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Dealing with Vehicle Breakdown in Summer’s Heat

July 13th, 2010 by Penny Hagerman

flat-tireAs temperatures soar, our cars become vulnerable to the heat, just like we do.

Idling too long at a stoplight, driving slowly through a neighborhood or forgetting to check the water in the radiator can cause overheating, leaving drivers stranded in the middle of the road.

Add to that debris that blows out tires, neglected maintenance that causes other types of breakdown and impatient drivers, and you’ve got disaster waiting to happen!

So how should you react on that fateful summer day when your car breaks down on your way to work? And how can you avoid having an accident with another car when yours breaks down, resulting in even more damage and high car insurance rates?

In a situation like this, your first concern should be for your own safety, says the Insurance Information Institute (III). Many drivers mistakenly think they can pull off on the shoulder of the road and safely inspect the damage or change a flat tire.

But that’s just not so.

In fact, getting out of the car is one of the worst things you can do. Whether on the highway or at a busy intersection, doing so puts you in harm’s way and could actually get you killed!

Instead, move your vehicle (coast it in neutral, if you have to) to a safe place away from traffic—even if it ruins a tire or rim—and turn on your hazard lights. Then use your cell phone to call for assistance and wait in your car until help arrives.

In the heat, most of us have very little patience behind the wheel. We’re often in a hurry to get where we’re going, and we don’t want to sit and wait patiently in traffic. This can lead to anything from a minor fender-bender to a full-fledged breakdown.

Remember, staying safe is the most important thing. So next time you find yourself stranded on the road in 100 degree heat, try to move your car away from other vehicles, signal your distress to cars around you and wait for help.

You’ll help avoid further accident, damage and high car insurance rates; have an opportunity to get your vehicle repaired—and maybe just save your own life!

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Summer Insurance You Should Consider

June 4th, 2010 by Penny Hagerman

family-on-beachTaking the family on the annual summer vacation this year? If so, you’ll need to plan ahead and consider your insurance needs before setting off.

Though a majority of Americans have been staying home the past few years due to a lack of discretionary funds, electing instead to practice the famed “staycation,” many families’ financial situations have improved recently, freeing up money for things like vacations once again.  

But risk is inherrent when traveling. So it’s always wise to consider your options before you depart.

What kind of coverage should you buy? That depends totally on your plans.

If you’ll be renting a car or motorcycle and driving, you’ll need auto insurance that covers rentals—or you’ll have to purchase the temporary coverage offered at the rental counter.

If you’ll be renting a home on the beach or elsewhere, you’ll need to make sure your home insurance is up-to-date—or buy renters insurance during the period you’re away from home.

If your plans include hitting the lake in a sailboat, canoe or some other sort of watercraft, you’ll want to make sure it’s insured for your own protection.

These are just a few of the types of insurance coverage you may need this summer. To find out more, check out Bankrate.com’s slideshow on Picking the Right Insurance for Summer, and make sure you and the family are protected when you set out for a season of fun.

Happy vacationing!

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Teen Drivers Pose Added Risk at Night

May 10th, 2010 by Penny Hagerman

driver_textingIf you have a teen driver on your auto insurance policy who’s still living at home, you might want to limit his or her access to the family car after dark.

According to a study released late last week by the Texas Transportation Institute, nighttime driving is becoming more and more hazardous for young people—and the most likely culprits are their cell phones.

Between 1999 and 2008, the number of fatal crashes that occurred dropped nearly 11 percent, including those that occurred after dark. In contrast, the proportion of fatal crashes at night involving teens between the ages of 16 and 19 increased 10 percent during that same time—a full 20 percent difference.

So what’s causing these nighttime problems with teenage drivers?

There are actually several factors at play here, say experts. The first, of course is inexperience. New drivers tend to make poor driving decisions most other drivers don’t because the risk involved isn’t readily apparent to them.

In other words, they haven’t been driving long enough to recognize what’s wise and what isn’t.

We’ve all seen kids hop behind the wheel of a car with their friends, peel out of parking lots, swerve in and out of traffic, and nearly run over everyone in their path. That type of behavior is doubly risky at night, when roads aren’t well lit, people are tired and responses are slower. 

