught in a rip tide, remember to swim parallel to shore until you're outside the current, when you can swim back in
  • Be Aware of Dehydration – Perhaps the most unrecognized danger to water skiers and personal watercraft riders is dehydration. This is especially common when riding on salt water. Water skiing and riding personal watercraft can be a vigorous physical activity, and it is possible to lose a great deal of water without realizing it. When a person becomes dehydrated, reaction time and awareness are impaired.
  • Don't Let Cool Summer Winds Fool You – While Frank Sinatra sang glowingly about the "Summer Wind," there is a hidden danger. Cooling winds on the water can convince water skiers, personal watercraft riders or boaters that they are not receiving much direct sunlight. This is false, and many people sustain skin damage from sunburns.

Follow precautions so you can avoid the emergency room and spend more time outside enjoying the water this summer.

Sources
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "Water-Related Injuries" (2014)

U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of the United States Coast Guard 2013 Recreational Boating Statistics Report

Time to Inspect Your Deck

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There are roughly 40 million wood decks in use across the U.S., most of them between 10 and 15 years old, according to the North American Deck and Railing Association (NADRA). While decks do not collapse every day, when they do, people can be injured or killed. You can help protect family and visitors to your home or business by keeping deck safety in mind.

Permits and Licenses

  • As with any building, renovation or addition, be sure the deck has the required planning and building department approvals, including a building permit. Check with your local building department if you don't have copies of these documents.
  • Engage only licensed tradespeople, and check their license with your state before signing a contract or paying anyone. Furthermore, ensure that they have general liability insurance and adequate coverage limits. Ask for certificate of insurance to verify that the contractor is insured.
  • Check your deck regularly for wear and tear or more serious deterioration. Have an inspection done by a professional if you are unsure what to look for or if you think there are any problems.

Before you entertain on a deck, think about the reasonable number of people that the structure can support. The deck may not have been designed to accommodate large groups of people and lively activities, such as dancing, which can impose a significant additional load.

Maintenance Checks

All the components that make up our homes and other buildings – including decks – require routine, regular maintenance to keep them in good repair.

In promoting May as Deck Safety Month, NADRA urges consumers to take time to Check Your Deck® for safety. NADRA offers a 10-point Deck Safety Checklist you can download to check your deck for conditions that could cause injuries from falls, fires, collapses, electrical shock and downed limbs from nearby trees. There is also a more technical Deck Evaluation Checklist to assist builders and inspectors.

As summer entertaining season heats up, be sure to Check Your Deck for safety.

Additional Resources

Deck Safety Video - Courtesy of YouTube

It's estimated that about half of the decks in the U.S. are unsafe to some degree and need repair, or need to be replaced altogether. This video shares info about how to build and maintain a safe, strong deck.

Building A Better Summer Camp Experience

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Careful planning can help keep summer camp fun and safe.

Spring is a busy season for parents reserving spots for their children in summer camps and activities, and many health, tennis, racquet and athletic clubs are starting to ramp up for summer.

If you are a club owner, you are probably finalizing the types of camps you will offer. Once you decide among sports, arts and crafts, adventure or other activities and determine the age groups you will serve, you can move on to other details. Here are some areas of primary concern:

Hiring/Leadership

Putting the right person in position to lead your camp programs is vital. You may not be around every minute of every camp day, and you want someone in charge who shares your vision and understands the mission of your organization.

The right leader can:

  • manage staff expectations
  • keep everyone organized and on task
  • react to a quickly changing environment
  • keep safety a top priority
  • communicate well

Get your leadership team in place early, and then involve them in hiring and training any remaining staff.

Training

Training for camp leaders and staff should cover:

  • emergency medical response – defibrillator (AED), cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first aid
  • your established camp policies and protocols
  • swim safety, including lifeguard training
  • emergency weather training
  • discipline policies
  • abuse awareness and protocols
  • communication plans and other safety protocols for field trips and activities

Partnering with recognized community organizations – such as the Red Cross for lifeguard or CPR training, child advocacy groups, local hospitals or local police, fire and EMS services – can increase the credibility and effectiveness of your training. Make sure your staff members – especially younger members – gain some basic understanding of childhood development and behavior.

Activities

Pools – Define expectations and responsibilities for your camp staff and lifeguards to assure smooth swim times. Be clear if camp staff need to remain in the pool area to provide extra supervision while lifeguards are in charge.

Field Trips – A cornerstone of most summer camp programs, field trips also present some of the biggest safety challenges. Unfamiliar locations with unknown hazards – along with the added element of contact with the public – call for heightened awareness and protocols. Increase staffing or add volunteers to reduce the ratio of children to adults. Take frequent head counts and position staff members where they are most needed. Protocols should prevent a sole staff member or volunteer from being alone with children.

Transportation – Whether you use parent volunteer drivers, own or lease vans or buses or contract a third-party bus company, have measures in place to assure safety.. When using a bus company, your contract should hold the company liable for any injury that occurs while campers are on the bus. For in-house transportation, hire trained drivers and check their driving credentials.

Allergies – As you prepare for summer camp thoroughly review participant applications for allergies, medical conditions or personal issues. Involve staff in action planning and in sit-down meetings with parents and guardians to assure each child has a safe and fun summer.

Equipment – Inspect the play set and other equipment, picnic tables and anything that may have been in storage since last summer to make sure everything is in good working order.

Providing a wonderful camp experience for the children you serve can be a rewarding experience for you and your staff, create memories for the youth and help cement the families as dedicated, satisfied members of your club. Planning for the expected – and the unexpected – can help everyone involved confidently focus on the fun!

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.

The Insurance Side of House Flipping

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Remember insurance needs when flipping a house.

It's now a popular reality TV show scenario: A young, ambitious couple purchases a foreclosed property and flips it for a huge profit. This quick cash flow seems too good to be true... and certainly can be.

