Rent Without Wasting Money

Courtesy of iii.org

There are more options for renting a car than ever before—bricks-and-mortar, peer-to-peer and membership-based car sharing services. While this means more choice for renters, it also creates more questions about insurance coverage. Use these tips to properly insure yourself when renting a car, and avoid wasting money on duplicative coverage.


If you’re looking to rent a car, depending on your needs and location, there are a number of alternatives—the traditional brick-and-mortar companies, peer-to-peer car services and car sharing programs—each with its own insurance parameters. It pays to understand your existing coverage first, and then look at your rental insurance options.

No matter what company or what kind of company you’re renting from, the most important step is to read and understand the car rental or car sharing agreement. Most companies clearly state what is covered as well as the supplemental coverage that can be purchased. If you don’t understand, have the rental or car sharing company representative walk you through.

If you’re renting a car, check your own coverages first

Before you enter an agreement with any type of rental service, maximize use of the insurance you’re already paying for and avoid paying for duplicate insurance.

If you own or lease a car and/or have homeowners insurance, call your insurer to first check the following:

  • How much coverage you currently have on your own car – In most cases, whatever auto insurance and deductibles you have on your own car would apply when you rent a car (providing you are using the rental car for recreation and not for business).
  • If you still have collision or comprehensive – If you dropped these coverages on your own car as a way to save money on your car insurance, you may not be covered if your rental car is stolen or damaged. Insurance rules vary by state, so it is best to check with your insurance professional for the specifics of your policy.
  • If you are covered for administrative fees, loss of use or towing charges – Check to see whether your insurance company pays for—or provides a rider for—additional fees.
  • Whether your homeowners or renters insurance covers the loss of possessions – These policies (not your car insurance) generally cover your belongings if they are damaged or stolen out of your vehicle.

The credit card you use to rent a car may also provide some insurance. Though coverage is likely to be limited—for example, it may only cover the deductible if you make a claim—it’s worth knowing what protections it will provide.

  • Know that benefits differ – Insurance coverage can depend on the company or bank that issues the card or even the level of card. For example, a platinum card may offer more robust coverage than a green card. If you have more than one card, you may want to compare what insurance they offer for car renters.
  • Contact the credit card issuer to find out what they cover – If you are depending on a credit card for insurance protection, ask the company or bank that issued the card to send you their coverage information in writing.
  • Credit card insurance benefits are usually secondary – That is, they will kick in after your personal insurance policy or the insurance coverage offered by the rental car company are utilized.

Insurance if you’re renting from a brick-and-mortar car rental

Brick-and-mortar car rental companies are generally found at airports, train stations or other locations where travelers converge. These traditional rental companies allow you to simply reserve or select a vehicle from one of the many generally available on any given day. The insurance you’ll be offered is fairly standard (though, like all car insurance, it varies by state).

Depending on what type of auto and/or homeowners insurance you carry, you may want to consider some of the insurance coverage provided by the rental car company. While auto insurance regulations, costs and coverage will vary by state and insurer, consumers renting from traditional companies can generally choose from the following coverages:

  • Loss Damage Waiver (LDW) – Also referred to as a collision damage waiver, an LDW is not technically an insurance product—it is designed to relieve or “waive” renters of financial responsibility if their rental car is damaged or stolen. Waivers may also provide coverage for “loss of use,” in the event the rental car company charges for the time a damaged car cannot be used because it is being fixed, as well as towing and administrative fees. The LDW may become void if the accident was caused by speeding, driving on unpaved roads or driving while intoxicated. However, if you carry comprehensive and collision auto insurance, you may already be covered for damage to a rental car.
  • Liability Insurance – By law, rental companies must provide the state required minimum amount of liability insurance coverage—often this does not provide enough protection. If you carry your own auto insurance and have opted for higher liability limits (which is recommended), you’ll be adequately covered. Non car-owners who are frequent renters have the option of purchasing a non-owner liability policy, which can provide the additional liability needed.
  • Personal accident insurance – This covers the driver and passengers for medical and ambulance bills for injuries caused in a car crash. Whether or not you should consider this depends on your health insurance and the personal injury protection (PIP) provided by your auto insurance, which will likely cover medical expenses.
  • Personal effects coverage–This provides insurance protection for the theft of items from a rental car. Consider this if you do not carry homeowners or renters insurance to cover this type of loss.

