Category Archives: Blog Archives

Three Major Insurance Events of Which Every Homeowner Should Be Aware

Purchasing a home can be a rewarding, pricey and overwhelming experience, especially for first-time buyers. And, if your aren’t a Gates, Buffett, Zuckerberg or one of the many others found on the Forbes 400, chances are your house will be one of the most significant investments you’ll make, so choosing the right home isn’t a decision that’s made lightly.

Shopping for a home can be exhausting as you research neighborhoods, tour homes, apply for a loan, negotiate the purchase price, organize inspections, and wade through a seemingly endless stack of paperwork. You also need to select an insurer and homeowners insurance policy. This is critical, as it will protect your investment for as long as you own your home, so it’s one of the most important decisions you’ll make. To protect your investment, your belongings and loved ones, following are some tips for both new and veteran homeowners.

1. Fire and water damage are the two most prevalent causes for insurance claims.

The National Interagency Fire Center reports that there were 63,312 wildfires and 3,595,613 burned acres in the U.S. in 2014. Additionally, according to the National Fire Protection Association, there were 487,500 structure fires in 2013, which resulted in $9.5 billion in property damage and amounted to approximately one home structure fire per 85 seconds. There are several steps a homeowner can take, both inside and outside of the home, to prevent becoming one of these statistics.

Inside:

  • Install at least one smoke detector on each floor and check them regularly to ensure they’re working. Be sure to put in fresh batteries at least twice a year.
  • Don’t overload wall outlets or use items with frayed electrical cords.
  • If you have a chimney, hire a chimney sweep to inspect and clean it before cold weather arrives. It’s also a good time to check and be sure that your chimney cap is in good condition to catch any stray embers coming up the chimney stack.
  • Keep flammable items (e.g., curtains, furniture, etc.) away from portable heaters.
  • Don’t leave lit candles unattended and keep them out of reach of children and pets.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher in your home. Make sure everyone knows how to properly use it and have it inspected once a year.
  • Never leave a lit stove unattended and keep flammable materials away from the burners.
  • Be sure to have an escape plan in the event of a fire and practice it with your family twice a year.

Outside:

  • Regularly mow your lawn and clear away clippings, dry twigs and branches from buildings. Be sure to clean your roof and gutters of leaves and other debris that can become a fire starter.
  • Keep branches trimmed so they don’t hang lower than six feet and bushes pruned to no higher than 18 inches.
  • Keep garden hoses attached to faucets to aid fire personnel, if necessary.
  • If a wildfire starts, track smoke and its impact on your visibility to determine if you should evacuate prior to an official evacuation notice being put in order. Monitor if the fire and smoke change direction to determine your safest evacuation route.

Using fire-resistant materials around your property and on your home provides added protection and may even save you money in the event of a loss. For example, fire-retardant plants like rockrose, ice plant and aloe resist ignition. Fire-resistant shrubs to consider when landscaping include hedging roses, bush honeysuckles, currant, cotoneaster, sumac and shrub apples, and hardwood, maple, poplar and cherry trees are less flammable than pine, fir and other conifers. Speak with your local garden center to learn more about the plants that can protect your home from fires.

Water damage is the second largest cause of insurance claims; however, certain circumstances aren’t covered by a standard homeowners policy. To differentiate, damage that is caused by weather (e.g., natural flooding from hurricanes, flash floods, etc.) is referred to as flood damage and requires flood insurance, which is available through the National Flood Insurance Program. Water damage is usually caused by bursting or leaking pipes, plumbing issues, malfunctioning household appliances (refrigerators, hot water tanks, dishwashers, washing machines) and HVAC issues.

Homeowners can take the following steps to protect against water damage.

Inside:

  • Check appliance hoses once a year and replace any that are cracked or have leaks.
  • Review your appliance owner’s guide for maintenance tips to keep them in good working order.
  • Inspect pipes for cracks and leaks. If any are detected, have them repaired immediately.
  • Make sure showers, tubs and sinks are properly sealed and caulked.
  • Know the location of your main water shutoff valve so you can turn off your water supply in the event of a burst pipe or damaged hose.

Outside:

  • Keep rain gutters and downspouts free of debris. Install gutter guards to prevent debris from accumulating and position downspouts to direct water away from the house.
  • Ensure windows are properly sealed and caulked.
  • Inspect the roof for damaged, missing or old shingles and replace them.

