Protect Yourself From Identity Theft

Everyone should be worried about their identity being stolen. You may think that an online thief wouldn’t bother with you. How could he when you are armed with information like your social security number, bank account number, personal security code or your mothers maiden name. However, in just a short amount of time a whole new “you” can be created out of thin air, complete with credit cards, mortgages and expensive purchase. Only this “you” fails to pay “your” bills and is on the road to financial ruin.  And all of this can happen without your knowledge. Even the most simplest of identity thief’s will change the addresses on your bills, so they’ll never be sent to you. And the only warning you’ll get is when the creditors come knocking on your door. By then the thief could have used your stolen identity to charge thousands of dollars of purchases and ruined your good credit scores

Could you become the next victim of a stolen identity?

Whether you know it or not, your PC is storing all kinds of valuable information about you. And if a hacker were to attack, he might get a hold of your sensitive personal information like your social security number, your bank account, your passwords and more. Armed with these details you could easily become the next case of a stolen identity. Simply shredding your mail and your financial statements is NOT enough. Most think of the physical ways a thief could steal one’s identity, as when one’s wallet or sensitive documents are stolen or misplaced. But this is not the only way to become a victim of stolen identity.

How to prevent a case of an online stolen identity?

Protecting your personal information while you’re on the Internet is one of the most crucial steps you can take in preventing identity theft.  Beware of emails that come from a financial institution you trust (like your bank) that ask you to click on a link to update your account information. DO NOT enter any personal information like your social security number, back account number or passwords. DO NOT enter your personal information on a website that is not secure.

What if your identity has been stolen?

If you believe that you are a victim of identity theft or fear that you may become one — for example, you lost your wallet, gave personal information to a stranger, or had your house burglarized — take these steps immediately:

1 . Contact the Credit Bureau

2.  Call the police

3.  Fill out an Identity Theft Victim’s Complaint and Affidavit. (www.ftc.gov/idtheft.)

4.  Change your PINs.

5.  Deal with debt collectors.

6.  Contact the local postal inspector

7.  Contact the Social Security Administration (SSA)

8.  Contact your state’s department of motor vehicles.

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What You Can Do When Your Health Policy Insurance Is Cancelled

News that health insurers are ending the policies of what might be millions of Americans has rattled consumers and added to the debate over the health care law. If you or a family member has been notified that your individual policy is being canceled at year’s end, you may be stunned and upset.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in testimony that the law generally didn’t require insurers to discontinue plans that were in effect at the time of the law’s enactment in March 2010.  No one knows how many of the estimated 14 million people who buy their own insurance are getting such notices, but the numbers are substantial. Some insurers report discontinuing 20 percent of their individual business, while other insurers have notified up to 80 percent of policyholders that they’ll have to change plans.

Here’s a guide to help you understand the bigger picture, including why your premiums and benefits are likely to change next year and what you should consider as you shop for a new policy.

Why are these cancellations happening?    The health care law targeted the so-called individual market because it didn’t work well for many people who don’t get coverage through employers, particularly those who were older or had health problems. The latter often were rejected for coverage, were charged more or had their conditions excluded from coverage. Some policies provided only the barest of coverage when someone did fall ill.

Starting Jan. 1, insurers no longer can reject people who are sick or charge them more than the healthy under the Affordable Care Act. They also must beef up policies to meet minimum standards and must add benefits such as prescription drug coverage, maternity care and mental health services.

If you got a cancellation notice, most likely your plan didn’t meet all the new standards. Some policies that fail to meet the law’s standards may still be sold if the insurer decides to continue them and if they’re “grandfathered,” meaning that you purchased one before March 2010 and neither you nor the insurer has made any substantial change since then. Adjusting an annual deductible, which many people do each year to keep premiums down, is a change that could end grandfathered status.

How are insurers picking the policies to discontinue?   Some consumers fear they’re being targeted because they’re unhealthy or otherwise unprofitable for an insurance company. But insurers say they’re ending policies that don’t meet the law’s standards or weren’t grandfathered.

