Author Archives: ifi4dm1n13

5 ‘Must Do’ Steps to Insuring Your Engagement and Wedding Rings

Once you have the perfect wedding rings picked out, it’s important to make sure you protect your precious investment. According to The Knot’s Real Weddings Study, Americans spend an average of $6,351 on an engagement ring. Here are some tips for adding your rings to your homeowners or renters insurance policy, along with other ideas for keeping them safe.

1. Find out the current value.

Your insurance company needs to know the current value of your wedding rings to provide sufficient coverage to repair or replace them. Keep the original purchase receipt on hand and make sure to inform your insurer with details about the gem’s four Cs — color, cut, clarity and carat size.

2. Have the ring appraised.

If your ring is an heirloom that has been passed down through generations in your family, find a jewelry store that has a certified gemologist or a quality appraiser on staff. Be prepared to pay up to a few hundred dollars for the appraisal and to drop your ring off for a week or so. When the appraisal is completed, you’ll receive an insurance replacement report that informs the retail replacement value of the ring. The insurance replacement document also will include information about the physical properties of the stone and metal. The gemstone will be described by characteristics such as shape, weight, clarity, color, polish, symmetry and fluorescence, which dictate the price of the ring.

Be sure to have your ring appraised every few years as the cost of precious metals and stones fluctuates. This step will ensure that you have the right amount of coverage because when the price goes up, you’ll be fully insured for the replacement value. And when the price goes down, you’ll save on premiums.

3. Stay organized.

Don’t toss that receipt! If you need to replace your ring, you’ll need to provide some paperwork for a speedy claims process: the original receipt, the appraisal certificate, any warrantees or coverage policies from the jeweler. Keep everything together in a file or folder so that it’s organized and easily accessible.

“First and foremost, always keep an up-to-date inventory of your possessions,” said Jane Li, Mercury’s senior product manager. “Be sure to take photos, provide descriptions, documentation to support what you paid for the item, and include the purchase date, serial numbers and copies of receipts when possible.”

At the same time, take stock of any other expensive jewelry or valuables you have on hand, and gather the receipts and certificates for those. When you get your ring insured, you can also get coverage for your other valuables, too.

4. Inquire about coverage options.

If you already have a homeowners insurance policy, call your insurer and ask about coverage options for your rings. Most homeowners policies provide minimal coverage for jewelry and high value collectibles, so you may need to purchase a “personal articles” or “floater” policy to provide protection for these items. This way, if you lose your wedding ring while scuba diving on vacation or damage the metal band while working, your insurance company will pay the cost to replace or repair the ring. There is an extra cost for these policies, however, and this cost will be determined based upon the value of the items you are insuring. Talk to you agent to learn more about these policies.

5. Keep your ring looking brand new.

If your ring is a family heirloom and you had it appraised, the gemologist or appraiser will let you know if there need to be any repairs. Some common repairs include fixing the prongs that hold the gemstone in place and cleaning the ring and stones. Also make sure that the ring fits snugly, so it doesn’t slip off during exercise or other activities.

Once you have your ring professionally cleaned, it’s a good idea to clean it on your own at least once a month by soaking it in a mixture of warm water and dishwashing soap for 30 minutes. Gently brush any diamonds or gems with a soft toothbrush and let the ring air dry to avoid scratching the metal.

When doing housework that involves harsh chemicals like bleach, avoid wearing your ring so you don’t damage the metal. Take off your ring while doing work with your hands, such as gardening or crafting, and put it someplace safe until you’re finished.

At home, invest in a safe for when you aren’t wearing your ring. When traveling, be sure to stow away your rings in the hotel room’s safe. While it’s good to know you have insurance in case something happens, you should always take precaution to protect your rings as best as possible.

Marissa Hermanson is a lifestyle and wedding expert whose work has been featured on The Knot, Southern Living and Cosmopolitan. She currently writes for Larson Jewelers, an online jeweler offering a wide variety of unique wedding rings.