Insurance if you’re using a car sharing service

With car sharing programs, for a monthly or annual membership fee, consumers can pick up a vehicle at a wide range of locations for periods ranging from minutes to days. These programs are popular in urban settings where owning a car can be expensive or difficult, but where it’s convenient have a car available when it’s needed. Coverage options vary widely, but there is usually some insurance included.

The insurance offered by these types of companies is not standardized so read the insurance coverage information carefully (it can usually be found on the service’s website). If you have any questions, call the company’s customer service line. And contact your auto insurer if you feel you need more information to make an educated insurance coverage decision.

  • Car sharing programs (like ZipCar) generally include insurance costs in the fee. However, if the car is involved in a collision or is stolen, the renter may be billed for a specific dollar amount that is stated in the membership agreement. For an additional cost, customers can purchase a “waiver” to avoid paying the accident fee.
  • Many car sharing programs limit coverage for young drivers to the minimum state required amount of liability. Renters under the age 21 should read the insurance coverage carefully. If it’s not adequate to their needs, they can look into whether their parents’ auto insurance would cover them for the difference, or purchasing their own non-owner liability policy.

Insurance if you’re renting from a peer-to-peer service

Peer-to-peer car rental networks enable consumers to rent personally owned cars from others. Insurance coverage varies widely, depending on location and service.

  • Peer-to-peer rental services (like Turo) may offer a range of insurance options and, under some circumstances, the driver may decline coverage.

 

Next steps: When considering these options for your rental car, it helps to have a general understanding of your auto insurance coverage.

9 Ways to lower insurance costs

Courtesy of iii.org

1. Seek out other discounts

Companies offer discounts to policyholders who have not had any accidents or moving violations for a number of years. You may also get a discount if you take a defensive driving course. If there is a young driver on the policy who is a good student, has taken a drivers education course or is away at college without a car, you may also qualify for a lower rate.

2. Before you buy a car, compare insurance costs

Before you buy a new or used car, check into insurance costs. Car insurance premiums are based in part on the car’s price, the cost to repair it, its overall safety record and the likelihood of theft. Many insurers offer discounts for features that reduce the risk of injuries or theft. To help you decide what car to buy, you can get information from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (www.iihs.org).

3. Ask for higher deductibles

Deductibles are what you pay before your insurance policy kicks in. By requesting higher deductibles, you can lower your costs substantially. For example, increasing your deductible from $200 to $500 could reduce your collision and comprehensive coverage cost by 15 to 30 percent. Going to a $1,000 deductible can save you 40 percent or more. Before choosing a higher deductible, be sure you have enough money set aside to pay it if you have a claim.

4. Reduce coverage on older cars

Consider dropping collision and/or comprehensive coverages on older cars. If your car is worth less than 10 times the premium, purchasing the coverage may not be cost effective. Auto dealers and banks can tell you the worth of cars. Or you can look it up online at Kelley’s Blue Book (www.kbb.com). Review your coverage at renewal time to make sure your insurance needs haven’t changed.

5. Buy your homeowners and auto coverage from the same insurer

Many insurers will give you a break if you buy two or more types of insurance. You may also get a reduction if you have more than one vehicle insured with the same company. Some insurers reduce the rates for long-time customers. But it still makes sense to shop around! You may save money buying from different insurance companies, compared with a multipolicy discount.

6. Maintain a good credit record

Establishing a solid credit history can cut your insurance costs. Most insurers use credit information to price auto insurance policies. Research shows that people who effectively manage their credit have fewer claims. To protect your credit standing, pay your bills on time, don’t obtain more credit than you need and keep your credit balances as low as possible. Check your credit record on a regular basis and have any errors corrected promptly so that your record remains accurate.

7. Take advantage of low mileage discounts

Some companies offer discounts to motorists who drive a lower than average number of miles per year. Low mileage discounts can also apply to drivers who car pool to work.

