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.

Yearly Disaster Preparation Check-Up

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When was the last time you thought about an emergency-preparedness plan? “Never,” is the answer most people would give, which could have terrible consequences if you happen to be caught in the middle of a disaster. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), natural disasters in the U.S. have increased 700 percent since 1950 and reports from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicate severe weather events are also occurring more frequently, so now is the time to get prepared.

September is National Preparedness Month, but since disasters can strike at any moment, it’s important to   prepare before disaster strikes …Today. Creating an emergency plan is a good start, but remember, you should review it with your family annually. For example, do you have a newborn in the family? Did you adopt a pet? Have emergency kit materials expired? If you’ve experienced any of these or other changes, then you need to update your plan to make sure you’re prepared. Here are six things to consider during your routine yearly disaster preparedness check-up:

  1. Check emergency kit materials
    Refresh everyone’s memory of where the emergency kit is located.  Check expiration dates of materials in the kit to assure perishable items will last for at least another year, including food, water and batteries. According to FEMA, here’s a full list of materials to include in a basic emergency kit.
  2. Update your emergency plan
    A basic plan should have a meeting place in case disaster hits and your home becomes unsafe, as well as at least two escape routes. Each year, make sure to remind everyone of the meeting place, ensure it is still a safe location and evaluate everyone’s escape routes to avoid new obstructions. Take into account any special needs of children, seniors, people with disabilities, family members who don’t speak English and pets.
  3. Know how to turn off your utilities
    Learn where the utility shut-offs are located and how to operate them. Turning off gas mains can prevent leaks and turning off electricity can help prevent potential fires started by electrical sparks. Additionally, turning off your water main can help prevent flooding.
  4. Practice home safety
    Home safety should be observed year-round, not just in the event of an impending disaster. Install smoke detectors in each room of your home and replace the batteries every six months. Store heavy items on the lowest shelves. Combustible items such as firewood, picnic tables, boats and flammable liquids should be kept separately and 50 feet from your home and other structures.
  5. Prepare your insurance
    Getting ready for a natural disaster actually starts by choosing your insurance policy. Ask yourself: Do I have enough insurance to repair or replace my home if it is damaged or destroyed? Mercury recommends you get an insurance check-up from your agent or broker once a year to help you make an informed decision about the coverage you need.
  6. Catalog your property
    Recovering from a disaster takes time. To ease this process, keep a detailed inventory of your property and update it annually. Photos and videos of your home can be presented to insurance adjusters to help your claim. Mashable, a technology blog, provides a list of eight home inventory apps that make creating inventory of your property easy. Visit the Mercury Insurance website for additional tips to help with the claims process in the event your home suffers damage.

Be proactive about disaster preparedness. You’ll be investing in your family’s safety, property and peace of mind.

Protect Your Home While on Vacation

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We all look forward to vacations. Whether you’re planning on soaking up the sun on a tropical beach, or camping in a local park, it’s great to get away. You can relax and enjoy time with your family and friends and forget about the pressures of home and work for a little while … or so you thought.

You’re not the only one who likes it when you go away … burglars love it, too.

The FBI reported an estimated 2,103,787 burglaries in 2012, which resulted in an estimated $4.7 billion in property losses and an average of $2,230 loss per burglary.

Guess which months have the highest burglary rates … that’s right, July and August. And it’s not a coincidence that these are the two most popular travel months, too. Thieves are opportunists who prey upon the naive, unobservant and ill-prepared, and they love it when they know homeowners won’t walk in on them in the middle of a robbery.

So how do you protect your home when you’re away? Nothing is foolproof, but here are few tips that can help protect your home when you’re away for an extended period of time.

  • Secure your home. Often times burglars don’t need to forcibly enter a home because they can easily get in through an unlocked door or window. It seems simple, but make sure everything’s locked before you leave, including windows located on the second floor and higher, and entrances from the garage into the house. Don’t hide spare keys under door mats, rocks or other easy-to-find places. Instead, give a copy to a trusted neighbor in case of an emergency. Keep shrubs trimmed below window-level so as to not create inadvertent hiding places for thieves, and cut back tree branches that would allow an agile climber access to upper-level windows, balconies, ledges or the roof. Installing an alarm system and activating it every time you leave the house provides an added level of security, which may qualify you for an additional homeowners’ insurance discount. And, just in case, place dowels in sliding glass doors and windows to prevent them from unwanted opening.
  • Notify a trusted neighbor.Neighbors are a great resource for recognizing when unfamiliar vehicles or people are in the area. Tell your chosen neighbor when you’ll be away, if you have anyone who’s scheduled to stop by your house in your absence and how to reach you in case of an emergency.
  • Make your home appear occupied. Don’t let your mail and newspapers pile up while you’re away. Instead, ask a neighbor or friend to regularly bring them inside, or stop your delivery services until you return. Arrange for someone to mow your grass and trim your hedges in your absence. Setting light timers is another way to give the appearance that someone’s still around.
  • Don’t share plans on social media. Social media makes it easy to share great vacation experiences with family and friends, but it also has become a great way for burglars to learn when you will be away. It happens all the time, but just in case you don’t believe us, take a look at what happened to this unsuspecting family in Fontana, Calif. when they went on vacation to Las Vegas.
  • According to SocialMediaToday.com, 54% of burglars say posting status and whereabouts on social media is the most common mistake homeowners make. So, while you may be tempted to check-in at every trendy hotspot you visit or show off photos of you lounging by the ocean or pool … don’t (at least until after you get home). If you’re a social media addict who breaks out in hives at the idea of not sharing every moment of your life online, hire a friend to housesit and keep an eye on things for the duration of your trip.
  • Know what your insurance policy covers. Mercury Insurance recommends that you speak with your local insurance agent before your vacation to ensure your homeowners or renters insurance policy covers potential losses that may occur in your absence. Additionally, keep an up-to-date inventory of everything that own to make the claim’s filing process easier, if necessary.