2. Some of your belongings may have limitations to their coverage.

Certain items like fine art, rare stamps or coins, wine collections, antiques, expensive jewelry and collectibles may not be fully covered by a standard homeowners insurance policy. Speak with your local insurance agent to ensure you have the right amount of coverage for everything you own.

3. Home renovations may impact your insurance rates.

If you’re considering building an addition, remodeling or putting in a pool, keep in mind that your insurance premiums will likely be impacted to protect this new investment. Square footage is one factor in determining a premium. Additionally, if renovations include higher value materials, the replacement cost in the event of a loss will go up, affecting your insurance rates accordingly. Swimming pools increase your liability exposure, which will increase your premium; however, pools can be great assets. In addition to providing a fun way to cool off on hot days, pools can act as a barrier for wildfires and an added source of water for firefighters, if necessary. And most renovations add to the comfort and livability of a home, as well as its resale value, which is well worth the added protection. Speak to your local insurance agent to determine how much your premiums will change and be sure to ask about any money saving discounts.

You Got Into a Car Crash…Now What

Automobile collisions can happen so fast that it’s easy to become disoriented, and you may not be thinking straight immediately after the accident. So, what do you do next?

Ideally, you’re prepared and have your license, vehicle registration and auto insurance card readily available. It’s also a great idea to keep an emergency kit in the vehicle just in case you need it. While every crash is different, you should always follow these five important steps.

1. Safety First

The first step is to secure the scene. If the vehicles are drivable, move them to the shoulder or as far away from traffic as possible and turn on your hazards to warn other drivers. Assess the situation and check to see if anyone has been injured. If so, dial 9-1-1 immediately to get medical help.

It’s worth investing in road flares and orange warning cones or reflective triangles to further warn other drivers. Crack the flares and place them in front of and behind the vehicles along with the cones or triangles.

2. Call the Police

The second step is to call the police – even if it’s just a minor collision – to file an official report documenting the incident.

The police will speak with and collect information from all drivers, passengers and witnesses to the accident. They will note the precise location, the date and time of the accident and document all injuries and damage to property. You’ll be asked to provide your driver’s license, vehicle registration and proof of car insurance. The police will then take this information and complete their official report.

Accident reports vary by state, but the California Department of Motor Vehicles outlines state guidelines in an easy to reference accident guide and many of these apply to most situations. Police reports can take anywhere from a few days up to a few weeks to complete, depending on the complexity of the accident. Always ask for a copy of the accident report number and note the names and badge numbers of the responding officer(s), so you can request a copy of the report once it is available.

3. Gather Information and Document the Damage

While the police are on their way it’s important to exchange information with the other drivers involved. Use your smartphone to take photos and gather the necessary details. You’ll need the contact information of the driver(s) involved, any passengers, the registered owner of the vehicle(s) and any witnesses, the make and model of their vehicle(s) and license plate number(s), as well as their insurance information. If you don’t have a smartphone, keep a pen and notebook handy in your glove compartment.

Take pictures of the damage you can see and the scene of the accident as you observe it. This will provide protection against false claims. Write down the events as you remember them, describing the collision in as much detail as possible. You should also take pictures and video of all of the drivers and their passengers. Doing so will help the police and your insurance company.

4. File a Claim

You should file a claim with your insurance company as soon as possible. They will need the same information provided to the police. Even if you’re in a minor fender bender, report it so you’re protected against unforeseen or future claims, because sometimes injuries and damage aren’t readily apparent.

You should also make your insurance agent aware of the accident, as he or she can help spot red flags and help resolve problems.

5. Know Your Rights as a Driver

Familiarize yourself with state laws and know your rights. Accident claims in California are regulated by the California Department of Insurance, and drivers’ rights under the Fair Claims Settlement Practices Regulations (www.insurance.ca.gov) mandate that insurance companies must:

  • Advise you of benefits, time limits and coverage;
  • Acknowledge and investigate a claim while providing forms and instructions within 15-days;
  • Respond to communications within 15 days;
  • Accept or deny the claim after it is filed;
  • Pay reasonable towing expenses;
  • Offer a fair settlement reflecting covered damages;
  • Pay the claim no later than 30-days from the settlement date; and
  • Advise you whether or not they’ll recoup costs from the other party.

It pays to do your homework before you choose an insurance company. Check reviews to see what their current customers are saying about the company, make sure they offer 24/7 claims service, and check to see if they stand behind the repairs made by their body shops. Mercury Insurance, for example, guarantees all repairs made by their direct repair facilities for as long as you own your vehicle.