But distraction is a teen’s biggest enemy while driving; and with the risk of having an accident already higher at night, cell phones can become a deadly weapon in the hands of a teenager.

Most teens think they’re invincible, and using their cell phones to call and text their friends is an intrinsic part of their lives. They think they can easily multitask while driving when, in reality, doing so puts their lives and the lives of others at risk.

According to the report, 34 percent of teens say they text and 52 percent say they talk on the phone while driving. Add darkness to the mix, and you’ve got an accident waiting to happen!

If you have a young driver at home, please consider having a heart-to-heart chat with him or her about the dangers of using cell phones while driving, especially at night, and limit access to the family vehicle during that time.

You might not be the most popular parent on the block; but you’ll increase your child’s chances of living into adulthood—and protect yourself and other drivers in the process.

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Timber! Watch out for Falling Trees!

March 23rd, 2010 by Penny Hagerman

fallen_treeHere at InsureMe, we get a lot of insurance questions from people just like you. And one of the most popular topics involves falling trees and homeowners insurance coverage.

Some people wonder if they’re covered when a neighbor’s tree falls on their home or car. Others ask if they’ll be held financially liable if a tree in their own yard damages someone else’s home or property.

Sometimes, readers even write us panic-stricken after the fact, wondering what they can do about the physical and financial mess they’ve been left with following an incident with a fallen tree.

In general, the answer is yes, your home insurance policy does cover damage caused by falling trees—as does your neighbor’s insurance. The main discrepancy is in whose coverage applies and on what level.

In researching this subject, I came across a great podcast by the Insurance Information Institute that explains trees and insurance quickly and concisely. Since the III is one of the most trusted resources for insurance information online (besides InsureMe!), I thought I’d pass along this information to help answer any questions you may have about tree damage and your insurance coverage.

Take a few minutes to listen, and save yourself some heartache should you ever encounter this type of situation.

If you have any other questions—tree-related or otherwise—feel free to submit them via the open-ended question-and-answer forum we call InsureMe Answers. And while you’re in the neighborhood, feel free to browse through the answers to others’ questions, too. You never know what useful tidbits you might take away with you.

Whatever you do…look out for falling trees!

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Practice Makes Perfect

March 4th, 2010 by Penny Hagerman

How do you respond to intense situations while driving? Do you find yourself overwhelmed, afraid and unable to think clearly when forced to react quickly behind the wheel?

stressed_driverIf you’re like most people, you probably have a hard time problem solving in instances like that. Between other drivers’ rude behavior, complicated gagetry in your car and little to no time to react to changes around you, driving can be very stressful.

But there’s something else hampering your ability to respond, too. Experts say frightened people often can’t remember even simple steps to protect themselves in dangerous situations, when necessary, because their attention is so focused on what’s happening at the moment.

That leaves “no cognitive space left to think of alternatives,” says Dr. Boadie Dunlop, a psychiatrist and director of the Mood and Anxiety Program at Emory University.

So when your brain can’t handle all the information it’s being bombarded with, how does it prioritize it all and choose what to pay attention to and what to ignore?

Let’s answer that question with another question. Remember telling your kids, “Practice makes perfect” to get them to keep working at memorization or help them hone certain skills? Apparently, it’s time to take your own advice.

“If you practice something over and over, that will be the thing that happens,” especially in stressful situations, says Peter Norton, associate professor of psychology at the University of Houston.

To make sure you respond appropriately while driving, Norton says you should sit in your car and go over the steps you should take in unexpected situations. He reasons that, when you go into “panic mode,” what you’ve already practiced doing has become a natural tendency, and that controls how you actually respond.

“To do something that’s not natural…is just not going to come to mind,” Norton adds.

For parents with new teen drivers, taking Norton’s advice makes even more sense. Your kids take classes and practice driving to learn how they should respond to situations on the road. If you follow their lead, not only will you react automatically the way you should when under stress; you’ll also provide a great example for your kids, help avoid accidents and keep your car insurance rates down.