8. Ask about group insurance

Some companies offer reductions to drivers who get insurance through a group plan from their employers, through professional, business and alumni groups or from other associations. Ask your employer and inquire with groups or clubs you are a member of to see if this is possible.

When you comparison shop, inquire about discounts for the following:*

Antitheft Devices
Auto and Homeowners Coverage with the Same Company
College Students away from Home
Defensive Driving Courses
Drivers Ed Courses
Good Credit Record
Higher deductibles
Low Annual Mileage
Long-Time Customer
More than 1 car
No Accidents in 3 Years
No Moving Violations in 3 Years
Student Drivers with Good Grades

*The discounts listed may not be available in all states or from all insurance companies.

The key to savings is not the discounts, but the final price. A company that offers few discounts may still have a lower overall price.

 

Drunk Driving Holiday Risks

Courtesy of iii.org

Alcohol is a major factor in traffic accidents. Based on data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there was an alcohol-impaired traffic fatality every 51 minutes in 2015.

Alcohol-impaired crashes are those that involve at least one driver or a motorcycle operator with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or above, the legal definition of drunk driving. According to NHTSA 10,265 people died in alcohol-impaired crashes in 2015, up 3.2 percent from 9,943 in 2014. In 2015 alcohol-impaired crash fatalities accounted for 29 percent of all crash fatalities.

The definition of drunk driving had been consistent throughout the United States until March 2017. All states and the District of Columbia defined impairment as driving with a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) at or above 0.08 percent. In addition, they all have zero tolerance laws prohibiting drivers under the age of 21 from drinking and driving. Generally the BAC limit in these cases is 0.02 percent. In March 2017, the governor of Utah signed a bill, effective December 30, 2018, that lowered the limit defining impaired driving for most drivers to 0.05 percent BAC, the lowest in the nation.

Anti-drunk-driving campaigns especially target drivers under the age of 21, repeat offenders and 21-to 34-year-olds, the age group that is responsible for more alcohol-related fatal crashes than any other. Young drivers are those least responsive to arguments against drunk driving, according to NHTSA.

To make sellers and servers of liquor more careful about to whom and how they serve drinks, 42 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws or have case law holding commercial liquor servers legally liable for the damage, injuries and deaths a drunk driver causes. Thirty-nine states have enacted laws or have case law that permit social hosts who serve liquor to people who subsequently are involved in crashes to be held liable for any injury or death. (See chart below and Background.)

Recent developments

  • Latest data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicates that the 10,265 alcohol-impaired fatalities in 2015 accounted for about one out of three highway deaths (29 percent) on U.S. roads. There were 9,943 such fatalities in 2014.
  • Ignition interlock systems require drivers to blow into a breathalyzer-like device to ensure the individual is sober before allowing the vehicle to start. According to a report released in January 2017 by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, traffic fatalities have declined by 7 percent in states that mandate ignition interlocks for first-time drunken-driving offenders. The researchers studied traffic fatalities for about five years before states began passing interlock laws in the late 1980s through 2013, when all states required them under some circumstances. See Background, Repeat Offenders.
  • Drunk Driving by Gender: Latest NHTSA data show that 14 percent of women drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2015 (1,761 drivers) were alcohol-impaired, only 1 percentage point lower than in 2006. In comparison, 21 percent of male drivers involved in fatal crashed were alcohol impaired in 2015, down from 24 percent in 2006.
  • Drunk Driving by Age: According to data from NHTSA, in 2015 the percentage of drivers in fatal crashes who were alcohol impaired was highest for 21 to 24 year old drivers, at 28 percent, followed by 25 to 34 year old drivers, at 27 percent, and 35 to 44 year old drivers, at 23 percent. The percentage of alcohol-impaired drivers in fatal crashes was 19 percent for 45 to 54 year olds, 16 percent of 16 to 20 year olds, 14 percent for 55 to 64 year olds, 9 percent for 65 to 74 year olds and 6 percent for drivers over the age of 74.
  • Drunk Driving by Vehicle Type: NHTSA data for 2015 show that 27 percent of motorcycle drivers involved in fatal crashes were alcohol impaired, compared with 21 percent of passenger car drivers and 20 percent of light truck drivers. Only 2 percent of large-truck drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2015 were alcohol impaired.
  • Social Host Liability: The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled in February 2012 that social hosts could be held liable for off-premise injury to people caused by the drunk driving of a guest only if the host served alcohol or made it available. People who host “bring your own” parties are free from liability, even if the guest is underage. The court rejected an attempt by the parents of an injured 16-year-old to sue a party’s 18-year old host. The younger person suffered injuries in a crash in a car driven by someone who brought his own alcohol to the party. At issue was the fact that the driver, not the party host, supplied the liquor. Although the lawsuit contended that the host should be found negligent for allowing the driver to drink at her home, the court said that earlier rulings showed that hosts can’t be responsible for their guests’ drinking if they don’t control the supply of alcohol. Massachusetts law and court cases have held social hosts liable if they supply alcohol (See chart: STATUTES OR COURT CASES HOLDING ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE SERVERS LIABLE).
  • Also in February 2012 the New Mexico Supreme Court said that circumstantial evidence of a driver’s intoxication was sufficient to support a jury finding that the driver was intoxicated, overruling a decision in a 2004 case. Evidence presented in the earlier trial showed that a driver who struck and killed a motorcyclist had a 0.09 percent blood alcohol content five hours after the crash. The owners of the gas station where the driver worked and consumed a number of beers bought at the gas station pleaded ignorance of the driver’s condition. The court ruled that the blood test results were enough to prove that the driver was intoxicated. The ruling holds liquor sellers responsible for liability where evidence is available under the existing dram shop law.