My insurer says that if I renew before the end of the year, I can keep my current plan. What does this mean?   In some states, insurers are offering selected policyholders a chance to “early renew,” meaning they may continue their existing plans through next year, even if they don’t meet all the law’s standards. If you choose this option, your premium might still go up, but the cause would be medical inflation, rather than the need to add benefits because of the health law. Not all states allow early renewals.

Why are premiums changing?   Under the old rules, insurers could decide whether to accept you, and how much to charge, based on answers to dozens of medical questions. Starting Jan. 1, insurers no longer can charge women more than men, or reject people who are sick or charge them more. They’re also adding new benefits.

As they drew up the rates for 2014, insurance firms had to make educated guesses about how many customers would stay, how many new ones they would attract, and what the health conditions of those new members might be. Actuaries say that it is possible that older buyers or those who had above-average health problems may find their premiums going down. Younger or healthier people, on the other hand, may find premiums going up, sometimes sharply.  Under the new rules, consumers “are not paying based on their own health status, but an average health status,” said Robert Cosway, an actuary with the consulting firm Milliman.

I’m healthy. Why do I have to pay for people who are sick?   Except for a fortunate few, everyone is likely to develop some kind of health problem or face an accident sometime in his or her life. Policy experts and regulators say insurance works best when it spreads the risk across a large group of people. Your house may not burn down this year, but you pay for insurance coverage just in case.

What should I do now that I’ve received a cancellation notice?  Experts say people should scrutinize the terms of their soon-to-be-discontinued policies and compare them with what new policies offer. The monthly premium is just one factor in cost. Also note the deductible. Is it per person? What’s the maximum deductible if two or more family members fall ill in the same year? Finally, note the annual out-of-pocket cap, which is the maximum you’d pay in deductibles and co-payments for medical care during the year. An independent broker can also show you plans from various carriers.

Ways To Reduce Your Credit Card Debt

1. Take stock. Before you start reducing your credit card debt, know where you stand. A lot of people will say they’ve got a certain amount of debt, let’s say $10,000, when in reality, it’s $15,000 or $18,000. You’ll never hit your target if you don’t know where it is, so be brutally honest with yourself.    Action plan: Write down the debt, and the interest rate, on every card you have.

2. Improve your rates. The quickest way to save big on your credit card bills is to negotiate a lower interest rate. If you can shave off even a percentage point or two, you can save hundreds of dollars as you pay off your debt. A simple phone call and a polite request may be all it takes. While your credit score will play a large role in whether or not you get a rate cut, it’s not the only factor. Every lender has their own approach to this issue. It never hurts to give it a shot.    Action plan: Call up each credit card company and request lower interest rates.

3. Track your costs. Write down all your regular, committed expenses (mortgage, utilities, insurance, car payments, minimum credit card payments, phone, gym, cable, etc.), and track other variable expenses such as restaurant meals, entertainment and travel. This will serve as the foundation to your budget.   Action plan: Study up to a year’s worth of credit card bills and bank statements to get an accurate sense of your monthly spending, and keep tracking your expenses with a notebook or financial software.

4. Create a budget.  It’s time to take an ax to some of those expenses. The key is to be realistic: You’ll have to make some sacrifices, but you don’t need to live on bread and water. “Cutting back can be more effective than cutting out,” says Gail Cunningham, spokeswoman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, a leading accrediting agency for credit counseling firms. “It’s hard to adjust your lifestyle too dramatically, and often, little adjustments can add up to big savings.” Cutting out a single pizza dinner each week, ratcheting down your gold-plated cable plan and changing your thermostat by a few degrees can give you the jump start you need. Be sure to give yourself a bit of breathing room in your budget in case an unexpected expense pops up.   Action plan: Write down three ways you can cut back immediately, and cancel or downgrade some services. Divide your monthly discretionary budget into weekly allotments so you’ll have a better handle on whether you’re staying on track.

