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Toyota Accident Trend No Surprise to State Farm

February 18th, 2010 by Penny Hagerman

As we alluded to in our previous post (and you may have already heard in the media), mechanical issues involving Toyota vehicles came as no surprise to the nation’s largest auto insurer.

In fact, State Farm reported a disturbing trend involving some Toyota models way back in 2007.

Late that year, the company contacted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to report a worrying accident trend it was seeing amongst drivers of some Toyota vehicles.

State Farm processes a huge volume of consumer claims each year. The company felt the pattern of accidents it was seeing was not normal and indicated a problem, though few other insurers saw the same.

Few others, however, write enough auto policies to make such a trend noticeable. State Farm, on the other hand, holds more than 42 million auto policies nationwide.

As reported in the Insurance Journal, spokesman Kip Diggs said of the company’s actions, “When you start to see significant claims activity that indicates that there may be widespread problems with a product, that’s when you go to the NHTSA. There had to have been significant activity, a noticeable trend, for that to happen.”

Now, two Congressional leaders are requesting information from State Farm and four other top auto insurers, including Geico, Allstate, Farmers and Progressive. Lawmakers are looking for any information regarding consumer complaints of sudden unintended acceleration in Toyotas and any warnings these companies may have provided the NHTSA concerning defect trends in those vehicles.

Consumers who own recalled Toyotas and were involved in accidents during the past few years may have seen their insurance rates rise unfairly due to mechanical defects like stuck accelerators and floor mats that caused braking issues.

With further research, if some of those mishaps are proven to have been caused by vehicle fault, rather than driver error, some Toyota owners may see their insurance premiums return to the rates they were paying pre-accident.

This isn’t the first time State Farm has come to consumers’ aid regarding safety. The company also collected data and tracked problems that linked rollover accidents in Ford Explorers with Firestone tires 10 years ago. 

With the previous trends the insurer noted concerning Toyota, it seems State Farm is at work on drivers’ behalf once again.

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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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Missing Genes Linked to Obesity

February 4th, 2010 by Penny Hagerman

woman_on_scalesFor years now, we’ve all heard the “nature vs nuture” argument as it relates to obesity, and wonder whether environment or genetics plays a larger role where weight is concerned.

Some say it’s all about environment—and we should be teaching our kids healthy eating habits from the time they’re young to prevent lifetime weight gain. Proponents of the nurture theory often place the blame on the shoulders of the overweight, saying they’re fat because they’re lazy, eat too much or lead a sedentary lifestyle.

Others point to genetics, claiming that, no matter what they eat or how much they exercise, they’re destined to be fat, just like their parents or other family members. No matter how hard they try, they just can’t get the extra weight off, and often put themselves at further health risk by resorting to desperate measures in order to lose the additional weight.

Either way, obesity can lead to many health problems that are difficult to overcome and can make getting and staying insured difficult.

In fact, those who are overweight usually pay at least 15 percent more for health insurance than individuals of normal weight—if they can get insured at all.

But a new report published today in the journal Nature now indicates that genetics may play a larger role in obesity than any of us previously realized.

In a recent European study, scientists found a rare genetic abnormality that is linked to both severe obesity and learning disabilities: the absence of 30 genes that reportedly virtually guarantee that a person will become obese.

What are the missing genes doing to cause obesity? No one is really sure, but experts speculate their absence may cause the production of an enzyme or protein that keeps the overweight from being able to burn energy efficiently.

With the genes necessary for regulating the body’s calorie consumption and energy burning process absent, obesity appears to result 100 percent of the time.

Though balancing caloric intake with expended energy is often the key to maintaining a healthy weight, the bodies of the obese don’t always function normally. Instead, they often “extract calories from food more effectively and may not be burning energy as efficiently as others,” says Dr. Stuart Weiss, an assistant clinical professor at NYU Langone Medical Center, in today’s Yahoo news article on the subject.

Maybe in the future, we’ll all undergo genetic tests to see if we’re missing any genes and, if so, what can be done to counteract the effects of their absence. Who knows, maybe scientists will find a cure for obesity—or figure out a way to overcome the effect of genetics on our bodies.

