TUESDAY, APRIL 18, 2017
10 Spring Homeowner Maintenance Tips That Extend the Life of Your Home
Feel that hint of warmth in the air? Did you notice those tulips sprouting? That can only mean one thing: spring is arriving. That also means it's time to get your home in order. As a homeowner, maintenance tips are a dime a dozen. That's why we've narrowed down the list to the essential projects you need to extend the life of your home.
Most of these are easy enough to do yourself, but always put your safety and comfort first. The cost of hiring a contractor or handyperson is minimal compared to the cost of injuring yourself.
Homeowner maintenance tips that anyone can do: the exterior
Winter is tough on your home. Start your exterior maintenance projects by making a list of any visible exterior problems such as gutter damage, broken stairs, or cracks in the chimney. Take care of any noticeable issues as soon as you can, either by hiring someone or by taking care of it yourself. A simple maintenance issue can quickly become a major repair if left unattended.
1. Roof, chimney, and gutters
This is an easy job, but if you aren't comfortable climbing a ladder and working on your roof, hire someone to do the job for you. Powerwash the winter grime from the roof, inspect your chimney for cracks or broken bricks, and clean out your gutters. While you're there, check your roof for damaged shingles, reattach any sections of the gutter that have come loose, and recaulk any weathered or leaking sections of skylights.
Complete a thorough inspection of your exterior walls. Reattach loose shingles, repair any holes, and scrape and paint any exposed surfaces. It's not a bad idea to give your home a powerwash while you're at it—just don't forget to close your windows first!
3. Windows and doors
Look for cracks in window seals, broken screens, loose handles or hinges, and sticky locks. Front doors, especially, get overlooked despite the fact that they get used numerous times each day.
Cracks in your home's foundation can lead to leaks, insect infestations, and rodent troubles. Small cracks are easy enough to fix on your own with a concrete patch. Large cracks could indicate a structural problem with your home, so it's best to consult a professional.
While you're examining the foundation, check the drainage around your home. All that water from rain and melting snow has to go somewhere. If you have poor drainage around your home, there's a good chance that water may end up in your basement and lead to mold problems. If water isn't draining properly, the fix could be as simple as adding an extension to your gutter's downspout.
Trees that are too close to your home invite squirrels and insects to come in. Keep trees trimmed and remove any dead branches before they fall and damage your home or injure someone.
Homeowner maintenance tips that anyone can do: the interior
While you're airing out your home, pay special attention to those hidden and out-of-the-way spots. You don't want to let easy fixes go just because no one sees them.
While your appliances don't directly impact the longevity of your home, they are expensive to repair or replace. Even minimal maintenance will prolong their life and lower your utility bill. Clean the coils on your refrigerator, clean or change the filter on your range hood, and clean or replace the filter on your air conditioning. It's amazing how dirty these get.
2. Plumbing and water
Unless you're a capable DIYer, it's best to leave major plumbing projects to the professionals. However, minor maintenance around sinks and bathtubs can stop a problem before it begins. Check the pipes underneath your sinks to ensure there are no leaks. Inspect the caulking around your tub or shower. If it is worn or cracked, repair it as soon as you can to keep water from gathering underneath the floors.
3. Water heater
Flush your water heater to prevent a build-up of sediment and gunk. It's not a difficult project, but it does require several steps. Bob Vila has an easy step-by-step guide on his website.
4. The attic
Head upstairs into the attic. Look around for things like bird or rodent nests, light coming through the ceiling, and any signs of dampness on the wood or insulation. Problems here most likely indicate damage on your roof or a hole along the eaves where birds or squirrels can get in.
5. Safety items
Check your fire extinguisher, smoke detectors, and carbon monoxide detectors. These aren't maintenance items, exactly, but they do help keep you and your family safe. In truth, it's best to check them all monthly and replace the batteries in your detectors twice each year, but it's a potentially life-saving reminder to add them to a list of homeowner maintenance tips.
Article courtesy of Pekin Insurance
TUESDAY, APRIL 11, 2017
What is gap coverage?
If you loan or lease your vehicle, it’s probably a smart idea to take a look at gap coverage. It often isn’t included with your average auto policy, and having it can potentially save you thousands of dollars.
Gap insurance covers the difference between the depreciated value of your car and how much you owe on a loan at the time of an accident. So to understand gap coverage, you first need to understand depreciation.
What is depreciation?
As soon as you drive a new car off the sales lot, it instantly loses value, or depreciates. While the depreciation rate depends on the year, make and model, on average, your car is worth 20% less than the original value just one year after you’ve purchased it. And within the first five years, most cars lose 60% of their original value.
This means that if you’ve taken out a loan, you may owe back more money than your car is worth.
Enter: Gap coverage
Got it so far? Okay, here’s how it works: If you get into an accident and your car is damaged beyond repair, your average comprehensive and collision policy will only cover the depreciated value.
So imagine that you take out a loan and purchase a new car. Then, one year later, you get into an accident that’s deemed a total loss. Your insurance will cover the depreciated value, which might be 20% less than what you paid for the car. However, you still owe more on your loan than what your auto policy will cover. Now, you’re stuck making payments on a car that you can’t even drive.
Gap coverage protects you by covering the “gap” amount between what your insurance covers and what you still owe on your loan.
Talk to your independent agent
Now that you’ve got the basics down, your independent insurance agent will fill you in on the rest, like coverage limits and requirements.
There are also some instances in which you may already have gap insurance coverage. For example, if you’re leasing your car, gap insurance may already be included in your contract and your lease payments.
Your independent agent will be able to help you navigate through your auto policy and can help you make smart decisions when it comes to gap coverage.