Insurance and Annuities

Courtesy of iii.org

Fixed vs. variable annuities

In a fixed annuity, the insurance company guarantees the principal and a minimum rate of interest. In other words, as long as the insurance company is financially sound, the money you have in a fixed annuity will grow and will not drop in value. The growth of the annuity’s value and/or the benefits paid may be fixed at a dollar amount or by an interest rate, or they may grow by a specified formula. The growth of the annuity’s value and/or the benefits paid does not depend directly or entirely on the performance of the investments the insurance company makes to support the annuity. Some fixed annuities credit a higher interest rate than the minimum, via a policy dividend that may be declared by the company’s board of directors, if the company’s actual investment, expense and mortality experience is more favorable than was expected. Fixed annuities are regulated by state insurance departments.

Money in a variable annuity is invested in a fund—like a mutual fund but one open only to investors in the insurance company’s variable life insurance and variable annuities. The fund has a particular investment objective, and the value of your money in a variable annuity—and the amount of money to be paid out to you—is determined by the investment performance (net of expenses) of that fund. Most variable annuities are structured to offer investors many different fund alternatives. Variable annuities are regulated by state insurance departments and the federal Securities and Exchange Commission.

Types of fixed annuities

An equity-indexed annuity is a type of fixed annuity, but looks like a hybrid. It credits a minimum rate of interest, just as a fixed annuity does, but its value is also based on the performance of a specified stock index—usually computed as a fraction of that index’s total return.

A market-value-adjusted annuity is one that combines two desirable features—the ability to select and fix the time period and interest rate over which your annuity will grow, and the flexibility to withdraw money from the annuity before the end of the time period selected. This withdrawal flexibility is achieved by adjusting the annuity’s value, up or down, to reflect the change in the interest rate “market” (that is, the general level of interest rates) from the start of the selected time period to the time of withdrawal.

Other types of annuities

All of the following types of annuities are available in fixed or variable forms.

Deferred vs. immediate annuities

A deferred annuity receives premiums and investment changes for payout at a later time. The payout might be a very long time; deferred annuities for retirement can remain in the deferred stage for decades.

An immediate annuity is designed to pay an income one time-period after the immediate annuity is bought. The time period depends on how often the income is to be paid. For example, if the income is monthly, the first payment comes one month after the immediate annuity is bought.

Lifetime vs. fixed period annuities

A fixed period annuity pays an income for a specified period of time, such as ten years. The amount that is paid doesn’t depend on the age (or continued life) of the person who buys the annuity; the payments depend instead on the amount paid into the annuity, the length of the payout period, and (if it’s a fixed annuity) an interest rate that the insurance company believes it can support for the length of the pay-out period.