Meanwhile, it looks like science is proving that nature plays a much bigger role than previously thought.  

Additional Resources:

Weigh in: Do your kids make the grade?

Obesity & Genetics

Fat Chance

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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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The Dangerous and Deadly

January 12th, 2010 by Penny Hagerman

OK, take this quick quiz:

What do Fishermen, Loggers and Pilots have in common?

Give up?

They work at the three most dangerous and deadly occupations in America! That means, if you’re a fisherman, logger or pilot, insurance is likely to cost you more than it costs a worker in any other occupation in the U.S.

When I first heard this statistic, I balked.

“How dangerous can fishing be?” I thought. “How can standing in the water or on a boat trying to hook fish be dangerous?”

I had it all wrong. Fishermen do much more than that. They work long hours on rough seas, in unpredictably bad weather and often in isolation—which makes it difficult to reach them in case of emergency. Together, these three factors make the job the most unsafe profession there is.

When it comes to logging, that one made more sense. It stands to reason that, when you’re in the forest cutting down trees, you stand a fairly good chance of a tree falling on—or at least near you, right? (But if no one was around, would it actually make a sound when it hit the ground? Sorry, that’s a topic for another day!)

Regarding pilots, I could totally understand the danger involved in their jobs, which often depend on clear weather and perfect communication to avoid mishaps. (One bumpy flight and you couldn’t pay me enough to stay in that cockpit!)

Because of the risk involved in these three jobs—which often require workers to perform perfectly in perilous or unpredictable conditions—insurance companies charge them higher life insurance rates than the average person to cover the added risk.

But job function isn’t the only determinant of insurance rates, either.

“Generally, high-risk jobs affect life insurance, but not health premiums,” says Cheryl Randolph, spokeswoman for UnitedHealthcare. ”Health status is much more predictive of medical risk than a high-risk job.”

On the other hand, a healthy person with a safe job would pay lower premiums for individual medical, life and disability insurance than a healthy person with a high-risk job, she says.

If you’re shopping for lower insurance rates, we definitely don’t recommend fishing, logging or flying, to be sure. But other occupations are almost as deadly.

To find out what they are, and how they affect your premiums, read our article on dangerous and deadly jobs now.

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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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6 Reasons to Give Something Furry This Year

December 24th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

puppy_as_presentIf you’re one of those people who puts off holiday shopping until the last minute (hello, it’s Christmas Eve!), we have an idea that could save you time and hassle this year.

Rather than buying another toy your child doesn’t need, giving your wife a box of chocolates, or choosing another argyle sweater for grandpa, consider a healthier alternative that could bring an ear-to-ear smile and a happier, fuller life: a new pet!

Now, don’t get us wrong; we’re not advocating giving an animal to someone who can’t or won’t take care of it. We have enough strays roaming the streets, and our shelters are full of forgotten animals.

But for those responsible enough to love and care for them properly, pets offer a great gift-giving alternative—and can help their owners get and stay healthy. That means greater quality of life and lower health and life insurance rates, too.

If you’re looking for something special for a friend or family member this Christmas, consider visiting your local shelter or breeder and bringing home something furry this year (and we’re not talking slippers!)

If you need a reason to do so, here’s half a dozen health reasons to contemplate along the way:

  • Lowered risk of heart disease
  • Greater chance of survival following a heart attack
  • Depression/dementia relief
  • Reduced occurrence of doctor visits
  • Increased ability to deal with stress or traumatic events
  • A more physically active life

Pets add so much love and companionship to our lives. But they also help keep us healthy! So while you’re racking your brain trying to come up with unique gifts to give this year, consider giving someone you love a new best friend.

You’ll be helping them stay healthy in the process…and may just extend their life!

Additional Resource:

For more on how pets contribute to increased good health, read more on the subject here. Happy holidays!

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Animals, Risk and Insurance

December 18th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

woman_with_petsIf you’re an animal lover like me, you probably can’t imagine living without pets.

After all, there’s nothing quite as endearing as that perky little puppy who greets you at the door at the end of the day, tail wagging, or that sweet little kitten who wraps himself around your shoulders while you’re watching TV at night.