Don’t let habit rule while driving. Start thinking about and practicing your responses when driving under pressure. It’s time to take your own (or your parents’) advice: ”Practice makes perfect!”

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Car Recalls, Accidents & Your Insurance

February 10th, 2010 by Penny Hagerman

In the wake of Toyota’s recent recall of more than 8 million vehicles worldwide, you may find yourself wondering what effect, if any, an accident due to a defective part has on your insurance.

That’s a great question…and we’re here to answer it.

Say you’re driving your brand new, 2010 Toyota Camry down the street and your accelerator (the defective part, in this instance) sticks. Suddenly, you’re careening through your neighborhood at speeds upward of 50 mph, totally in a panic.

You smash on the brakes but, before you can regain control, your car smashes into the back of a vehicle that pulls out in front of you, propelling both cars off the road and into a ditch. 

jetta-back-closeWhat now? Should you file an insurance claim? Though the accident was technically your fault, it would never have happened if that defective part hadn’t left you without control over your vehicle.

If this should happen to you, try to relax. If your car is driveable, move to a safe place out of traffic, call 9-1-1 and report the accident. When the police arrive, tell them what happened, and then call your insurance company to relate the incident and file a claim.

Once your insurer has investigated and confirmed your account of the story, they’ll pay the claim under the liability or physical damage section of your insurance policy. Afterward they’ll likely seek reimbursement from the car’s manufacturer (in this case, Toyota), because the defective part actually caused the accident. 

“This type of unforeseen event is what insurance is for,” said Robert Passmore, senior director of claims for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI) in an article on accidents involving recalled Toyotas published in yesterday’s Insurance Journal.

 But what about your insurance rates? Will you have to pay more for insurance coverage following this type of accident?

Not likely, says Passmore—not unless a large number of accidents can be attributed to the defective part and the vehicle involved is expensive to repair.

“Insurers look at the cost of claims over a period of time. They are interested in how much it costs to repair a vehicle and how often the vehicle is involved in an accident,” he remarked.

With the previously good safety record Toyota enjoyed prior to recent recalls, these issues aren’t likely to cause thousands of accidents—or drive up insurance rates. Still, we have to wonder what went wrong.

Apparently, safety problems have been present but under wraps for the maker of the most popular car in America for some time, says the nation’s largest auto insurer. We’ll address that next time on the blog. 

For now, if you drive a Toyota (or any other vehicle involved in a nationwide recall), check with your insurance agent to make sure you have plenty of liability coverage under your present policy. Then rest assured: Your auto insurance has you covered!

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Is Old Man Winter Knocking on Your Home’s Door?

January 29th, 2010 by Penny Hagerman

house_in_snowAs parts of the southern and central sections of our country got blanketed in a winter storm last night, Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry declared Oklahoma a state of emergency.

According to national news stations, most schools and businesses in that state shut down to try and cope with the onslaught of freezing rain, sleet and snow that is forcasted to continue until midnight tonight.

As snow piles up, ice settles in and pipes freeze this winter, your home can suffer costly damage—and those lead to repairs that someone has to pay for.

So who will it be: you or your insurance company? Do you know?

The good news is, “standard homeowners policies provide coverage for a wide range of winter-related disasters, such as losses incurred due to burst pipes, wind damage and wind-driven rain, as well as well damage or power outages caused by downed trees, limbs or other falling objects,” according to the Insurance Journal.

So if the temperature drops below freezing, your pipes burst and your home ends up submerged in 6 inches of water, you’re likely covered for the repairs that will need to be made.

If the tree in your front yard gets weighed down with snow and subsequently falls on your home, you’re likely covered for both its removal and the repair for the damage it caused your home.

If the weight of ice and snow on your roof causes a portion of it to collapse, and water comes pouring in through your attic, your insurer is most likely responsible for fixing, replacing and repairing the damage that results from it, too.

But under what circumstances do you become responsible for the damage your home and property suffers due to winter weather conditions?

If you choose to purchase a very basic homeowners plan, often referred to as “fire only” coverage, the burden for this kind of damage will be solely yours.