How Much Car Insurance Do I Need?

Every driver is different, and most vehicles are different, too. Essentially, everyone’s auto insurance needs vary based upon an assortment of factors. Whether it’s simple liability or full coverage, Mercury recommends consumers purchase the insurance package that best fits their personal requirements.

Below are some key questions consumers should ask themselves when evaluating their car insurance:

  • Am I making payments on my car?

Lien holders will often require a vehicle owner to carry collision coverage so the car will be repaired (subject to the payment of the deductible) regardless of who caused the accident. This is the bank’s way of protecting its investment in the vehicle until you finish making payments on the loan.

  • How much of a deductible do I need?

Higher deductibles lower your monthly insurance rates, but they increase the amount you pay out-of-pocket in the event of a loss. The deductible you choose is the amount you agree to pay when you use your collision coverage, regardless of fault. Some companies will reimburse the deductible if the accident is not your fault. Mercury will often even waive your deductible if the accident is clearly not your fault, so it’s very important to assess how much you can afford to pay on short notice and use that to determine your deductible.

  • What are my driving habits?

History has a way of repeating itself. A driving record littered with broken headlights, dented doors and bent bumpers may require complete insurance coverage (see collision coverage). Additionally, drivers who make long daily commutes on dangerous, busy stretches of road may also want to increase insurance coverage to protect against possible collisions.

  • Where do I live?

Location. Location. Location. Take your environment into consideration when choosing your level of protection. Living in areas with high auto theft and vandalism rates make having comprehensive coverage more of a necessity than if you reside in Smalltown, USA. If you live in an area where harsh winters, packed interstates and narrow streets are the norm, collision coverage becomes more important because the likelihood of being in an accident increases.

  • What type of car do I drive?

More expensive lines of coverage (collision, comprehensive coverage) become less justifiable as the value of your vehicle decreases as it ages. In these situations, it may make sense to decrease your level of insurance coverage to save money, but ask yourself whether the savings are enough to offset the risk of potentially having a large repair or replacement bill.

  • How frequently do I drive my vehicle?

Do you commute daily or just use your car on weekends? How much mileage do you put on your car per month? The more you drive, the more likely you are to get into an accident. Take this into consideration when evaluating how much auto insurance you need.

  • Who uses my vehicle?

Is it a family car? Do multiple drivers use it? Not everyone may be as experienced as you, so consider who else will be driving your vehicle before purchasing auto insurance. Liability may be enough protection for you, but is it enough for your teenage son or daughter?

  • What can I afford?

Money talks, especially in today’s economy. Look for a plan that protects you and still fits within your budget. Don’t make the mistake of purchasing expensive auto insurance that doesn’t offer enough protection. Mercury offers a variety of insurance discounts, ranging from good student to multi-car, which make protecting your vehicle more affordable.

  • How much do I have to protect?

If you own a home, have multiple vehicles and there will be teenage drivers using your vehicles, you will probably want a lot more coverage because you have more to lose in a serious accident. Conversely, if you rent an apartment and own an older car, you may not need as much coverage.

Whatever your situation, it’s always a good idea to speak with an insurance agent. Insurance can be very confusing and a highly trained, professional agent is your best resource to help get the right coverage at the best price. Mercury only sells through independent agents, so you can be sure you’ll get excellent advice and a package specifically tailored to meet your needs.

Health Insurance Open Enrollment Ends Soon

health-insurance-1

Open Enrollment for health insurance ends January 31, 2017. This is the deadline to change or get health insurance.

Please call Integrity First today @ (805) 495-1122. We can help find the best coverage available for the lowest premium.  We can help with Covered California, the marketplace exchange, or direct.  You may eligible for a subsidy to help pay your health insurance.  We offer Anthem Blue Cross, Blue Shield of California, Kaiser Permanente and more.

After January 31, 2017 you will need a special exception to buy medical insurance. If you do not have medical insurance there will be a fee/penalty.

The fee for not having health insurance in 2016 & 2017

The fee is calculated 2 different ways – as a percentage of your household income, and per person. You’ll pay whichever is higher.

Percentage of income

2.5% of household income
Maximum: Total yearly premium for the national average price of a Bronze plan sold through the Marketplace
Per person

$695 per adult
$347.50 per child under 18
Maximum: $2,085

Please call us today @ (805) 495-1122

Understanding Car Safety Ratings

Understanding-Car-Safety-Ratings

Although newer vehicles are generally more expensive to insure than older ones, consumers can often get discounts if their new vehicles have the latest safety features. Advances in crash and accident avoidance technology mean that consumers who buy a new vehicle equipped with the latest safety features are often less likely to be seriously injured in a car crash.