5. Choose your payoff strategy. There are two common credit card payoff strategies. The first is to use any extra cash into the highest-interest card while paying the minimums on the others.  A second strategy is to pay off your card with the lowest balance first while continuing to pay the minimums on the others. Though this is not the most cost-effective way to banish your debt, it’s the fastest way to eliminate debt on a single card, and it can be a psychological boost to eliminate a bill for good.   Action Plan: Choose your strategy, then rank cards in the order you’ll pay them off.

6. Stash your plastic. Research has shown that people who chose to pay by credit card rather than cash, can spend twice as much than those who pay by cash.    Action plan: Store your credit cards where you won’t have easy access to them, but don’t cancel them. Plan to pay in cash whenever possible.

7. Find your motivation and support. Create concrete goals to stay focused. Maybe getting rid of debt will allow you to save for a down payment on a house, go on a dream vacation or stop worrying about every bill that hits your mailbox.   Action plan: Write down your goals and keep them near you. If you get tempted to overspend, take a look at them to remind yourself of the bigger picture.

8. Track your progress. While you don’t want to spend every day fretting over your bills, keep an eye on your spending. Revisit your progress every few months. You don’t want this to consume your life. It took you awhile to get into debt, and it’s going to take you awhile to get out of it.   Action plan: Put reminders in your calendar to check up on your finances. Keep the page with your starting balances, and compare them to check your progress.

Ways To Reduce Your Car Insurance Premiums

Chances are, you’ve had the same automobile insurance coverage for a long time. If so, this may be a good time to review it for savings. Here are some tips to help you reduce that bill.

Raise your deductible.   Instead of forcing the insurer to pay claims in excess of $500, change your policy so that you pay the first $1,000. This will reduce your collision and comprehensive premiums significantly. By not filing small claims, you also avoid the risk of being charged higher premiums or even having your policy canceled.

 

Drop collision and comprehensive coverage on older cars.   If your car is worth less than $1,000, the cost for collision coverage could be more than what you’d recover if the car were in a crash. Use a site like Kelley Blue Book to determine your car’s value. But make sure that you keep your auto liability coverage and your Uninsured Motorist Policy.

Ask about discounts.   Many carriers reduce their prices if you buy coverage for two or more cars or if you buy homeowners coverage from them as well. You can also get discounts if your car has antilock brakes, air bags, automatic seat belts, alarms or antitheft devices, or if you complete a driver education course. Some discounts are also available if you are a member of certain professional, business or alumni associations, so ask your association and also check with your insurer.

Manage the cost of insuring teen drivers.   It costs more to insure young drivers, but some insurers reduce their rates for good students, students who go to school more than 100 miles away from home and don’t take a car with them, or teenagers who have completed defensive driver classes. You may also save money by “re-garaging” a car if your child takes his or her car to school in a town where car insurance rates are lower.

Pay your bill once per year.   Insurance companies let you pay in monthly or quarterly installments, but you’ll pay more than if you pay the entire bill once each year. Ask your insurance company.

Don’t duplicate coverage.   If your credit card or association membership offers towing and roadside assistance, don’t pay your insurance company to provide these benefits.

Drive less.  The fewer miles you drive each year, the lower your premium. And if you don’t drive to work, your costs will be even less. Make sure that your insurer knows how many miles you drive and prices your policy accordingly.

Park in a garage.  Cars stored in protected environments are less likely to be stolen or hit by other cars. Tell your insurer if you park in a garage and see if you can get a price break as a result.

Maintain good credit.     Insurance companies believe that people who are responsible with their money are more likely to be responsible drivers. A good credit record can translate into lower premiums.

Also Know:  Other people’s driving records affect your rate.   Believe it or not, other drivers’ past behavior influences your insurance rate. That’s because insurers track the average insurance claim for every car make and model, and they use the data to help determine their rates. If drivers of a specific vehicle tend to have more accidents, incur more frequent or higher claims, or have their cars stolen more often, insurance

companies will charge higher rates for everyone who drives the same type of car.

So if you’re in the market for a new car and serious about keeping car insurance  costs  low, check  out  the  Highway  Loss Data Institute’s data.

Or simply ask your insurer for a price quote before you decide which model to buy.

