Auto Insurance Myths

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https://www.iii.org/article/8-auto-insurance-myths

When purchasing an auto policy, it’s important to understand the factors that affect your policy costs and coverage. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of bad information that passes for “common wisdom”—here, we separate myth from facts about car insurance.


Myth 1 – Color determines the price of auto insurance

It doesn’t matter whether your car is “Arrest Me Red” or “Hide In Plain Sight White”—the color doesn’t actually factor into your auto insurance costs. The price of your auto policy is based on many factors, such as car make, model, body type, engine size and the age of the vehicle, as well as the car’s sticker price, the cost to repair it, its overall safety record and the likelihood of theft. Insurers also take into account the age, driving record and sometimes the credit history of the driver.

Myth 2 – It costs more to insure your car when you get older

Quite the opposite, in fact—older drivers may be eligible for special discounts. For example, those over 55 years of age can get a reduction in their auto insurance premium if they successfully complete an accident prevention course (available through local and state agencies as well as through the AAA and AARP). Retirees or those who aren’t employed full time—and therefore, who are driving less—may also be eligible for a car insurance discount. Older driver programs and discounts vary by state and insurance carrier and driver age, so if you think you may qualify, check with your insurance professional.

Myth 3 – Your credit has no effect on your insurance rate

Your credit-based insurance score—which is derived from your credit history—may matter. A good credit score demonstrates how well you manage your financial affairs and has been shown to be a good predictor of whether someone is more likely to file an insurance claim so many insurance companies take it into consideration when you want to purchase, change or renew your auto insurance coverage. People with good credit—and, therefore good insurance scores—often end up paying less for insurance.

Myth 4 – Your insurance will cover you if your car is stolen, vandalized or damaged by falling tree limbs, hail, flood or fire

This is only true if you opt for comprehensive and collision coverage along with your standard policy. If a car is worth less than $1,000, or less than 10 times the insurance premium, purchasing these coverages may not be cost effective—but you do need to have collision and comprehensive insurance to fully protect your vehicle from all types of damage.

Myth 5 – You only need the minimum amount of auto liability insurance required by law

Almost every state requires you to buy a minimum amount of auto liability coverage but buying only the minimum amount of liability means you are likely to pay more out-of-pocket for losses incurred after an accident—and those costs may be steep. The insurance industry and consumer groups generally recommend a minimum of $100,000 of bodily injury protection per person and $300,000 per accident. If you have substantial personal financial assets to protect in the event of a lawsuit, you may even want to consider an umbrella liability policy.

Myth 6 – If another person drives your car, in the event of accident, his or her auto insurance will cover the damages

In most states, the auto insurance policy covering the vehicle is considered the primary insurance. This means that the car owner’s insurance company must pay for damages caused by an accident, regardless of who is driving. Policies and laws differ by state, so make sure you understand the rules before allowing another person to drive your car.

Myth 7 – Soldiers pay more for insurance than civilians

If you are in the military—regardless of which branch—you actually qualify for a discount on auto insurance. You’ll need to supply documentation that lists your name, rank and the time that you will be enlisted in the service (in some situations, you might be able to have your commanding officer make a phone call on your behalf). Shop around—some auto insurance companies provide discounts for former members of the military, as well as their families.

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Myth 8 – Personal auto insurance also covers business use of your car

If you are self-employed and use your vehicle for business purposes, personal auto insurance may not protect you so it’s important to purchase business vehicle insurance. If you have other people—such as employees—using your vehicle, regularly check their driving records.

 

 

Emergency Evacuation Tips

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In the event of a sudden, catastrophic event, you may have just minutes to gather your family and get out of your house—possibly for good. What would you take? Where would you go? Planning ahead for the worst can help minimize the impact of a tragedy and may even save lives. This five-step plan can help get you and your family on the road to safety.


Some of this information is also covered in the I.I.I.’s Know Your Plan app. Check it out for preparedness tips, handy checklists (including ones you can personalize yourself) and evacuation planning advice to cover a variety of disasters. It’s a great tool to help get you and your family—including pets—organized and ready to act more quickly if an emergency strikes.

For your evacuation planning:

1. Arrange your evacuation ahead of time

Don’t wait until the last minute to plan your evacuation.