Distracted Driving

distracted-drivingTexting, cell phones, eating and other distractions are causing an increase in traffic accidents

OMG! This is nothing to LOL about. Texting while driving is a leading cause of accidents for teenagers and it claims thousands of lives each year. 1 Texting while driving also reduces a driver’s reaction time so much that it’s the same as driving with a blood alcohol content of .08 percent, which would make you legally intoxicated.2

Additionally, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that drivers are four times more likely to get into an accident when texting and driving. In 2013, 3,154 people were killed in traffic accidents involving distracted driving, including texting, with an estimated 424,000 people injured.3

Distracted driving is more than texting. Distracted driving occurs any time a driver takes their eyes off the road, their hands off the wheel or their mind off their primary task, which is driving safely.

Activities that can cause distracted driving include:

Texting
Using a cell phone or smartphone
Eating or drinking
Talking to passengers
Grooming (shaving, applying makeup, etc.)
Reading
Reading a map
Using a navigation system
Watching a video
Adjusting a radio, CD or MP3

The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that reading a text takes a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of five seconds. At 55 miles per hour, this is similar to driving the length of a football field blindfolded. 4 Texting drivers are 23 times more likely to be involved in a collision than attentive drivers. 5 Those simply aren’t good odds.

At the very least, a traffic accident caused by distracted driving is certain to lead to an increase in a driver’s car insurance rates.

These common sense steps can help prevent accidents and save lives:

Text messages can wait until your car is turned off.
Pull over to the side of the road to read that map.
Input the address into the navigation system before you leave.
Don’t blast the radio.
Allow enough time so you can eat at the restaurant and not while you’re driving.

Getting Your Car Back on the Road After an Accident

 getting-car-back-no-road-accident

Mercury’s Customer Authorized Repair Service (CARS) makes getting your car back on the road quick and painless. Just follow these three easy steps:

  1. If you get into an accident, call Mercury’s 24/7 Claims Hotline at (800) 503-3724.
  2. Your claims representative will refer you to the closest or most convenient Mercury-approved CARS repair facility.
  3. Your vehicle will be repaired by a highly qualified repair facility and Mercury will guarantee those car repairs for as long as you own your vehicle.

Mercury is the Right Call

Mercury makes car repairs seamless, because we’ve taken the guesswork out of finding a quality repair facility. Our CARS-certified shops must meet strict standards in order to earn the opportunity to serve our customers.

A Rigorous Qualification Process
Mercury has dozens of quality-control specialists who continuously audit and inspect our national network of CARS facilities, ensuring high quality repairs and the best possible service. And in order to maintain certification, each facility is constantly monitored on several criteria, including:

  • The quality of their work
  • The time it takes to complete a repair
  • The quality of their customer service
  • The integrity of the business 

We Guarantee It
It’s not mandatory that you go with a CARS facility, but if you do, we’ll guarantee the repairs for as long as you own the car; this includes any and all paint, bodywork and workmanship completed by an approved Mercury repair facility as long as you own the car.

It’s About Time
Your time is valuable and we want you to spend as little of it as possible worrying about your repairs and filling out paperwork. All you have to do is choose a CARS repair facility—we’ll do the rest.

Here’s How We Can Help
Your time is valuable and we want you to spend as little of it as possible worrying about your repairs and filling out paperwork. All you have to do is choose a CARS repair facility—we’ll do the rest.

  • Our claims department communicates electronically with the repair facility for more streamlined processing. If you have car repair questions, we’ll get the answers.
  • Payment for approved car repairs is arranged between Mercury and the CARS facility, so you only cover your pre-determined portion of the cost.
  • In many areas you can even track the status of your car repair online using our repair tracking system, so you’ll know exactly what’s happening with your vehicle repair.

Our Low Rates Are Just The Beginning

Mercury provides everything you’re looking for in an auto insurance company—customized coverage, low rates, excellent service, financial stability and 24/7 claims service.

For a fast, free quote, call Integrity First @ (800) 696-9193