Dangers of ‘Connected’ Vehicles

Mercury Insurance is launching a campaign to educate the public and policyholders about the dangers of ‘connected’ vehicles. Improvements in technology that often have the goal of making vehicles safer are turning cars into 4,000-pound computers on wheels, vulnerable to being hacked.

Mercury is providing this online informational site allows your customers and consumers to enter their vehicle make, model and year to score its vulnerability on a scale of 1 to 6 and learn about specific ways a hacker might be able to unlock or even take control of it.

https://blog.mercuryinsurance.com/how-hackable-is-your-car/

Tips for Protection

Forbes reports that by the year 2020, there will be 152 million connected cars worldwide. Connected vehicles transmit wireless signals and radio waves, making them susceptible to thieves who can, among other things, hack into a car’s electronic ignition and steal the vehicle. They can also remotely take control of the vehicle away from its owner while driving, which can lead to a potentially dangerous situation out on the road.

Mercury Insurance recently connected with cybersecurity expert Craig Smith to learn how consumers can protect their vehicles against cyberattacks. The author of “The Car Hacker’s Handbook,” shared the following tips:

  • Remove dongles when the vehicle isn’t in operation. A dongle is a small device that plugs into the on-board diagnostics port under a car’s dashboard and can be used to monitor driving habits and a vehicle’s performance. Some companies offer apps that connect to them via Bluetooth to monitor driving habits that can help improve gas mileage or measure the miles you drive to set accurate insurance rates. Consumers who wish to use a dongle in their vehicles should try to use it sparingly and take it out of the car when it isn’t being driven.

Note: Since these devices can increase the risk of a cyberattack, Mercury doesn’t use this technology to monitor our customers’ driving habits.

  • Lock key fobs in a metal drawer or refrigerator. Cybercriminals can break into a vehicle to steal its contents by intercepting the key fob signal to open the vehicle, then tricking the vehicle into thinking the owner’s electronic key fob is closer than it really is. This type of attack involves amplifying the key fob’s signature and is mainly a concern when vehicles are parked on the street.

Placing keys in a metal drawer or refrigerator at night can help protect against this kind of hacking activity by blocking out or reducing the signal of the keys so that they aren’t transmitting when not in use. Parking in a well-let area will also help if you don’t have access to a garage.

  • Disable in-car wireless services. Remote hackers will look for vulnerabilities in a device that is capable of wireless communications that transmit through cellular or radio waves, such as Wi-Fi.Wireless systems like telematics, satellite or digital radio, internet, Bluetooth or wireless key fobs can provide entry points for attackers. Refer to your vehicle’s owner’s manual to see what features the vehicle has and then decide which wireless systems are important and only enable those options. The other systems should be disabled.
  • Visit your service department if you suspect you’ve been hacked. There are no pre-determined signs if a vehicle has been hacked, so if your vehicle is performing strangely, take it into the dealership to discuss the problem. It could just be a normal configuration problem or a bug in the particular software version the car’s computer is using.

How Hackable is Your Car? Enter your vehicle details in Mercury’s infographic to see.

Additional Resources

Stricter Laws For Hand-Held Devices While Driving

cell-phone-in-hand-while-driving

What Californians Need to Know About Assembly Bill 1785

Smartphone technology is ever-evolving and while these phones conveniently allow us to carry the Internet in the palm of our hands, they’re also a source of distraction for modern-day drivers.

Many states have passed laws against hand-held cell phone use to combat distracted driving, and California’s is about to get stricter.

Distracted driving has declined since 2009 due to laws regulating cell phone use for drivers, but it continues to be a big problem and it’s the cause of many collisions.

The new law Governor Jerry Brown recently signed, Assembly Bill 1785 (AB1785), prohibits ALL hand-held use of electronic devices while driving. Drivers should be encouraged knowing that the law is intended to protect them by keeping their undivided attention on the road. So, put down those smartphones while driving because it’s now against the law to:

  • Read, write or send a text message.
  • Hold your phone and talk.
  • Check or post to social media.
  • Take a video.

Basically, it’s against the law to use technology in your hands in any way while behind the wheel.

This new law requires drivers to mount their smartphones to the windshield or dash, similar to the mounting of GPS devices in vehicles, provided that the device’s use is activated by a simple swipe of the screen to turn features on or off. These conditions impose much stricter rules surrounding cell phone use in vehicles with the aim of reducing distracted driving crashes that are caused by smartphone or electronic device use.

Mercury Insurance wants to remind everyone that distracted driving is not worth the risk. Visit our Drive Safe website for driving tips, vehicle tips and tools to help keep you and your family safe behind the wheel.

 

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.

Technology to Help Prevent Texting While Driving

technology-against-texting-and-driving

The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that cell phone distractions while driving claim 6,000 lives and are the cause of 1.6 million crashes a year.

Today, distracted driving kills more people than drinking and driving, and research has shown that drivers under the age of 25 are more likely to use cell phones while driving.

So, what is being done to combat this epidemic? Educating drivers about the dangers of distracted driving is important, but it clearly isn’t enough. What can we do? One place to start is technology, because technology can play a powerful role in helping to remind drivers to refrain from using their cell phones while they’re on the road. Here’s a look at three inventions designed to put an end to distracted driving.

1. The SMARTwheel

The SMARTwheel is a high-tech steering wheel cover that was designed by six New Hampshire teens with the goal of ending distracted driving.

The idea came about when 14-year-old T.J. Evarts noticed that his friends who had recently gotten their licenses were often using their phones while driving. Knowing how hazardous texting and driving is, Evarts set out to find a way to deter his friends…and the SMARTwheel was born.

The cover easily slips onto the steering wheel and tracks when a driver has both hands on the wheel. Removing one or both hands from the wheel triggers a buzzer and flashing lights. The device even records trip data and grades driving habits using a mobile app connected to smartphones through Bluetooth so parents can track their teen’s driving habits.

2. ParentBlocked

ParentBlocked is a smartphone app that allows parents to disable and control their children’s cell phones at certain times of the day through remote access.

The app was created by concerned single mom, Lisa Mullins, who worried that her teenage daughter would be too tempted to use her cell phone while driving.

It allows parents to approve downloads and pick and choose which features they want to manage – for example, parents can disable texting and social media sites when teens should be focused on other activities, like driving. PB Safe Driving Mode will automatically shut down cell phone functions if your teen is moving faster than 10 mph but still allow emergency calls.

3. Drivesafe.ly

DriveSafe.ly is a mobile app that eliminates reading and typing on smartphones by using iSpeech software. The app reads text messages and emails aloud and drivers are able to respond to messages through speech.

Tech entrepreneur and iSpeech founder Heath Ahrens is the creator of the hands-free app, which is compatible with Bluetooth and radio transmitters. It also comes with a customizable auto-response. These features keep drivers connected while reducing distractions and promoting safe driving.

Distracted driving takes lives and these apps can help make a difference. We encourage all parents to visit the Mercury Insurance Drive Safe Challenge website where they can find resources and tools to reinforce the message and encourage safe driving habits and behaviors. There is even a Drive Safe Agreement for parents and teen drivers to sign.

 

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!

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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.