Friday, March 30, 2007

Animal Ghosts

I am often asked the question, "Do animals sometimes come back as ghosts just like some people do?" The evidence points to the answer: yes! Many people have had experiences with family pets coming back whether that be as simple as a ball of twine rolling across the floor by itself with no outside source, the feeling of something rubbing up against your leg and there's nothing there and sometimes the actual visual apparition of the beloved pet.

It seems that the ones that are reported the most in the animal world are dogs, cats and horses in that order respectively. However, there seems to be some confusion. Can ALL animals appear or come back as spirits? Are there certain limitations to which ones are allowed? Why aren't more animal ghosts seen and reported?

There aren't, to my knowledge, any reports of phantom mosquitoes or flies, etc. Perhaps only the intelligent species have souls? Those and other questions remain unanswered. Man is the only species that some day realizes that he or she will terminate and leave this world. All other species simply exist from day to day and die without being able to communicate to us that possibility that they in fact are dying.

I have been investigating many reports of phantom animals and have come up with some interesting case scenarios to present here. Remember, as with humans, not all animals will be perceived as ghosts someday only because of the way that animal has died. The scenario for "human" ghosts is usually one of a violent or tragic death and the "not realizing" that he or she has died because of the suddenness of some deaths. However, great love of an animal or the constant grieving of the loss of your pet will sometimes have the same effect as a sudden, violent or tragic death; it will will your animal to return for a short time.

In the Chicago suburbs at the border of civilization and the Cook County Forest Preserves is a fairly busy intersection, 95th Street and Kean. There are stables nearby and horse-riding trails wind their way through the lush flora. One of the trails must cross the busy and dangerous 95th Street to continue on the other side.

Until recently there was no traffic control device there to allow those on horseback to cross safely and quite a number of people were injured and at least seven were killed including some horses as well. The reason the intersection is so dangerous is twofold. One, the speed limit is 45 mph there but many do 50 mph or better coming out of the forest preserve and going into the city, and, two, there is a rise that obscures the drivers view of the individuals attempting to cross the street. At that speed, sometimes by the time the driver sees the people, it's already too late.

There have been numerous incidents especially at night or near dusk of motorists complaining of seeing what appears to be a horse and his rider in silhouette attempting to cross from one side to another. But as the driver begins to slow down and watch them more carefully, suddenly there's nothing there. These figures don't simply disappear near one side of the street or the other, but often right in the middle of the road!

They are best described as smoke grey silhouettes without any recognizable features but are often only seen from afar.

There have even been ghostly reenactments of some actual events at that intersection as well. On one occasion, a motorist saw what appeared to be a horse throwing his rider from the saddle right in the middle of the road before disappearing. Some have seen a horse apparently being dragged down the roadway a bit as though a car had impacted with it and would have dragged it a little ways before coming to a complete stop.

In Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia stands the large grave marker of author Ellen Glasgow who was well known in Richmond and lived there for a good portion of her life. When she died, she stipulated in her will that her two pet dogs who had died prior to her death, be exhumed from her backyard and buried with her at Hollywood. Many claim that they have heard these dogs on occasions, scampering around quite near to that grave late at night.

At Hinsdale Animal Cemetery in a suburb just southwest of Chicago another mystery takes place. Passerby's have often seen the black forms of dogs and other creatures flicker by in their headlights many times causing them to slam on the brakes, only when they do, often, there's nothing there. Perhaps some real animals are attracted to the massive remains of so many other animals? Perhaps. Perhaps not.


Thursday, March 29, 2007

Humorous Ghost Stories

Spook Shooting (Psychic News: Printed in Body, Mind & Spirit, Jan/Feb 1988)

According to Psychic News, London, a French farmer has an unfortunate accident after watching a horror movie late at night. It seems that shortly after retiring, Michel Maumond, 40, reported seeing "a ghost in white at the foot of my bed." The frightened Maumond grabbed his gun and subsequently shot-off the toes of one of his feet.

Maumond has since determined that from now on he will stick to reading safe books at night.

Pepsi Blooper (Psychic News: Printed in Body, Mind & Spirit, Mar/Apr 1988)

A surprisingly number of misconceptions can arise when trying to translate a concept from one language to another. The Pepsi Cola company found this out when mounting an ad campaign in Taiwan. The slogan was supposed to read "Come Alive with the Pepsi Generation." Unfortunately, translated into Chinese it read, "Pepsi Will Bring Your Ancestors Back From the Dead."

Needless to say the advertisements were summarily canceled - even Pepsi couldn't quite live up to that claim.

Hess Haunting? (Body, Mind & Spirit, Mar/Apr 1988)

Earlier this year Rudolph Hess, one time deputy of Adolph Hitler, died after spending decades as the sole inmate of Spandau prison. Prior to his imprisonment in Spandau, Hess was held for two years in Britain at Mytchett Place. This property, located in Surrey, is reportedly up for sale for 650,000 British pounds. According to an article in Psychic News, London, there are "numerous reports of figures moving up and down the staircase, lights going on in locked rooms and photographs moving inexplicably."

During his imprisonment at Mytchett Place, Hess attempted to commit suicide by hurling himself over the balcony into the hall below. Could the spirit of Rudolph Hess be haunting Mytchett Place? Most likely not as Hess himself is reported to have seen these visions while incarcerated there. Apparently Hess was not "spooked" by these visitations. He considered them to be instances of psychological warfare perpetrated by British Intelligence.


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Life Insurance for People With Medical Problems

Finding the best-priced life insurance isn't always an easy task. If there's something about your health that raises red flags in the application process, you might want to enlist the assistance of a professional special-risk advocate.

How to get a special-risk advocate in your corner

Unless you are looking for a lot of insurance, with face values in the millions of dollars, it probably doesn't make sense to hire an advocate on your own. The key becomes finding someone else to pick up the tab - an insurance agency that has an advocate on staff or an agent who knows where to turn.

"In some cases your local agent may bark up the wrong trees trying to find you the best life insurance," says Richard Panther, director of underwriting for Target Insurance Services, a brokerage insurance company focusing on impaired-risk coverage.

If your insurance agency has an in-house specialist who deals with impaired risks, there are some questions you can ask to find out what makes him qualified to handle your case.

Ask if the agency's specialist is a former insurance company underwriter. Former underwriters who work in insurance agencies are often well connected with current underwriters and have direct experience setting policy prices for those with medical conditions. Former underwriters will know the positive indicators insurers look for when trying to make the best offer. This experience will allow the specialist to put your case in the best light when he contacts an insurer.
Former managers at insurance companies, who have overseen underwriters, can also make good impaired-risk specialists. They are especially valuable, if they have supervised the processing of hundreds of impaired-risk applications and are familiar with the risks involved in insuring people with medical conditions. This kind of experience can be difficult to quantify, but the very best of these advocates will be members of the Risk Appraisal Forum.

Risk Appraisal Forum members, together with underwriters for insurers and life insurance medical directors; discuss new procedures and techniques with medical authorities. Risk Appraisal Forum members are familiar with how medical conditions effect life insurance, and how medical advancements can help your insurability.

If your agency doesn't have a full-time specialist or a consultant, look for an agent who has experience finding life insurance for people with medical conditions. Agents who have more than 10 years of experience, or who write 15 to 20 percent of their policies for people with health
problems, can be just as knowledgeable and well connected as former underwriters.

Agents who concentrate on finding life insurance for baby boomers are also likely to see more applications from people with health problems. Conventional wisdom in the life insurance industry is most successful baby boomers have earned their success at the price of their health.

You might consider finding an agent with the Charter Life Underwriter (CLU) designation. CLU agents have shown a commitment to learning about the business of life insurance. These agents have years of experience and have most likely taken courses on how to provide coverage to people with health problems.

Ask if your agent will contact an intermediary agency that specializes in finding life insurance for people with less-than-perfect health. For a percentage of the agent's commission - known as an "override" - these intermediaries will contact a number of insurers and solicit quotes for life insurance policies. To make sure several companies are considering your application, you should ask your agent for the names of the insurers the intermediary uses. When you get that list, ask your agent if the companies listed specialize in writing policies for people with health problems.