If that tree loaded with snow falls in your yard and has to be cut up and carted away—but it doesn’t damage, break or hurt anything in the process—that responsibility is yours.

If you leave your home in Wisconsin vacant in the winter in favor of a warmer dwelling in Florida, you must pay for any weather-related damage that occurs in that vacant home while it’s left unattended.

For tips on minimizing the effect winter weather can have on your home and property, check out this press release from the III. Then get in touch with your home insurance agent and find out which damages are covered under your policy and which ones aren’t.

For more information:

How to Winterize Your Home

Old Man Winter Arrives Early This Year

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Get a CLUE!

January 22nd, 2010 by Penny Hagerman

Ever wonder how your present insurance company found out about that insignificant auto insurance claim you filed with your previous insurer three years ago?

Did you call your insurer simply to discuss a potential home insurance claim—only to find yourself and your home uninsured shortly thereafter?

In case you haven’t heard, insurance companies track any and all property insurance claims you make, on both your home and vehicles, using a system called CLUE. That stands for Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange, which is simply a fancy name for an online insurance reporting system.

Similar to the way companies pull your credit report from one of the three participating credit agencies, insurance companies can pull your CLUE report to help them determine how likely you are to file a claim against your policy.

What’s in your CLUE? Besides general information like your name, date of birth and social security number, it includes information on past, paid claims and, in some states, even inquiries about coverage that don’t result in a claim—yes, just like your credit report.

By sharing claims and inquiry information amongst themselves using the CLUE system, insurers can calculate claims risk when you apply for new insurance and determine whether or not they’d like to do business with you.

If you haven’t seen your CLUE report (and, until now, you had no idea there even was such a thing), we’d advise you take a look at yours and check it for errors. You can order a copy here so you’ll know what you’re facing come time to shop your insurance rates again.

Get a CLUE! You’re entitled to it.

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What’s Up with January?

January 7th, 2010 by Penny Hagerman

couple_fightingDid you know there are more divorces in January than any other month of the year?

That’s right, apparently the lines can get very long at divorce attorneys’ offices at the beginning of each year, as more and more couples decide to call it quits.

Why does this happen? Experts say the biggest reasons are cheating and finances.

It seems that, along with a new start in a new year, the idea is “out with the old, in with the new”—and that includes relationships.

Along with divorce come other life changes too. For instance, joint homes go to one person or get sold, bank accounts get split up, and vehicles get assigned to one person or another.

All these transactions affect lives—but they also affect finances and insurance policies.

If you move following divorce and change jobs, you could face a lapse in health insurance or wind up paying a lot more for COBRA. If you’ve been driving your spouse’s car and he/she gets it in the divorce, your car insurance costs could increase substantially if your car costs more to insure.

If you’re one of the thousands of married people affected by divorce this month, consider the effect your split could have, not only on your family, but also on your finances and insurance policies.

Then get in touch with your insurance agent, who can help minimize the impact on your wallet. You’ll do what you can where you have control, and make setting out on your own a little bit easier.

More Information:

Don’t Divorce Your Insurance Agent

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Seat Belts and Car Seats: Is Your Child Safe?

November 9th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

girl_in_car_seatDriving with kids in the car can get hectic. When it’s nap time, the kids are screaming and fighting and you need to run errands, it’s hard to get things done and meet your kids’ needs, too.

But our kids are our life. So when it’s time to climb in the car, boost them into their car seats and buckle them in, we want to know they’ll be safe and secure, whether we’re making a mad dash for the post office or trying to cross three trips off our errand list at once.

So let me pose this question: Are you confident you’re buckling your kids up right? Do you know the proper positioning for a 3-year-old versus a 12-year-old?

And what about car seats? When is it safe to move your child from a child safety seat to a booster seat? Or to the regular car seat, where he or she can buckle up with the same safety belts you use?

If you’re confused about forward- versus rear-facing safety seats, or you can’t make heads or tails of that brand new car seat you just bought and are trying to install in your SUV, there’s good news: You’re not alone. Research by GMAC Insurance shows that more than a third of parents don’t know how to properly buckle their kids up either.