A lifetime annuity provides income for the remaining life of a person (called the “annuitant”). A variation of lifetime annuities continues income until the second one of two annuitants dies. No other type of financial product can promise to do this. The amount that is paid depends on the age of the annuitant (or ages, if it’s a two-life annuity), the amount paid into the annuity, and (if it’s a fixed annuity) an interest rate that the insurance company believes it can support for the length of the expected pay-out period.

With a “pure” lifetime annuity, the payments stop when the annuitant dies, even if that’s a very short time after they began. Many annuity buyers are uncomfortable at this possibility, so they add a guaranteed period—essentially a fixed period annuity—to their lifetime annuity. With this combination, if you die before the fixed period ends, the income continues to your beneficiaries until the end of that period.

Qualified vs. nonqualified annuities

A qualified annuity is one used to invest and disburse money in a tax-favored retirement plan, such as an IRA or Keogh plan or plans governed by Internal Revenue Code sections, 401(k), 403(b), or 457. Under the terms of the plan, money paid into the annuity (called “premiums” or “contributions”) is not included in taxable income for the year in which it is paid in. All other tax provisions that apply to nonqualified annuities also apply to qualified annuities.

A nonqualified annuity is one purchased separately from, or “outside of,” a tax-favored retirement plan. Investment earnings of all annuities, qualified and non-qualified, are tax-deferred until they are withdrawn; at that point they are treated as taxable income (regardless of whether they came from selling capital at a gain or from dividends).

Single premium vs. flexible premium annuities

A single premium annuity is an annuity funded by a single payment. The payment might be invested for growth for a long period of time—a single premium deferred annuity—or invested for a short time, after which payout begins—a single premium immediate annuity. Single premium annuities are often funded by rollovers or from the sale of an appreciated asset.

A flexible premium annuity is an annuity that is intended to be funded by a series of payments. Flexible premium annuities are only deferred annuities; that is, they are designed to have a significant period of payments into the annuity plus investment growth before any money is withdrawn from them.

 

Is Your House Insured Against Animal Damage

Courtesy of iii.org

You may have read the recent story featured in the I.I.I. Daily about raccoon damage and homeowners insurance. The gist: raccoons got into a house and caused $80,000 worth of damage. The homeowners were surprised to learn that their insurance wouldn’t cover any of it.

So what’s the deal with animal damage and insurance?

Homeowners insurance

Let’s start with the easy stuff. If your dog Fido rips through your couch or pees all over the wall, you’re out of luck. Standard homeowners policies won’t cover any damage to your house or personal property caused by a pet. And”pet” is a pretty broad term. Doesn’t matter if it’s a Shih Tzu or a Clydesdale horse, pets are any animal you own.

What about animals that aren’t pets, like deer or birds or – God forbid – rats? That’s where things get interesting.

Building damage: You probably aren’t covered for any damage to the building caused by birds, rodents, insects, or vermin. There also probably won’t be coverage for any nesting or infestation. Insurance policies can vary widely, however, so make sure you ask your agent what is and isn’t considered a rodent or vermin (some insurers will say raccoons are vermin, some will say they’re not). The specific details of your policy will determine your coverage.

Damage to the building from other wild animals could be covered, though. If a moose runs through the sliding door to your deck, the damaged door would be covered.

Personal property damage: Unfortunately, your personal property is probably not covered no matter what kind of animal does the damaging. If a moose runs through your sliding door and wreaks havoc on grandma’s china, then you’re covered for damage to the door, but not the china.

Liability: You go to your friend’s house and bring Fido for a dog playdate. Fido then rips through your friend’s couch. Are you covered? Yes. Homeowners liability protection will cover the damage to other people’s property caused by your pets. Just not your property. Friendship saved.

Personal auto insurance

A squirrel chews through the wiring in your car. Fido dents your door chasing after a squirrel. A moose rams your car in a fit of rage, smashing the windshield. (Why do I keep thinking of moose scenarios?)

Does personal auto insurance cover animal damage? Yes, if you have optional comprehensive coverage. If you only have collision coverage, then you’re not covered.