Safety ratings are a function of two major factors: prevention—how well the vehicle is designed to prevent an accident—and, crashworthiness—how well the vehicle performs in a crash.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety ranks its Top Safety Picks based on good, acceptable, marginal or poor performance in high-speed front and side crash tests, a rollover test, and evaluations of seat / head restraints for protection against neck injuries during rear impacts. Crash tests are conducted on a half-dozen types of vehicles, including large cars, mid-sized cars, small cars, minivans, mid-size SUVs, and small SUVs. You can also visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website for a full report on recalls and defects.

Currently, some of the top-rated safety features are:

  • Adaptive front airbags
  • Side airbags
  • Side curtain airbags
  • Knee airbags
  • Electronic stability control
  • Anti-lock braking systems
  • Brake assist
  • Tire pressure monitors
  • Back-up sensors
  • Park assist
  • Blind-spot warning
  • Lane departure warning
  • Forward-collision warning
  • Smart headlights
  • Crash-alert systems (such as OnStar)
  • Built-in car seats

Technology is ever-improving, and, as time goes by, manufacturers and the government are standardizing these features. Doing your homework ahead of time and knowing what your options are can make the decision-making process smoother and get you into that new car faster!

Insurance 101 for College Students … And Parents Too

college-student-insuranceMoving away from home to go to college is an exciting time for most kids. It’s their first real taste of independence, but this newfound freedom also comes with increased responsibility.

Mom and dad aren’t around anymore to nag you about the hours you spend on your smartphone or to wake you up for school in the morning, but this also means they aren’t there to fix problems either. What, for example, would you do if someone were to steal your precious smartphone?

Students can easily get swept away in the excitement and bustle of the college social scene, forgetting that not everyone they meet at school has the best of intentions. Crime exists in most communities, and college life is no exception. According to the FBI, 97 percent of crimes reported by college students in 2012 were property crimes and a whopping 41 percent of these crimes occurred on campus grounds.

Students bring many pricey belongings from home – electronics like laptops, smart phones, tablets, televisions and gaming systems are common dorm room items. They may also have a skateboard, bike, vehicle or combination of all of the above.

Another on-campus threat to personal property is fires. Firefighters responded to an average of 3,870 college housing structure fires per year1. These fires caused an annual average of $15 million in personal property damage and losses.

So, how can you protect your belongings while you’re away at school? The first step is to check with your insurance agent to see if your stuff is covered under your homeowners insurance policy. Some policies, like those offered by Mercury Insurance, will extend coverage to college students living away from home.

Another option is to purchase renter’s insurance. Renter’s insurance is designed to protect property owners in the event that their belongings are stolen or damaged in a fire. It will also provide liability coverage in the event someone is injured while visiting your apartment or dorm room.

To maximize your college experience, here are a few tips to protect personal property:

Cover personal belongings with an insurance policy. Students who live on-campus may have coverage available through their parents’ homeowner’s policy. Some companies have policy options that extend personal property coverage for students away from home. Students living off-campus may not be covered by their parents’ policy and should look into purchasing renters insurance.
Create an inventory. Record the value of all personal property to determine the right amount of coverage needed in the event of a loss.
Always lock doors. Talk to roommates and make sure to communicate the importance of securing personal belongings.
Conceal valuables. Never leave electronics or other valuables out in plain sight, and do not advertise their presence on social media.
Secure valuable electronics, like TVs and laptops, to stable fixtures with locking mounts in your room so they can’t be easily removed. Also, protect personal electronics with passwords to guard accessibility and discourage theft.
Use a bicycle lock when you’re out and about or for added security while on-campus. Steel and titanium locks are difficult to cut and provide thieves with a challenge. Reinforcing these locks with cable locks, which can be threaded through wheels, will provide extra security.
Install or activate an alarm if you have a vehicle on-campus. Insurance companies frequently offer discounts for vehicles equipped with anti-theft devices. Students with good grades – at least a B average – may be eligible for an additional discount as well.
Ensure your auto insurance is up-to-date. Coverage for vehicles left at home while in school should be maintained to protect the vehicle from theft or any damage that may occur while it is parked. This will also protect you if you forget to notify your agent to add coverage back to your vehicle when you return.