The thrill of flipping a home often overshadows the harsh reality that profitable house-flipping opportunities are few and far between. Potential house flippers should consider some insurance coverage issues before making a commitment:

  • Contemplate the cost of insurance when purchasing a home. If the house does not sell within a few months, insurance is a continuing expense that needs to be included in your budget.
  • Make sure you do your research when selecting an insurance company and policy. Your local independent agent can help you. Some insurance policies provide additional coverages you may need. Consider choosing one that provides limited coverage for water damage and fungi, wet or dry rot or bacteria. These issues often go unnoticed until after a remodeling project begins.
  • Discuss with your agent the need to insure the home for its reconstruction cost. Just because you purchased a home for a certain price does not mean that the home can be replaced for that amount. There can be a huge discrepancy between market and replacement cost values. Your agent can also recommend builders' risk coverage for the remodeling cost of the project.
  • Consider the cost of building materials going into the refurbished home. Your insurance agent can add an installation floater – coverage for movable property – to your policy to insure construction materials in transit and at the jobsite.
  • Allow plenty of time to purchase insurance rather than waiting until the last minute. Contact your agent and consider an insurance company that will provide coverage for a house undergoing renovation. Some companies may consider this a vacant home and deny or limit coverage for vandalism, theft or other perils.
  • Before you allow contractors to start work on your investment, first confirm that they are insured. The safest bet is to request a copy of each contractor's general liability policy declarations page. Make sure that the policy has at least a $1 million per occurrence and general aggregate limit.

By keeping these insurance needs in mind, you will better position yourself to reap in the benefits and rewards of house flipping, protecting your investment and personal assets at the same time.

Planning a Hotel or Motel Stay? Think About Fire Safety

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Count the doors between your room and the exit.

An estimated 3,900 hotel and motel fires are reported each year in the United States. Use these tips to ensure that you stay safe during your vacation or business overnight.

Plan Ahead

  • Choose a hotel or motel that is protected by both smoke alarms and a fire sprinkler system. The U.S. Fire Administration provides a master list you can search to find hotels and motels that adhere to life safety requirements.
  • Pack a flashlight and keep it on your nightstand in case you need to escape in the dark.

Familiarize Yourself

  • Read the fire evacuation plan carefully. If one is not posted in your room, request one from the front desk.
  • Locate the two exits nearest your room and fire alarms on your floor.
  • Count the number of doors between your room and the exits to assist you in the event of an emergency evacuation.

Escape Safely

  • If the fire is in your room, get out quickly. Close the door, sound the alarm and notify the front desk.
  • If the fire is not in your room, touch the door with the back of your hand to see if it is safe to leave.
    • If your room door is hot, do not open it. Instead, seal the door with wet towels or sheets. Turn off the fan, heater and air conditioner. Call the fire department to give your location.
    • If the door is cool, open it slowly. Be ready to close it quickly if there are flames on the other side. Take your room key with you in case fire blocks your escape and you need to re-enter your room.
  • Stay low by crawling on the ground, where the smoke is the least dense, to the nearest exit.
  • Always use a stairwell, never an elevator.

Source: U.S. Fire Administration website. Download the complete USFA Hotel Fire Safety handbook.

Happy Mother’s Day! The History of Mother’s Day.

Mother's Day

Each of our history's begin with mom. It's certainly a great day to express our thoughts and feelings about the most important woman in our lives. But what's the origin of the celebration?

Mother's Day is celebrated in many countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Turkey, Australia, Mexico, Canada, China, Japan and Belgium. The day is used by children and husbands to honor mothers and grandmothers for all that they do and have done in the lives of their children.

Some historians claim that Mother's Day originates from ancient spring festivals dedicated to maternal goddesses. Greeks honored Rhea, wife of Cronus and mother of the gods and goddesses of Greek mythology. Ancient Romans had a spring festival dedicated to Cybele, also a mother goddess. Called Hilaria, this celebration lasted for three days and included parades, games and masquerades.

A more modern version of Mother's Day began in the 1600s in England. "Mothering Sunday" was celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent. Small gifts were given, and a special dessert called a simnel cake was served.

In the United States, Mother's Day was first suggested in 1872 by Julia Ward Howe (famous for writing the words to the "Battle Hymn of the Republic"). But it was a woman who was never a mother herself who led the campaign for national recognition of Mother's Day.

Anna Jarvis held a ceremony in 1907 in Grafton, West Virginia, to honor her mother, who had died two years earlier. Jarvis' mother had tried to establish Mother's Friendship Days as a way of dealing with the aftermath of the Civil War. Anna Jarvis began a campaign to create a national holiday honoring mothers. She and her supporters wrote to ministers, businessmen and politicians, and they were successful in their efforts.

In 1910, West Virginia became the first state to recognize the new holiday, and the nation followed in 1914 when President Wilson declared the second Sunday in May to be Mother's Day. Jarvis used white carnations as a symbol for mothers, because carnations represented sweetness, purity and the endurance of a mother's love. (Today, white carnations represent a mother who has passed, while red carnations represent a living mother.)

Unfortunately, over time Jarvis became bitter about the commercialization of the holiday. She filed a lawsuit to stop a 1923 Mother's Day event and was even arrested for disturbing the peace at a mother's convention where white carnations were being sold. Jarvis never married and never had children. She died in 1948.

Mother's Day continues to be a very commercial holiday in the United States but for good reason. Flowers, candy and cards are some of the typical gifts of expression, and phone traffic is especially high on the second Sunday in May as millions upon millions call their mom and send them their love.

My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it. - Mark Twain (1835 - 1910)

Source: howstuffworks.com

Getting the Most Out of Your HVAC System This Summer

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April showers bring May flowers... and often June, July and August heat waves. If you'd like to enjoy your HVAC cooling system to the fullest this summer without breaking the bank, spring is the time to take a few simple steps to prepare.

First Things First

Why not do a test run of your cooling system right now? This way, you can see how well it's working and troubleshoot any issues before the thermometer soars way out of sight. Besides safeguarding your family comfort, you'll be able to quickly get professional help for problems that are beyond your DIY scope. Rule of thumb: HVAC technicians are almost invariably easier to get hold of during the off-peak season – and their rates may reflect this.