Also, notice the questions asked about your medical history. If your agent asks several detailed questions about your health problems, it's a sign the agent or specialist is familiar with securing life insurance for people with your condition. If you aren't being asked medical questions, the agent might be planning to treat your application the same as every other, hoping for a favorable result.

How special-risk advocates help

When you apply for life insurance, your application and medical records find their way to the desk of an underwriter. The underwriter will then compare your medical records with the results of your life insurance medical exam and blood tests. The underwriter will use that information to decide whether to offer you a policy, and how much your premiums will be.

In addition to a check of your medical records, the underwriter will request statements about your health from your doctors - known as an attending physician's statement or APS. Once all of the information is in, the underwriter will review the file and decide whether to offer coverage.

Underwriters have only one chance to price a life insurance policy, so they don't like to make decisions without as much information as possible. If a life insurance agent presses an underwriter to make a decision before all of the medical information is received, the underwriter might decide to issue a higher-priced policy.

By assembling a complete medical file and sending that information to the insurers most comfortable underwriting your medical condition, special-risk advocates work to find "standard" life insurance policies for people who have been declined. In some cases, advocates can secure the lowest possible rates, even if other insurance companies have set higher premiums because of health problems.

"By acting as the clearinghouse, [an advocate] can order the APSs, take excerpts from the file, and fax a summary to three or four underwriters to talk over the case," says Robert Littell, a special-risk consultant to individuals and insurers. The advocate can use an offer made by one insurer as a starting point in negotiations with another underwriter to get a lower priced policy.

Competition from specialist brokers and insurers has pressured traditional insurance companies to make better offers to consumers with health problems, says Littell.

Cases where can advocates can help the most

Special-risk advocates most commonly work with people who have been diagnosed with or have a history of the following:
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Cancer
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Hazardous occupations or hobbies
  • Hepatitis C
  • Hypertension
  • Obesity
  • Stroke
  • Tobacco use

For more serious or less common conditions, a good special-risk advocate can almost always find a life insurer that will issue a policy. Such policies can be quite expensive, however.


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Do You Still Need Life Insurance if You're Widowed?

As your life changes, your financial needs change as well. Re-evaluating your insurance coverage after your spouse has passed away is an important part of getting your finances in order. If you're older or have grown children, you may need less life insurance or none at all now that you're widowed. But if you have children or other people who are financially dependent on you (e.g., elderly parents), you may need more life insurance than you think.

Your coverage needs

Though your family has changed, the need to protect your children's future remains. Life insurance can help ensure that your children will be provided for if something happens to you. The amount of life insurance you need depends on the number and ages of your children, as well as your income, debt, and assets. A good rule of thumb is to buy coverage that equals six to eight times your annual salary. You will want to make sure that you have enough insurance to cover your children's day-to-day living expenses and the cost of their college education. Ask your insurance agent or a financial planner to help you evaluate your needs and find a life insurance policy that's right for you.

Beneficiary Designations

Whether you have children or not, you should also review and update the beneficiary designations on any life insurance policies you own. Your insurance agent can help you with the necessary paperwork. If you don't have an agent, you can always call your insurance company and ask to speak to someone in the policyholder service department for more information. But don't name a minor child. Insurers generally won't make settlements directly to minors, and the probate court handling your estate may require that a trust be set up, and a guardian appointed, to manage the proceeds.

Tips on buying life insurance
  • You may have the opportunity to purchase group life insurance through your employer, trade groups, or professional associations
  • If you're concerned about the cost of premiums, consider low-cost term life insurance
  • Find an experienced insurance agent or financial planner to help you evaluate your situation and the products available
  • Check insurance company ratings, such as A.M. Best and Standard & Poor's, for an insurance company's financial stability
  • Be sure to shop around for the best rates
  • Periodically review your life insurance needs to make sure that you have the proper amount of coverage


Monday, March 26, 2007

Tips for First Time Insurance Buyers

When you buy insurance, you're really buying something that you hope you'll never have to use. But if you ever do need to file an insurance claim, you'll understand why having the right amount and right types of coverage is important.

Decide how much insurance you need

You can't stop bad things from happening. But you can protect yourself financially by purchasing insurance. How much insurance you need depends on a lot of factors including how much you owe and own, how much your assets are worth, whether you have dependents, and how much out-of-pocket cost you could afford to bear. You can estimate your coverage needs using calculators or worksheets available on-line, but it's a good idea to sit down with an insurance agent or broker who can thoroughly evaluate your needs.

Comparison shop

No matter what type of insurance you're buying, the process is essentially the same. Once you've decided what type of insurance and how much coverage you need, you can begin contacting insurance companies online, directly by phone, or through an insurance agent or broker to obtain quotes. Get quotes from several different insurers because premium cost can vary widely.

But compare the coverage offered, too. A policy might cost less because it offers fewer, or different, features and benefits. And make sure the company you've settled on is reputable, with good customer service and claims-paying ability. All insurance companies are rated by major rating agencies (e.g. Standard & Poor's, Moody's, A.M. Best) on their ability to pay claims. You can access these ratings online, through public libraries, or through insurance company literature.


Sunday, March 25, 2007

Understand what you're buying

An insurance policy is a legal contract that may be loaded with technical terms that are hard to understand. But read it anyway before you sign on the dotted line to find out about the coverage you're buying. For instance, the policy will tell you:
  • Who or what is covered
  • What coverage exclusions and limitations apply
  • When coverage begins and ends
  • How much coverage is provided
  • How much you'll pay for coverage (the premium)
  • How you report a loss or file a claim

It's always a good idea to ask an insurance professional to explain any terms, conditions, or benefits that you don't understand.

Evaluate your insurance needs periodically

As your life changes, your insurance needs change, too. So every once in a while (annually, some experts suggest), review your insurance to see if you need more (or less) coverage or an additional type of coverage. Here are some times in your life when you'll definitely want to re-evaluate your insurance needs:

  • You're getting married or divorced
  • You're starting a family
  • You're renting an apartment
  • You're buying a house or a car, or making a major purchase
  • Your child is going off to college
  • You're starting a new job or becoming self-employed
  • You're buying or selling a business
  • Your income increases or decreases substantially
  • You're taking care of an aging parent
  • You're retiring

Make your life insurance policies work for you by taking the time to periodically review your needs and coverages.


Saturday, March 24, 2007

Buying Life Insurance After a Heart Attack

Heart attacks raise a red flag for life insurance companies. Yet, that doesn't necessarily mean you'll be denied a policy or pay sky-high premiums if you answer "yes" when asked about heart disease on your life insurance application.

Depending on the severity of your heart disease and the steps you've taken to treat it, you might get a life insurance policy with affordable rates.

"We spend our lives underwriting diseases," says Dr. Robert Gleeson, a vice president and medical underwriter at Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company. "And, as an industry, we've had a lot of experience with coronary disease."

According to Gleeson, over time people who have had heart attacks, and other forms of heart disease, tend to have predictable life expectancy rates, and the more predictable your life, the more willing insurers will be to sell you a life insurance policy.

"We are able to offer an insurance policy to the vast majority of people with a history of heart disease," agrees Christopher Graham, vice president and chief underwriter for Hartford Life.

While a heart attack will almost certainly disqualify you from the best "preferred" life insurance rates, according to Graham, there are people who have qualified for the second-best tier — "standard" rates — in spite of a coronary condition.

What can you do?

So how can you get the best possible price for life insurance after a heart attack? The first step is to wait a while.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom that says you should buy life insurance as soon as you realize you need it, you could actually save money by waiting a year or two after a heart attack or other coronary condition.

"For many impairments, the more recent the occurrence, the less favorable the rates," says Graham. "We want to look at what happens afterwards."

In fact, some insurers will charge a "flat extra" premium on top of the rate charged for your heart condition for the first few years after a heart attack or similar occurrence. Delaying your insurance purchase will allow the insurer to see what steps you've taken to improve your health since your heart attack.

"The longer a person goes and is able to demonstrate things like low cholesterol, a good cardiogram reading — things that show that they are taking care of themselves — the better their rating would be," says Gleeson.