Consult with your local Mercury agent to learn more about renters insurance and they’ll help build the protection plan that best suits your needs.

The bottom line: with greater independence, comes greater responsibility.

1 The National Fire Protection Association reports this annual average occurred during the five-year period from 2009-2013.

Easy Steps to Help with Home Renovation

Home-renovationHome Renovation 101: Simple Steps for Building Your Dream House from Integrity First Insurance Services in Thousand Oaks, CA.

Remodeling a home isn’t a new concept. U.S. homeowners spent $130 billion in renovations last year and nearly 75 percent of all homeowners are expected to make some type of home improvement in 2014.

Hopefully, homeowners have or will become familiar with the following checklist, before opening a checkbook or sinking that first nail.

Establish a budget. Renovating a home is often more cost-effective than moving into a new one; however, if this is the route you choose, don’t break the bank. Keep track of monthly expenses (e.g., utilities, mortgage, groceries, etc.) to gauge how much money you can afford to set aside for your remodel. Start by setting up a special savings account specifically for a renovation project and, if needed, talk to your financial institution about the possibility of taking out a loan. Taking the extra time to look for coupons and deals to save money on household expenditures can also free up more money.

Remodeling projects rarely come in under budget, so add a 10 percent cushion and include permit costs. (Contact a local building permit office for more information about requirements and pricing.)

Sketch out your plans. It’s important to know how planned changes might affect the home’s overall structure. Consult with a professional to learn more about load-bearing walls and impacting the house’s foundation before demolition begins. Some architects offer a one-time design consultation to discuss what you hope to accomplish with a renovation and will then sketch a few options, which can later be turned into blueprints for a builder to formalize construction plans.

Certain projects have a better return on investment than others, so before green-lighting construction, decide if a major overhaul is what you seek or if minor adjustments will suffice. Remodeling Magazine compiled a list of 35 projects in its annual Cost vs. Value Report that add value to homes, with replacing the front door the number one most valuable – and least expensive – undertaking.

Consult with an insurance agent. The planning process is a good time to speak with an insurance agent to ensure your home is properly covered for any potential losses after construction has been completed.

“Many people don’t think about how structural and functional changes to their homes can affect their insurance coverage. For example, adding a home alarm may result in a lower premium, but a home office may require a commercial general liability policy in addition to your homeowners coverage, to cover all additional exposures,” said Randy Petro, vice president of claims for Mercury Insurance Group. “Adding more square footage, upgrading kitchens or bathrooms, or replacing carpet with hardwood or stone flooring can also impact the replacement costs of your home For example, the cost to replace a new gourmet kitchen is much greater than the cost to replace your pre-remodel kitchen, so you should speak to your agent to make sure you have enough insurance to cover these upgrades.”

To DIY or not to DIY? The Internet, the “For Dummies” book series, and the abundance of TV shows on HGTV, the DIY Network and TLC empower people with the confidence to undertake certain home improvements on their own. Some money-saving “do-it-yourself” projects include replacing your siding (having professionals install it can cost up to five times more than doing it yourself), plumbing fixes and kitchen remodels (median savings were approximately $4,500 based on census data). However, if you’re uncertain of your capabilities, hire a professional because your mistakes could lead to even more costly repairs if you get it wrong.

Tap into your network. Family and friends can be valuable resources for finding reputable, licensed contractors for a home renovation project. Try to secure at least three bids before deciding on who to hire and be wary of choosing someone just because they had the lowest bid … sometimes you get what you pay for.

“You’ll also want to ensure that they carry worker’s compensation and liability insurance in case someone on their staff gets injured on the job,” said Petro. “This is very important, because if your contractor doesn’t have sufficient insurance then you could be left holding the bag if a worker is injured while working on your property.”

Once you’ve chosen a contractor, be open to their recommendations for suppliers because these are often their professional contacts and may be great sources for less expensive materials. Be sure to agree upon a timeline and contract that clearly outlines when and how materials will be paid for, as well as when the contractor gets paid. Don’t pay for everything up front and keep the dialogue going throughout the process to guarantee the project is ultimately completed to your satisfaction. And once everything is all done … enjoy your new home!

TAGS

home improvementshomeowners insurance

Get A Fast, Free Quote
GO
Find Your Local Agent
Related Stories

Can I Get Insurance for This?
Planning For Life Changes in 2014
Yearly Disaster Preparation Check-Up

An A to Z Guide to Auto Insurance

A to Z

Auto Insurance: What You Should Know

 If you drive a car chances are you carry some level of auto insurance. If you don’t, then you better get it quick, because it’s the law in most states. But how do you choose the right company and coverage? You should start by doing a little homework so you know what you’re buying when you begin shopping.