-Kelley Blue Book
-Department of Motor Vehicles
-Insurance Information Institute
Article courtesy of Grange Insurance
TUESDAY, APRIL 4, 2017
Helpful Tips for When to Replace a Roof
You probably don't think about your roof very often. Unless something goes wrong, that is. A leak is usually your first indication you need to replace your roof, but you don't need to wait that long. There's a lot you can do before it gets to that point. These tips will help you decide when to replace a roof so you don't get stuck with major home damage.
The best scenario is to catch and correct problems before they begin. If you wait until your roof is leaking, you've waited too long to replace or repair your roof. When water gets through the roof, it can get into your walls where the moisture creates mold and mildew. A major leak can even go unnoticed for some time if it isn't in an obvious location.
Even though a leak is one of the most noticeable signs that there is a problem, there are other steps you can take to find out when to replace a roof on your home.
When to replace a roof: the homeowner's guide
Most contractors recommend checking your roof twice each year: once in the spring and once in the fall. You'll know when to replace a roof (maybe now!) if you see these signs during your roof inspection. Here is what you should look for:
The inside inspection
Grab your flashlight, and let's go to the attic. Inspecting your roof from the inside is safer and might be the only inspection you need to make.
- Sunlight: Before you turn on the flashlight, look closely at your attic ceiling. Are there any rays of sunlight shining through? If sunlight is coming through holes in your ceiling, that means water or even small rodents could come through, as well.
- Water damage: Are there signs of water damage? If the support beams of your roof feel damp, soggy, or look substantially different than the surrounding wood, this could be a sign of a long-term leak.
- Mold: Mold is a side effect of water damage, but it can cause major problems on its own. In a humid environment, mold can grow quickly. Mold that gets into your walls can have an effect on the air quality in your home, making it annoying or even downright dangerous for anyone with mold allergies.
The outside inspection
Only check your roof outside if you feel you can do so safely. Otherwise, hire a roofing contractor or home inspection company to climb up and examine your roof. The bonus is that they should be able to easily tell when to replace a roof. They'll also give you a general estimate of the cost if roof replacement is necessary.
- Missing shingles: Missing shingles, especially around the roof "valleys" or chimney, can make a roof especially leak-prone. Missing shingles can also be a warning sign of other roof damage, such as additional leaks or general wear.
- Curling or cracked shingles: Shingles that are cracked, brittle, or curling are indications that your roof is at or nearing the end of its life.
- Worn or bald shingles: Most shingles are rough and gritty like sandpaper. If shingles are missing this grit, it could mean that your roof needs to be replaced.
- Rotten shingles: Just like underneath the roof (the ceiling of your attic), soft or mushy spots are a sign of extensive wear and leaking.
Do you know when to replace a roof? If you do notice these signs, contact a roofing professional. You might find that some simple repairs will take care of your problems, especially if your roof isn't that old. And like any home checklist, you may find that your individual circumstances require variations, so feel free to use this as a starting point and make it work for you.
Article courtesy of Pekin Insurance
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 2017
Quick guide to insuring your engagement ring
Will you marry me?
No matter how you say it, asking someone to marry you is a huge step in your life and can come with some pre-proposal jitters.
Not to add any more stress—but have you thought about what you would do if something happened to the ring? What if you lost it? Or it got damaged?
And if that doesn’t make you nervous, think of the reaction of your soon-to-be fiancée when the ring is missing or broken, which could potentially cost thousands of dollars to fix or replace.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, jewelry losses are among the most frequent of all homeowners’ content-related insurance claims, so these scenarios aren’t far-fetched.
The best way to protect your high-value, sentimental jewelry is with insurance.
Take a look at our quick guide to purchasing insurance for your engagement ring, and give your agent a call so that when you promise, “till death do us part,” you can ensure the same for the ring.
Step #1: Buy the ring and keep the receipt.
Your insurance carrier may require the retail value of the ring before providing coverage, so hang on to your receipt.
Step #2: Call your independent agent.
Your independent insurance agent will guide you through this process including walking you through your options, helping you choose the best policy, and hopefully easing some of your nerves since you can rest assured that the ring will be protected.
Step #3: Get an appraisal.
Your independent agent can help you determine if an appraisal is needed. While a receipt is sufficient for many rings, for more expensive jewelry, your insurer may require an appraisal. The appraisal will examine all diamonds and other stones, as well as the band, to determine the value of the ring, regardless of how much you paid for it. You may also be asked to get an appraisal if the ring is an antique or family heirloom.
Step #4: Raise your limits or add an endorsement.
When insuring your ring, you have two options: raise your limits or schedule the ring as an endorsement. Homeowners and renters insurance policies include coverage for the contents of your home. However, a base homeowners policy typically limits theft of jewelry coverage up to $1,000, or sometimes just $500. Because of this, simply boosting your limits may not be enough to cover your fiancée’s new bling.
Scheduling the ring as an endorsement is another option. Although it may increase your policy’s premium cost, it provides coverage for a broader spectrum of losses. And your policy deductible doesn’t apply; this means that you could replace the ring at no additional cost to you.
When debating how to insure the ring, use your independent insurance agent as an expert resource to help you choose the best coverage for you.
Step #5: Propose!
Confidently pop the question, knowing that if the ring accidentally gets trampled in the midst of your proposal flash mob, tumbles down the stadium seats as your engagement is broadcasted on the jumbotron, or even if your fiancée finishes the slice of cake and never quite finds the ring inside… you’re covered.
Please contact our agency to get complete details on coverages and discounts.