But there’s risk inherent in owning animals, too. Whether you live in the city and enjoy dogs and cats or reside in the country and raise cows, pigs, goats or some other type of farm animal, you’re responsible for your animal’s behavior.

So if they get out of their pen and injure someone or damage someone’s property, you’re the one who’ll be paying the bills.

Your homeowners insurance covers what’s referred to as “reasonable risk.” That means they’ll generally pick up the tab if there’s not excessive danger of your animal repeatedly causing irreparable harm to others.

If, however, statistics show that the type or breed of animal you own tends to be on the dangerous side, you’ll pay more to insure yourself against possible insurance claims—whether the animals are domesticated or on the wild side.

What if someone else’s animal injures you? The same rules apply: either that person’s own insurance policy will pay for the damages or they’ll be held responsible to cover that cost themselves. This is known as liability in insurance terms.

Sometimes weird situations happen involving animals. But if you’ve got the right insurance coverage, you should be prepared, no matter how strange or unusual the circumstances.

If you’ll be having company around your animals this holiday season, you’d best think ahead and possibly even imagine the worst. Then talk to your insurance agent about covering your animals with your home insurance policy. Add a rider, or extra insurance protection, if necessary. But make sure everyone stays safe around your animals while you’re celebrating this year.

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Are Your Wheels Protected?

December 11th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

bike_in_parkFor people who use bicycles for transportation, their wheels represent so much more than just fun and entertainment.

They’re also a money-saving way to commute around town and get some exercise without spending money on gas or car insurance.

When times are tight and people are out of work, many will do most anything to make a buck—including stealing that expensive bike you spent months saving to buy. That’s why it’s important to keep your bike locked up when you’re not riding it.

The more difficult you can make it for a thief to steal, the less likely they’ll take the time and energy to steal yours, and the more likely they’ll move on to someone else’s.

But besides locking up your bike, there’s something else you can do to protect yourself against bike theft, something many people aren’t aware of: include it in your contents coverage under your homeowner’s insurance policy.

It’ll cost you next to nothing to insure it (unless it’s a super expensive touring version or the like), yet you’ll have peace of mind that your ride will always be there—or be replaceable—should it ever turn up missing.

For tips on avoiding bicycle theft and keeping your bike safe and secure, read our article titled Thieves on Two Wheels. Then talk to your insurance agent about insuring your bike—before a thief beats you to it!

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Protecting Your Home from Holiday Burglary

December 4th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

burglar

Planning to leave town for the holidays? If so, we’d advise you take steps to prevent burglars from invading your home while you’re gone, no matter where you live.

According to a press release by the Insurance Information Institute, one quarter of all home burglaries occur during the winter months, when many homeowners are out-of-town for the holidays.

With homes obviously empty of people but full of possessions, it doesn’t take long for a thief to scope out what’s inside, find entrance and steal your holiday joy!

Lessening the risk of invasion helps keep homeowners insurance rates low. So as you’re preparing to head out of town to join family and friends this year, don’t neglect to burglar-proof your home and minimize your chances of returning to a burglary disaster.

Then relax and enjoy the holidays, knowing you’ve taken care good care of your home, property and everything you own.

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Getting to Grandma’s House Safely This Year

November 25th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

drink_and_car_keysIf you’re heading off to grandma’s house this year for Thanksgiving, keep in mind you’re not alone. Plenty of people will be clogging the roads on their way to meet friends and family and enjoy their own version of holiday dinner, just like you.

Unfortunately, many of those same people will drink to excess, then attempt to drive back home at the end of the day, endangering themselves and everyone around them in the process—including YOU!

Some will even begin drinking early in the day, and will keep others from arriving at the Thanksgiving table at all.

Alcohol-impaired driving represents one of our nation’s most-frequently committed and deadly crimes, especially during the holiday season. And because this is a crime whose results are often deadly, it’s important to learn how to recognize a drunken driver by his actions on the road.