Top 10 Ways to Prepare For Retirement

Financial security in retirement doesn’t just happen. It takes planning and commitment and, yes, money. The three major elements of your retirement portfolio are benefits from pensions, savings and investments, and Social Security benefits.

Facts

Fewer than half of Americans have calculated how much they need to save for retirement.   In 2012, 30 percent of private industry workers with access to a defined contribution plan (such as a 401(k) plan) did not participate. The average American spends 20 years in retirement.

Putting money away for retirement is a habit we can all live with. Remember…Saving Matters!

1.  Start saving, keep saving and stick to your goal

If you are already saving, whether for retirement or another goal, keep going! You know that saving is a rewarding habit. If you’re not saving, it’s time to get started. Start small if you have to and try to increase the amount you save each month. The sooner you start saving, the more time your money has to grow. Make saving for retirement a priority. Devise a plan, stick to it, and set goals. Remember, it’s never too early or too late to start saving.

2. Know your retirement needs

Retirement is expensive. Experts estimate that you will need at least 70 percent of your pre-retirement income – lower earners, 90 percent or more – to maintain your standard of living when you stop working. Take charge of your financial future. The key to a secure retirement is to plan ahead.

3. Contribute to your employer’s retirement savings plan

If your employer offers a retirement savings plan, such as a 401(k) plan, sign up and contribute all you can. Your taxes will be lower, your company may kick in more, and automatic deductions make it easy. Over time, compound interest and tax deferrals make a big difference in the amount you will accumulate. Find out about your plan. For example, how much would you need to contribute to get the full employer contribution and how long would you need to stay in the plan to get that money.

4. Learn about your employer’s pension plan

If your employer has a traditional pension plan, check to see if you are covered by the plan and understand how it works. Ask for an individual benefit statement to see what your benefit is worth. Before you change jobs, find out what will happen to your pension benefit. Learn what benefits you may have from a previous employer. Find out if you will be entitled to benefits from your spouse’s plan.

5.  Consider basic investment principles

How you save can be as important as how much you save. Inflation and the type of investments you make play important roles in how much you’ll have saved at retirement. Know how your savings or pension plan is invested. Learn about your plan’s investment options and ask questions. Put your savings in different types of investments. By diversifying this way, you are more likely to reduce risk and improve return. Your investment mix may change over time depending on a number of factors such as your age, goals, and financial circumstances. Financial security and knowledge go hand in hand.

6. Don’t touch your retirement savings

If you withdraw your retirement savings now, you’ll lose principal and interest and you may lose tax benefits or have to pay withdrawal penalties. If you change jobs, leave your savings invested in your current retirement plan, or roll them over to an IRA or your new employer’s plan.

7.  Ask your employer to start a plan

If your employer doesn’t offer a retirement plan, suggest that it start one. There are a number of retirement saving plan options available. Your employer may be able to set up a simplified plan that can help both you and your employer.

8. Put money into an Individual Retirement Account

You can put up to $5,500 a year into an Individual Retirement Account (IRA); you can contribute even more if you are 50 or older. You can also start with much less. IRAs also provide tax advantages.  When you open an IRA, you have two options – a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA. The tax treatment of your contributions and withdrawals will depend on which option you select. Also, the after-tax value of your withdrawal will depend on inflation and the type of IRA you choose. IRAs can provide an easy way to save. You can set it up so that an amount is automatically deducted from your checking or savings account and deposited in the IRA.

9.  Find out about your Social Security Benefits

Social Security pays benefits that are on average equal to about 40 percent of what you earned before retirement. You may be able to estimate your benefit by using the retirement estimator on the Social Security Administration’s Website. For more information, visit their Website or call 800-772-1213 .

10.   Ask Questions

While these tips are meant to point you in the right direction, you’ll need more information. Talk to your employer, your bank, your union, or a financial adviser. Ask questions and make sure you understand the answers. Get practical advice and act now.