- Insurance Information Institute
Article courtesy of Grange Insurance
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 10, 2017
Homeowners are shocked when they learn this isn’t covered by insurance
Homeowners are shocked when they learn this isn’t covered by insurance
When we buy a home, the bank requires us to buy homeowners insurance as a prerequisite to getting a mortgage. That homeowners policy covers a wide variety of exposures for losses that might happen to our home, but most of those perils will never happen.
Your homeowners policy will cover you if you have wind or hail damage or a fire or if someone breaks into your home and steals your stuff. There’s generally coverage if your home gets hit by lightning or if the power goes out and all your foods spoils. There’s even coverage for your contents if a pipe breaks and floods your house. But there’s one peril you won’t find covered—your homeowners policy does NOT include any coverage to pay off your mortgage in the event either you or your spouse die prematurely!
While your homeowners policy covers a lot of perils, it pays nothing when someone dies. We are all going to die at some point—it may be thirty years from now or it may be next week; we don’t know—but there’s a 100% probability that it will happen. The death of a breadwinner can be devastating to a family itself, but it will be even more of a tragedy if the family is forced to move out of the family home because they can no longer pay the mortgage.
Fortunately, you can protect against such an unexpected death. An inexpensive term life policy in an amount equal to the mortgage amount can be purchased to pay off that mortgage when either spouse dies and allow the family to stay in the home. Depending on the amount owed on the home and the age of the homeowners, the cost can be extremely inexpensive—often costing less than a dinner out with the family once a month. Another option would be a whole life or universal life policy, which have the added benefit of allowing you to accumulate cash equity in the policy that could be used to pay off the mortgage up to five years early, if you choose. It does cost a little more but may be worth considering.
Whether you use term life policy or a whole life or universal life policy to cover the mortgage depends on what best fits your budget and your needs. Talk to your local Pekin Insurance professional insurance agent to find out more about how you can protect yourself against a peril your homeowners policy doesn’t cover.
Article courtesy of Pekin Insurance
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 7, 2017
5 Easy Steps for Replacing Windshield Wipers in a Jam
People use their windshield wipers all the time, which makes it easy to take them for granted. But imagine that you're driving along and a sudden downpour starts. You turn on your wipers, and the blades just drag water and snow across the windshield, making your view even worse. Regularly replacing windshield wipers can help prevent this and other unsafe situations from developing. Fortunately, it's not as hard as it might seem.
How windshield wipers work
Windshield wipers are very fundamental, very crucial parts of your car. They usually consist of two wiper arms connected to tiny electrical motors at the base of the windshield. Each wiper arm has a wiper blade attached to it, which is the part that's responsible for clearing the windshield.
Replacing windshield wipers doesn't mean replacing the entire apparatus. In fact, the only regular maintenance the wipers require is that you inspect and change the wiper blades themselves. How often depends on what sort of climate you live in and how often you use your wipers, but at a minimum, you should inspect them twice a year and replace them once a year, whether they seem like they need it or not.
Why do they need to be replaced?
Replacing windshield wipers is necessary because the rubber blades wear down over time. Gradually, the wipers will begin to drag and smear water instead of clearing it from the windshield. This drastically reduces visibility and in extreme circumstances, may force you to pull over and wait out a storm.
It's a good idea to change the blades regularly even if they don't seem to need it because you never know when they'll reach their breaking point. Replacing windshield wipers on a set schedule is the best way to ensure that poor visibility doesn't leave you stranded on the side of the road.
Types of blades
Before you start replacing your wipers, you first need to know what kind of wipers you have. There are three types of wiper blades: traditional frame, beam, and hybrid.
Most cars on the road use traditional frame blades. These are the most affordable blades out there. They use a metal frame to support the rubber blades that come into contact with your windshield. If the rubber wears down too far on these, you'll end up with metal strips scratching the surface of your windshield—yikes!
Beam blades are premium blades. They are more expensive and don't necessarily work on every kind of wiper arm. (Check with your local auto parts store to find out if your wiper arms are compatible.) Beam blades consist of a single rubber piece instead of the metal framework of traditional blades. They conform to the curve of your windshield and are less likely to have snow and ice build-up.
Finally, there are hybrid blades, or winter blades. Hybrid blades are traditional blades encased in rubber, which make them tougher in winter weather. You can use these all year round, but they are less aerodynamic than traditional blades, though they do demonstrate a higher wiping performance.
How to replace your wipers
You can replace your windshield wipers in just a few easy steps:
1. Identify what kind of wipers you have and purchase replacements.
You might want to keep a replacement set in your car in case your wipers go bad during a storm.
2. Remove the old wipers.
Lift the wiper arm away from the windshield and press the tab at the bottom. Then you should be able to slide the worn blade right off the arm.
3. Line up the new wiper blade with the arm.
Hook them together using the plastic clip on the new blade.
4. Pull the wiper blade onto the arm.
You'll hear it click when it's in place.
5. Lower the arm onto the windshield.
Now repeat the process on the other side.
Where to find replacements
If you're not sure what kind of blades to use, the best place to go is your local auto parts store where an expert is usually on hand to help you. You can also use online sources to identify what type of wiper you have. If you already know what you need, larger chain stores like Walmart and Target usually have a vast selection that will likely include what you're looking for. If you're uncertain about any part of the process, it's always best to consult a professional.
Remember that even with proper wiper blades, some storms are too dangerous to drive in. If you experience reduced visibility, with or without effective wiper blades, pull over and wait out the storm or get help. Your safety is always the most important thing!
Article courtesy of Pekin Insurance
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 2, 2017
Spot Signs of a Stroke F.A.S.T.
The American Heart Association/American Stroke Association notes that “F.A.S.T.” can help you spot the signs of a stroke and know what to do if these symptoms occur:
Face drooping – Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person's smile uneven?