Next, go outside and inspect the exterior unit for debris, dead leaves and plant growth that have the potential to block the airflow.

Regular Maintenance

Make sure you check your HVAC filter regularly. During heavy summer use, the filter will likely need to be washed or replaced about once a month (possibly more if you live in an especially dusty area or have house pets). While you're at it, dust the grates as well. Clean the evaporator coils annually, straightening any bent ones.

Schedule your annual HVAC tune-up if you are due for one. A system that is over 10 years old may need some additional maintenance so you want to make sure you've got the time to get it all tuned up before you'll be depending on it.

Save Electricity ... and Cash

Use your HVAC system's programmable thermostat to schedule operation for times when you are at home. Efficient use of this handy device can save you close to $200 per year on your utility bills. When your family's schedule changes, reassess your needs and adjust the programmable thermostat if appropriate.

For further savings, set the thermostat a few degrees higher than you normally would and use a low-energy-consumption fan to help circulate the cool air. Ceiling fans should be switched to turn in the correct direction (counter-clockwise); this directs hot air upward and away from the center of the room.

Keep Cool Air In, Hot Air Out

Prevent leakage of precious cool air by sealing around the HVAC unit and your ducts' seams and connections. Then wrap the ducts in insulation. If the ducts pass through an attic space, consider insulating that too. Sealing and insulation require a certain amount of effort but will be well worthwhile in energy efficiency both summer and winter.

It's recommended to seal around windows, doors and baseboards also or even to replace windows if necessary.

Close your windows and drapes during the day to exclude the hot air; then open them at night to ventilate your home. You may wish to install interior or exterior blinds, shutters, shades or awnings, particularly on south- or west-facing windows. Additional energy effective window treatments such as reflective films and insulated panels are available as well.

Reduce the heat that is generated inside your home by using your electric clothes dryer during cooler hours and cooking at off-peak times, microwaving or barbecuing outdoors.

Prepare Your Yard for the Hot Weather

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Summer is almost here... though it may seem a little hard to believe after the cold winter! Take the time to get your yard in shape so you'll be ready for the coming hot weather.

Prepare Your Soil

Begin with a soil test. The quality of soil tends to change over the years; normally the earth becomes increasingly acid the more it is planted. Your test results will enable you to make informed decisions about how and what to fertilize and plant.

Spring is the best time to fertilize. You will be replacing nutrients in the earth that were depleted by harsh winter weather and preparing your lawn and garden for healthy, abundant growth. Don't wait until the summer months, as fertilizer can actually harm green growth during periods of intense heat.

Aeration is an additional method of soil preparation. This mechanical process loosens soil which has become compacted with the pressure of winter snow, so that water and fertilizer will be able to penetrate optimally.

Prepare Your Lawn

Sowing or turfing your lawn works best in the autumn. However, if you can't wait, take care of this task ASAP to give the grass a head start before the summer heat. Prepare the ground first by removing weeds, tilling and mixing in sand if your soil has high clay content.

Whether your lawn is newly planted or well established, it is important to water it deeply so that the moisture will reach right down to the grass's roots. Early evening is the ideal time.

Watering

If you're planning a vegetable garden, decide how committed you feel to watering. Space-saving container and vertical gardens are very popular this year; however, they do require more frequent irrigation than the traditional method. This is a particular concern in areas where local conservation ordinances limit watering.

To reduce the amount of time and water you'll need to keep your plants moist and healthy, mulching is a very viable option. Cover the base of plants with organic material such as grass clippings or shredded leaves to help keep moisture in the soil.

Care for Your Yard

Put up a fence to protect your yard from rambunctious neighborhood pets and kids, especially during the dog days of summer, when your lawn will be especially vulnerable to damage. Check out Richmond fencing materials to plan an attractive system that offers privacy and security.

To avoid trampling of your lawn or garden by your own family and guest, you might want to build a path which will direct traffic off of green areas. Tiling or graveling a dedicated outdoor dining area will have the additional advantage that you won't have to move your picnic table or other lawn furniture each time you want to cut the grass.

And speaking of cutting the grass, spring is the time to check your lawn mower to see if it will need a tune-up after its winter hibernation. If your lawn is large, you might want to look into hiring a lawn care service.

Be Sure to Super Protect Your Super IDs

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Here's a little quiz. Where is your Social Security card right now? What about your passport? Your birth certificate?

Choose one:

  1. In the safe deposit box at my bank or in a locked file cabinet or fire-rated document chest at home
  2. I'm not sure, but they must be around here somewhere
  3. In my purse, wallet or briefcase

If you answered anything but Option 1, imagine your favorite television game show buzzer. Try again!

Passports, birth certificates and Social Security cards are "SUPER IDs." With these items in hand, a criminal can easily create bogus accounts in your name or hijack legitimate accounts you own. In fact, with these items, criminals can assume your identity and do just about anything they want, costing you money, reputation and your precious time to straighten everything out.

The best way to thwart criminals is to leave at home any documents you don't immediately need. Lock them in a file cabinet, a home safe or a safe deposit box at a bank. Sure, when applying for a new job or in some other situation where you need proof of citizenship, you'll need to carry primary identification with you. But lock these documents up when you get home.

Don't make it easy for criminals. A purse or briefcase is a prime target.

Along those same lines, don't leave purses, briefcases or backpacks unattended or visible in your car.

It is also a good idea to make photocopies, front and back, of all ID cards, credit cards and other items that you may carry in your purse or wallet. This information will be very helpful in the event the card is misplaced or stolen.

Smart Parents Monitor Smartphone & Tablet Gifts

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Did you get your kids a smartphone or tablet this holiday season? With schools using technology in classes and kids being exposed to these devices at an early age, the question is often a matter of when, not if. Parents may have questions and concerns about how to keep kids safe online. Here are some tips and resources that can help.