Of course, while you are waiting you also need to take steps to improve your health. Following your doctor's orders is one of the most significant things you can to do to help make sure you get the best price possible for life insurance.

"Your doctor will tell you to lower your cholesterol, change your diet, keep track of your blood pressure, take your medications, and exercise. It's tried and true and the best advice," says Graham. "Work with your physician to stabilize your condition and make sure that it is all evident in your doctor's records."

Make sure the insurer knows

By making sure the steps you have taken are detailed in your medical files, it might help the insurance underwriter lower your premiums. The more specific the information you provide, the more likely you are to get the best premium rates possible.

"If someone tells me that they have high blood pressure but doesn't give me any more information, I don't feel very good about issuing a policy without getting more information," says Gleeson. Patients who are more proactive and show they are paying attention to their health tend to reassure underwriters.

"As with anything, you can sometimes be on the fence as to what kind of an offer to make to a life insurance applicant," says Graham. "If you feel good about it, you will usually fall on the side of the more aggressive offer."

Medical underwriting procedures vary among life insurance companies, so shop around — either on your own or through an independent insurance agent.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Insurance insulates too much

By creating a "security blanket" for its insureds, an insurance company may inadvertently find that its insureds may not be as risk-averse as they might otherwise be (since, by definition, the insured has transferred the risk to the insurer). This problem is known to the insurance industry as moral hazard. To reduce their own financial exposure, insurance companies have contractual clauses that mitigate their obligation to provide coverage if the insured engages in behavior that grossly magnifies their risk of loss or liability.

For example, life insurance companies may require higher premiums or deny coverage altogether to people who work in hazardous occupations or engage in dangerous sports. Liability insurance providers do not provide coverage for liability arising from intentional torts committed by the insured. Even if a provider were so irrational as to desire to provide such coverage, it is against the public policy of most countries to allow such insurance to exist, and thus it is usually illegal.


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Why Men are Paying More for Life Insurance

Paying more for life insurance? If you're male, you probably are, because the mortality rate, or likelihood of death, is higher for men than for women. And according to an exhaustive new study of gender mortality across centuries and among species, it's all about biology - so forget about lowering that insurance premium.

"Why Men Die Younger," a study published in February 2001 by the Society of Actuaries, concludes that the hormone testosterone "plays havoc biologically and behaviorally with men's bodies," leading to diseases and risk-taking behavior that are more common among men than women. Estrogen, the female hormone, tends to increase longevity for women. The greatest difference between male and female mortality rates occurs at age 22, when testosterone levels for males are traditionally highest.

Testosterone promotes higher blood pressure, the study says, and suppresses the effectiveness of the immune system. It also causes males to engage in risky behavior such as unsafe driving, illegal drug use, and alcohol abuse, all of which are more prevalent among men than women.

"Many have concluded that the male is the weaker or frailer of the sexes," says Barbara Blatt Kalben, the study's author. Over a three-year period, Kalben examined demographic data from as early as the 14th century and concluded that mortality differences are global, but the extent of the difference varies by country. For instance, in the former Soviet Union, women live 13.8 years longer than men. In the United States, however, women outlive men by 5.7 years, down from 7.8 in the mid-1970s.

The study found that men die younger from 66 of 72 causes of death considered, including cancer, diabetes mellitus, heart disease, infections, strokes, and pulmonary disease. Only six causes of death had higher female mortality rates: Alzheimer's disease, asthma, breast cancer, kidney infections, pregnancy/childbirth, and rheumatic fever.

Higher life expectancy among women was traditionally attributed to most women working in the home while men joined the workforce. However, the new study says that working women have lower mortality rates than those who stay at home.

It's not all doom and gloom for men, Kalben says. "The best thing to do is be aware of the risk-taking behavior discussed in the study," Kalben says. "The primary danger is cigarette smoking. There's nothing new here - we already knew that mortality data shows male and female smokers live nine years shorter, on average, than nonsmokers. There's other risky behavior that men engage in more frequently, such as driving under the influence and driving without a seat belt."

Kalben says the study can help actuaries, who set the rates for life insurance by examining mortality data, to understand the causes behind mortality rates for men and women. "Actuaries try to predict what will happen in the future," she says. "Years ago the insurance rates were the same between males and females. This helps actuaries understand why females live longer, and get a grasp on what may happen in the future. If you don't know the causes of mortality, it's hard to make a prediction."

Females in nearly every species, including crustaceans, fish, insects, humans, mollusks, primates, and other mammals, are more likely to live longer than males. But if birds wanted life insurance, they'd be in luck: Because of their chromosomes, male birds live just as long as females.


Monday, March 19, 2007

Insurance for the Overseas Traveler

Are you planning to travel to a foreign country? Keep in mind that forgetting to buy insurance isn't like forgetting your toothbrush or sunscreen. You should be able to find a pharmacy when you get to your destination, but be sure that you take care of your insurance needs before you leave. Here are some suggestions to get you started.

When you're too far away for mom's chicken soup

Although you don't plan on getting sick or into an accident, especially on vacation, you'll want to be prepared just in case. Many domestic health insurers won't cover losses suffered outside the United States. So while you may be fully covered at home in Glenview, Illinois, or Beulah, Wyoming, don't expect the Swiss medical provider to accept your HMO coverage as payment if you break your leg skiing the Alps. Many people believe that their health insurance will cover them if they need medical treatment in a foreign country. In most cases it won't, at least not 100 percent, so check with your insurer before you travel.

Driving on the other side of the yellow brick road?

If you plan to drive while in a foreign country, you'll want to learn the rules of the road for the country you're in. You'll also need to find out that country's policies on foreign drivers. You should consider getting an international driver's license, which identifies you as a licensed driver in your country of residence. In some countries, you can't rent a car without one. Make sure you have adequate auto insurance, since it's likely that your personal auto policy won't cover you outside of the United States. Check with your insurer to be sure.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it!But what if it's lost or stolen?

What if you arrive in Paris only to learn that your luggage is on its way to Paraguay? Often, homeowners policies provide coverage for theft or destruction of personal property. However, both your home insurance policy and your personal umbrella policy will cover you only for "named perils"--those circumstances listed in your policy. As a result, you'll want to make sure that your personal property is protected, especially when you're far away from home. Ask your insurance agent for information on lost luggage insurance.

When the friendly skies aren't so friendly

Planning a cruise to Puerto Vallarta? Flying to Mazatl? You may want to consider trip interruption insurance. If the cruise line goes out of business before departure, or your trip is canceled due to weather conditions, trip interruption insurance may help you recover all or part of your expenses. It may also cover airfare and hotel costs if you must cancel your trip because of illness or a death in the family.

What's out there?

Many companies offer overseas insurance packages that include all of the insurance you could ever need and then some. Prices are based on age, length of stay, and the number of people covered. If you shop around, you may find a one-week coverage package for under $50 per person. Packages often include:

  • Emergency medical and dental
  • Emergency medical evacuation
  • Repatriation of remains
  • Accidental death and dismemberment
  • Trip cancellation/interruption/delay/default
  • Baggage loss/damage
  • Rental car protection
  • Visitor to bedside and return of dependent children
  • Pre-existing condition waiver

Check with your insurer or visit one of the numerous insurance company websites for more information.

Smart travel tips

  • Carry your cash, traveler's checks, travel documents, jewelry, and other valuables in a carry-on bag or on your person.
  • Tie a colored ribbon or elastic band to the handle of your suitcase as an identifier.
  • If you rent a car, choose one with a trunk--hatchbacks allow thieves to go window-shopping.
  • Pick up a phrase book specific to your destination. It may come in handy when the clerk doesn't understand, "Where is the bathroom?"
  • Avoid drinking tap water. It may be safe for the locals, but it could make you sick and ruin your vacation.
  • For the best deals, travel in the off-season and plan ahead.


Sunday, March 18, 2007

5+ Easy Ways to Lower Life Insurance Costs

The price you pay for life insurance depends on your age, your health, and your lifestyle. So if you are older, you have health problems, and you are a smoker, you will always pay more for life insurance than someone who is younger, healthier, and a nonsmoker. That being said, there are ways to lower your life insurance premiums, even if you fall into a higher-risk category. Following are some simple suggestions for life insurance and term life insurance.