Homeowners Should Reassess Insurance Coverage Annually

Make sure you aren’t underinsured

Homeownership is part of the American Dream, and for many people a home is their largest single purchase and most valued asset. Unfortunately, many homeowners don’t realize that their possessions and homes would be in jeopardy if they were inadequately insured and lost due to fire, flood or another disaster. So it’s important that you ask yourself one simple question: Do I have enough insurance to repair or replace my home if it is damaged or destroyed?

Most homeowners would say yes, but recent studies indicate that many homeowners lack sufficient insurance to rebuild after a disaster. In fact, according to Marshall & Swift/Boeckh, which provides building-cost information to insurers and government agencies, 61 percent of all homes are underinsured by an average of 18 percent.

As one of the nation’s leading insurance providers, Mercury conducts an annual review of its customers’ homeowners coverage limits based upon estimated replacement costs in their neighborhoods, and as a result of these calculations may adjust the policy limit. These estimates are tied to general factors in each area and are supplied by appraisal agencies.

This is only part of the process, however, as we recommend that you also get an insurance checkup from your agent once a year to help you make an informed decision about the coverage you need. No one wants to pay a higher premium, but construction costs have increased dramatically over the past several years and it’s important for you to make sure that any potential loss has satisfactory coverage.

This is especially important if you have made improvements to your home and have not incorporated these improvements into your coverage. And even if you haven’t made any improvements to your home, we still recommend a review to make sure that your coverage limits are adequate to cover the cost of rebuilding in your area, because every neighborhood can be a little different.

The National Association of Homebuilders annually tracks building costs, and the average price per square foot for residential construction in the Western states jumped 36 percent between 2002 and 2007.

So take a moment to reassess your coverage and protect your family’s future. To help you get started, here are a few things you should consider and discuss with your agent:

  1. When was the last time you evaluated the amount of coverage on your home? If it’s been more than a year then it’s time to talk to your agent about your coverage.
  2. Do you have extended replacement coverage? Mercury offers home insurance with additional coverage of up to 150 percent of your home’s policy limit. After a disaster, without extended coverage, you may not have enough coverage to rebuild or repair your home and replace its contents, so this benefit can really help if you suffer a loss.
  3. Have you made any improvements to your home? If so, then you should make sure that you have enough coverage to replace these new features.
  4. Get your house appraised. If it’s been several years since it was last appraised then it may be time to get an independent appraisal from a licensed professional. This will help to better establish the amount of coverage you need, but remember to have the appraiser calculate the cost to rebuild your home with similar quality features in today’s market, which may be different than the actual value of your home.
  5. Keep a detailed record of your home’s contents and unique features. Photos and video recordings of designer kitchens, big screen TVs, and other special features will greatly speed the claims process in the event of a loss.
  6. Carefully read all of your policy and coverage documents. Your agent is always willing to help answer any questions you may have, or help you find a professional who can answer your questions.

You ultimately know your home better than anyone else, so you will need to decide what’s right for you.  We are happy to assist you in evaluating your current policy limits and coverages to help you make sure that you have the right coverage.

 

5 Steps to Take When You’re a Victim of Identity Theft

Identity theft is one of the top consumer complaints in the U.S., according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), with nearly 400,000 complaints lodged in 2016. Common schemes criminals use to steal someone else’s identity include dumpster-diving to steal unshredded bills and other documents containing personal information; sending suspicious emails or phishing scams to trick victims into revealing account numbers and passwords; stealing mail to obtain preapproved loan and credit card offers; credit card breaches and ransomware attacks. Thieves use this information for anything from opening accounts and stealing your money to getting medical treatment.

Falling victim to identity theft can be an unsettling experience and many people don’t know where to begin to restore their good name and credit, what to do or even who to call if it happens to them.

Here are five important steps to take immediately if you fall victim to identity theft:

1. File a police report – This is the first step to take if there is any indication of identity theft. Many fraud departments will require a copy of this report to validate a customer’s status as an identity theft victim.