Auto insurance can be pretty complicated and it can be difficult to understand if you don’t know the basics, so we’ve tried to highlight a few things you should consider when searching for auto insurance.

Auto Insurance –An auto insurance policy is an agreement between you, the insured, and an insurance company to help protect your financial assets if a covered loss occurs. A loss may include damage to your vehicle, liability for damage caused to another vehicle or individual, theft, medical, rental car, etc., depending on your coverage selections.

 Bodily Injury Liability (BI) – Bodily injury liability coverage pays for injuries to other people, within the policy limits you selected, of course.  This may include drivers and passengers in another vehicle, pedestrians and, in some cases, passengers in your vehicle, when the insured vehicle’s driver is legally at fault. It does not cover injuries you may have personally sustained in the accident. Bodily injury is often used to pay for medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering.

 Collision Coverage – Collision coverage pays for damage to your vehicle – or provides you with a settlement that could allow you to replace the vehicle in the event of a total loss – if it collides with another vehicle or object (e.g., potholes, speed bumps, poles, etc.), regardless of fault. Typically, you must first pay a deductible, an amount for which you’ve agreed to be responsible before insurance pays – usually ranging from $100-$1,000.

Comprehensive Coverage – Comprehensive coverage pays for damage to your vehicle that occurs in a non-collision situation, including damage from wind, flooding, fire, hail, vandalism or theft. As with collision coverage, you must generally pay a deductible before your insurance company offers financial assistance towards repair or replacement costs.

Deductible – The amount you must pay out-of-pocket for damages before your insurance policy will pay an insurance claim is your deductible. If you have a $100 deductible, for example, and your car sustains $1,000 worth of damage, you must pay $100 before your insurer pays the remaining $900. Deductibles are most often found in amounts of $100, $250, $500 and $1,000, but may vary from state to state or by carrier. Also note that the amount of your deductible is inversely related to the amount of your insurance premium. Plainly stated, the more money you’re willing to pay out-of-pocket towards your repairs, the lower your insurance premium will be and vice versa.

Electronic Proof of Insurance – Uh oh, you’ve just been pulled over and, as the officer approaches your car, you realize you never put your new insurance cards in your glove box. Electronic proof of insurance allows you to display your insurance card to the officer on your smartphone. Before you get excited (not that you’d ever get pulled over, right?) check if your state has adopted this law and, as a backup, be sure to always keep a hard copy in the car in case your phone decides to die or freeze at an inconvenient time. Mercury offers customers the ability to save a digital copy of their I.D. cards when they establish an electronic account on the company’s website.

 Filing a Claim – The unthinkable has happened and you’ve gotten into an  accident or your car has been stolen. These aren’t the only circumstances for which you might file a claim, but they are certainly some of the most common. Try to gather as much information as possible at the scene. Notify the police immediately and file a police report. Collect contact information from everyone involved, including witnesses. Document and photograph the damage and the scene, and contact your insurance company immediately. You can use your phone to take pictures of the other party’s driver license and insurance I.D. card. These items will contain most of the information you will need to file a claim, but don’t forget to also get a phone number.

 Discounts – Everybody loves to get a discount! Most auto insurance commercials talk about discounts that can help you save money, but do they? Sometimes yes…sometimes no. Just because you get a discount doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be saving money. Look at the total cost, not the discount. You may notice that some companies start with really high rates and then pile on the discounts to make it seem like you’re saving money. When you compare final rates, however, you may notice the company that didn’t have big discounts is a lot cheaper.

It never hurts to ask, though, because it all adds up. Some of the more popular discounts include the following: Good driver, good student, multi-car, and one of the best is the discount you can get when you insure both your auto and home together. Mercury offers up to 15% off when you buy both, which can save you a lot!

 Liability Coverage – This is not an option in most states. The law says you must have liability coverage, but what is it? Simply put…if the insured vehicle is involved in a covered, at-fault accident, liability insurance is what pays for the property damage (vehicles and property like lampposts and fire hydrants) and bodily injury damages (medical expenses, pain and suffering and lost wages) for the other people involved. Most states require that you carry some level of liability insurance. However, there are a handful of states where you can drive without a motor vehicle liability insurance policy…if you can prove you’re financially able to pay the liability costs in the event of a collision. All insurance policies have exclusions and conditions, so make sure to review your policy carefully with your agent so you know what’s covered and what isn’t.