As reported by the United States Department of Labor

How To reduce Your Home Owners Insurance Premiums

1. Shop Around.

It’ll take some time, but it could save you a nice amount of money. Ask your friends or contact your State Insurance Department. In addition, National Association of Insurance Commissioners (www.naic.org) has information to help you choose an insurer in your state.

2. Raise Your Deductible.

Deductibles are the amount of money you have to pay toward a loss before your insurance company starts to pay a claim, according to the terms of your policy. The higher your deductible, the more money you can save on your premiums. Nowadays, most insurance companies recommend a deductible of at least $500. If you can afford to raise your deductible to $1,000, you may save as much as 25 percent. Remember, if you live in a disaster-prone area, your insurance policy may have a separate deductible for certain kinds of damage. If you live near the coast in the East, you may have a separate windstorm deductible; if you live in a state vulnerable to hail storms, you may have a separate deductible for hail; and if you live in an earthquake-prone area, your earthquake policy has a deductible.

3.   Don’t confuse what you paid for your house with rebuilding costs.

 The land under your house isn’t at risk from theft, windstorm, fire and the other perils covered in your homeowners policy. So don’t include its value in deciding how much homeowners insurance to buy. If you do, you will pay a higher premium than you should.

4. Buy your home and auto policies from the same insurer.

Some companies that sell homeowners, auto and liability coverage will take 5 to 15 percent off your premium if you buy two or more policies from them. But make certain this combined price is lower than buying the different coverages from different companies.

5. Make your home more disaster resistant.

Find out from your insurance agent or company representative what steps you can take to make your home more resistant to windstorms and other natural disasters. You may be able to save on your premiums by adding storm shutters, reinforcing your roof or buying stronger roofing materials.

6. Improve your home security.

You can usually get discounts of at least 5 percent for a smoke detector, burglar alarm or dead-bolt locks. Some companies offer to cut your premium by as much as 15 or 20 percent if you install a sophisticated sprinkler system and a fire and burglar alarm that rings at the police, fire or other monitoring stations. These systems aren’t cheap and not every system qualifies for a discount. Before you buy such a system, find out what kind your insurer recommends, how much the device would cost and how much you’d save on premiums.

7. Seek out other discounts.

Companies offer several types of discounts, but they don’t all offer the same discount or the same amount of discount in all states. For example, since retired people stay at home more than working people they are less likely to be burglarized and may spot fires sooner, too. Retired people also have more time for maintaining their homes. If you’re at least 55 years old and retired, you may qualify for a discount of up to 10 percent at some companies. Some employers and professional associations administer group insurance programs that may offer a better deal than you can get elsewhere.

8. Maintain a good credit record.

Establishing a solid credit history can cut your insurance costs. Insurers are increasingly using credit information to price homeowners insurance policies.

9. Stay with the same insurer.

If you’ve kept your coverage with a company for several years, you may receive a special discount for being a long-term policyholder. Some insurers will reduce their premiums by 5 percent if you stay with them for three to five years and by 10 percent if you remain a policyholder for six years or more.

10. Review the limits in your policy and the value of your possessions at least once a year.

You want your policy to cover any major purchases or additions to your home. But you don’t want to spend money for coverage you don’t need. If your five-year-old fur coat is no longer worth the $5,000 you paid for it, you’ll want to reduce or cancel your floater (extra insurance for items whose full value is not covered by standard homeowners policies such as expensive jewelry, high-end computers and valuable art work) and pocket the difference.

11. Look for private insurance if you are in a government plan.

If you live in a high-risk area — say, one that is especially vulnerable to coastal storms, fires, or crime — and have been buying your homeowners insurance through a government plan, you should check with an insurance agent or company representative or contact your state department of insurance for the names of companies that might be interested in your business. You may find that there are steps you can take that would allow you to buy insurance at a lower price in the private market.

Remember that flood insurance is not covered by a standard homeowners policy. If you buy a house in a flood-prone area, you’ll have to pay for a flood insurance policy. The Federal Emergency Management Agency provides useful information on flood insurance on its Web site at FloodSmart.gov.  Although you want to lower your homeowners insurance cost, you also want to make certain you have all the coverage you need.