2. Place a fraud alert with credit bureaus – Fraud alerts signal creditors to verify a person’s identity before authorizing a new credit account in his or her name. Place 90-day alerts with the three major credit bureaus: Experian at (888) 397-3742, Equifax at (800) 525-6285 and TransUnion at (800) 680-7289, as soon as you suspect your information has been compromised. Pro Tip: A good rule of thumb to follow before falling victim to identity theft is to check your credit reports at least twice a year. This will alert you to unauthorized credit cards, loans or other activities that are associated with your name. Free reports are available at www.annualcreditreport.com.

3. Cancel all credit and debit cards – This will go faster if you keep an up-to-date list of credit and debit card numbers at home in a secure location for quick reference.

4. Contact banks and credit unions – Be sure to close checking accounts and any other connected (e.g., savings, loan, credit card) accounts. If necessary, request stop payments on uncleared checks and stolen check numbers. Open a new checking account and request new debit and credit cards, if applicable.

5. Contact other providers – Notify your homeowners, condo or renters insurance carrier, as well as your auto insurer of your situation, so you aren’t dinged with unpaid premiums and to make sure they know no one else is able to file claims under your name. You should also contact the places (e.g., libraries, gyms, and wholesale clubs) where you have memberships.

Mercury Insurance has partnered with CyberScout, the leading data security and identity theft protection firm, to help Mercury customers proactively manage their identities and work to repair them if theft is suspected. This coverage is available to Mercury homeowners, renters and condo owners policyholders. Contact Integrity First Insurance Services to learn more @ 805.495.1122.

Don’t Drive Angry

Why can’t we all just get along?

Many of us have had to deal with aggressively impolite drivers – people who tailgate, cut you off, lay on their horns and make inappropriate hand gestures as they speed past you in an expression of displeasure for whatever inconvenience they perceive that you’ve caused them.

“Displays of aggression on the road are becoming an all-too-common occurrence,” says Stephanie Behnke, claims innovation director for Mercury Insurance. “People who engage in these driving behaviors aren’t focused on the wellbeing of others – they don’t stop to think about how dangerous their actions are and that they’re putting themselves and those around them in danger.”

More people on the roads = aggression

fatal crashes driversAggressive driving has become more prevalent as the population and number of licensed drivers grows and traffic congestion continues to increase. According to a report compiled on aggressive driving by the Transportation Research Board of the National Academics for the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP), aggressive driving is a rampant problem that contributes to an estimated 56 percent of all fatal crashes.

So what exactly is “aggressive” driving?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines aggressive driving as “a combination of moving traffic offenses so as to endanger other persons or property.” Moving traffic offenses include:

  • Speeding
  • Unsafe lane changes or passing on the right
  • Following too closely
  • Failure to yield
  • Disregard of traffic control devices
  • Reckless driving
  • Failure to signal.

Two or more of these actions coupled together are considered a display of aggressive driving.

According to a 2013 report issued by NHTSA, aggressive driving continues to play a substantial role in traffic accidents. In fact, 67 percent of people surveyed in another NHTSA study on dangerous driving felt that their safety was threatened by other drivers.

Road rage

safety threatened driversWhile aggressive driving is a traffic offense, road rage – which NHTSA defines as the assault of a fellow motorist or their passengers with a vehicle or weapon – is a criminal offense. Fifteen states have passed laws to discourage aggressive driving and road rage:  Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont and Virginia.

Seven of these states have specific provisions regarding harassment, intimidation, the creation of hazards, general lack of concern for the safety of others and the intent to injure other motorists. One state – Indiana – includes a clause about the unnecessary or excessive use of horns.

“Unfortunately, we can’t control the actions and reactions of other drivers,” Behnke said. “But, what we can do is meet road rage with anti-rage. Keeping your cool and ignoring the rude behaviors of others can help curb road rage and reduce risk, diffusing otherwise volatile traffic situations.”