Arm weakness – Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
Speech difficulty – Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like "The sky is blue." Is the sentence repeated correctly?
Time to call 9-1-1 – If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get the person to the hospital immediately. Check the time so you'll know when the first symptoms appeared.
Additionally, the AHA/ASA says that there are other symptoms you should know.
• Sudden NUMBNESS or weakness of face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
• Sudden CONFUSION, trouble speaking or understanding speech
• Sudden TROUBLE SEEING in one or both eyes
• Sudden TROUBLE WALKING, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
• Sudden SEVERE HEADACHE with no known cause
Should someone show any of these symptoms, immediately call 9-1-1 or emergency medical services.
Information courtesy of The American Heart Association/American Stroke Association
TUESDAY, JANUARY 31, 2017
How to Make a Winter Car Emergency Kit for Your Auto
Imagine you're driving home from work during a winter storm. You've made it fifteen minutes down the road when suddenly, your car begins to drift on the slippery pavement. You try to steer out of the skid, but it's too late, and you slide sideways into a tree. No one else is around, and your cell phone is out of service. Good thing you have that winter car emergency kit in the trunk.
If you live in one of the colder states, you're no stranger to the hazardous conditions inclement weather can cause. The U.S. Department of Transportation says that each year, twenty-four percent of weather-related crashes occur on snowy, slushy, or icy roadways. While no one plans to get into an accident, you can have a plan in case one occurs. That's where a winter car emergency kit comes in. If you keep one in your car during the winter months, you ensure that if you do get into an accident, you'll have what you need to cope.
Much of your winter car emergency kit should already be in your vehicle for everyday emergencies:
Hopefully it doesn't come down to this, but should you or a passenger be injured, a first-aid kit is essential to treating wounds and abrasions.
GPS systems have all but made us forget maps, but if you end up in the cold without a connection, you'll be thankful for the paper map in the glove box, no matter how difficult it may be to fold back up.
Especially in a snowstorm, road triangles help other motorists see you and avoid hitting you or your vehicle. Two or three road triangles is ideal, but even just one will help tremendously. They are lightweight, compact, and easy to use.
Spare tire and jack
Make sure that spare is properly inflated and your jack is in good working order.
Cold weather can wreak havoc on a car battery. Be sure to keep jumper cables handy in your winter car emergency kit.
Additional items for winter
Along with snow, sleet, and ice, winter brings with it a whole other set of potential hazards during an accident or breakdown. There's the danger of hypothermia, ice collecting on the windows, getting stuck in a snowbank, vehicle fluids freezing, or a long, snowy walk back to town. However, all of these risks can be mitigated with the proper preparation and a few extra supplies:
Blankets are a must-have during the winter months. You won't be able to do much about being stranded if you can't stay warm. Keep one in the trunk and one under the driver's seat in case either of them becomes inaccessible.
An ice scraper
In severe conditions, ice can build up on windows and windshields, which may hinder your recovery. A snow brush with an ice scraper will help to maintain maximum visibility from the side of the road. In a pinch, your driver's license or a credit card can double as an ice scraper, but the real thing works much better.
Even an old pair of winter boots can come in handy should you have to walk through the elements for help. You'll probably find you can leave these in your vehicle year-round, but they are especially useful to have from November to March.
A bag of sand or cat litter
Should you merely be stuck in a snowdrift, a bag of sand will help you gain traction. Pour a generous amount under and in front of each tire. You can also use your floor mats. Place a mat in as far under the drive wheels as you can for traction to get out of slippery spot.
When the snow is coming down hard, you can get snowed in more quickly than you'd expect. Be prepared to dig yourself to freedom.
Cell phone adapter
If you have cellular service when you're stranded, use an adapter to make sure you have enough battery power on your phone to stay in touch with rescue personnel.
The most important thing to remember during any auto accident is to stay safe. In the winter, that will mean staying warm and hydrated. It's a good idea to keep blankets and bottles of water in your vehicle all year round, just in case. If you do break down or get into an accident, keep your eyes open for other motorists, especially during a storm when visibility is reduced.
Hopefully you'll never have to deal with a winter accident or breakdown, but if you do, you'll feel a lot better knowing you have your winter car emergency repair kit.
Expecting a lot of snow this winter? Contact us today to see what coverage options will save you money in case of an accident.
Article courtesy of Pekin Insurance.
MONDAY, JANUARY 23, 2017
Ohio's Home and Auto Insurance Rates Remain Among Nation's Lowest
Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor announced that the average rate changes in 2015 for Ohio’s top 10 homeowners and private passenger auto insurance groups increased by their smallest amounts in years. Homeowners insurance experienced a 1.5 percent adjustment, the lowest change since 2007. Auto insurance had its slightest rise in four years at 2.3 percent.
Ohio’s average homeowners and auto insurance premiums rank among the lowest in the country.
“We are committed to efficient regulation and fostering market competition to benefit consumers,” said Taylor, also director of the Ohio Department of Insurance. “We also take pride in empowering consumers to become more informed about insurance.”
Taylor’s “Think Again” insurance initiative urges Ohioans to be insurance ready with up-to-date coverage suiting their situation and budget. She said key life stage information and shopping tips are available at www.insurance.ohio.gov.
Ohioans paid an average of $763 (9th lowest) for homeowners insurance and $659 (12th lowest) for auto insurance compared to the national average, according to the most recent data from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. Ohio’s combined average premiums are $515 below the national averages.
Changes in auto insurance rates can be associated with medical costs, weather-related claims, the number of cars on Ohio roads and repairs costs. Changes in homeowners insurance rates can be attributed to weather-related claims, and building and material costs.