Collision only covers damage when a car overturns or hits another car or object. Comprehensive covers…more or less everything else: damage from falling objects, fire, explosions – and birds and animals.

So if you paid the extra premium for comprehensive coverage (like most Americans do), then you’re covered for damage from chewing squirrels, incautious Fidos, and rampaging moose (meese?).

Insurance & Water Damage

Courtesy of iii.org

Pop quiz: what’s one of the most common types of homeowners insurance claims? (Hint: it’s not fire.)

It’s water damage. Maybe that’s not surprising – it rains a lot in many places. But what may surprise you is that things like pipe bursts and broken appliances are increasingly the main causes of water damage in homes.

In insurance-speak, these are called “non-weather water damage claims.” Worryingly, these claims are happening more often and are getting a lot more expensive. A Best’s Review article reports that the average homeowners water damage claim is now over $6,700. Large losses (over $500,000) have doubled in number over the past three years. Non-weather water damage is now costing insurers (and their policyholders) billions in losses every year.

This is happening for several reasons. Our housing stock is aging, as is our infrastructure. More houses are being built and they’re getting bigger – many houses now have extra bathrooms and second-floor laundry rooms, which means more piping. (The story is probably different in Florida. You can read why that is here.)

But the worst part is that many – if not most – water damage claims are preventable. Inspecting pipes or conducting routine maintenance can go a long way. That’s where the internet of things (IoT) comes in. Smart devices and connected sensors installed on piping can detect leaks before they occur or before they cause too much damage. They’re basically smoke detectors, but for water.

And they work. Best’s Review noted that installing IoT devices can reduce water losses by up to 93 percent.

The Review quoted an IoT company CEO who claimed that leak detection devices could save insurers and their customers $10 billion every year.

Homeowners have admittedly been slow to install IoT to help detect leaks. But insurers are hopeful that raising awareness about the issue, offering policyholder incentives like premium discounts, and encouraging IoT installation during home construction will begin to turn the tide.

Update: Of interest, Washington state adopted a rule in 2018 that specifically mentions water monitors and water shut-off systems as permissible tools for an insurer’s risk reduction program.

Gap Insurance-What Is

Courtesy of iii.org

How gap insurance works

When you buy or lease a new car or truck, the vehicle starts to depreciate in value the moment it leaves the car lot. In fact, most cars lose 20 percent of their value within a year. Standard auto insurance policies cover the depreciated value of a car—in other words, a standard policy pays the current market value of the vehicle at the time of a claim.

If, when you finance the purchase of a new car and put down only a small deposit, in the early years of the vehicle’s ownership the amount of the loan may exceed the market value of the vehicle itself.

In the event of an accident in which you’ve badly damaged or totaled your car, gap insurance covers the difference between what a vehicle is currently worth (which your standard insurance will pay) and the amount you actually owe on it.

When you might need gap insurance

It’s a good idea to consider buying gap insurance for your new car or truck purchase if you:

  • Made less than a 20 percent down payment
  • Financed for 60 months or longer
  • Leased the vehicle (carrying gap insurance is generally required for a lease)
  • Purchased a vehicle that depreciates faster than the average
  • Rolled over negative equity from an old car loan into the new loan

Where you can get gap insurance

Your car dealer may offer to sell you gap insurance on your new vehicle. However, most car insurers also offer it, and they typically charge less than the dealer. On most auto insurance policies, including gap insurance with collision and comprehensive coverage adds only about $20 a year to the annual premium.

Cold Weather Tips

Courtesy of iii.org

Ice, snow and wind can have devastating consequences to your home—and to your household budget. Fortunately, there are precautions you can take to avoid the expense and inconvenience of winter damage—and even help you save on heating costs. Get started when the leaves begin to turn so your home is well prepared when the cold, harsh weather hits.


Winter weather prep for the outside of your home

When temperatures drop dramatically and the snow flies, you’ll be glad to have taken these measures to safeguard your house.