  • Identify where you can go in the event of an evacuation. Try to have more than one option: the home of a friend or family member in another town, a hotel or a shelter. Keep the phone numbers and addresses of these locations handy.
  • Map out your primary routes and backup routes to your evacuation destinations in case roads are blocked or impassable. Try to have a physical map of the area available in case GPS satellite transmissions are down or your devices run out of power.
  • Pre-arrange a designated place to meet in case your family members are separated before or during the evacuation. Make the location specific, for example, “meet at the big clock in the middle of town square” not “meet at the town square”. Ask an out-of-town friend or family member to act as a contact person for your family.
  • Put all evacuation plans in writing along with pertinent addresses and phone numbers and give them to each member of the family. Note that many home printer inks are NOT waterproof, so take appropriate precautions to ensure legibility.
  • Listen to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio or local radio or TV stations for evacuation instructions. If advised to evacuate, do so immediately.

2. Plan what to take

Many families choose to have a “go bag” ready with some of these critical items. Consider packing the following for an evacuation.

  • Prescriptions and other medicines
  • First aid kit
  • Bottled water
  • Flashlight, battery-powered radio and extra batteries
  • Clothing and bedding (sleeping bags, pillows)
  • Special equipment for infants or elderly or disabled family members
  • “Comfort items,” such as special toys for children
  • Computer hard drive and laptop
  • Cherished photographs
  • Pet food and other items for pets (litter boxes, leashes)

3. Create a home inventory

Making a home inventory and having it handy will be useful if you need to apply for disaster aid. It will also:

  • Help ensure that you have purchased enough insurance to replace your personal possessions.
  • Speed the insurance claims process, if necessary
  • Substantiate any losses for income tax purposes.

4. Gather important documents

Keep the following important documents in a safe place that you can easily access and take with you in the event of an evacuation. And while for most of these you’ll need an original, it’s a good idea to make digital copies and keep them with you on a thumb drive, as well:

  • Prescriptions
  • Birth and marriage certificates
  • Passports
  • Drivers license or personal identification
  • Social Security cards
  • Recent tax returns
  • Employment information
  • Wills and deeds
  • Stocks, bonds and other negotiable certificates
  • Financial information such as bank, savings and retirement account numbers and recent tax returns
  • Home inventory

5. Take the 10-minute evacuation challenge

To ensure that you and your family are fully prepared for a sudden evacuation, do a real-time test. Give yourself just 10 minutes to get your family and belongings into the car and on the road to safety. By planning ahead and practicing, you should be able to gather your family members and pets, along with the most important items they will need, calmly and efficiently, with a minimum of stress and confusion.

Next steps link: Watch two families practice a 10-minute evacuation.

Insuring Student Loss

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With burglaries constituting approximately 50 percent of all on-campus crimes, it’s important for college students and their parents take steps to prevent theft, adhere to safety measures—and review their insurance coverage.


Campus coverage basics

It’s best to consult your insurance professional for the details of your family’s specific coverage and where you might need additional protections, but here are some general guidelines:

  • Students who live in a dorm are covered under their parents’ standard homeowners insurance policies – That is, their possessions are protected by “off premise” coverage. However, some homeowners policies may limit this amount of insurance, so make sure you understand your own policy.
  • Students who live off campus are likely not covered by their parents’ homeowners policy – Your insurance professional can tell you whether your homeowners or renters policy extends to off-campus living situations. If it does not, to protect student belongings, those living off campus may need to purchase their own renters insurance policy.
  • Computers and smartphones may carry stand-alone insurance – If you’re getting these items new, at the time of purchase you may be offered insurance or other protections against theft or loss. Also, check the credit card used for the purchase, to see what protections might be available.
  • Consider a stand-alone policy specifically designed for students living away at college – This can be an economical way to provide additional insurance coverage for a variety of disasters.
  • If your college-bound student is leaving the car at home, make sure to tell your insurance agent – Depending on how far he or she is going away to school, you might be eligible for a premium discount.
Take pre-campus precautions with belongings

It’s better to prevent a loss than to deal with the aftermath. To help prevent loss:

  • Leave valuables at home, if possible – While it may be necessary to take a computer or sports equipment to campus, other expensive items—such as valuable jewelry, luxury watches or costly electronics—should be left behind or kept in a local safety deposit box. These items may also be subject to coverage limits under a standard homeowners policy, so if they must be brought to campus, consider purchasing a special floater or endorsement to the homeowners policy to cover them.
  • Engrave electronics with IDs – Permanently engraving a name and other identifying information on computers, televisions, smart phones and other electronic devices can help police track stolen articles.

