Pick The Right Insurance Policy

Owning a home may be the American dream. But it’s also a mighty valuable asset, often filled with some expensive possessions, which you will want to protect in case of fire, theft, lawsuits and more.
Enter homeowner’s insurance, which is a type of property-casualty insurance. The property insurance covers your home and its contents. The casualty insurance protects against legal liability caused by injury to other people or damage to their property.  Now, do you have enough coverage?
Grabbing An Umbrella Policy
If you’ve lived in your home for five years or more and haven’t reviewed your coverage, you may be underinsured against a major loss. It’s easy to fix this. First, read the coverage limits when your policy comes up for renewal each year. If it would be impossible to rebuild your house for the amount specified in the policy, call the insurance company and have the coverage increased. Since it may cost more to rebuild your home than its current market value, insure it for replacement cost. While the market value of your home includes the land, don’t include land in the replacement cost.
A yearly insurance check-up should also account for any major purchases or additions. If you have put in a new kitchen and appliances, added a room to your house or purchased a large home-entertainment system, you may want to increase your coverage. You may also want separate riders to cover expensive jewelry or artwork. But since the purpose of insurance is to prevent a financial disaster and to cover every small loss, consider whether you can afford to replace these items out-of-pocket.
All homeowner’s and auto policies come with liability coverage to protect against judgments arising from injury to others on your property or in an auto accident. But standard liability coverage, even if it’s $300,000 to $500,000, will not be enough to protect against a court judgment that could be $1 million or more. For this, you might want an “umbrella” or “excess liability” policy. According to the Insurance Information Institute, you can typically buy a $1 million umbrella policy for about $150 to $300 a year. The next million will cost about $75 and about $50 for every million after that. The cost may be higher in large metropolitan areas. You will likely have to buy the umbrella policy from your existing homeowner’s or car insurance company.
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Credit Card Fraud On The Phone

Credit cards: Americans love them and so do the Scam Artists. With the convenience of having a credit card comes some risks – credit card fraud. The following scam has been around for some time and continues to defraud people
The Scam
You receive a call from a person claiming to be employed either at Visa or MasterCard. The caller claims to be calling from the Security and Fraud Department and tells you that your card has been flagged for an unusual purchase pattern. The caller then cites a particular purchase (typically under $500) and asks if you really purchased the questionable item. When you respond, “No”, the caller then promises to credit your account with the amount and begin a fraud investigation. The caller typically asks certain identity question, such as address and more importantly, your credit card security number (the 3 or 4 digits in the back of the card).
The caller succeeds in obtaining the security information on your account and then uses that information to make a purchase. Unless you know this is a scam, when you get your credit card statement and see the fraudulent charge, you assume that the investigation is under way and is being taken care of. Meanwhile, this is all a scam. The purpose of the scam is to get that 3-4 digit security number.
How Can You Protect Yourself?
With this particular scam, don’t give out any information over the phone unless you call the number provided in the back of your card. If you do receive a phone call reporting a fraudulent charge, hang up and call the number provided on your card.
If you have already fallen victim to this or a similar scam, contact your credit card company. Visa and MasterCard have also been encouraging defrauded consumers to file a police report.
Credit Card Fraud Prevention Tips
Credit card fraud is a serious crime as well as an inconvenience. Follow these tips so you may be able to avoid scams and fraudulent charges.
1.  Keep an eye on your credit card every time you use it, and make sure you get it back as quickly as possible.
2.  Be very careful to whom you give your credit card.
3.  Don’t give out your account number over the phone unless you initiate the call and you know the company is reputable. Never give your credit card information out when you receive a phone call. For example, if you’re told there has been a “computer problem” and the caller needs you to verify information. Legitimate companies don’t call you to ask for a credit card number over the phone.
4.   Never respond to e-mail messages that request you provide your credit card info via e-mail, and don’t ever respond to e-mail messages that ask you to go to a Web site to verify personal (and credit card) information. These are called “phishing” scams.
5.  Never provide your credit card information on a Web site that is not a secure site.
6.   Shred all credit card applications you receive in the mail.
7.   Don’t write your PIN number on your credit card – or have it anywhere near your credit card (in the event that your wallet gets stolen).
8.   Never leave your credit cards or receipts lying around.
9.   Shield your credit card number so that others around you can’t copy it or capture it on a cell phone or other camera.

10.  Keep  a  list  in  a  secure  place  with all of your account numbers and expiration  dates, as well  as  the  phone  number and address of each bank that  has  issued you a credit card. Keep this list updated each time you get a new credit card.

11.   Only  carry  around credit cards that you absolutely need. Don’t carry around extra credit cards that you rarely use.
12.   Open  credit  card  bills  promptly  and  make sure there are no bogus charges. Treat  your credit card bill like your checking account – reconcile it  monthly.  Save  your  receipts  so  you  can   compare  them  with  your monthly bills.

13.  If  you find any charges that you don’t have a receipt for – or  that  you don’t  recognize – report  these  charges  promptly  (and  in writing)  to the credit card issuer.

14. Always void and destroy incorrect receipts.
15. Shred anything with your credit card number written on it.
16. Never  sign  a  blank  credit card receipt. Carefully draw a line through blank   portions   of   the   receipt   where   additional   charges   could   be fraudulently added.
17. If  there  is  a  carbon that is used in a credit card transaction, destroy it immediately.
18. If you move, notify your credit card issuers in advance of your change of address.

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.

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