Set The Rules
The first thing you can do to help protect your children online is to set ground rules:

  • Outline how much time during the day they can spend on the device
  • Establish who your children can call
  • Discuss how to behave respectfully online

Many cell phone providers offer parental controls and location services to help you manage usage times and limit who your child can place calls to and receive calls from.

You may also want to consider having your child sign a cell phone contract with you.

Social Networking Safety
With devices come apps, and many social networking apps involve setting up a profile and sharing information around common interests or activities. These apps can be fun and addicting, but if you aren't familiar with them yourself, they can be intimidating. Check out the sites and services your child uses.

Discuss what is and is not appropriate to post, so that your child doesn't share more information online than you are comfortable with. The following tips from the National Crime Prevention Council can help your child think before he or she posts:

  • Should I share this? Will the information I share put me or someone else in danger?
  • Do people really need to know where I am and who I am with? Is it a good idea to let everyone know my exact location?
  • Am I selecting online friends that I can trust? It's not just about what I post, but how others may use that content.
  • Is the information I am sharing transparent? Before I share information to the public, does my post give out too much personal information?

Prevent Cyber Bullying
Cyber bullying involves threats or harassment that happens online. This can be words or pictures that are posted with the intention of hurting someone's reputation or feelings. The OnGuardOnline website sponsored by the Federal Trade Commission gives tips to recognize and prevent cyber bullying and provides additional resources for parents. The Cyberbullying Research Center also provides guidelines for parents.

Early Preparation for a Winter Blizzard

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It goes without saying that one area's definition of a blizzard is not necessarily another area's definition. Yet all things being equal - when it's best to stay home then it's best to be prepared.

Long-range weather predictions for 2014-2015 suggest another cold winter is on its way across much of the U.S. Severe winter weather ̶ including blizzards ̶-is a reality. So how does one prepare for a blizzard?

The first inclination for many of us is to drive to the closest grocery store and stock up on the essentials to help carry us through the upcoming event! While adequate provisions are an important consideration, there are a number of steps you can take to protect yourself and your family:

  • Pay close attention to weather warnings and alerts so you know the storm's timeline.
  • Charge electronic devices. Now is the time to adequately charge your cell phone, laptop
  • or other electronic devices. Once charged, try not to use them unless absolutely necessary. You may want to consider purchasing a hand-crank charger to serve your devices. A battery-operated radio is also a good investment.
  • Stay inside and off the roads. You risk being stranded in your vehicle, which could be life threatening. In addition, municipalities typically ban travel in extreme winter weather.
  • Have an adequate supply of non-perishable food already stored at your home. Don't wait until the storm hits, because supplies in stores could be depleted. Remember to plan for pets.
  • Have an adequate supply of water. Experts suggest a gallon of clean drinking water per person, per day. Again, don't forget pets!
  • Blankets and warm clothing seems obvious. However, you will need enough blankets to keep warm in an emergency in case your normal electric or gas heat is disrupted. Consider hooded sweatshirts and mittens.
  • Have a sufficient supply of prescription medications on hand.
  • A camping stove or grill can be a wise investment. However, be careful to properly ventilate when cooking with any combustible fuel to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • You may want to consider an emergency electrical generator as an alternate source of power.
  • If your home sustains any damage as a result of the storm, please contact your insurance agent or representative immediately to file a claim.

With any luck, the storm will be short-lived and your supplies will be sufficient for the duration of the storm. When the danger has passed, remember to restock on non-perishable food and other supplies. If appropriate steps are taken, the memory of the storm will be just that, a good memory.

More information about planning for extreme weather is available in the Federal Emergency Management Agency's How to Prepare for a Winter Storm guide.

Holiday Shopping: 12 Precautions to Protect Youself & Your Property

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With the holiday season fast approaching, many of us are out shopping and enjoying the festivities. In this joyous atmosphere, we also need to be aware of our surroundings and develop a safe routine because unscrupulous individuals may be out to take advantage of our festive mood.

Some things to keep in mind when you are out:

  • Never leave valuable items in clear view in your vehicle - thieves target your car for items they see; put your valuables in the trunk
  • Always lock your vehicle when you park
  • Park in well-lit areas
  • Park in an area with heavy foot traffic, not in an isolated spot
  • When stopping for fuel, always lock your vehicle if you leave it
  • When pumping gas, lock the doors on the other side of the car to prevent thieves from grabbing your purse or other valuables while your attention is diverted
  • Never leave your keys in your car or the ignition - your car key ring usually has your house keys on it, and this could prove dangerous and costly
  • When you are out at malls, parking areas and ATMs, be aware of your surroundings:
    • Always make sure your valuables are secured.
    • If you carry a purse or satchel, make it safe from people taking it from you; don't leave your purse in the seat of a shopping cart

    If you do become a victim:

    • Immediately notify police and provide them with as much information as you can concerning the property taken
    • Immediately, while the information is fresh in your mind, note a description of the responsible individual and his or her vehicle, license plate number or other identifying information
    • Make note of the direction the thief fled, and pass that information to the authorities

    Enjoy the holiday season, protecting your family and fun by taking good precautions.

Choose Your Card Wisely to Protect Your Money

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These days it seems most people find it convenient to use credit or debit cards rather than carry cash or write checks for each purchase. Recent headlines concerning account information breaches should be of concern to all card users.

Important differences between credit cards and debit cards may affect your decision about which to use for your purchases. Keeping these differences in mind when making purchases might help you protect your money if your accounts are hacked. Debit cards act like an electronic checkbook. When you use a debit card, money you have in your bank account is immediately "debited" and transferred to the merchant where you used the card. When you use a debit card, you are granting access directly to YOUR money in YOUR account.

Credit cards draw the bank's money from a line of credit the issuing bank has granted to you. In other words, when you use your credit card, you are taking a loan of the bank's money – and the merchant (or cybercriminal) does not have access to YOUR money.

Another significant difference between these two types of cards is that debit cards may allow only two days after a fraudulent debit has been taken from your account for you to challenge that debit, while the time to challenge fraudulent credit card charges is more generous.