I remember when my daughter was young. Back then, the experts said it was OK for infants to ride up front with mom and dad, as long as they were buckled tight and facing the back seat. So that’s where my daughter rode. It did make shoving a bottle or her pacifier in her mouth while driving much easier—but I had no idea it was putting her life at risk.

It seems safety guidelines for this kind of thing change every few years. So if you’re still not sure where to buckle your kids, or when to move them into a different type of car seat, ask your insurance company what their guidelines say, read our article on the subject, or check with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which compares child safety and booster seats to help you choose the best one for your needs.

You love your kids, so don’t risk their lives unknowingly when buckling them in for a car trip. Find out how to use those safety seats and seat belts properly so everyone can return home safely.

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The Dog Bite Debate (Continued)

November 2nd, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

dobermanBack in August, we discussed something here on the insurance blog that proved a passionate topic for many: the cost of insuring dangerous dog breeds.

Now, I know how much we all love our dogs. But I was surprised at the reaction I got from that post, emotions ranging from anger against ‘discrimination’ to understanding and agreement on why some breeds of dog cost more to insure than others.

I’d like to reopen that discussion now, as I’ve been reading more on the insurance debate and the actual statistics associated with insuring against dog bite lately.

For instance, did you know that dogs cause approximately $1 billion in medical and insurance losses annually? Or that one-third of all homeowners claims involve dog bites?

Are those numbers as staggering to you as they are to me?

Insurers apparently think so. In fact, some are now choosing not to insure more dangerous dog breeds at all, while others are placing limits on coverage within each household.

On the one hand, that’s difficult to deal with if you’re the owner of a “problem dog.” On the other hand, if you live next door to one and it bites your kid’s finger off, you likely have a little different perspective on the matter.

So what does it cost to buy liability coverage for that ferocious Rottweiler, Doberman or German Shepherd?

Well, you can usually get about $100,000 worth of coverage for $700 to $1,000 per year. But many experts recommend buying three times that much coverage, just in case Fido decides to take a finger off and little Suzy has to have it reattached.

OK, so that’s a bit gross. But you get the idea: you can never be too careful around some dogs, just like I doubt you can ever buy too much liability insurance to cover them.

So read the latest stats from the CDC and others in our article, Dangerous Dogs Pose Insurance Debate, and let us know what you think. It may or may not change your opinion on the matter.


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5 Secrets to Cutting the Cost of Driving

October 28th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

woman_enjoying_car_rideFor those of us who enjoy driving our own car, coming and going as we please and not having to rely on anyone else for transportation, our vehicles offer us freedom and flexibility we wouldn’t have otherwise.

But driving can be expensive. By the time we pay for gas, auto insurance and maintenance—along with making a car payment and paying all our other bills—that cheap used car may suddenly not seem so cheap after all.

But if, like me, you’re determined to keep driving despite the cost, there are ways to spend less so you have more resources for other things.

For instance, one way to save is to consider sharing a ride. By being flexible enough to carpool with a co-worker or neighbor who works near you, the two of you can split the cost of gas—and you can use the extra time when you’re not the one driving to talk, read or finish getting ready for work. What a time-saver!

Another secret to cutting the cost of driving is to shop close to home and plan shopping trips to avoid wasting gas. By mapping out your destination ahead of time, you’ll know where you’re headed next—and avoid driving any further than necessary to get what you need.

For more secrets to cutting the cost of driving, check out our article on cheaper driving. You might be surprised how much money it can save you!

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How Does Your ‘Hood Rate?

October 26th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

big_houseWith housing prices at an all-time low these days in many areas, some families are bypassing renting completely in favor of owning instead—or moving up and purchasing homes of their own.

And why not? With low prices and tax credits combined, home ownership makes more sense than ever before—as long as you play it conservative and don’t get in over your head.

But before you pick out that perfect home in what you think is the perfect neighborhood, here’s some food for thought: The neighborhood you choose has a lot of influence on what you pay for homeowners insurance. In fact, factors like location, neighborhood makeup and amenities all play a part in home insurance rates in any particular area.