Guard against theft or damage of personal belongings while on campus

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, burglaries constitute more than 50 percent of all on-campus crimes. In addition, carelessness can cause other types of damage. To help prevent losses, students should:

  • Always lock dorm room doors, and keep the keys with you at all times – Know that most dorm thefts occur during the day, and even if you leave briefly, lock up. Share the theft statistics with your roommates, and get agreement that they’ll do the same.
  • Don’t leave belongings unattended on campus – Classrooms, the library, the dining hall or other public areas are the primary places where property theft occurs, so keep book bags, purses and laptops with you at all times.
  • Buy a laptop security cable and use it – A combination lock that needs decoding may be just enough to dissuade a thief.
  • Be aware of fire hazards – Most campus fires are cooking related so be careful about the types of hot plates or microwaves you to bring to school, and how you use them.

 

You and Hurricane Insurance

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  • Florida accounted for 13 percent of all U.S. insured catastrophe losses from 1987 to 2016: $70.8 billion out of $364.3 billion, based on data from the PCS division of ISO. (Adjusted for inflation by ISO using the GDP implicit price deflator.)
  • Six of the 10 costliest hurricanes in U.S. history have impacted Florida. Four of these storms occurred within just two years: 2004 and 2005. (See chart.)
  • The costliest hurricane, based on insured property losses to Florida, was 1992’s Hurricane Andrew. It caused $25.4 billion in damage to Florida and Louisiana (in 2018 dollars). (See chart.)
  • Standard homeowners policies typically do not cover flood damage. Flood insurance is covered by the federally managed National Flood Insurance Program, but private flood insurance is becoming increasingly available.
  • Florida leads the nation in the number of flood policies, according to the National Flood Insurance Program, with about 1.8 million policies in force in 2017.
  • The number of people living in coastal areas in Florida increased by 4.2 million, or 27 percent, from 15.6 million in 2000 to 19.8 million in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. About 98 percent of the total population of Florida lives in one of the coastal counties.
  • In Florida, 2.8 million homes were at risk in 2018 for storm surge damage from hurricanes up to Category 5 strength, according to CoreLogic, Inc. These homes would cost $552.4 trillion to completely rebuild, including labor and materials.
  • Given the growth in the number and value of insured property, a repeat of the hurricane that devastated Miami in 1926 would have resulted in approximately $130.2 billion in insured damage in 2016, according to Karen Clark and Co.
  • After its establishment in 2002, when the state passed legislation combining two separate high-risk insurance pools known as the Florida Windstorm Underwriting Association and the Florida Residential Property & Casualty Joint Underwriting Association, Citizens Property Insurance Corp. (CPIC) experienced exponential growth. As a result, Florida Citizens has evolved from a market of last resort to the state’s largest property insurer.
  • Florida Citizens Property Insurance Corp. provides multiperil and wind-only insurance coverage to Florida homeowners, commercial residential and commercial business property owners.
  • Direct homeowners insurance premiums in Florida written by Citizens was $460.9 million in 2017 down from $795 million in 2014.
  • Citizens was the state’s fourth leading homeowners insurer in 2017, with a market share of 5.0 percent, down from 9.1 percent in 2014.
  • Florida Citizens had 482,765 policies with an exposure of $112.3 billion in fiscal year 2017, according to the Property Insurance Plans Service (PIPSO).

 

Gap Insurance and You

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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.

 

Do You Need Insurance Protection?

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June weather in New York City can be fickle. As the I.I.I.’s own Brent Carris reported, this fickleness can lead to chaos for the city’s outdoor music festivals, like the recent fiasco at this year’s Gov Ball. Carris noted that event organizers will often have event cancellation insurance to protect themselves financially.

But this got me thinking: is there rain insurance?

Weather insurance

The answer: yes, actually. It’s usually called “weather insurance” – and covers financial losses resulting from adverse weather, including rain. Typically, weather insurance is useful if you’re planning an outdoor event, like a wedding or a bar mitzvah. Commercial events can also buy this insurance, like fairs or festivals.