You can tell the difference between the two types of cards by how you use them. If you need to enter a personal identification number (PIN), the card is a debit card.

While it is bad enough to have a credit card account hacked, at least you still have your money available to you while you fight the fraudulent charges. However, when it is YOUR money that is stolen when using a debit card, you no longer have access to that money while you fight the debit from your account.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the government agency that insures deposits to banks and thrifts, offers a more detailed explanation of the differences between debit and credit cards, as well as a helpful chart describing the two types of cards.

Source: cinfin.com

Holiday Gift Wrapping Hack

YouTube

For all those smaller to average sized gifts, here's a very simple and amazing hack which shows what might be the best way to wrap a gift ever! In the video two gifts are wrapped in under 30 seconds using just 2 pieces of tape and the technique starts with angling the box to the paper's corner. There's got to be something to this method we can all learn from.

Keeping Your Teen Driver Safe on the Road

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National Teen Driver Safety Week is October 19-25.

It's an exciting time in teens' lives when they first begin driving, but it's also an extraordinarily dangerous time as distractions seem to be everywhere. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for kids and young adults ages 14 through 18.

Despite this, the NHTSA says just 25 percent of parents have a serious talk with their kids about the key components of safe driving.

So, with National Teen Driver Safety Week coming up October 19-25, here are five recommended rules to spell out before your teen gets behind the wheel:

1. Absolutely no alcohol.
There is no legal limit for alcohol when it comes to teen drivers. Having any amount of alcohol in their system is illegal for all those under 21, everywhere. On average, according to the NHTSA, 25 percent of deaths in motor vehicle crashes involve a teen driver with a blood-alcohol content of .01 or higher.

2. Seat belts required.
Drivers and passengers ages 16 to 24 historically use seat belts less often than other groups. Let teens know that seat belt use is non-negotiable. It's the easiest way to protect themselves in a crash. And, set a good example by buckling up yourself.

3. Never speed.
Teenagers may like to push the limits, but the road isn't the place to do so. Speeding doesn't simply put them at risk for a ticket. It increases the risk of a deadly accident as well.

4. No calls, no texts.
It's never a good idea for anyone to call or text while driving, but, because teens lack experience behind the wheel, distracted driving is all the more risky. Reaction times are slower when someone is distracted. Even worse, sending or reading a text means a driver's eyes aren't on the road.

5. Only one passenger (or zero, depending on your state's licensing guidelines for young drivers).
As the number of passengers rises, so does the risk of a fatal crash, the NHTSA says. Think back to when you were a teen driver — how different were your actions when you had friends in the car versus when you were alone?

Let young drivers know that driving is a privilege and that you'll take away the keys if they don't drive safely. Then, have regular conversations about driving safety and other issues to ensure the lessons don't fall by the wayside. Soon, you'll have another trusted and responsible driver in the family – maybe even one that qualifies for a car insurance discount.

Keep Your Trick or Treaters Safe This Halloween

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It's dark, and the sidewalks are full of young kids walking up to every house on the block and declaring, “trick or treat!” — all while wearing masks. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, but we all know that Halloween is great fun for children and adults alike.

Before all that fun, however, there are some basic precautions you should take to ensure the whole family has a safe and sane Halloween. Here are some tips from the experts at the U.S. Product Safety Commission and other agencies:

Get the right fit for costumes.
Masks that are too big can slide around and block a child's vision. A cape that is too long can cause trips and falls. Baggy clothing can easily brush against a candle and catch fire. So make sure those costumes fit. And don't forget accessories. Whether they're play swords or wands, they should be soft and flexible.

Know where you're going before you leave.
If you're going to be out after dark, it makes sense to stick to places you know. Go to familiar neighborhoods and only approach houses that have their outside lights on. Finally, never let kids enter a stranger's home without an adult accompanying them.

Keep things bright.
Because you'll likely be walking around at night, it's crucial that drivers and other people can see your group. Carry glow sticks and strong flashlights, both for your own vision and so you're visible to others. Put reflective tape (usually available at hardware and sporting-goods stores) on costumes, clothing and candy bags. And, if you're taking pets out with you, make sure they can be seen, too. You can add reflective tape or attach a flashing light to collars or leashes.

Check out the candy.
Your kids are going to be eating the stuff, so, when you get home, make sure nobody has tampered with it. You'll want to watch for choking hazards as well if you have young children. Finally, be sure to keep the loot away from your pets. Candy isn't good for them, and some ingredients, such as chocolate, can be toxic.

There are plenty of opportunities for fun on Halloween, but dangerous situations are lurking as well. Remember that a little planning will go a long way toward safety on October 31.

And don't forget moderation. A little candy goes a long way, too!

Heating Systems Need Preseason Maintenance & Inspection

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With football season already upon us, can winter heating season be far behind? Whether you are maintaining a home heating system or equipment at your business, preventive maintenance is important, especially for hot water or steam heating boilers.

Heating boilers can cause extensive damage due to explosion and can be more costly to replace than gas or electric furnaces.

Neglected maintenance can be costly for owners who may overlook this important and expensive equipment. A modest investment in a sound maintenance program for gas furnaces, hot water boilers, steam boilers and high-efficiency boilers can return dividends all winter long for owners or operators.

For many business owners or homeowners, this can mean fewer emergency repair bills, more efficient operation (lower fuel costs) and longer equipment life.

YOUR PRESEASON CHECKLIST

For hot water or steam boilers:

  • Clean the internal (water) side of the boiler
  • Inspect and clean burners
  • Ensure that low water fuel cutouts are functioning properly
  • Inspect and test all controls and safety devices
  • Clean or replace all air inlet filters as needed

In addition, make sure the automatic dampers for outside air are working properly so the boiler room does not freeze due to broken windows or damper control issues.

For gas furnaces:

  • Inspect and clean burners
  • Inspect and test all controls and safety devices
  • Check the combustion blower housing for lint or debris and clean as needed
  • Clean or replace all air inlet filters as needed

Ensure the inlet/return air and exhaust flues cannot be blocked by snow or pest infestation, such as a bird's nest.