To spot drunken drivers and stay out of their path, watch for these warning signs an impaired driver may be at the wheel:

  • Driving at unreasonably slow, fast or inconsistent speeds
  • Changing lanes frequently
  • Swerving while passing
  • Making unusually wide turns
  • Driving at night with no headlights
  • Slow or no response to traffic signals or stop signs
  • Driving in opposing lanes, or the wrong way on a one-way street
  • Driving too close to curbs, shoulders or the center line

If a driver exhibits these behaviors, avoid confrontation. Follow from a safe distance, take down the license plate number and vehicle description, and pull over and report the driver using 9-1-1.

Hopefully, you’ll arrive wherever you’re going safely this year. You might even have a hand in saving someone’s life!

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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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School Lunches May Get Healthy Overhaul

October 21st, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

Do your kids eat a healthy diet at home, or are burgers and fries more like standard fare? What kind of snacks do they pop in their mouths when they get home from school every day?

If they’re like most of their peers, high-calorie foods like hot dogs and chips are preferred over healthier ones, like leafy greens and fresh fruit. But what’s happening at school, when we’re not around? Are our schools working to cut the incidence of childhood obesity and change our kids’ eating habits or simply catering to their desire for unhealthy, obesity-causing foods because they’re cheaper and easier to serve?  healthy_lunch1

School meal programs provide 40 million meals daily and more than half of students’ food and nutrient intake during the school day, according to an Institute of Medicine report referenced in today’s Reuter’s News.

The obvious conclusion: Lunchroom meals, which represent a large part of our kids’ diets, are at least partially responsible for rising obesity rates among U.S. children—which have doubled in the last 20 years.

So why do the majority of schools choose to serve junk food over healthier, more nutritious fare in the first place? Because fattier, processed foods are much cheaper to buy, enabling them to hold the cost of lunches down so more kids and their families can afford to eat in.

Problem is, it’s compromising our kids’ health in the meantime, reinforcing bad eating habits and leading to heavier, unhealthier kids.

So what can be done about that? How can we prompt schools to take action with regard to our children’s health and well being, and change their approach to nutrition for kids?

Set realistic maximum caloric limits and serve more fruit and vegetables, says the Institute of Medicine. Asking for a revision of current guidelines that set only minimum caloric levels for school lunches, the Institute favors more servings of vegetables with a focus on leafy greens and orange vegetables rather than starchy vegetables like potatoes.

Though doing so could increase the cost of breakfast by as much as 25 percent and lunch by 9 percent, “This will be a very wise investment in children’s health,” said Virginia Stallings, chair of the group that conducted the study.

What do you think? Would you be willing to pay more to ensure your children eat healthy meals at school? Do you think the extra expense would cause financial hardship for the majority of American families, or would they (like you?) welcome the chance to help keep their kids healthy?

Read the entire article here: More Fruit, Fewer Calories Urged for School Lunches.

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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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Can Smoking Really Save Lives?

October 12th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

Yes, you read correctly. Along with the never-ending debate over the health risk of secondhand smoke vs. smokers’ right to smoke, recent research reveals that smoking can actually save lives—as long as the smoker inhales a different kind of cigarette. cigarette

Already tested in the Big Apple and proven to save lives there, New York has seen a marked decrease in smoking-related fire fatality since adopting sale of what’s known as fire-safe, or low-ignition, cigarettes statewide in 2004.

But how could switching to a different type of smoke save lives? Because this type:

  1. Spares millions of dollars in property damage and saves thousands of lives annually
  2. Keeps smokers from lighting up so often, and
  3. Reduces home insurance claims

Here’s how they work. Containing two or three layers of porous paper called “speed bumps,” fire-safe cigarettes are designed to sense when a minute or more has passed since a smoker last inhaled—and self-extinguish automatically.

That means smokers must puff faster to stay lit-up—or they’ll end up smoking less. And that’s good news for everyone’s health and well being, smoker or not.

Now, legislation is being proposed that could pull traditional cigarettes off store shelves in many more states and replace them with the low-ignition variety.

For more information on the subject, check out our article titled, Save Lives, Smokers: Puff Faster! And watch for low-ignition cigarettes at a store near you.

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