The golden rule of driving

The NCHRP report mentions that frustration contributes to aggressive driving behavior. Drivers who experience frustration are more likely to project elevated levels of aggression triggered by contextual factors, such as the driver’s psychological disposition and traveling environment.

Practicing common courtesy on the road can go a long way. Instead of feeding into the rage of others, try implementing the golden rule: treat other drivers the way you would like to be treated. Resist the urge to honk your horn or brake check tailgaters, obey traffic laws and remain courteous when faced with angry motorists.

“National Courtesy Month is a great way to encourage people to think of others as they go about their daily lives,” Behnke said. “If you drive, you will encounter traffic and bad drivers, but rather than letting it get to you, try taking a deep breath and thinking about getting home safely to your family. It tends to put things in perspective.”

Practice anti-rage

Put your best foot forward and practice some of these anti-rage techniques when on the road:

  • Be mindful of those around you. Be considerate of other drivers, obey traffic laws and don’t switch lanes without using a turn signal. Check your blind spots and avoid cutting people off.
  • Think before you act. Before honking your horn or making a rude gesture in traffic, snuff the reaction. You never know the mentality of other drivers and these actions can escalate an otherwise harmless situation into a dangerous game of roadway retaliation.
  • Don’t brake check tailgaters. Brake checking other vehicles can lead to accidents. Be patient and move over to let the tailgater pass.
  • Don’t challenge other drivers on the road. Be courteous and allow merging cars into your lane. Don’t engage in speed wars or attempt to race other drivers.
  • Avoid aggressive drivers when possible. Steer clear of aggressive drivers on the road. Give them distance and don’t get in their path of travel.
  • Don’t talk on your cell phone while driving. Aside from the fact that this is illegal in many states, it takes your attention off of the road and may upset the drivers with whom you share the road.
  • Report aggressive drivers. If you feel that a driver is a threat to others on the road, take down their license plate number and call 911 to report them to the local authorities.

These tactics can help you avoid collisions while you’re on the road, but there are times when accidents are simply out of your control. Even courteous drivers can find themselves dealing with a fender bender on the roadside. Familiarize yourself with your insurance company’s claims process, so you’re prepared and know what to do in the event of an accident.

Movie Car Hacking Examples in Real Life

Hollywood has had a long fascination with automotive technology in big blockbuster films, often predicting what cutting-edge features automakers will incorporate into modern vehicles.

While living like a movie star in our everyday life is exciting, as vehicles become increasingly advanced and connected, the possibility for hacks is also making its way into the mainstream. This creates new security risks for modern-day vehicle owners, potentially allowing cybercriminals to cause havoc with your vehicle.

Here are some examples of how movie car technology has become an unintended threat:

1. Tomorrow Never Dies

James Bond fans might remember the scene from the 1997 film, Tomorrow Never Dies, where Bond uses a cell phone to take control of his BMW 750iL to evade pursuers. While Bond had Q’s help to develop gadgets to aid him in espionage for more than 50 years, car hackers have also discovered ways to commandeer vehicles—sometimes even miles away from them.

Hackers around the globe have demonstrated the ability to remotely control a vehicle – regardless if it’s a Corvette in England, a Jeep Cherokee in the United States or a Tesla Model S in China, software vulnerabilities allow hackers to input drive commands and take control. This poses a security risk to millions of drivers on the road as cybercriminals can literally take control of everything from wind shield wipers to acceleration and braking. These hackers can even turn off gauges and engines!

2. Transformers

The Transformers movie series has showcased some of the most state-of-the-art cars imaginable, featuring sentient vehicles battling over the future of humanity. The franchise’s arch-nemesis, Megatron, has a chief communications and intelligence officer – Soundwave – capable of hacking any electronic device. Although it’s unlikely that your vehicle will undergo a metamorphosis into a battle-ready machine, the technology from Transformers is already making its way onto our roads.