Individual insurance consumers may have experienced rate changes that differ from the average. The Ohio Department of Insurance reviews rates to ensure they comply with Ohio insurance law and that they are actuarially sound.
Information courtesy of the Ohio Department of Insurance
MONDAY, JANUARY 16, 2017
A Good Investment for Their Future
Purchasing life insurance for children has many advantages, and is important in protecting their insurability at a young age.
Life insurance is generally purchased for final expenses and replacement income. Even though children do not have an income to replace, the death benefit can be used to pay for unpaid medical bills, memorial services and other final expenses.
Life insurance premiums are typically less expensive for children than comparable insurance for adults. The underwriting process for children’s life insurance is less strict, making obtaining life insurance much easier and faster than life insurance for adults. Usually all that is required is an application, with no medical tests, blood work or urine tests necessary.
There are many different types of life insurance products for children on the market. Some can have premiums paid in full over a certain period of time, as opposed to paid on for the life of the insured. Other products guarantee future insurability by allowing the insured to purchase additional insurance in the future without additional underwriting.
Permanent life insurance, such as whole life and universal life, is the most common type of life insurance for children. Permanent life insurance builds cash value on a tax-deferred basis. While the primary purpose of life insurance is a death benefit, that cash value can be used for emergency funds, education expenses, retirement savings, and much more. The cash value can also be borrowed from the policy through policy loans.
By looking past the mortality aspect, you can see the benefit of purchasing children’s life insurance to guarantee a child’s future insurability. With low-cost premiums and minimal underwriting, the application process is easy, quick and affordable. The decision to purchase life insurance on a child is a great investment for their future.
Article courtesy of Auto-Owners Insurance
MONDAY, JANUARY 9, 2017
Estimating Ice Dams
It’s that time of year again! As snow comes and goes, many of us may experience ice dams building up in our gutters or on low-sloping roof areas. Unfortunately, this means that a blockage has been created and the water from the melting snow on your roof has no place to go. This can potentially cause the water to back up under your shingles.
Oftentimes the melting snow, water and ice finds a way into your home, causing damage to your walls, ceilings or insulation. Typically there is minimal, if any, damage to the shingles on your roof. However, it may be necessary to incur costs to remove snow or ice in the area above the interior damages to prevent any further damage. As your policy requires you to mitigate damages, a reasonable cost to do so may be covered under your applicable building coverage. In the event of a covered loss, be sure to work with your contractor and claim representative to determine a reasonable cost for this service, and always obtain an invoice to present for reimbursement (subject to your policy limits and deductible).
We cannot control the weather, but we can take steps to identify ice dams and prevent them from causing damage to our homes:
• Keep your gutters and the areas near your downspouts clear so water is unobstructed when channeled away from your roof.
• Consistently check your attic and the tops of exterior walls for moisture or water stains.
• Safely remove excess snow and icicles from the edge of your roof, if possible.
• Long-term prevention of ice dams includes proper insulation in your attic and applying an ice and water shield membrane under your shingles.
Article courtesy of Auto-Owners Insurance
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 27, 2016
10 Tips for Safe Holiday Celebrating
With all of the merriment of the holidays, it’s important to remember to keep yourself and others safe when celebrating. These tips from the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) can help:
Attending a party or celebrating elsewhere?
1. Before the party begins, designate a sober driver or plan another way to get home safely.
2. If you don't have a designated driver, ask a sober friend for a ride home; call a cab, friend or family member to get you; or just stay in for the night.
3. Use your community's sober ride program.
4. Never let friends drive if they have had too much to drink.
5. Always buckle up – it's still your best defense against drunk drivers.
Hosting a party?
Remember, you can be held liable and prosecuted if someone you served ends up in a drunk-driving crash.
1. Make sure all of your guests designate their sober drivers in advance, or help arrange alternate transportation.
2. Serve lots of food and include lots of non-alcoholic beverages.
3. Stop serving alcohol at a certain point and begin serving coffee and dessert.
4. Keep the numbers for local cab companies handy, and take the keys away from anyone who has had too much to drink.
However you are celebrating this year, Williamson Insurance wants to remind you to be responsible and to be there for others that may need your help.
Article courtesy of Steve Kukowski, Utica National Insurance.
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 20, 2016
7 things to know about rental car coverage
After a car accident, you have enough things to worry about. Getting to work the next day shouldn’t be one of them.
We’ve all been there—and arranging alternate transportation while your vehicle is in a repair shop can be a hassle. But rental reimbursement coverage can help alleviate some stress after an accident while also saving you money.
Here are seven things you should know about before buying rental car reimbursement coverage:
1. It’s optional.
Rental reimbursement coverage does not automatically apply after an accident. As an optional coverage, it must be purchased separately. A common misconception is that auto insurance automatically covers the cost of a replacement rental car. In reality, you often have to select this coverage and apply it to the policy.
2. There is a limit.
You’ll likely have a per day and per occurrence limit. For example, if you have a 25/750 limit, your insurance company will pay up to $25 per day but no more than $750 per claim for the rental vehicle. Most insurance companies will offer several different options, allowing you to choose the limit that is right for you.
3. Your vehicle must be in the shop due to a covered loss.
Rental reimbursement coverage can be used while your vehicle is being repaired after an accident or another covered loss, not for routine maintenance or leisure. So, if your car is at the body shop after an accident, a rental car is covered up to your limit. But if your car is undergoing routine maintenance that will keep it in the shop overnight or you are renting a vehicle for a family road trip, then rental reimbursement coverage would not apply.