1. Round up

Often, you'll actually pay less for a little more life insurance as you approach multiples of $250,000 in coverage. For example, $240,000 of life insurance coverage might cost $275 per year, while $250,000 in coverage might cost only $260 per year. Find out the rate per $1,000 of coverage, which often drops once you pass a certain level of coverage. This figure will help you determine how to get the most life insurance for the least money.

2. Find a "friendly" life insurance company

Some life insurance companies do offer competitive rates for conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. These companies employ underwriters who are trained in analyzing people on a case-by-case basis, rather than lumping everyone with a particular condition into one group.

3. Consider quitting

Everyone knows that you'll save money on your insurance premiums if you quit smoking, start exercising, and lose weight. But you might be surprised to find out just how much you can save. Many insurance companies charge smokers double the nonsmoker rate for insurance. (Don't even think about lying, though. If you end up dying of a smoking-related illness, your insurance company can opt not to pay your death benefit.) Similar discounts can apply if you lose enough weight to fall into a preferred category.

4. Forget the riders

While riders may add value to your life insurance policy in certain situations, many are simply an unnecessary expense. Paying extra money to cover an event that's almost guaranteed not to happen just doesn't make sense when you're trying to cut costs. Additionally, many riders simply provide duplicate coverage once your overall insurance needs are met.

5. Find out about hidden fees

You may not realize it, but your life insurance could end up costing you more if you choose to make "convenient monthly payments" rather than paying the entire premium up front. Before you choose a payment plan, compare the single payment price to the total cost of the monthly payments. Do the math, and decide whether the convenience is worthwhile.

6. Shop around

When it comes to insurance, it pays to shop around because premiums can vary widely. And thanks to the Internet, it's now easier than ever. Save time by going to a website where you can compare multiple insurance companies at once.


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Anatomy of a Misleading Sales Pitch

A rash of policyholder complaints about misleading sales practices has fueled a growing number of class action suits against life insurance companies. The offending practices usually take one of two forms: "churning" (also known as "twisting") or promises of "vanishing premiums."

Churning and twisting

Once a policyholder has been paying into a whole life insurance policy for some time, its cash value builds up, making the policy more valuable. Some unscrupulous life insurance agents then convince their customers to use the built-up cash value of their existing policies to buy a "new, improved" policy - one with more coverage, different features, or a different payment schedule.

What these agents neglect to tell their customers is their existing policies are usually quite adequate for their needs, and when they use the built-up cash value to purchase a new policy, they start from square one in building up cash value in the new policy. This practice is called "churning" or "twisting." It's unethical - and illegal. Some agents churn because they earn a commission for each new policy they sell.

The fallout from churning isn't immediately apparent. A customer doesn't have to shell out any money up front because the built-up cash value of the existing policy pays the initial premiums of the new one. Once you use the cash value; however, it's gone.

Texas insurance commissioner Jose Montemayor says "churning" profits insurance agents at your expense. " If you bought the original policy at an earlier age, the new policy might cost more and offer less coverage. In addition, if you should die during the first two years of a new policy, the insurance company can contest claims for the death benefits," Montemayor warns. "Many companies pay larger commissions to agents for new policies than for renewals."

A policy's cash value is actual money the policyholder owns, although usually just on paper. Cash value can be used as security for a loan or converted into an annuity. If a policyholder decides to cancel a life insurance policy with built-up cash value, he's entitled to that money, minus the surrender charge.

Vanishing premiums

Life insurance companies take the money they collect in premiums and invest it - that's how they make their money. In the case of permanent life insurance policies such as whole life and universal life, companies then apply some of those investment earnings back to the value of your policy.

During the early 1980s, interest rates were high and it looked like they'd keep on climbing. So, life insurance companies projected the rate of return from investing today's policy premiums would eventually pay for any future premiums. Some agents told customers they would only have to pay premiums for a few years. The agents claimed returns on the insurance company's investments would pay for the policy after that.

As it turned out, those rosy projections weren't accurate. Interest rates fell, and customers who'd been told their policies would start paying for themselves kept getting bills in the mail. Angry policyholders protested, only to be told insurance company projections weren't guaranteed. In some cases, customers were able to prove they were not informed of that when they signed up for their policies.

The Missouri Department of Insurance claims since the mid-1990s, state regulators and class-action litigation nationally have secured hundreds of millions of dollars in policyholder awards for "vanishing premium" violations.

Texas insurance commissioner Jose Montemayor says some common sense can help protect you from "vanishing premium" or "churning" scams. "Ask yourself whether the agent has your best interest in mind or is just trying to get a higher commission," Montemayor says.


Friday, March 16, 2007

Should You Insure Your Mutual Funds?

If you crave guaranteed investment returns, insuring your mutual funds might make sense, but such insurance - particularly for the younger investor - deserves close scrutiny before you buy.

Products such as American Skandia's AS Goodwill coverage, SunAmerica's Asset Protection Plan, and Prudential Insurance Co.'s PruTector are basic group term life policies that you can buy in conjunction with a mutual fund from one of the companies (Prudential also offers the PruTector in conjunction with IRA accounts).

The policies pay out only after you die, and only if your mutual fund has lost money since the time when you purchased the coverage.

Here's how it works: For a premium that ranges from 0.1 percent of your investment up to 0.5 percent, the company guarantees that the money in your mutual fund, plus an annual gain of 4 or 5 percent (up to a limit, usually capping returns at 200 percent), will always be there for your heirs. On the other hand, if the market dips, the insurance guarantees that your initial investment will be increased by 4 or 5 percent. Then the company will calculate your life insurance benefit from that adjusted-investment figure.

Upon your death, your beneficiary will get the difference between the market value of your investment and the amount guaranteed by your life insurance. So, theoretically, if you bought a $25,000 protection policy, it is extremely unlikely that the company would end up paying $25,000, even though your premium was calculated based on that coverage amount.

With the stock market sustaining an annualized 11 percent return since the Depression ended, most consumers aren't interested in paying for mutual fund protection, regardless of how cheap it is. The coverage can range from $100 to $500 per year on a $100,000 investment. Over the long term, even the most conservative investor's portfolio can grow substantially. It's no surprise that sales of mutual fund insurance have not ridden the coattails of the mutual fund investment fervor.

Prudential says it has had the most success selling mutual fund insurance in specific markets, including to investors older than 55. The company does not disclose specific sales figures.

What's it good for?

Who should consider mutual fund insurance? An older investor who wants to take some risk in the market to grow his or her investment faster but who can't stomach the thought of losses. The cost of mutual fund protection varies according to your age at Prudential, while SunAmerica and American Skandia charge 0.3 percent of your investment plus another $25.


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Giving Your Life Insurance to Charity

Is it ever a good idea to sign your life insurance policy over to a charity? Depends on your motives. Depends on the policy. Depends on the charity.

While many people donate entirely for altruistic reasons, it is true that charitable donations are tax deductible. If that's one of your motives for signing away the benefits of your life insurance policy, you should first confirm a few things.

First of all, ascertain that the organization actually has nonprofit status - that it's a 501(c)(3) organization. Then talk to someone at the organization to make sure it will accept your life insurance policy proceeds as a gift (some charities find they're more trouble than they're worth).

In order to take a deduction, you will have to make the charity both the owner and the beneficiary of your policy. If you name the charity as your policy's beneficiary but not the owner, then the IRS won't let you deduct the donation of your life insurance proceeds from your taxes.

Do you donate a term or whole life policy? Term life insurance policies cost the least, but they're also the least attractive to charities. Once the term expires on that policy, it's worthless. Whole life policies cost more, but they have a cash value that builds up the longer you pay premiums on them. Thus, a whole life policy has some intrinsic value to it, although it's usually far less than the actual death benefit unless you've been paying into it for a long time.

If you donate a term life policy to a charity, you can deduct the cost of the premiums from your taxes. If you donate a whole life policy, you can deduct the cash value of the policy as well as the cost of the premiums.

Those who might not want your life insurance

According to folks who work in university development offices, most charities would rather be able to make use of a donation right away. Assuming that your goal is to fund scholarships and educate, then a life insurance policy is not going to immediately serve that purpose.