Autonomous vehicles are filled with cutting edge technology, including cameras and sensors. Through these ‘connected’ technologies, these vehicles speak to themselves (and potentially other vehicles around them) by understanding their surroundings. However, the connected technology in autonomous vehicles also provides an opportunity for hackers to take them over. The U.S. government has released protocols by which manufacturers must abide to harden vehicle defenses against these criminals.

3. Gone in 60 Seconds

The 2000 summer blockbuster, Gone in Sixty Seconds, shows car thieves utilizing both old and new school tactics to steal 50 cars in one night. One scene pairs old schooler Donny Astricky with his accomplice Mirror Man, who uses a copy of an electronic key to gain access to a Jaguar XJR X308.

Automotive tech has made modern cars a lot safer in 2016, right? Yes and no.

Present day hackers are using vehicle key fobs to unlock cars. Craig Smith, founder of Open Garages, a community for sharing and collaborating on automotive research, recommends “Keeping your electronic key fobs stored in a metal box like your refrigerator to keep hackers from picking up their signal and opening up your vehicle with a copycat signal.” While taking this measure may seem extreme, the danger is real.

Car thieves are also using laptops to steal vehicles. This year, a pair of hackers targeted a Jeep dealership in Houston, Texas, making off with over 30 cars during a six-month period by overriding the security software used by all Jeep vehicles.

Find out if your vehicle is vulnerable and the steps you can take to protect it.

Additional Resources

Preparation for Mother Nature

Heat waves, droughts, floods, earthquakes, wildfires, tornadoes and hurricanes torment Americans every year. During 2011-2013 the U.S. experienced 25 weather- and climate-related disasters, costing $175 billion in total damages, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Not everyone can pack up and move to Michigan – one of the states with the fewest occurrences of natural disasters – but there are steps you can take to prepare your home in the event a natural disaster strikes.

Scenario: Your home is located in a flood zone.

  • First and foremost, make sure you have flood insurance because standard homeowners and renters insurance policies usually don’t cover flooding. Flood insurance policies are available through the National Flood Insurance Program and typically have a 30-day waiting period from the date of purchase before they go into effect.
  • Elevate furnaces, water heaters and electrical components (switches, sockets, circuit breakers, and wiring) at least 12 inches above your home’s projected flood elevation and make sure they’re secured to a solid structure.
  • Anchor any fuel tanks.
  • Consider constructing barriers to prevent water from entering the building, as well as sealing basement walls with waterproofing compounds.
  • Locate the main power switch for utilities, as well as the main gas valve, in case you need to disconnect and close them during a storm.                                                                        Scenario: Hot, dry conditions may spark a wildfire.
  • Plant fire-resistant plants and shrubs.
  • Install fire-resistant roofing materials.
  • Regularly clean your roof and gutters and mow the lawn, clearing away clippings and dry twigs immediately.
  • Keep garden hoses attached to faucets to aid fire personnel.
  • Set aside household items like rakes, axes, saws, buckets and shovels that can be used as fire tools.
  • Consider installing protective shutters or heavy, fire-resistant drapes.
  • Mercury Insurance offers additional tips to help plan ahead and protect your home in the event of a wildfire.
  • Install screens over attic vents with a mesh size of 1/8 inch.

Scenario: An earthquake might occur.

  • Fasten shelves securely to walls and make sure large or heavy items are stored on lower shelves.
  • Secure heavy items to walls (pictures and mirrors) away from beds and areas where people sit.
  • Hire a professional to repair defective wiring and leaky gas connections. Also seek professional help to look for signs of structural damage and to repair deep cracks in ceilings and the foundation.
  • Locate safe spots in each room under a sturdy table or against an inside wall.
  • Keep a wrench near your main gas valve and learn how to turn it off.
  • Secure water heaters, furnaces, gas appliances and furniture by bolting them to wall studs.
  • Install cabinet latches to prevent them from opening and spilling contents, such as dishes and glassware.