4. You can use it right away.
After reporting a claim, if your vehicle isn’t drivable, you can be authorized for a rental car right away. Otherwise, you will be relying on the at-fault driver’s insurance company, and you may have to wait a little while before they can assess the claim and agree to pay for a rental car. With rental reimbursement coverage, there’s no waiting.
5. No need to worry about additional insurance.
For the most part, when you have collision and comprehensive coverages in your auto insurance policy, it will transfer to the rental vehicle, eliminating the need to purchase additional coverage from the car rental agency. Check with us at Williamson Insurance, who will be able to tell you when this applies.
6. You may not need it at all.
If you have access to another vehicle, rideshare service or public transportation in the event your vehicle isn’t drivable, you may not need rental reimbursement coverage. But if you prefer the safety net of having a rental available if you need it, you may want to opt-in to this coverage.
7. It costs less than you might expect.
One year of rental reimbursement coverage will typically cost less than one day of out-of-pocket rental car expenses.
Want to learn more? Talk to us for complete details on rental reimbursement coverage.
- Insurance Information Institute
Article courtesy of Grange Insurance
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 13, 2016
3 Tips for Keeping Students Safe When You’re Driving
Helping to keep students safe when you’re behind the wheel isn’t only for the beginning of the school year. Here are some tips to keep in mind, especially with less daylight this time of year:
1. Slow down and be especially alert in neighborhoods and school zones, and come to a complete stop when the red lights on the bus are flashing.
2. Enter and exit driveways and alleys slowly and carefully.
3. Watch for children on and near the road in the morning and after school hours, including those getting on and off the school bus.
Article courtesy of Utica National Insurance
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 6, 2016
Christmas Light Safety Tips the Griswolds Would Appreciate
You probably remember the scene from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation where Clark is trying to get the Christmas lights to work. He strings up the whole house, brings the whole family out in the snow to see it, turns them on—and they all turn off. His wife, Ellen, heads to the basement and is confronted with about 30 different plugs all connected to one another coming from a single outlet powered by a single switch. Soon after she flips the switch, all the lights come glaring on. The neighbors are so blinded that they fall down the stairs, and then the whole town has a blackout.
Or how about the scene where the cat chews on the electric cord and burns an imprint into the recliner, or when Uncle Lewis lights his stogie too close to the Christmas tree and sets it on fire? National Lampoon has no "shortage" of electrical hazards (get it?), but we think Christmas light safety is no laughing matter!
Before you go out and buy new Christmas lights
The department stores have been preparing for the holiday season since before the Autumnal Equinox and even before leaves started turning red and yellow. But it's really the day after Halloween when all bets are off, and red and green decorations start popping up everywhere.
Before the trick-or-treat bags are emptied and gobbled up, those who celebrate Christmas are out picking up new garlands and dusting off the Christmas boxes from the basement. But before you start hanging lights inside and out, think about Christmas light safety and common cold weather hazards.
No matter whether you've lived in your house for 20 years or this is your first year decorating, Christmas light safety should be a priority. According to a study by the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), more than 86% of Americans decorate their homes as part of their winter holiday celebrations. And two-thirds of those who do use electric lights inside, while more than half use them outside.
One recommendation we make this year is looking into replacing your old lights with LED lights. LED Christmas lights only use one-third of the energy of traditional Christmas lights. Not only will you save electricity, but they don't burn as hot as those old lights you've been recycling for a decade, so they're good for your wallet too—cooler lights don't burn out as easily. (Cue the verse from The 12 Pains of Christmas: "When one light goes out, they all go out!"). In fact, LED lights can last up to 20 years.
Our next recommendation is replacing the plugs you have used in the past. More than 60% of the people from ESFI's study reported using at least one extension cord when decorating their homes for the holidays. Christmas light safety comes in big here, because overloading power strips is a significant holiday hazard, and the older your equipment, the greater danger it becomes for winter fires in and around your home. Try to leave at least one outlet available to ensure you don't overload.
Things to remember when hanging Christmas lights
Most Christmas light aficionados will hang lights outside their homes, sometimes on bushes and the home itself. But many people will also put them in their windows, and most will string them around their tree. And, more than 200 house fires per year begin with Christmas trees. A report from the National Fire Protection Association said that, Christmas tree fires resulted in "an annual average of seven civilian fire deaths, 19 civilian fire injuries, and $17.5 million in direct property damage."
If you use a fake Christmas tree, note that hot lights on a plastic tree are an obvious danger. Fake Christmas trees will emit dioxins when burned and create all kinds of other toxic fumes in the process. Of course, real trees aren't excluded from danger. Keep your Christmas tree hydrated so it doesn't dry out. Dry needles pose a fire hazard just like they do in forests. The U.S. Fire Administration says "one of every three home Christmas tree fires are caused by electrical problems, and a heat source too close to the tree caused roughly one in every six."
If you're using lanterns or bulb candles in your windows as decor for the holidays, use a timer. Although most newer products contain LEDs which pose less of a hazard, it's better to know that these lights around your home are off while you sleep.
Although Christmas trees are the primary concern when it comes to home fires, the outdoor lights can cause issues too. Just last year, a home in Texas caught fire when a string of lights sparked and set the deck ablaze.
To avoid fires, select high-quality lights that are designated for the outdoors and that have safety ratings. Choose those that have been tested by the UL (Underwriters Laboratory) or ETL (Edison Testing Laboratories). If you prefer to keep using older sets, check for any damage to the wires that could cause a short. Finally, don't use metal, like nails and staples, to hang your lights; use the insulated hooks and light clips that come with your sets.