Larger organizations, such as major universities, have their own team of money managers - people whose sole purpose is to make the school's money grow. Chances are that such an organization's endowment fund would be better off investing the money you spent on the policy. Insurance companies are in the business of making money. The money they make off these policies is money the charity could be using instead.

Here's an example: One large school accepts - but immediately cancels and cashes in - a whole life policy on a 41-year old male donor. The policy had a $350,000 death benefit and a $20,000 cash value. Assuming the insured lives 38 more years, the cash value must earn only 7.8 percent a year to grow to the death benefit value of $350,000. But that same $20,000, invested in the stock market at an average total return yield of 13.3 percent annual (the average annual rate of return of the Standard & Poor's 500 from 1925 to 1999), will grow to more than $2.3 million over the same time period, according to CPA Marshall Rulnick of Blum, Shapiro and Co. in West Hartford, Conn.

By canceling the policy and keeping and investing the cash value, the school will come out significantly ahead. Assuming an average investment return of 13.3 percent, the donor need live just 23 years before the university's investment returns more than the death benefit - and that analysis also leaves out the immediate utility value to the school of having the cash immediately.

Think small

So it's clear that larger charities can put that money to better use by investing it themselves. But smaller, local charities may not have those resources. And those charities are more likely to welcome any kind of contribution you offer. Still, it helps to remember that the death benefit of a life insurance policy won't be available until after you die, and most charities need the money now.


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Life Insurance for Children

Emotions run high when parents and grandparents plan for a child's future. If you are considering life insurance for your child, it's a good idea to step back from the sales pitches and consider your and your child's needs before you make a purchase decision.

Often parents and grandparents are pitched "special opportunities" by insurance agents to add children to their policies — opportunities that the agent claims come up only every few years — so there's pressure to make a decision right away. Before you buy, ask yourself what benefit comes of buying life insurance on your child. Because the purpose of life insurance is income replacement after a death, and children generally do not provide income, it may not be the right purchase for you.

However, one of the best reasons to insure children is to cover final expenses after a death, such as funeral arrangements, which can range from $5,000 to $20,000. The average family may not have the funds for those expenses, and life insurance can help.

Buy with your head, not your heart

If you buy a policy on a child, most policies have an option for the child to buy additional insurance when he or she comes of age — a sales pitch suggesting that children will have trouble buying insurance when they are right out of college, for example, and on their own for the first time. But the reality is that most young adults can easily obtain insurance coverage for reasonable rates.

If you are worried about funeral expenses, you can buy term life insurance policies with a small face value to cover them. Of course, if you have the means, you can instead save enough money for such emergencies. That way, the money is available for other needs, such as education or buying a new home, and not just if an unlikely disaster strikes.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Life Insurance Medical Exam

When applying for a life insurance policy, you may be asked to take a medical exam. Generally, if you’re under age 40 and applying for life insurance coverage of less than $100,000, you probably won't have to take a medical exam. However, the older you are, the less life insurance you can buy without a medical exam. Of course, these figures also depend on your health history and the underwriting guidelines of the insurance company you choose.

A typical medical exam may include a basic physical, blood work, and urine tests. Some insurance companies also require EKGs and/or treadmill EKGs (stress tests), especially for large life insurance policies. You'll also have to provide information on your medical history, including the names of doctors you've seen, dates you saw them, and any treatment recommended. A nurse or doctor (often an independent contractor) who is paid by the insurance company will normally conduct the exam.

If you have a medical condition, there's really nothing you can do to hide it. In fact, you shouldn't even try. Insurance companies have access to an amazing amount of medical information through the Medical Information Bureau, so even if you attempt to obscure the facts, there's a good chance an insurance company will find the information it needs. In addition, if the insurance company discovers you have withheld information, it will look at everything else much more closely. And if you died as a result of the illness, your insurance company may opt not to pay your death benefit.

There are a number of simple steps you can take to make sure you get the best possible results at your medical exam:

  • Get a good night's sleep the night before the exam
  • Fast for eight hours before the exam if possible to ensure the most accurate results
  • Don't smoke for at least one hour before the exam
  • Avoid caffeine for at least one hour before the exam
  • Avoid alcohol for at least eight hours before the exam
  • Don't engage in strenuous exercise for 24 hours before the exam
  • Limit your consumption of salt and cholesterol for 24 hours before the exam
  • Cancel the exam if you get sick – even a minor infection can distort the results


Monday, March 12, 2007

How Healthy is Your Health Club?

With more and more insurance companies offering discounts on health and fitness club memberships, now may be a good time to join a health club, get into shape, and improve your overall health. But if your health club cuts corners when it comes to safety, sanitation, and staff training, you may actually be jeopardizing your health by working out there. Here are some signs that your club puts the health and safety of its members first.

Club members are instructed on the proper use of equipment and facilities

When you join a health club, a member of the club's staff should ask you to fill out a health history questionnaire. If you have a serious health problem (e.g. a heart condition or a bad back), the club should require that you obtain medical clearance before beginning an exercise program. Then, you should be invited to a new member orientation session (usually a one-on-one session) in which you learn club rules and find out how to properly use the exercise equipment. Staff members should work with you to design an exercise program that meets your needs, taking into consideration any health problems or physical limitations you might have.

Staff members should test your fitness when you start an exercise program, then check on you periodically thereafter. Even long after you've joined, they should be readily available to answer questions and teach you proper exercise techniques. This may be possible only if there is an adequate instructor/member ratio. If only a few staff members are on duty, they may not be able to give you the personal attention you need to exercise safely.

Staff members are qualified and well trained

All staff members should be knowledgeable about health and fitness issues, and most should be trained in CPR and first aid. In addition, exercise instructors should be certified by a nationally or internationally recognized organization such as the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America or the American College of Sports Medicine.

Equipment and facilities are clean and safe to use

Check out the condition of the equipment and the cleanliness of the facility. Although health clubs must be licensed by state and/or local governments to do business, they may not be closely regulated. However, they may be certified by a national organization (such as the International Health, Racquet and Sports Club Association) that requires members to maintain clean, safe facilities and adhere to a code of ethics.

Regulated or not, your health club should be well maintained. Dirty locker rooms and broken equipment can sometimes signal that the club is in financial trouble, especially if the condition of the club has recently taken a turn for the worse. Look for the following signs that your health club is adequately maintained:

  • The club should have routine sanitation procedures--find out what they are
  • Members should be instructed to clean off machines after use (look for adequate paper towels and spray bottles of disinfectant)
  • The facility should be spacious enough to accommodate members even during peak periods--find out if the club limits membership to prevent crowding
  • Exercise equipment should be relatively new, not outdated
  • All equipment should be clean and in good repair--worn or torn equipment may be a safety hazard
  • Instructions for use should be attached to each machine
  • Mats and flooring should be clean and resilient enough to protect against injury
  • Showers and locker rooms should look and smell clean (no mold or mildew)
  • The pool and hot tub should be adequately sanitized--signs of inadequate sanitation include pool water that burns your eyes or foam in the hot tub
  • Rules of use should be posted in the pool/hot tub area (e.g. shower before entering the pool, limit use of the hot tub to 15 minutes)
  • First aid kits should be well stocked and readily accessible

Security in and around the club is adequate

Health clubs often post signs warning members not to leave valuables in their lockers. Because lockers are notoriously easy to jimmy open, petty thieves often target them. This doesn't necessarily mean that the health club has lax security, but it does mean that you should find out if the health club is going the extra mile to protect you and your possessions. Determine whether the club you belong to has:

  • Security measures in place to ensure that only members or their guests can enter or leave the building (e.g. membership cards, surveillance cameras, gates)
  • Well-lit parking areas
  • Security guards if the area is especially dangerous
  • A well-attended child-care facility if the health club offers it

What if you find problems?

If you feel that your health club is not as clean or safe as it should be, talk to the club's director. If your concerns aren't resolved or if serious health violations exist, contact the local or state authority responsible for monitoring business and/or sanitary practices in your area (e.g. the Attorney General's office, Health Department).


