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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.

 

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.

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.

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.