Neighborhoods used to be one of two types: urban or suburban. But as times have changed, neighborhoods have changed along with them, evolving to meet the growing needs of several different types of family structures: young couples with families, yuppies without children, middle-aged empty-nesters and the senior, retirement crowd.

Since each of these groups has needs and desires uniquely its own, new types of neighborhoods have sprung up all over the country to serve those purposes. For instance, those who tend to go everywhere on foot would rather live within walking distance of their hangouts and the places they frequent than hassle with driving or taking public transportation.

For someone like that, a pedestrian neighborhood fits the bill, offering everything they need only a short distance from home—whereas a family with a particular ethnic heritage might prefer to live in a neighborhood made up of others with a similar background.

An older, retired couple who are finished raising their children might be ready for the resort lifestyle…and who could blame them, after a lifetime of working and saving for their later years?

Each of these situations presents its own lifestyle and financial dilemmas, including the cost of home insurance. So before you go with that berg near downtown or that little country town you love so much, find out what you’re likely to pay for insurance once you get settled.

It’ll help you decide which place fits your tastes and lifestyle best—with a side of insurance thrown in.

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Tornadoes, El Nino and Other Severe Weather Patterns

October 19th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

winter_scene_through_windowAn abnormal warming of Pacific ocean waters in the equatorial area, El Nino is well known for causing strange weather phenomenons throughout the U.S., especially during the winter months.

As tornado season passes and we move into fall and winter, some weather forecasters are predicting that El Nino will strengthen and persist through the winter months,  leading to lower-than-average temperatures in some parts of the country and higher-than-average in others.

Though forecasters disagree on the impact it will have this winter in various U.S. regions, they’re agreed on this fact: Unusual weather patterns will prevail from December through February.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts we’ll see warmer-than-average temperatures across much of the western and central United States and below-average temps in the Southeast and mid-Atlantic this winter.

AccuWeather.com, another leading weather source, disagrees, predicting El Nino will weaken, leading to the stormiest and coldest U.S. winter in years.

Whatever happens weather-wise, it’s time to prepare our homes and families for severe weather (just in case). So tend those pipes, blow out those sprinkler systems (if you haven’t already), seal leaks around doors and windows, and have a professional check your heating system to make sure it’s functioning properly.

As tornadoes and hail give way to snow and ice, it’s also important to check your home insurance coverage to make sure you have the coverage you need. Depending on where you live, this could turn out to be one crazy winter!

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Watch out for Falling Rock!

October 15th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

falling_rock_signHere in Colorado, rock slides are nothing new. With the Rockies (the mountains and the baseball team) only minutes away, many of our state’s residents hit the road weekends and holidays to hike, ski, rock climb or take part in one of many other physical activities widely available.

But sometimes, mountain passes can be dangerous. (And I’m not just talking about ice and snow here.) It seems we’ve all heard stories or read accounts of rock slides occurring suddenly and causing accidents and injuries, as the rocks rolled down the mountain and into the path of oncoming cars.

Some of us even know people who have rounded corners and watched falling rocks smash into the roadway just ahead.

Hopefully, this hasn’t happened to you, whether you live in Colorado, Nevada, Washington or one of the other mountainous states where rock slides threaten. But the real question is, if it did, would your insurance cover it?

As with any other ‘act of God’ that’s not specifically listed as uninsureable in your car insurance policy, damage by falling rock falls under the comprehensive portion of your auto policy as an unexpected, uncontrollable, unpredictatable event.

But many people don’t realize comprehensive coverage is optional and neglect to buy it when they’re negotiating insurance rates.

Sure, rocks falling off mountains and onto your car may seem like a random event. But it happens all the time, so it’s really not advisable to bypass comprehensive insurance if you live in a rocky or mountainous area.

If you’re not sure whether you have comprehensive coverage as part of your auto policy, pull it out and read the details. If you don’t see it listed there, we recommend giving your insurance agent a call and asking him or her to add it.

Cost is minimal—but the security and peace of mind it offers is unmistakable.

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College Students and Extreme Drinking

September 25th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

With the departure of summer and the entrance of fall, many students look forward to cooler weather, weekend sports and get-togethers with friends. But with school back in session, and studying not exactly the first thing on many students’ minds, weekend socializing can get more than a little bit out of hand.