Sunday, March 11, 2007

Protect Yourself by Conducting a Home Inventory

When you live in the Snow Belt, the crisp air and brilliant colors of fall remind you that a snowy winter is just a breath away. And in the winter, bad weather conditions--or perhaps an untended fireplace--may wreak havoc on your property. If your household possessions are damaged or destroyed, you'll have a hard time recalling the price (and description) of every item unless you have a thorough home inventory on hand.

What is a home inventory?

A home inventory is a detailed list of the personal property located in your home. You should also include property that you have stored elsewhere, perhaps in a storage area or a garage on the premises.

Your list should include your furniture, jewelry, artwork, antiques, appliances, kitchen contents, clothes, carpets, drapes, computer equipment, television sets, CD players (and other audio or audiovisual equipment), musical instruments, clocks, mirrors, linens, lawn mowers, snow equipment, tools, sports equipment, and any other item of value.

Why do I need an inventory?

An inventory is especially important for insurance purposes. When you make an insurance claim for damaged, lost, or stolen property, your renters policy will require you to show the quantity, description, actual cash value (i.e., depreciated value), and amount of loss associated with each item. You'll also be asked to provide copies of bills, receipts, or other documentation to support your figures. If you omit some items or fail to include an adequate description of others, you may receive less than full compensation for your losses. Relying solely on your memory can be an expensive mistake. As an exercise, try to name every item in your kitchen junk drawer, and then imagine having to do that for the whole house!

A good time to conduct an inventory is when you're moving into a new apartment, condo, or other rental property. That way, if something is lost or damaged, you'll be prepared to file a claim against the moving insurance that you've purchased (or the insurance that the mover has provided).

Conducting the home inventory

Going room by room is perhaps the best way to conduct your home inventory. Make a list of each item in the room, opening drawers, closets, and storage boxes. Be as descriptive as possible. For example, don't simply note that a bed exists--describe the headboard, footboard, mattress, and bedding, writing down colors and dimensions. Don't forget the attic, hall closets, basement, and outbuildings. If possible, try to include the following information for each item:

  • Item description (and quantity)
  • Manufacturer or brand name
  • Model number or serial number
  • Description of where (or how) the item was obtained
  • Date of purchase or age of item
  • Receipt or other proof of purchase, showing cost
  • Current value
  • Replacement cost
  • Photocopies of any appraisals

A picture is worth a thousand words

It often helps to photograph or videotape your possessions, especially if the items are hard to adequately describe on paper or if you don't have a receipt. If you use a camera, label each photo with information about the item shown. If you use a camcorder, provide a commentary about each item in view. Date-stamp your video or take a shot of the date on that day's newspaper.

Safeguard and update your inventory

An inventory--whether it takes the form of a written list, a series of photographs, or a videocassette--will do you no good if it's lost in a fire or has otherwise vanished. Although you may want to have a copy of your inventory at home, you should also store a copy in a secure location, such as a safe-deposit box or your office at work. Include copies of your receipts and other supporting documentation. Finally, you should update your inventory at least annually to make sure that it accurately reflects your home's contents.


Friday, March 9, 2007

Top 10 Ways to Cut Your Medical Bills

With health-care costs on the rise, you may be looking for ways to lower your medical expenses. Here are 10 ideas:

1. Practice prevention
2. Shop around for health insurance
3. Cut the cost of prescription drugs
4. Check your medical bills 5. Join your spouse's health plan
6. Keep track of your medical expenses
7. Negotiate a discount with your health-care provider
8. Contribute to a flexible spending account
9. Take advantage of free health screenings
10. Get to know your health insurance

Practice prevention

As basic as it sounds, one of the most effective ways to lower your medical expenses over time is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. For example, you can:
  • Take advantage of wellness programs
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Exercise regularly
  • Kick unhealthy habits (e.g. smoking)
  • Have regular checkups

Shop around for health insurance

If you don't have employer-sponsored health insurance, you may be looking to obtain coverage on your own. To get good coverage at an affordable price, shop around. Because premiums vary widely, you'll probably save money if you get quotes from several companies. Evaluate each plan's coverage and features, taking into account exclusions, limitations, and the freedom to choose health-care providers, among other things. Also find out how much you'll end up paying out of pocket in the form of co-payments, coinsurance, and deductibles, because even relatively small amounts of money can really add up if you make frequent visits to your doctor.

Cut the cost of prescription drugs

Prescription costs can eat up a large portion of your budget if you take prescription drugs regularly. Fortunately, it's not hard to find ways to save money. For example, try ordering your prescriptions through the mail, using a traditional or online pharmacy. If you belong to a prescription drug plan (e.g. through your health insurance), you may be able to get a three-month supply of your prescription drug through the mail for the same price you would pay for a one-month supply at your neighborhood pharmacy. You can also ask your pharmacist or doctor to recommend a less-expensive generic drug whenever possible.

Check your medical bills

Medical bills are often confusing to read. However, taking a few minutes to go over the charges may save you money in the long run. Check to make sure that the bill accurately reflects the procedures you have undergone and takes into account any applicable insurance coverage you may have. Some errors, such as wrong computer codes, are common, and you may be billed for health care you never received. Contact the appropriate billing office if you think you've found a mistake. If you've received an explanation of benefits from your insurance company that you believe is wrong, ask the company to review your claim.

Join your spouse's health plan

Many married couples maintain separate health insurance coverage even though it may not be cost effective to do so. Examine both your coverage and your spouse's coverage to see if it makes sense for either of you to join the other's plan. Keep in mind that most plans allow you to add a spouse to your plan within a certain time period after you get married (e.g. 30 days). Otherwise, you may have to wait for the plans' annual open enrollment period.

Keep track of your medical expenses

Come tax time, you may be able to deduct certain medical expenses if you itemize, and your total medical expenses exceed 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income. Allowable medical expenses include everything from health-care services to medical aids (e.g. eyeglasses, hearing aids). Keep track of these expenses if there's a chance you'll be able to deduct them on your income tax return.

Negotiate a discount with your health-care provider

Many people don't realize that you can sometimes negotiate to lower your medical bills. While it may not always work, it doesn't hurt to ask your doctor, hospital, or pharmacy if they're willing to come down in price. Before you begin to negotiate, do a little research to find out what other health-care providers in your area are charging. You can also ask your health-care provider if they'll lower their price if you pay in cash up front.

Contribute to a flexible spending account

Your employer may offer a flexible spending plan that allows you to put pretax dollars in an account. You are then reimbursed for your out-of-pocket medical expenses, such as prescription drugs, dental care, and co-payments. Because flexible spending contributions are taken out of your pay before federal and state taxes are calculated, you get to use pretax dollars to pay your medical bills.

Take advantage of free health screenings

If your health insurance doesn't provide adequate coverage in some areas, or if you don't have any health insurance coverage at all, you may want to look into free health screenings. Local clinics and hospitals often provide a variety of screenings, such as blood pressure, cholesterol, and mammograms.

Get to know your health insurance

Your health insurance may cover more than you think. Nowadays, insurance companies often provide benefits designed to help you stay safe and healthy. For example, you may receive discounts on vitamins, alternative medicines, health club memberships, or bike helmets. You may also be surprised at the range of coverage your health plan offers. For instance, it may cover dental care for young children, chiropractic care, and acupuncture. Read your plan membership materials to find out what products and services are available through your health plan before you pay for them on your own.


How to Buy Life Insurance

Buying life insurance is an easy way to protect your family after you're gone. If you know what to look for, you can get great coverage at a price you can afford.

Why buy life insurance?
Topping the list of reasons to buy life insurance is the financial protection life insurance offers. If you're single and just starting out, you may not need life insurance. But as you take on more responsibilities and your family grows, your need for life insurance increases. The proceeds from a life insurance policy can replace the income lost to your family upon your death. You might also want to buy life insurance to pay off debts and expenses, leave money to charity, and cover final and estate expenses.

Choose term or cash value
There are two basic types of life insurance: term life insurance, which provides life insurance coverage for a specified period of time (the term), and cash value (permanent) life insurance, which combines a death benefit with a cash value component. Cash value insurance offers lifetime protection, while term insurance may be the most affordable option if you're buying life insurance mainly for the financial protection it offers, and your need for life insurance is temporary (until your children leave the nest, for instance). Some term policies (called "convertible") will permit you to exchange the term life insurance policy for a permanent one at some point.