  • Clean out the gutters. Remove leaves, sticks and other debris from gutters, so melting snow and ice can flow freely. This can prevent ice damming, which is what happens when water is unable to drain through the gutters and instead seeps into the house causing water to drip from the ceiling and walls.
  • Install gutter guards. Gutter guards prevent debris from entering the gutter and interfering with the flow of water away from the house and into the ground.
  • Trim trees and remove dead branches. Ice, snow and, wind could cause weak trees or branches to break free and damage your home or car, or injure someone walking by your property.
  • Repair steps and handrails. Broken stairs and banisters can become lethal when covered with snow and ice.
  • Use caulking to seal cracks and wall openings to prevent cold air and moisture from entering your home. Caulk and install weather stripping around windows and doors to prevent warm air from leaking out and cold air from blowing in.

Winter weather prep for the inside of your home

Frigid temperatures, snow and ice can wreak havoc on water pipes and tax heating systems. Ensure all your home’s internal systems are “go” for winter safety and efficiency.

  • Add extra insulation to attics, basements and crawl spaces. If too much heat escapes through the attic, it can cause snow or ice to melt on the roof. Water then can refreeze, leading to more ice build-up—and may even lead to ice dams that can damage your roof. Well-insulated basements and crawl spaces will also help protect pipes. Consider insulating garages and other unfinished areas to keep pipes from freezing.
  • Provide a reliable back-up power source. In the event of a power outage, continuous power will keep you warm and help to prevent frozen pipes, or a frozen battery operated sump-pump. Consider purchasing a portable power generator to ensure safety—and be sure to follow all guidelines for safe operation.
  • Have your heating system serviced. Furnaces, boilers and chimneys should be serviced at least once a year to prevent fire and smoke damage.
  • Check pipes closely for the presence of cracks and leaks. Have any compromised pipe repaired immediately.
  • Protect pipes in attics and crawl spaces with insulation or plug-in heating cable. Be sure to purchase UL®-listed models of heating cables with built-in thermostats; these will turn on the heat on when it is needed. When using the cables, always follow manufacturers instructions closely.
  • Install an emergency pressure release valve in your plumbing system. This will protect the system against increased pressure caused by freezing pipes and can help prevent your pipes from bursting.
  • Move combustible items away from near any heat sources that you’ll likely be using. This includes fireplaces, wood stoves and space heaters.
  • Install or check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Not only do residential fires increase in the winter, but so does carbon monoxide poisoning—so regularly check that your detectors are in working condition.
  • Know where your pipes are located and learn how to shut the water off. If your pipes freeze, speed is critical. The quicker you shut off water or direct your plumber to the problem, the better your chance of preventing major damage.
  • Hire a licensed contractor to look for structural damage. If damage is found, have all necessary repairs performed as soon as possible.
  • Take steps to prevent flooding. Your licensed contractor can also advise you about measures to prevent flooding from melted snow and ice runoff. Plastic coatings for internal basement walls, sump pumps and other improvements can prevent water damage to your home and belongings.
  • Consider insuring yourself for a sewer backup. Flooding related to melting snow can overburden sewer systems. Raw sewage backed up into the drains in your home can cause thousands of dollars in damage to floors, walls, furniture and electrical systems. Sewer backup is not covered under standard homeowners insurance or renters insurance policies, nor is it covered by flood insurance but can be purchased as either a separate product, or an endorsement.

Fire Hazards and the Holidays

Courtesy of iii.org

HOLIDAY FIRE LOSSES

Fireworks

On Independence Day in a typical year, far more U.S. fires are reported than on any other day, and fireworks account for two out of five of those fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Fireworks caused an estimated 17,800 reported fires, including 1,200 total structure fires, 400 vehicle fires, and 16,300 outside and other fires in 2011, according to a fireworks fact sheet from the NFPA. Key stats include:

  • Fireworks fires resulted in an estimated eight reported civilian deaths, 40 civilian injuries and $32 million in direct property damage.
  • In 2013, U.S. hospital emergency rooms treated an estimated 11,400 people for fireworks related injuries; 55 percent of those injuries were to the extremities, and 38 percent were to the head.
  • The risk of fireworks injury is highest for young people under age 4, followed by children 10 to 14.
  • The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) says Thanksgiving Day is the leading day for home cooking fires, with three times as many occurring on Thanksgiving as any other day of the year. In 2013, there were 1,550 fires on Thanksgiving, a 230 percent increase over the daily average.