Medical Payment Coverage – If you’re injured in an auto accident, this coverage will pay your reasonable and necessary medical expenses regardless of who is at fault for the accident (up to your policy’s limits).

 Premium – The price you pay for your insurance policy. It’s typically charged monthly, semi-annually or annually. Some insurance companies will offer insurance discounts if you pay your premium all at once instead of in monthly installments or if you have your payments automatically deducted from your bank account.

 Property Damage Liability (PD) – Covers you if your car damages someone else’s property. It mainly applies to damage caused to another person’s vehicle, but can also apply to fences, shrubbery, trees, light poles, houses and other property. This does not cover damage to your own vehicle.

 Rental Reimbursement – Rental reimbursement is an optional auto insurance benefit. If your car is damaged and the cost to repair it is more than your deductible, this coverage pays for a rental car, usually with per-day or per-accident limits. This benefit is only available; however, if you selected this coverage and the accident is a covered loss.

 Roadside Assistance – Did your car break down on the side of the road? As the name implies, roadside assistance comes to your aid. It is often available as an additional coverage option from your insurance company. For example, Mercury offers this coverage at a cost of less than a quarter a day. It covers a variety of services, up to the policy limit, including towing, reimbursement for expenses if you’ve locked your keys in your car, need a flat tire changed, etc. Roadside Assistance is another optional coverage, so be sure to talk to your agent about adding this coverage if you need it.

 State Laws – Every state has different requirements regarding insurance, including the minimum amount of insurance coverage you need to carry. You can learn more about your individual state’s insurance requirements by visiting the insurance commissioner’s website.

 Tort (PIP) Insurance – The Tort system, which operates in 38 states, makes the driver who causes an accident responsible for paying for damage to the victim’s property and medical bills, pain and suffering, and lost wages. The other 12 states use some form of no-fault insurance coverage. Kentucky, New Jersey and Pennsylvania allow residents to choose between limited-tort and full-tort insurance when seeking insurance policies. If you’re the victim of an accident in one of those states and you opted for limited tort coverage, this means that you give up the right to seek damages for pain and suffering, whereas full tort coverage allows you to seek compensation for whatever you think you’re owed.

Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Bodily Injury Coverage – Uninsured Motorist Bodily Injury Coverage pays for injuries to you and other people in your vehicle, within the policy limits you selected, when the loss is caused by an uninsured driver. Underinsured Motorist Bodily Injury coverage may apply if the person who caused the accident doesn’t have enough liability insurance to fully compensate you and your passengers for injury claims.*

 Uninsured Motorist Property Damage Coverage/Collision Deductible Waiver – Uninsured Motorist Property Damage Coverage will compensate you, up to the policy limit, for damages to your vehicle caused by an identified uninsured motorist.  Collision Deductible Waiver will pay your deductible if your covered vehicle is damaged by an identified uninsured motorist.*

*  In some states these coverages may be combined into one coverage.  Please check with your local insurance agent to learn about different options.

There’s no “one size fits all” insurance policy so your best bet is to do some research and speak to a local insurance agent about your specific needs.

Some Sound Financial Advice for College Graduates

Graduation

College graduation brings great change for many young adults. It’s the end of an era of homework and classes and leads to the next step in building a career. And for many it also means a large amount of debt, as they now need to start making payments on college loans.

If you’re like most recent college graduates, there’s still a lot to learn about personal finances that probably wasn’t covered in class. These simple tips can help college graduates better manage their money and expenses, so they can get their post college lives off to a good start.

1. Establish a Budget

U.S. News and Money reports that college graduates have a tendency to overspend in order to increase their standard of living after landing their first full-time job. While that paycheck might look big, it’s wise to continue living on a student budget. Budgets can boost savings and keep spending down.

A great place to begin is figuring out exactly how much income you’ll have left at the end of the month after factoring in necessary expenses like food, rent, transportation, debt payments and bills. There are lots of ways to cut down on monthly expenses, like buying generic brands instead of name brands, shopping around for the best car insurance rate and debt consolidation. These tactics can all contribute to minimizing monthly expenses.

Another good budgeting strategy is the 50-30-20 rule. This breaks down monthly earnings into three chunks: 50 percent goes towards needs like bills and food; 30 percent is set aside for wants like dining out, entertainment and shopping; and the final 20 percent is put into savings and used to pay down debt.