Decide how much coverage you'll need
The amount of life insurance protection you should buy depends on how much income your survivors will need, how much you own and owe, and the amount of other life insurance available to you. If you're married, both you and your spouse should consider buying life insurance. One of the easiest ways to estimate how much life insurance protection you should buy is to use a life insurance needs calculator.

Pick a number between 1 and 30
Term life insurance is usually offered for periods ranging from 1 to 30 years. Consider choosing a term that matches your need for life insurance protection. For instance, if your main reason for buying life insurance is to protect your 7-year-old twins until they're out of college, you'll want to buy a policy with a term of at least 15 years.

How much will it cost?
How much you pay for life insurance will depend on a number of risk factors, including your age, your health, whether you use tobacco, your family health history, and the type and amount of life insurance you're buying. Keep in mind that the premium you're quoted initially will increase later. For instance, when you buy term life insurance, rates are guaranteed only until the end of the term (annually for annual renewable term or at the end of a specified number of years for level term). While most life insurance policies can be renewed at the end of the term, you'll pay a higher premium for coverage.

Shop around
When comparing quotes for life insurance, make sure that the insurance coverage you're comparing is similar. And remember, any policy that you buy is only as good as the company that issues it. Find out what rating the company has received from major ratings services, such as A. M. Best or Standard & Poor's. These companies evaluate an insurer's financial condition and claims-paying ability. The company giving you a quote should provide you with this information. You can also contact your state's department of insurance to find out more about an insurer's record.

Submit an application
Once you're ready to purchase a life insurance policy, you'll fill out a life insurance application that contains questions about your current and past health history and lifestyle. You'll generally be required to take a medical exam, arranged and paid for by the insurance company. The answers you give on your application, along with the results from the medical exam and your past health history, will help the insurance company determine whether to offer you a policy, and if so, at what price.

Learn the lingo
Maybe a life insurance contract isn't as exciting as a best-selling novel, but read it anyway. Policy provisions, the amount of benefits, the premium, and other charges you'll pay will be listed along with other important information such as the beneficiaries you've named and the premium guarantee period. Make sure you understand everything in the policy. Under the laws of your state, you may have a "free look" period (typically at least 10 days) during which time you can cancel the policy without penalty.


Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Tips to Make Moving Easier

The excitement of finding a new home is often followed by a feeling of dread, anticipating the hard work that is needed to actually move into the new space. You have to pack up everything you own, move it across the town, county, state or even country, and set it all up again.

And, of course, if you're moving to a new state, you'll need to change your car insurance. We can help with that part. As for the rest, here are some useful tips and suggestions that might make moving easier!

Professional Movers - some thoughts

Are you going to move yourself (with the help of friends and family), or are you going to use a professional moving company? It’s a big decision, and it might be a moot point if you have a lot of belongings and furniture to move, or if it’s a long-distance move.

Research various moving companies, and talk to people you know - get opinions. Make sure that the company has a good reputation, and try to negotiate a fixed, set fee for the entire move. Such a ‘binding estimate’ will often require the company to visit both your current and new home in order to come up with a realistic price.

Many companies offer a range of services, all the way from packing everything, moving it and unpacking it again to more basic options such as just loading, just unloading or only driving the truck. You can even hire a moving company to move a single item, such as a piano or a particularly unwieldy piece of furniture. Expect extra charges if your move crosses county or state lines, and if multiple flights of stairs are involved.

Many moving companies offer insurance on your belongings, with different coverage options. Most will require an extensive home inventory, outlining particularly expensive or valuable belongings. Putting together an inventory like is always a good idea anyway, and moving is a good opportunity to do so.


Start collecting package boxes as early as you can. It's better to have more than you need. Talk to local stores, and ask them to keep some boxes aside for you. The best kinds of boxes to use are ones that once transported fragile pre-packaged items, such as glass bottles. Make sure that all the boxes are clean and sturdy - you can reinforce them with duct or packing tape.

Talk to your auto insurance company - check to see if you'll have coverage if you're in a new state, and give them your new address. This is a good time to compare your current rates against those offered by other companies. Changing locations could affect your rates. This is equally true of your home or renters insurance.

Each packed box should get a number, written clearly on each side of the box, along with a note saying which room it should end up in, and a rough indication of what's inside it. Keep a list, and check off each box as you deliver it to its destination room.

Clothing can be transported in leaf or trash bags. Just make sure they are clearly labeled so they don’t get tossed! Use clear bags if you can, or white ones, to differentiate between trash and clothes you want to keep. You can also transport clothing in suitcases, which is a great way to use all available containers.

Typically, you'll need to update the following utilities - electric, gas, water, newspapers & magazines, telephone and cable companies. Make sure to have this all ready to go before you move. You can provide the date of your move to the companies, and they should be ready for you.

Let your bank and credit card companies know about your move as far in advance as possible - they will switch your mailing address on day that you specify. You’ll need to get new checks with your new address, too.

Don’t forget to tell your employer that you’re moving. Update your address and contact details with your human resources department as soon as possible. This is especially important for pay and 401(k) information. If you have investments or 401(k)’s from other companies, contact these financial organizations too.

Get pre-printed address labels for your new house as soon as you know the address, and use them liberally - on boxes, notes, anything of importance. Mail a few to friends and family to remind them of your new address, and make sure to give them your new telephone number.

Before you even start packing, measure your furniture and check the doorways and tight corners at your new house. You might find that some items will have to be dismantled to get them into your new home - or even to get them out of your old one!

If you have children, bear in mind that this is probably both an exciting and scary experience for them too. They will be giving up friends and familiar places and things for the unknown, and however intimidating that might be for you, it’s probably going to be worse for your children. Keep them involved during the preparations, and on the day of the move. Give them something to do that keeps them occupied, yet out of harms way. Have plenty of distractions for them, and plenty of patience too.

Day of the move

Make sure the new house is child and pet-proofed before you even start moving boxes in. When dealing with young children, make sure that any safety gates for stairs or outlet protectors are in place before you bring your child into the new house.

You should transport anything irreplaceable or expensive in your car, if you can. This could include fragile items, or personal records, your computer, television, etc. Check that items are secured, and that your field of vision won't be impaired when driving.

Remember that your tire pressure should be checked ahead of time, if you intend to load your car up with more weight than usual.

If you are driving a rental van, remember that it might handle differently from what you're used to. Give yourself more room to maneuver turns and a few extra seconds of braking time. And remember that the truck may well be higher than usual, so watch your overhead clearance.

Move on a weekday - importance services such as banks, government offices and utility companies will be open, just in case you need them. Check that the utilities you need will be in service at your new house if you need them straightaway.

Packing can be just as traumatic for your pet as the move itself. Keep pets out of the boxes and the packing materials. Get a blanket or piece of clothing with your scent on it, and keep it with the pet in the weeks leading up to the move. It may offer your pet some comfort in the new house.

Pack a special box with some kitchen and bathroom items that you might need straight away at your new house. A change of clothes, and some clean sheets might also be good things to put in this box. Keep this in your car, or make sure it's easy to get to once your long day is over.

Don’t pack flammable or heat-sensitive items that could sit for a while in unpredictable temperatures. If you’re not sure, pack them into the backseat of your car, and don’t leave them sitting around for any length of time. Certain items (such as medications) might need to be packed in a cooler, while others might need to be kept warm in the winter. Carefully consider how you’ll need to treat such items during your move.


Make sure everything arrived! Use your checklist and make sure each box is accounted for, and is in the right room. Unpack what you need for the rest of the day, and don’t feel under pressure to unpack everything right away. Rest, and enjoy your new home!


Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Be Proactive…

Environmental Concerns
A well maintained car not only saves you money on repairs, it can help the environment. Properly tuned and looked-after, a vehicle will use less gas, less oil and less energy, while producing less pollution than a badly maintained vehicle.