DURING THE HEATING SEASON

Test the low water cutout control on any steam heating boiler at least once each week, and test other safety devices regularly.

Owners or operators who are unfamiliar with controls and safety devices can hire a reliable service organization to check and service the equipment prior to and during the heating season. Most heating, ventilation and air conditioning contractors will inspect and check over 20 different items on a gas furnace during their inspection.

Remember, the best offense is a good defense when it comes to taking care of your heating equipment! A planned preventive maintenance program may be just the ticket.

Burn, Rake, or Mow? A Seasonal Question?

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The warm days and cool nights of autumn will soon arrive along with those beautiful leaves that we all enjoy so much. As majestic as those trees look while the leaves are still attached, what do we do when leaves begin falling to the ground, covering the landscape?

Many of us have happy childhood memories of burning leaves. But is that really the best alternative?

Many municipalities now either ban or discourage the burning of yard waste. Before you burn, check with local authorities or your state's department of natural resources to see whether a permit is required. If you live in an area prone to forest or wildfires, you may have “red flag” burning restrictions in place.

Leaf burning contributes to air pollution, health risks for some, and fire hazards:

  • Smoke from burning leaves contains toxic or irritating particles and gases that can increase the risk of respiratory infection.
  • Carbon monoxide can result from incomplete burning, especially when leaves are wet. Inhaled carbon monoxide is absorbed into the bloodstream, where it can reduce the amount of oxygen that red blood cells carry.
  • Local fire departments can attest to house fires that have resulted due to unsafe burning of leaves.

Fortunately, there are some very good alternatives to traditional leaf burning. You may be fortunate to have a municipality that will pick up the raked leaves if left at the curb, either in a pile or in appropriate bags. Check with your city or county government for details.

Another great option is to compost the leaves yourself or to use the leaves as mulch around garden and landscape beds.

Of course, you also have the option of just mulching the leaves with the lawnmower. They make an excellent soil conditioner. Today's mowers do an excellent job of shredding the leaves into very small pieces.

After you're done with your yard work, you can always enjoy a safe fire in your fireplace!

Source: cinfin.com

Kids, The School Bus, And You

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For over twenty-three million students nationwide, the school day begins and ends with a trip on a school bus. The greatest risk is not riding the bus, but approaching or leaving the bus. Before children go back to school or start school for the first time, it is essential that adults and children know traffic safety rules.

Drivers

  • When backing out of a driveway or leaving a garage, watch out for children walking or bicycling to school.
  • When driving in neighborhoods with school zones, watch out for young people who may be thinking about getting to school, but may not be thinking of getting there safely.
  • Slow down. Watch for children walking in the street, especially if there are no sidewalks in neighborhood.
  • Slow down. Watch for children playing and congregating near bus stops.
  • Be alert. Children arriving late for the bus may dart into the street without looking for traffic.
  • Learn and obey the school bus laws in your state. Learn the "flashing signal light system" that school bus drivers use to alert motorists of pending actions:
    • Yellow flashing lights indicate that the bus is preparing to stop to load or unload children. Motorists should slow down and prepare to stop their vehicles.
    • Red flashing lights and extended stop arms indicate that the bus has stopped, and that children are getting on or off. Motorists must stop their cars and wait until the red lights stop flashing, the extended stop sign is withdrawn, and the bus begins moving before they can start driving again.

Children

  • Get to the bus stop at least five minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive.
  • When the bus approaches, stand at least three giant steps (6 feet) away from the curb, and line up away from the street.
  • Wait until the bus stops, the door opens, and the driver says that it's okay before stepping onto the bus.
  • If you have to cross the street in front of the bus, walk on the sidewalk or along the side of the road to a point at least five giant steps (10 feet) ahead of the bus before you cross. Be sure that the bus driver can see you, and you can see the bus driver.
  • Use the handrails to avoids falls. When exiting the bus, be careful that clothing with drawstrings, and book bags with straps don't get caught in the handrails or doors.
  • Never walk behind the bus.
  • Walk at least three giant steps away from the side of the bus.
  • If you drop something near the bus, tell the bus driver. Never try to pick it up because the driver may not be able to see you.
  • Teach children to follow these common sense practices to make school bus transportation safer.

Source: nhtsa.gov

Teens, Social Media and a Parent’s Liability

For many the high school experience comes with social pressures and obligations to fit in and belong, and sadly this can lead to exclusion and isolation of some students. At some point everyone probably said something in their teen years in the heat of the moment that they now wish could be taken back, but today's teens face the added burden that if they convey those statements on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, their words could be around for a lot longer than just the heat of the moment.

In addition to hurt feelings, cyber bullying could potentially damage someone's reputation. With college admissions offices and employers beginning to look up applicants on social networking sites, rumors and gossip have the very serious potential to damage someone's ability to get into the college of their choice, or find a job. For parents, this could create a potentially serious exposure to a lawsuit if their children engage in cyber bullying.

Aren't my kids covered under my insurance?

Generally speaking, any coverage a parent has through their homeowners or renters insurance policy also provides coverage to other residents of the household, including teenage children. Standard homeowners and renters policies include liability protection for bodily injury or property damage, which would pay for the costs to cover medical bills or repair/replacement costs if a child injured a friend in a pick-up basketball game or if they were at a friend's house and accidentally spilled soda on a $13,000 oriental rug, subject to the policy's deductible.

But what if a child were to post rumors about other teens online that implied negative information that could damage that person's reputation? Interestingly, a standard homeowners or renters policy would not cover these instances.

What can be done?

In order to cover claims from that kind of situation, homeowners and renters policies must have what is called an endorsement- extra language that is inserted into the policy to expand coverage- in order to have liability protection extended to cover "personal injury".