Home Fires

  • The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) says Thanksgiving Day is the leading day for home cooking fires, with three times as many occurring on Thanksgiving as any other day of the year. In 2013, there were 1,550 fires on Thanksgiving, a 230 percent increase over the daily average.
  • U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated annual average of 210 home structure fires that began with Christmas trees from 2009 to 2013, according to a fact sheet from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
  • Home Christmas tree fires caused an average of seven civilian deaths, 19 civilian injuries and $17.5 million in direct property damage annually from 2009 to 2013.
  • Electrical distribution or lighting equipment was involved in 38 percent of the home Christmas tree structure fires. About one-quarter (24 percent) occurred because some type of heat source was too close to the tree. Decorative lights were involved in 18 percent of these incidents. Eight percent of home Christmas tree fires were started by candles.
  • The top three days for home candle fires were Christmas, New Year’s Day and Christmas Eve, according to another NFPA fact sheet.
  • During the five-year-period of 2009-2013, the NFPA estimates that decorations were the item first ignited in an estimated average of 860 reported home structure fires per year. These fires caused an estimated average of one civilian death, 41 civilian injuries and $13.4 million in direct property damage per year, according to an NFPA fact sheet.

For information about Holiday Safety and Preparedness, see our Pinterest board.

FIRE LOSSES

Great strides have been made in constructing fire-resistant buildings and improving fire-suppression techniques, both of which have reduced the incidence of fire. However, in terms of property losses, these advances have been somewhat offset by increases in the number of and value of buildings. In 2014, on average, a fire department responded to a fire every 24 seconds in the United States, according to the National Fire Protection Association. A structure fire occurs every 64 seconds; a residential structure fire occurs every 86 seconds and an outside property fire occurs every 52 seconds.

STRUCTURE FIRES

There are about a half million fires in structures each year, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). In 2014, 78 percent of structure fires were in residential properties and 22 percent were in non-residential structures, including storage facilities, stores and offices, and industrial properties, and public assembly. Public assembly fires include fires in eating and drinking places and other entertainment venues, houses of worship and other places where people congregate. There are approximately 7,600 structure fires in eating and drinking establishments each year, according to a NFPA report based on data between 2006 and 2010.

According to the NFPA, fires in nightclubs are among the most deadly public occupancy fires, because they contain a large number of people in one main space. In January, 2013 a deadly nightclub fire in Brazil claimed over 230 lives, making it one of the most deadly nightclub fires on record. The deadliest nightclub fire in world history was the 1903 Iroquois Theater fire in Chicago, Illinois in which 602 people were killed, followed by a 1942 Cocoanut Grove fire in Boston, Massachusetts which claimed 492 lives and a fire at the Conway’s Theater in Brooklyn, New York in 1876 which killed 285 people. The 2003 Station Fire in Rhode Island claimed 100 lives, and ranks as number eight. The complete top ten ranking is posted at NFPA: Nightclub Fires.

Crisis with Florida Insurance Rates

Courtesy of iii.org

It is a standard practice throughout the insurance world: As a convenience, a policyholder grants a third party – an auto glass repair company, a medical practitioner, a home contractor – permission to directly bill an insurer to settle a claim. That practice is called an assignment of benefits, usually known by the acronym, AOB.

In Florida, abuse of AOBs has fueled an insurance crisis. The state’s legal environment has encouraged vendors and their attorneys to solicit unwarranted AOBs from tens of thousands of Floridians, conduct unnecessary or unnecessarily expensive work, then file tens of thousands of lawsuits against insurance companies that deny or dispute the claims. This mini-industry has cost consumers billions of dollars as they are forced to pay higher premiums to cover needless repairs and excessive legal fees. And consumers often do not even know that their claims are driving these cost increases.

The abuse therefore acts somewhat like a hidden tax on consumers, helping to increase what are already some of the highest insurance premiums in the country.

This report discusses how AOB abuse works, how and why it is spreading, and how it is contributing to higher insurance costs for Florida consumers.

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