For a little extra insurance this holiday season when practicing Christmas light safety, brush up on your homeowners insurance. We provide these tips hoping you won't need to use them this holiday season, but it's better to be safe than sorry! Talk to us to learn more about our home insurance policies and to receive a free home insurance quote and coverage comparison.
Article courtesy pf Pekin Insurance
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 1, 2016
4 ways to avoid giving your data to cyber thieves this holiday season
As consumers become more comfortable buying online, Forrester Research predicts that e-commerce sales could top $500 billion by 2020, moving more fraudulent transactions from traditional retailers to online merchants. Frequently, scams perpetrated by local thieves end up sending information to overseas fraudsters. “Those who take the information may not victimize people in the end,” said Paige Schaffer, president and COO of Generali Global Assistance’s identity and digital protection services global unit. “It’s usually another group.”
There are a number of activities consumers engage in on a regular basis that can lead to information being compromised.
Schaffer has several recommendations for keeping your identity and credit card information safe when shopping, surfing the internet or traveling:
1. Avoid phishing
“Phishing is a key component around the holidays,” said Schaffer. Beware of opening emails from unknown sources or clicking on links embedded in emails. “This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t purchase from vendors online,” she said, “just make sure it’s a legitimate site.”
If you get emails from vendors you traditionally shop with, Schaffer recommends opening a new window on your computer and going directly to the company’s website. “The email could be legitimate, but it’s better to go to the site.”
When purchasing online, always look for the little padlock in the address which shows whether or not the website is secured to protect payments.
Also, make sure to only shop on secure networks and avoid public, unsecured networks in hotels, coffee shops or airports where someone could hack in and access your credit card information. Avoid accessing your financial information or any other accounts that require a password on public Wi-Fi.
2. Beware of card skimming
You pull up to the gas station, take out your credit card and don’t think twice about it. However, credit card skimming seems to be more prevalent around the holidays. “Look to make sure there is only one slot or that there isn’t a piece of machinery around the slot to capture the information,” cautioned Schaffer.
Thieves can attach a tiny strip of film to a card reader and download the information located inside the card’s magnetic strip to create a duplicate card.
Also, be sure to monitor credit card statements and bank accounts to ensure there are no unauthorized purchases. Frequently, thieves will make a small purchase to see if it can go undetected before moving to a larger one.
3. Take care while traveling
Lots of people travel during the holiday season. What they may not realize is that their boarding passes contain personal information. Don’t toss yours in the hotel trashcan — take it home and shred it to protect your information.
The same is true for electronic hotel keys, which frequently contain personal identifiable information, including credit card information. Also make sure to lock up important documents such as passports and credit cards so they cannot be accessed or stolen.
Women should avoid carrying backpack purses with an easy-open zipper. What provides easy access for you also makes it possible for thieves to quickly steal your wallet, cellphone or other items.
Men should avoid keeping their wallets in their back pants pocket because that makes it an easy target for pickpockets.
When accessing an automatic teller machine, make sure that people can’t see your information or password and be careful not to flash large amounts of cash around.
Skimming can also be a problem when traveling because it’s easy for clerks or wait staff to skim a credit card because the chance of a patron coming back and identifying them is minimal. Using a single credit card when traveling can make it easier to track expenses and identify fraudulent transactions.
When making your travel plans, beware of deals that sound too good to be true because some of these can be travel scams that use bait-and-switch schemes, or are created just to access credit card information and other personal identifiable information.
4. Watch your credit accounts
Many financial institutions offer credit-monitoring services or at the very least, fraud alerts to notify you when your information has been accessed or an unusual charge has been made to your account.
Some credit card companies, automobile associations and other membership organizations offer credit-monitoring services as a member benefit. Schaffer is a strong advocate of proactive risk mitigation and recommends that consumers take advantage of these services.
“It’s rare that your information is used immediately, but something could happen six months to a year later, so monitoring is important,” she added. “It tells you when new accounts are opened or if your information shows up in places where it shouldn’t be.”
With close to 100 million Americans planning to travel during the holiday season and 47 percent of shoppers using credit cards, the opportunities for identity theft are substantial. Consumers will need to be proactive in protecting their identities and financial information from cyber thieves.
Article courtesy of propertycasualty360.com
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 29, 2016
Office Ergonomics: Monitor Placement
The annual incidence of computer-related neck pain among office workers is 34.4 percent, according to a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). Another NCBI study of 206 computer users found that almost 60 percent of respondents suffered from upper extremity or neck pain attributed to computer use.
One of the leading causes of this growing problem is the placement of the monitor: monitors are too high or placed at awkward angles. The problem will only become worse as employees switch from stationary desktop computers to portable laptops and tablets. I recently worked with a client who was experiencing an increased number of neck and shoulder injuries because the company had switched from desktop computers to laptops. In this case, I recommended a riser and stand for the laptop, as well as an external keyboard and mouse.
Employees who experience discomfort and stress in the workplace lose 30 percent of office productivity. These injuries can be reduced or prevented by implementing an ergonomics program that emphasizes proper monitor placement.
Monitor Placement Tips From the Experts
• Angle—Monitors should be placed directly in front of the user, not angled to the left or right. This helps eliminate neck twisting. Also, encourage the employee to use the screen scroll bars to keep what is being viewed at the center of the monitor instead of at the top or bottom of the screen.
• Height—Place the monitor at a height that doesn’t make the user tilt his/her head up or bend his/her neck down to see the screen. When seated comfortably, a user’s eyes should be in line with a point on the screen about two to three inches below the top of the monitor casing.
• Bifocals and progressive lens—Postural problems can occur among employees with bifocals. Employees with bifocals should sit back in the chair in a reclined posture with their back at around 110 degrees rather than sitting erect at 90 degrees. If the monitor is tilted slightly backwards, the employee should be able to see the screen without tilting their head back or craning their neck forward.