A Class Act
Many community colleges run classes on basic car maintenance. Even if you never intend to service your car yourself, it can still be helpful to know more about your car. Remember, before you try any of these tips, make sure to consult your owner’s manual, and if you have any doubts, consult a professional.


Monday, March 5, 2007

Things to keep an eye on…

Air Filter
Air filters steadily build up with dirt and dust, making sure that it doesn’t get into your engine. Eventually, your air filter will get blocked (if it does, your ‘Check Engine’ light may come on), reducing performance. If the filter is only slightly dirty (it will appear slightly discolored), you can give it a quick clean by tapping it, bottom side down, against a hard surface.

Check your connections to make sure they are not corroded, and keep the casing of the battery clean. Cracks or bulges indicate that you might need to replace the battery. If you find corrosion on the terminals, you can try to clean it carefully with a mixture of baking soda and water, and a stiff (non-metal bristled) brush. Rinse the terminals with clean water, and make sure you’re catching the run off in a tray.

Windshield Wipers
Properly working wiper blades are an essential part of safe driving. Make sure they are clean and intact. You can clean the blades using a mild detergent and a paper towel. If the blades look worn, they are fairly easy to replace. You can either replace the rubber blade or the entire arm.

Before you check fluid levels, make sure the car is on a level surface. Checking the levels of your vehicles various fluids can be a great way of ensuring your vehicle’s health. Make sure that the caps are clean and free of dirt and debris before opening them to check levels – you don’t want anything getting into the fluids. Windshield washing fluid is easy to replace, and you should always carry spare washer fluid in your trunk. Don’t fill the reservoir all the way during cold weather, just in case it freezes. Other fluids, such as engine coolant, brake fluid and power steering fluid, should be checked and replaced by a professional.

Oil change
Oil protects and lubricates the moving parts of your engine. It breaks down over time, because of the heat and pressure involved in protecting the engine, and because it picks up dirt, dust and other particles. Depending upon driving conditions, oil and oil filters should be changed every 3,000 – 5,000 miles. City driving (with lots of stops and starts), driving in dusty areas, very hot or very cold climates, or regularly carrying heavy loads, wears your oil out faster than highway driving in temperate areas.

Make sure your tires are correctly inflated. Not only will this help maintain the life of your tires, it can keep your gas mileage up, and is safer too. Keep an eye on your tread, and make sure you have the correct amount. Don’t let your tires wear down too far, as this can be dangerous. In most states, 2/32 of an inch is usually the legal limit, but you should try to replace your tires before then. You may be familiar with the ‘penny’ method of checking your tread depth (if you can see all of Lincoln’s head, replace your tires) but a tire tread gauge (available from any auto parts store) is more accurate.

Tire rotation
Rotating your tires helps prolong their life. Your mechanic will have the equipment to rotate your tires easily and quickly. You can do this yourself if you have the time and equipment, though a professional mechanic will be able to check alignment and rebalance your wheels if necessary.

Most cars have a ‘serpentine belt’ that drives the various pumps and engine accessories, along with a ‘timing belt’ that runs the engine itself. These belts will wear out eventually, or will get loose over time. You can check for wear and tear on your belts, but it’s a good idea to have a professional handle the actual replacement. If you see deep cracks in the belts, that’s a sign that they need changed. They are inexpensive to replace, but a damaged or broken belt could strand you on the side of the road and damage your engine.

Your brakes are essential to your safety on the road (and the safety of other drivers), so we recommend that you always get them changed professionally. If you notice screeching or grinding noises when you brake, or feel your steering wheel ‘wobble’ when braking, take your car in to have the brakes checked as soon as possible. Those are just two of the warning signs that mean you may need new brakes.


Sunday, March 4, 2007

Car Maintenance Tips

We invest a great deal of money into our vehicles, and apart from a house, a car might be the most expensive item that we will buy.
Keeping your vehicle running smoothly can save you money in repairs and maintenance, and will be safer for you and your family.
We recommend that you always use a certified and qualified mechanic or technician to service your car – this ensures the best possible results, and can help maintain your vehicle’s warranty. However, there are some things you can do to keep your car running smoothly.

Safety Basics

  • Please refer to your owner’s manual before you start any maintenance, as it will contain vital information specific to your vehicle.
  • Have the right tools for the job. It can be dangerous for both you and your vehicle if you try to use the wrong tools.
  • Know how to handle chemicals. Oil and gasoline are dangerous materials, and should never touch your skin.
  • If you’re cleaning any part of your engine at home, keep a drainage pan under the engine to capture any residue and follow local ordinances regarding disposal of engine oil and related liquids.
  • Parking brake should be on, and the gearshift should be in park.
  • Do not work on a hot engine!
  • If you’re not sure about any aspect of a repair or maintenance procedure, please consult a professional mechanic or technician.


Thursday, March 1, 2007

8 Things You Should Know About Auto Insurance

Dealing with the ins and outs of auto insurance can be as tricky and confusing as trying to untie the Gordian knot. Although we can’t help you with the knotty Gordian problem, the following recommendations could help you figure out some of the more complicated points of auto insurance.

1) Determine appropriate coverage.
Help control the price you pay, just ask American Insurance Association executive Dave Snyder. For example, Snyder notes that half of your auto insurance bill covers liability and “that has to do with how you are going to use the vehicle, such as for commuting to work and your driving record. If you’ve got a clean driving record, you figure to pay less for insurance than you would if you had a speeding ticket on your record. You can control the other half of your premium which covers damage or loss to your vehicle, comprehensive and collision coverage.”

2) Shop around for insurance.
“In most states,” Snyder reports, “there are hundreds of insurers competing for business, so it’s possible to save hundreds of dollars by obtaining quotes from different auto insurance providers.” Picking up on Snyder’s theme is his AIA colleague, Nicole Mahrt. Mahrt urges you to work with your insurance provider to get more than one quote. “It pays you to shop around, especially if you feel you’ve been paying too much.”

3) Look for insurance discounts.
“Many insurers will give you a discount if you buy two or more types of insurance from them, for example auto and home insurance,” confirms John Marchioni, senior vice president of Personal Lines for Selective Insurance, in Branchville, N.J. More cost-saving suggestions from Marchioni: “Ask about discounts for air bags, anti-lock brakes, daytime running lights and anti-theft devices.”

4) Consider taking a higher deductible.
“You could lower your insurance bill by increasing your deductible,” Mahrt says. “But just make sure you can pay the higher deductible if you file a claim.”

5) Look into “stacking” coverages if you file an insurance claim.
Insurance trade group officer Daniel Kummer explains that stacking uninsured/underinsured motorist coverages means “you can collect from more than one of your auto insurance policies. Most states prohibit this practice, but there are about 19 states that either allow stacking or don't address the issue either through legislation or litigation,” according to Kummer, director of personal insurance for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America. “Be sure to check your auto insurance contract to see if it's allowed. “Be advised that you’ll likely pay a higher insurance premium if you have stacked coverage. “It could be 10% to 30% more depending on the litigious nature of the state in which you reside,” says Kummer.

6) Check with your insurance provider BEFORE buying a car.
“Your premium is based in part on the car’s sticker price, the cost to repair it, its safety record and the likelihood of theft,” answers Selective’s John Marchioni. Remember to avoid shopping by price alone. “You want an agent and a company that answer your questions and handle claims fairly and efficiently,” emphasizes Marchioni, senior vice president of Personal Lines for Selective Insurance.

7) Notify your auto insurance company as soon as you change companies.
“Be sure to cancel your old policy,” suggests PCI’s Dan Kummer. “Do it the same day, but don’t cancel your old policy until you’ve lined up a new contract. That’s important because some states like New York will fine you for the number of days you go without insurance.” One last thought from Kummer on the subject: “Most auto insurers specify in your contract that you can terminate your policy any time you want by informing your company in writing about the date you wish that coverage be terminated or you can do that over the phone.

8) Pick the insurance payment option that best fits your budget.
“Generally, most companies will give you the ability to pay over time, but that comes at a price,” says Kummer. “Your payment could increase a few dollars each time you pay by installment. Insurers can accept payments monthly, quarterly, or every six months, what ever is most convenient for you. Remember, though, that the more you break down your payments, the more the cost adds up.”