As insurance professionals we will be able to tell you if your current insurance policy already has this personal injury endorsement by reviewing it, and if it doesn't, we would be able to help you get one. You may be surprised to find that this expanded coverage may not cost you much in additional premium. A personal injury endorsement will pay the costs up to the limits of your policy to defend you, pay a judgment or settle a case when legal action is brought against you or your children for defamation.

Make sure that if you're a parent, you talk to your children about social media, how they use it and what's expected of them regarding personal responsibility. It's critical that they understand how their use of social media not only has the potential to hurt others, but that it could impact your family as well.

Some parents choose to actively monitor their children's use of social media, and there are various software programs available to assist those who want to closely monitor what their children do in social spaces for parents who want access to their children's profiles. No matter what you choose to do, begin with treating others with respect as the best way to avoid this type of risk.

Be Aware of What Your Kids Are Doing Online

  • Know the sites your kids visit and their online activities. Ask where they're going, what they're doing, and who they're doing it with.
  • Tell your kids that as a responsible parent you may review their online communications if you think there is reason for concern. Installing parental control filtering software or monitoring programs are one option for monitoring your child's online behavior, but do not rely solely on these tools.
  • Have a sense of what they do online and in texts. Learn about the sites they like. Try out the devices they use.
  • Ask for their passwords, but tell them you'll only use them in case of emergency.
  • Ask to "friend" or "follow" your kids on social media sites or ask another trusted adult to do so.
  • Encourage your kids to tell you immediately if they, or someone they know, are being cyber bullied. Explain that you will not take away their computers or cell phones if they confide in you about a problem they are having.


Sources: stopbullying.gov | trustedchoice.com

Don’t Be Fooled: Auto Insurance State Minimums Probably Aren’t Enough

There are a wide variety of silly and somewhat funny things we can do from time to time, like telling people that dihydrogen monoxide is coming out of the sink (dihydrogen monoxide is the chemical name for water), but one thing you should avoid falling for as a consumer is being told that carrying only the state mandated minimum coverage is adequate auto insurance protection.

In an auto accident, drivers can be legally liable for their passengers' injuries. While most states have mandatory minimum limits of liability required of all drivers, many of these requirements may not be sufficient in covering injuries sustained in an auto accident. In some states, this required amount may be as little as $25,000 per person and $50,000 total for all injuries in an accident - which may not be enough when you consider the severity of certain injuries and the number of passengers that could be involved. Remember that this limit also applies for all injuries caused by an accident for which you are liable, including passengers of other cars.

So what are the right limits? Like many answers... It depends. Everyone's situation is different, but as an independent insurance agency we can help you understand what issues you should consider when evaluating what liability limits to purchase.

For Instance:

  1. How much would it take to compensate a victim? If you were to cause a severe, life altering injury to someone, consider how much money it would cost over time to compensate them. It's likely higher than $25,000.
  2. What assets do you have and what is your net worth? Think about your home, your car, savings, investments, etc. Having adequate insurance to protect these assets is something you should consider.

Naturally you might wonder if increasing your liability limits will increase the price of your insurance premiums. While you'll pay more for the additional coverage, it's likely that it won't be very much to raise your liability limits, and in the long run it offers you more financial protection. You may be able to offset some of those expenses by raising your deductible or through other discounts. This is where we can help identify the different options available to you.

There is no definitive rule of thumb for making sure you have "enough" insurance but it's important that you feel comfortable with the amount you have, because nobody likes to be made a fool of when it comes to an insurance claim.



Source: trustedchoice.com

Was Your Home Loan Sold? Quick, Call Your Insurance Agent!

Do you have a mortgage? Yes? Then at some point in your home-owning life, you have received a letter telling you that your mortgage has been sold to another lender. There's certainly nothing unusual about it when this happens, as home loans are sold every day in the United States. It is a very common practice. Typically, the letter tells you that nothing will change for you and – "you do not need to do anything."

WRONG!!! - You should contact the insurance agent that handles your home insurance.

Here's Why: If your home insurance is part of your escrow then your agent needs to know and needs to change the Mortgagee endorsement on your policy.

Every year your insurance company sends a bill to the company that owns your loan. Your lender sends a check from your escrow account to pay for your Homeowner’s insurance for the next year. If your insurance company does not have the correct lender information the bill will be sent to the wrong company and the bill will not be paid. Believe it or not – that is not the big problem.

Here is the BIG PROBLEM. Your new lender wants to know you have insurance that will pay to replace your home in case of a total loss – they want to know they will get their money! If your new lender does not get a bill or see some form of proof that you have insurance – then the lender will put insurance in place for you. And guess what? The insurance the bank puts in place can cost up to THREE TIMES MORE than what you are paying now and that is just for your house and wouldn't include insurance for all your belongings inside your home.

If this occurs the lender is simply going to pass the high-cost of this other insurance along to the home owner in the form of a much higher mortgage payment on your next statement, which can cause unnecessary panic and confusion.

The lesson – keep your Insurance Agent updated on any change regarding not only your home, but your lender as well. Your agent wants to be up to date and will appreciate the call and it's a simple change that only requires a few moments to complete.

Home Inspections Before Winter Weather Comes

This time of year can be just great here in Mississippi. However, you won't get much fireside snuggling done if your chimney clogs or your roof springs a leak. And while prepping your home for winter weather isn't much fun, once you do it, your peace of mind can last all season long.

Here's a handy checklist to make sure the weather stays outside where it ought to be.

Furnace Follies
If you have a forced-air furnace, visually inspect the outside of your system, the ducts, and other points attached to the unit. Repairing potential air leaks is easy to do with a little duct tape. It's also a great time to clean or replace the filter according to the manufacturer's instructions. If you can reach them, vacuum off the blower blades while you're in there.

Winter Weather Stripping
A common source of heat loss and drafty spaces is faulty door or window weather-stripping. Check for drafts by holding a lit candle a couple of inches from the seam. If the flame moves (and you're sure it's not the dog breathing over your shoulder) you could have a leak. Typically these are easier to replace entirely than "spot repairing" and kits for doing so may be found at any hardware store.