Before any type of disaster strikes, you should also have an emergency plan in place for your family that includes a designated meeting place, emergency contact numbers and evacuation plan. Practice your plan at least twice a year to keep it fresh in everyone’s minds and make adjustments as needed. And if you have a pet, incorporate them into your evacuation plan, too.

You should also have an emergency kit that is easily accessible and includes basic survival items.

  • One gallon of water per person
  • Non-perishable food
  • Battery-powered or hand-crank radio (and extra batteries)
  • Flashlight
  • First-aid kit
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Can opener
  • Blankets
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • Portable charging station for cell phones

FEMA recommends keeping three-day supplies of food and water for each family member.

Consider packing prescription medications, glasses, important financial documents, copies of insurance policies (and your agent’s contact information), a recent copy of your household inventory, birth certificates, social security cards and other identification in a portable waterproof container. It’s also a good idea to include $500 cash in small bills since ATMs and credit card processing units may be inaccessible during a power outage.

If you’re affected by a natural disaster, Mercury Insurance recommends taking the following steps to facilitate the claims process:

When filing a claim

  • Contact your insurance provider immediately to report a loss.
  • Be prepared to provide your policy number.
  • Do not remove debris or damaged property that may be related to your claim.

Steps after filing a claim

  • Prepare a detailed inventory of destroyed or damaged property.
  • Offer photos or videotapes of your home and possessions to your adjuster, if these are available.
  • Keep copies of communications between you and your adjuster.
  • Keep records and receipts for additional living expenses that were incurred if you were forced to leave your home and provide copies to your adjuster.

Ready.govFEMA and the American Red Cross offer additional tips for protecting your home and family before, during and after a disaster.

Teens and Their Parents Learn Skills for a Safe Driving Experience

Teens are the most inexperienced drivers on the road, and drivers under the age of 20 are three times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash.1 The most important thing parents can do to help keep their young drivers safe on the road is to teach them good driving habits and lead by example.

tampa bay drive safe challenge

That’s why, in 2016, Mercury Insurance created its Drive Safe Challenge, a comprehensive website with tools – tips, videos, quizzes and much more – parents and teens can use to help prepare for life behind the wheel. In addition, Mercury has gone out into the community to offer free defensive driving programs that include hands-on driving skills training and interactive classroom sessions.

Mercury most recently teamed up with the Tampa Bay Lightning at AMALIE Arena for one of these community events on January 15. Participating teens and their parents learned collision avoidance and emergency maneuvers from professional driving instructors and participated in an interactive classroom session led by Tampa Police Department officers and the local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

One of the teens, Nicolas DeMalteris (17), said of his experience “I ran over half of the cones on the distracted driving course. I had to text while driving. I don’t think it would be very smart to drive [distracted] on the road, and I won’t do it ever again.”

Mercury Insurance and the Anaheim Ducks hosted a similar event for teens and their parents on December 9, 2017 at Honda Center. Teens were able to meet Ducks Forward, Rickard Rakell, in addition to learning hard-braking, maneuvering on wet surfaces, and swerving to avoid objects in the road. This was the Ducks’s second time partnering with Mercury on the event.

“The Anaheim Ducks’ involvement in the Mercury Insurance Drive Safe Challenge underscores our commitment to making our community a safer place,” said Anaheim Ducks Vice President and CMO Aaron Teats. “The teens who participated today [December 9] learned valuable knowledge and skills about being safe on the road so we’re glad to lend a hand to such an important cause.”

Visit http://drivesafe.mercuryinsurance.com to learn more.

Best Regards,

Jason Mayling
Integrity First Insurance Services, Corp.
License #0834720
Email: jmayling@integrityfirstins.com
Phone: 805-495-1122 | Toll-free: 800-696-9193 | Fax: 805-371-8759
Web: IntegrityFirstIns.com | Blog: IntegrityFirstIns.com/blog

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.