According to Trusted Choice, weather insurance is often tailored to a specific event’s needs. For example, a sailing regatta in San Francisco might want to be covered for excessive fog, whereas a baseball tournament in Arizona might want to be covered for extreme temperatures. Of course, these covered perils can be combined: it gets hot in southern Florida and rains a lot, so you might want to cover your golf tournament for both high temperatures and precipitation. Plus, you know, hurricanes.

How the coverage gets triggered also depends on the event: one-day events might want their policies to kick in if a certain amount of rain falls over a certain amount of time. Other events that last multiple days or weeks might want the trigger to be if rainfall or temperatures exceed their averages during the policy period.

Special event insurance

Okay, cool, that means I can protect myself in case I have to cancel my invitational street hockey tournament. But what if I have to cancel or postpone for non-weather reasons? That’s where “special event insurance” comes in. It’s broader than just plain weather insurance and will cover other causes of cancellation.

In the case of a wedding, special event insurance can cover cancellation due to, among other things: death or illness of a key participant, or if the bride or grooms is suddenly called to military duty. You can also cover your gifts in case they’re stolen or damaged. You can even cover your losses if one of your third-party providers can’t uphold their promises to you. For example, you could be covered if the bridal salon goes out of business and you have to get a dress somewhere else, or the photographer fails to show up and you need to deputize your cousins to take pictures with their smartphones.

Ticket insurance

It’s not just event organizers who can get insurance protection, though. There are also products to protect attendees. For example, Allianz calls its product “Global Assistance Event Ticket Protector Insurance,” which roughly translates into English as “ticket insurance”.

According to the Ticketmaster website, this insurance will reimburse you 100 percent of your ticket (including taxes and shipping) if any of a long list of things happens that prevents you from enjoying your event. Illness or serious injury, for example. Military duty is also covered (who knew there was such a high risk of someone being whisked away to military duty on short notice?). You’ll also be covered if a traffic accident keeps you from getting to the venue, or if your plane is delayed getting in.

However, being lazy is not a covered cause of loss: “Please note that no benefits will be extended for cancellations due to simply changing your mind.”

Whats Liability Insurance

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Do you or your business provide professional services or advice to other businesses or individuals? Could your counsel or service lead to losses by your client for which you could be held responsible? If so, you’ll likely want to purchase professional liability insurance, also known as errors and omissions insurance (E&O).

Claims not covered by general liability insurance that are covered by professional liability insurance include negligence, misrepresentation, violation of good faith and fair dealing, and inaccurate advice.

What types of businesses need professional liability insurance?

In some states, professional liability insurance is required, especially for attorneys and doctors. Legal and medical malpractice insurance policies are special types of professional liability insurance. Other professionals that should consider professional liability insurance include:

  • Accountants
  • Architects
  • Engineers
  • Graphic designers
  • Information technology (IT) consultants
  • Insurance professionals
  • Investment advisors
  • Management consultants
  • Real estate agents and brokers
  • Software developers

This list is not exhaustive. Consult with your insurance professional or inquire with your profession’s trade association to determine if you might need professional liability coverage.

What’s covered… and what’s not

There are two types of professional liability polices: claims-made and occurrence. Most professional liability insurance policies are “claims-made,” meaning that the policy must be in effect both when the event took place and when a lawsuit is filed for a claim to be paid. If, however, you change careers or retire, you may want to purchase an “occurrence” policy that will cover any claim for an event that took place during the period of coverage—even if the suit is filed after the policy lapses.

Professional liability insurance will pay the cost of legal defense against claims and payment of judgments against you, up to the limit of the policy. In general, coverage does not extend to non-financial losses or losses caused by intentional or dishonest acts. Other fees, such as licensing board penalties, may also be included. Policies will generally have a deductible ranging from $1,000 to $25,000. The amount of professional liability insurance you will need and how much it will cost depends upon the size of your business and the level of risk it poses.

You may be able to include professional liability coverage in a Commercial Package Policy (CPP) as an endorsement. Note, however, the professional liability coverage is not included in an in-home business policy or Business Owners Policy (BOP).

What is Gap Insurance

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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.

 

Drunk Driving Holiday Risks

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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

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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.