2. Build Credit

What does it mean to have good credit? Credit scores are based on accumulated debt and history of successful and consistent debt repayment. This score determines your ability to get a loan, rent or buy property or finance a car. Potential employers can even access credit scores and may take them into account during their hiring process. In short, good credit is important.

Nerdwallet recently published an article detailing some great suggestions for individuals looking to build credit from scratch. Here are a few highlights:

  • Get a secured credit card. This is a card backed up by a cash deposit made at sign up. It works like a regular credit card and can help build credit. Establish a good track record, and you can qualify for an unsecured card with no cash deposit.
  • Credit-builder loans exist for the sole purpose of building credit. This is like a forced savings program where the borrowed money is held by the lender until the loan is repaid.
  • Become an authorized user on someone else’s card. This gives you the opportunity to build credit without being legally obligated to pay it off. Of course, make sure to pay what’s owed to the card holder.

Lastly, when it comes to already accumulated debt like student loans, pay them off as soon as possible. A good rule of thumb is to pay more money toward debts with higher interest rates first and pay the minimum amount on lower interest rate accounts. Always pay more than the minimum when you can – even an extra $20 a month will save on interest and shorten the term of repayment.

3. Save

It might seem ridiculous to begin thinking about retirement and future expenses like homeownership or saving to start a family right after graduation, but the earlier you start saving, the better. While a savings account is a good place to begin, smart investments can really maximize your savings.

Some employers offer a 401(k), and if they do, take them up on it. This is a fixed amount taken from each paycheck for retirement. Some employers will even match what’s put into the account. This is free money…and who wants to turn down free money? Another great retirement option is a Roth IRA, a personal retirement fund that builds over time. Roth IRAs are tax-free, so you won’t pay taxes on any money you earn in this account when you begin making withdrawals…after you turn 59 ½ that is.

Heading into the post-college world with financial knowledge and confidence will set you up for success. A little smart spending and careful planning can go a long way and could ultimately end up saving you a lot of money.

Bicycle Safety Tips for the Entire Family

bicycle-safety-tipsWhether you’re a kid or an adult, there’s no debating the popularity of biking. There are more than 500 registered bicycle-related records in the Guinness Book of World Records, and you’d be hard pressed to walk down any street in America and not see kids riding their bikes.

But before you ride down the driveway and onto the neighborhood streets, everyone should know the rules of the road. Why? Statistically, almost two people die every day from a bicycle-car related crash, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

While riding a bicycle presents a fun and alternative mode of transport, it can also put you at risk, so Mercury Insurance wants to encourage all riders to follow these important bicycle safety tips:
1. Always wear a bicycle helmet

Wearing a helmet is still one of the most important ways to stay safe while on a bicycle, and it’s required by law in some states for children under a certain age. A helmet will protect your head if you happen to hit something or someone, fall or get struck by a vehicle. Regardless of the distance of your trip or preferred route, always wear a helmet to help prevent head injuries.
2. Avoid busy streets

Biking down a major roadway might make for a direct and faster route, but there’s no guarantee that it’ll be the safest one when sharing the road with fast-moving traffic. Traveling busy streets increases your risk of getting into an accident with a car because motorists can be distracted and sometimes fail to realize that they’re sharing the road with cyclists. If you really must use a major roadway, avoid the rush and leave early.
3. Don’t wear ear plugs or headphones

Listening to music while riding a bicycle may sound like a good way to enjoy your ride, but it can also be dangerous. Florida and Rhode Island have banned headphone use and California recently followed suit, passing a law prohibiting the use of headphones while cycling. If you choose to listen to music, be sure you still can hear what’s going on around you. A cyclist’s primary focus should be safely traveling from point A to point B.
4. Put a headlight and taillight on your bicycle

If you need to ride your bike at night, be sure that others on the road can see you. Wearing brightly colored or reflective clothing and lights will help drivers see you. Adding a headlight, taillight and reflectors to your bike will also make you more visible during early morning or evening rides. Check the laws in your state.
5. Use hand signals

Turning, changing lanes or stopping without signaling is a recipe for disaster for any vehicle on the road. Since bikes aren’t typically equipped with turn signals or brake lights, hand signals should be used to indicate your intended movements to other drivers. Be sure you know the proper motions to alert drivers of your next move ahead of time.

Remember, many of today’s drivers are distracted while behind the wheel, posing a threat to cyclists and others. No matter how many precautions you take to obey the rules of the road, never assume others are paying attention to you.