• Viewing distance—The monitor should be at a comfortable distance for viewing, which usually is around an arm’s length. At this distance, users should be able to see the monitor without making head movements. If text looks too small, the employee can either use a larger font or magnify the screen image in the software rather than sitting closer to the monitor.
• Screen quality—Use a high-quality computer screen. Make sure the text on the screen looks sharp to the employee.
• Keep papers close—Make sure any paper documents that users read are placed as close to the computer monitor as possible and are at a similar angle. Use a document holder when possible.
• Don’t Forget Good Posture Having the proper monitor placement will help ensure proper posture to avoid a computer-related injury. Other workstation posture basics include:
• An employee should be able to reach the keyboard keys with their wrists as flat as possible (not bent up or down) and straight (not bent left or right).
• To avoid nerve compression at the elbow, make sure that the user’s elbow angle (the angle between the inner surface of the upper arm and the forearm) is at or greater than 90 degrees.
• Wrists should stay as straight as possible when the mouse is being used.
• The user should sit back in the chair and have good back support. Feet can be placed flat on the floor or on a footrest.
• Keep the head and neck as straight as possible.
• The posture should feel relaxed for the user.
• Things the user uses most frequently should be placed closest so he/she can conveniently and comfortably reach.
• The user should be centered on the keyboard.
Article courtesy of Laurie Hoskins, Risk Improvement Consultant, EMC Insurance
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 22, 2016
Money Mistakes Millennials Are Making
In your 20s is when you truly begin setting yourself up for financial success. If you have graduated college, then hopefully you are at an adult job making more than that part-time job you worked in college. However, with this new income comes more bills and responsibility. You must now pay the present bills and save for the future, all while paying off loans. While it is by no means easy, no one expects you to wake up one day knowing exactly what to do. Instead, you should want to learn how to have a financially stable future because not taking care of your finances in your 20s leads to financial problems later in life.
•Not having an emergency fund
Most college students do not have much of an emergency fund, and when tragedy strikes, they must use every penny they have on hand, reach out to parents, or learn to live without. Once you get into the real world, you need to become more self-sufficient and work on creating that emergency budget by putting away money monthly. The emergency fund should cover three months of expenses, but a good emergency fund should cover six months of expenses. This will take time to accrue, but sticking with it will help you in the future when an emergency arises.
•Never checking their credit report
On average, if you ask a college student what their credit score is, they have no idea and probably have never checked it. With so many free sites out there, you can get an idea of your credit score, which allows you to know your chances of being approved for loans, credit cards, apartments, and more.
•Not having a budget
More than just millennials are living without a budget, which can impact your financial success. When you don’t know where your money is going, you can end up spending more than you make and not saving anything. Creating a budget to see where your money is going opens your eyes to the reality of where you are spending money and how to reduce your expenses.
•Forgetting about 401(k)
If you happen to end up at a company that has a 401(k) for employees, by not participating, you are putting your future retirement at risk. Having money taken out of your paycheck means you don’t have to see it and don’t have to worry about spending it. If your employer does not offer a 401(k), setting up an IRA or Roth IRA are other options. If your employer doesn’t have a 401(k), that just means that you have to look at other options.
•Not investing early
Maybe the idea of children or retirement seems far off in the distance, but the years will fly by faster than you may think. Saving even a small amount out of college when you have to take on so many bills sets you up for success in the future. Once you get into the habit, it is easier to maintain and will help you down the road when you can contribute more to the fund.
•Not paying off student debt
Sure, you’re only young once, but if you think that spending all your money on traveling instead of paying off your student loans is a good idea, then you are walking a thin line. The longer it takes you to pay off your loans, the more interest you’ll end up paying. An intellectual individual would look at the grace period after graduation as the time to begin setting aside money every month so they are prepared when the six months comes to an end and have a system in place.
•Not having appropriate insurance coverage
Discussion about appropriate insurance coverage just doesn’t happen in college. Then you graduate and are thrown into the world uneducated about the coverage you could be missing. Making sure your auto and renters insurance has enough coverage for your needs is essential in case of a disaster.
Financially, when you get out of college many individuals are so bogged down with loans, relocation fees, utilities, groceries, and more that they don’t think about saving their money. This can be hard when you are struggling to make ends meet financially, but you have to start somewhere. Saving even $5 a month can get you on the right track towards your financial future.
Article courtesy of Pekin Insurance
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2016
What Are Essential Health Benefits?
The Affordable Care Act sets out a group of coverage called essential health benefits that must be provided by a health insurance company. All plans offered in the marketplace must provide these same benefits. Let’s explore some of these services and their importance.
One of the benefits required are ambulatory patient services. This is outpatient care you care get without being admitted to a hospital. This could be an outpatient clinic a standalone surgery center or even a doctor’s office.
Other covered benefits include emergency services, hospitalization, pregnancy, maternity and newborn care, rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices, as well as mental health and substance abuse disorder services. Most of these services should be pretty self explanatory. Prescription drugs, laboratory services, pediatric services are also required benefits.
One required service that should be fully utilized is preventative and wellness services. These particular services are required to be fully covered with no cost share to the consumer. The reason these services are so important is they allow a consumer to actively monitor their health and head off potential medical problems before they become a bigger issue. This approach makes potential health problems easier and less expensive to treat.
To find out more information about finding health coverage and how essential benefits work contact Michelle at 740-453-0791.
Article by Michelle M. Rush, CPIA, CISR, CSRM | Health and Life Specialist for Williamson Insurance Service
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 15, 2016