Whether hanging out drinking beer with their buddies or stocking up on the hard stuff for a weekend of partying and fun, college students often don’t recognize the risk they take when drinking to the extreme. But the sobering fact is, the more they imbibe, the more likely they are to suffer alcohol-related accidents or injuries.

That’s hard for parents to hear. After all, we worry about our kids and the lives they lead once they leave home. We were young once too, and we know how vulnerable young adults are to the influence of their peers. buddies_drinking_beer

For families with a history of alcoholism or other addictive behaviors, we know our kids are more susceptible than others. For some, that bend toward addiction leads to risky activities that result in a natural, adrenaline high, like skydiving, snowboarding or repelling.

But for others, extreme drinking becomes the norm, offering escape from the uncertainty of life, boredom and a thousand other issues that concern kids that age.

All too often, extreme drinking takes over students’ lives to the point that some drop out—or get kicked out—of school altogether.

But how much is too much? Doesn’t that depend on the person and individual tolerance?

Not necessarily. According to WebMD, 20 percent of college men—or one in five—admits to drinking 10 or more drinks at least one day a week. 10 percent of collegiate women reports drinking eight or more drinks during the same time period. That’s more than enough for anyone, exceeding even the threshold for “binge” drinking of five drinks per day for men and four for women.

Worse yet, research shows that each incident of extreme drinking increases a male student’s likelihood of suffering alcohol-related injury by 19 percent. For female students, that same risk caused their chances of getting injured to climb by 10 percent. That means students are more likely to have car accidents, trip and fall or have one of a thousand other types of accident with each drink they take.

What’s the solution? Whether consuming beer or liquor, students should think ahead and take precautions when they choose to imbibe. We recommend setting a drinking limit—and asking a friend to hold them accountable, avoiding parties and other situations where they’ll be tempted to overdo it, and volunteering to be the designated driver for a group of friends.

The college years are a time of growing, learning and experiencing new things. But they can also be times when bad habits get ingrained in young peoples’ lives.

So let’s set an example against extreme drinking and teach our kids to drink only in moderation. Hopefully, they’ll remember our advice when we’re not around—and stay safe for years to come.

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Red, White—and Green

September 2nd, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

green_energyIn these days of high prices, layoffs and budget cuts, saving money is the name of the game.

In the midst of a hurting economy, local and national government is doing everything it can to encourage us to go green.

Enter Cash for Clunkers, tax breaks for hybrid car owners, and incentives for homeowners purchasing and using energy-efficient appliances.

For natural environmentalists, going green is a way of life. But for some of us, it takes more effort.

However, some insurance companies like Travelers, Farmers and Allstate are making it easier. They’re giving us further incentive to reduce our carbon footprint by rewarding us with insurance discounts, such as those for green-certified or solar-powered homes.

A five to 10 percent insurance discount may not sound like much; but start adding up the discount possibilities and you could make a significant dent in your insurance premiums.

Insurers say that green consumers (whether patriotic or not) tend to drive less, stay healthier, be more mature and act more responsibly than the less environmentally friendly. They’re also less likely to file insurance claims.

And, since that’s the kind of customer they’re looking for, they’re willing to reward us for our efforts—whether at home, in our car or elsewhere.

If you have car or homeowners insurance but you’re not taking advantage of all the green discounts, take a few minutes to give your insurer a call and ask what they have available. You might be surprised how much money you can save.

Resources:

Going Green Brings Insurance Discounts

Green Insurance, the Eco-Alternative

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Snap! Crackle! Pop! (No, That’s Not Your Rice Krispies)

August 20th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

lightning_over_cityMost of us have been seeing unusual weather patterns this year.

From heavy thunderstorms and rain to hail and lightning, scientists attribute this strange weather to El Nino—and they say we’re in for at least another year of unseasonable temperatures and uncharacteristic thunderstorms.

When the weather turns nasty, the number of insurance claims goes through the roof. Hail damages homes and cars, high winds and heavy rain cause flooding and destruction, and people and animals get trapped outside and injured or killed.