Chim Chim Cher-ee
Creosote is the black, scaly deposit left behind in wood-burning chimneys. It slows airflow and is an enormous fire hazard. While the chimney is cool, take a flashlight and look for build-up past the damper (at the mouth of the flue near the base of the chimney). If you burn a lot of wood during the season–or very resinous wood like pine–cleaning the chimney is an annual must-do. This is one repair where hiring qualified professionals is best because they have the proper tools and experience to make sure it's done right.

Stormin' the Doors
Operational storm doors and windows prevent additional drafts and save energy costs. Make sure the hinges are lubricated and adjusted so they close properly. If you have interchangeable glass panels, make sure to install them instead of leaving the screens over winter.

Rain Gutter Braining
Clean gutters help prevent many cold weather problems from arising, such as basement flooding, siding damage, and door and window leaks. Clean gutters also help keep your foundation dry and repair-free. Plus, if your gutters are holding too much water they can pull free of eaves and fall off at any time, posing a hazard to your noggin.

Show Your Best Siding
In some cases you'll need to hire a professional to make siding (or paint) repairs, but you can easily inspect for cracks and separations, peeling paint, or other damage that's not difficult to repair yourself. Usually, a little caulk and some paint do the trick. But don't leave it to chance–or leave it too long–because when water gets behind siding it's expensive to repair as well as a health hazard.

Put a Lid On It
If possible, check your roof close up. You can use binoculars to inspect safely from the ground. Look for missing tiles, cracked shingles, and "bald spots". If you have a composition roof past its warranty, make sure to check for brittleness, a sure sign it needs replacing. Also, if you notice lots of asphalt granules in your newly spotless rain gutters, it's a sign your roof is eroding and needs replacing soon. Lastly, make sure to check the flashing around the edges of the roof for damage.

Taking just a few minutes this time of year to inspect your home for these common cold weather entry points and it will prevent more costly repairs, reward you with a lower energy bill, and help you have a relaxing holiday season.

5 Big Insurance Mistakes

TRYING TO SAVE MONEY? AVOID THE FIVE BIGGEST INSURANCE MISTAKES.

With far too many Americans out of work, and others forced to make ends meet with less money, many people are looking for ways to cut costs. There are smart ways to save on home and auto insurance; however, there are also mistakes that can result in being significantly underinsured.

When money is tight, it is extremely important to be financially protected against a catastrophe with the right amount and type of insurance by taking a few simple steps, it is possible to cut costs and still be protected should disaster strike.

Following are five of the biggest insurance mistakes that consumers should look out for:

Insuring a home for its real estate value rather than for the cost of rebuilding. When real estate prices go down, some homeowners may think they can reduce the amount of insurance on their home. But insurance is designed to cover the cost of rebuilding, not the sales price of the home. You should make sure that you have enough coverage to completely rebuild your home and replace your belongings.

A better way to save: Raise your deductible. An increase from $500 to $1,000 could save up to 25 percent on your premium payments.

Selecting an insurance company by price alone. It is important to choose a company with competitive prices, but also one that is financially sound and provides good customer service.

A better way to save: Check the financial health of a company with independent rating agencies and ask friends and family for recommendations. You should select an insurance company that will respond to your needs and handle claims fairly and efficiently.

Dropping flood insurance. Damage from flooding is not covered under standard homeowners and renters insurance policies. Coverage is available from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), as well as from some private insurance companies. Many homeowners are unaware they are at risk for flooding, but in fact 25 percent of all flood losses occur in low risk areas.

A better way to save: Before purchasing a home, check with the NFIP to check whether it is in a flood zone; if so, consider a less risky area. If you are already living in a flood zone area, look at mitigation efforts that can reduce your risk of flood damage and consider purchasing flood insurance.

Only purchasing the legally required amount of liability for your car. In today’s litigious society, buying only the minimum amount of liability means you are likely to pay more out-of-pocket—and those costs may be steep

A better way to save: Consider dropping collision and/or comprehensive coverage on older cars worth less than $1,000. The insurance industry and consumer groups generally recommend a minimum of $100,000 of bodily injury protection per person and $300,000 per accident.

If you don't own your home, neglecting to buy renters insurance. A renters policy covers your possessions and additional living expenses if you have to move out due to a disaster. Equally important, it provides liability protection in the event someone is injured in your home and decides to sue.

A better way to save: Look into multi-policy discounts. Buying several policies with the same insurer will generally provide surmountable savings.

Scheduling Under Homeowners

SCHEDULING ITEMS UNDER YOUR HOMEOWNERS INSURANCE

Perhaps it's the latest electronic gadget or large screen hi-def television, or new sporting goods gear or maybe a piece of sparkling jewelry. If you happen to receive or purchase a particularly expensive item, you may consider purchasing extra protection, just in case.

Why would I need to schedule valuable items?

The protection provided for personal property under the typical homeowners, condo or renters policy is very broad, and includes coverage for your furniture, clothing, and appliances. It only provides limited coverage for valuable items such as jewelry, silverware, furs, and art. It may not cover some types of loss that may be important to you, such as the stone falling out of your diamond ring, your china being accidentally broken or your rare coins being stolen.

What types of property can be covered?

Here's a quick listing of some of the items typically covered:

cameras (video or still) and related equipment
china and crystal
coins (rare and current)
firearms
furs
golfer's equipment
jewelry
musical instruments
personal computers
stamps (rare and current)
silverware
works of fine art, including paintings, etchings, pictures and other bona fide works of art (such as oriental rugs, statuary, rare books, manuscripts and bric-a-brac) of rarity, historical value or artistic merit.

If you own something of value that is not listed above, it may still be eligible for coverage.

How to Schedule Personal Property

The process for scheduling valuable personal property differs from one insurance company to another. The insurance company keeps copies of appraisals or recent receipts for the items on file. The dollar amount of the value of the items added determines the price of scheduled property insurance.

Scheduling items allows you to purchase better protection for your special property than would be available under the typical homeowners policy. In addition to being able to purchase higher limits of coverage, more perils are covered.