But do you know which weather event is the most dangerous, damaging and costly? You might be surprised. Ready? Lightning.

Lightning strikes about 250,000 times and kills an average of 73 people each year—more than hurricanes or tornadoes.

Since 2004, the number of lightening-related insurance claims filed by policyholders and paid by insurance companies has dropped almost eleven-and-a-half percent.

That sounds like good news, right?

But hold on to your hat: the average cost per claim has increased nearly 64 percent over the past five years.

Why? Well, let’s just say that’s not your Rice Krispies you hear going snap, crackle, pop!

To find out the effect lightning can have on your insurance—and the very real damage it can cause—read our article titled, “Lightning Claims Shocking.” It might open your eyes to the damage lightning can cause, while helping you stay out of harm’s way when skies turn dark.

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7 Important Facts about Texting That Could Save Your Life!

August 11th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

driver_textingWe all know that familiar sound: Bleep! It’s another text message that needs our attention.

When that noise bombards our ears, most of us automatically reach for our phone, BlackBerry or PDA to see who’s texting us and why.

But according to the results of a new study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, along with prior studies by Liberty Mutual Insurance and state-funded organizations, we’d best leave that little device alone—and keep both hands on the wheel.

As it turns out, texting while driving is incredibly dangerous, increasing the risk of accident more than 23 times. In fact, it’s much more lethal than talking on the phone—or even driving drunk!

We hear all the time about local and national campaigns to stop drunken driving. But with this new evidence, it seems it’s time to outlaw texting while driving, too.

So far, 14 states and Washington, D.C., have made this deadly combination illegal. And more states are joining the fight each year, encouraging drivers to shelve electronic devices to avoid accidents and high insurance premiums.

Lawmakers are jumping in now too, proposing legislation that would require states to ban texting behind the wheel or face losing highway funds.

But, like most things, it’s all a matter of personal responsibility. For example, illegal or not, there will always be those who choose to break the speed limit, pass in no-passing zones and park in handicapped or striped areas without authorization.

But for those people who just can’t ignore those incoming text messages, do us all a favor, would you please, and pull over. You can take care of business when you get where you’re going.

Meanwhile, you’ll help us all stay 23 times safer—and help keep car insurance much more affordable, too.

For more life-saving information on texting while driving, see our feature article here.

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Hey, Dude—Where’s My Car?

August 3rd, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

car_thiefIt’s your worst nightmare (and reminiscent of an Ashton Kutcher movie from a few years back): You drive across town to a friend’s house, park your car across the street, and head over for a rockin’ good time at a party.

Later that night (or early the next morning), you stagger outside, head across the street—and your car is gone.

Nowhere to be seen. Vanished—like Cinderella from the ball. Now what?

Though this scenario may not fit your lifestyle completely, vehicle theft is serious business, one you’d never expect to encounter during the course of a normal, routine day. But it happens all the time, leaving innocent drivers holding the bag and wondering what they did to deserve such a bad break.

How likely are you to have such a horrible, nerve-wracking experience as car theft? Well, that depends. If you happen to live in Modesto, California and/or drive a Honda Civic, you’re more likely than most.

It seems Modesto is the top U.S. city for car theft, and the 1995 Honda Civic is the most frequently stolen car in the country—increasing your chances if you live in that area or drive that particular car.

But no one is immune. According to the FBI, a car is stolen every 29 seconds in the U.S., and the rate of theft in 2007 was an estimated 363.3 per 100,000 people. Property losses in 2006 were nearly $8 billion, for an average of $6,649 per stolen car.

So what do losses like that mean to the average Joe (or Jane) like you and me? Other than possibly losing our prized speedster, economy model or SUV, it means higher insurance costs—something we’d all like to avoid.

For a list of the most-stolen cars, check out Jeb’s article on the subject here. Oh, and next time you head out to party with a friend, play it safe and do what you can to avoid theft: lock your doors, park in a well-lit area, and use a Club or other restrictive device to discourage joy-riders. It could make all the difference.

More Information:

Auto Theft

Auto Insurance Quotes & Theft

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