Stratford Insurance Blog

Part of a Homeowner’s Association? Check your association’s Master policy.

March 30, 2012 by Stratford Insurance Group

Most condo, town-home, and other communities are bound together by a Homeowner’s Association. For each homeowner, that usually means an annual fee.

What does the homeowner’s association have to do with your insurance? Quite a bit, actually: From an insurance standpoint, if anybody got insured on the association’s joint property, such as, for example, a walkway or a playground, the association would be held liable. That’s why each homeowner’s association has a Master policy in place. The question is: What does the Master policy cover?

Some Master policies don’t provide high enough protection, so if a loss occurs that exceeds the policy limits, each homeowner in the association will share an equal part in the liability. In that case, you may be required to pay a share of hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

If you don’t have the right protection on your homeowner’s insurance, that money would need to come out of your pocket. Luckily, your homeowner’s insurance can be adjusted to provide you with adequate protection. You might want to discuss your situation with your insurance agent.

Least Expensive Cars to Operate

March 28, 2012 by Stratford Insurance Group

Kiplinger.com, in a new article, 10 Cheapest Cars to Own, says the following 2012 cars are among the least expensive to operate:

  • Nissan Versa
  • Ford Fiesta
  • Kia Soul
  • Scion iQ

Although these are small cars, there is a surprising amount of passenger and cargo space in each (well, not so much in the iQ!). But if you are interested in saving money, having a safe car, getting good gas mileage, and possibly lower your insurance rates, you might want to look at these cars.

Insurance You Didn’t Know You Had

March 26, 2012 by Stratford Insurance Group

Note: This information is from Liz Weston, one of the Web’s most-read personal-finance writer. The complete article can be found at MSN Money.

Tombstone damage … If a vandal destroys or carries off a loved one’s headstone, it might be covered under your homeowners insurance. The damage would be subject to the same restrictions that apply to other coverage. Theft and vandalism damage are typically covered losses, but natural disasters often aren’t.

Massage … It turns out that you can get your shiatsu subsidized, depending on your coverage and the circumstances. Your doctor can prescribe massage to help you recover from a car accident or an on-the-job injury, for example. If your insurance covers chiropractic care, it may also cover massage ordered by the chiropractor.

Stupid Kids … Parents in most states can be held financially responsible for damage caused by their minor children. Fortunately, many homeowners insurance policies will help pay the bill — depending on the child’s age, the circumstances and the policy language. A big exception: Insurance policies won’t pay for damage resulting from “intentional,” “malicious” or “illegal” acts. If your little Sally accidentally knocks a baseball through the neighbor’s plate-glass window, your homeowners insurance may kick in. If she hurls a brick through the same window, though, you’re on your own for the costs of the replacement.

Stupid Pets … You’re out on a walk with Dudley, your mild-mannered pooch. Suddenly, the mutt gets it into his head that a passing pedestrian poses a deadly threat. Without warning, he lunges to the end of his leash and sinks his fangs into her leg. A few days later, the pedestrian sends you her rather hefty emergency-room bill, and there’s talk of emotional distress and lost wages. Once again, it’s your homeowners insurance policy to the rescue — maybe. Many insurers have gotten so sensitive to dog-bite claims that they won’t insure owners of certain breeds or dogs that have already bitten someone. To get insurance, these owners often have to agree to an exclusion that prevents them from making a claim related to the animal.

The Dorm Thief … College dorms are packed with tempting goodies, including computers, televisions, music players and bicycles. The good news, according to the Insurance Information Institute: If you live in a dorm and you’re considered a dependent of your parents, their homeowners insurance policy covers your stuff from destruction and theft — with one big exception. Few insurance policies cover the value of digital music collections or other computer files. So if the thief makes off with your iPad plus the computer that contains your music and video library, you wouldn’t get financial help replacing files potentially worth thousands of dollars. That’s yet another reason it’s essential to back up all your files regularly and store the backups off-site or online.

Counterfeit Cash … If you unknowingly accepted a bunch of bogus Benjamins, you may not be completely out of luck. Homeowners and renters insurance typically provide a limited amount of coverage for losses due to counterfeit money, check forgery and credit card fraud. The limits are usually low, $500 to $1,000, and deductibles may apply.

OSHA Revises HazCom Standard to Align with GHS

March 23, 2012 by Stratford Insurance Group

Note: This post is for our business clients, particularly those who handle chemicals.

On March 20, 2012, OSHA filed a final rule with the Federal Register revising the manner in which employers are required to communicate chemical hazards to their employees. The rule, which will take effect in stages through 2016, was written to align the American system with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, commonly referred to as GHS. The new rule adjusts the way chemical labels and material safety data sheets (which will be referred to simply as safety data sheets moving forward) are written to better communicate hazards to employees. These changes are expected to affect 40 million workers at 5 million American workplaces.

Earthquake Preparedness

March 21, 2012 by Stratford Insurance Group

Monday’s post asked the question “Are You Prepared for a Disaster?“. Little did we know there would be a 7.4 earthquake in Mexico the next day. Luckily, there was only moderate damage and apparently no one was seriously injured. It seems appropriate to offer some information about preparing for an earthquake while the Mexico quake is fresh in our minds.

Before an Earthquake

  • Assess your home’s vulnerability to earthquakes, especially if you live near a fault line. You can obtain fault zone, maps from your city or county planning department or check with your independent insurance agent for further information.
  • Locate a safe place in every room where you can go when an earthquake occurs. Choose a place away from windows where nothing can fall on you, preferably under a sturdy table or desk, or under an interior doorway. Help quake-proof your home by bolting tall furniture and the water heater to wall studs. Attach mirrors, pictures and other objects securely to the wall. Do not hang glass-framed pictures behind your bed. Use flexible connectors for gas-fueled appliances to prevent them from snapping.
  • Install strong latches on cupboards to prevent objects from falling out.
  • Make sure your house is bolted to the foundation. If you live in a mobile home, make sure it is securely anchored down. Check with your local building inspector to determine if walls need additional bracing.
  • If a severe earthquake does occur, you may be asked to evacuate. Have your disaster supplies kit packed and ready to go.

During an Earthquake

  • The shaking that occurs during an earthquake typically only lasts for a few seconds, although it may seem like an eternity. To protect yourself, remember these three words: duck, cover and hold.
  • Move away from windows and exterior doors.
  • Lie low and take cover, preferably under a table, desk or other safe spot. Protect yourself by curling up, if you can. Cover your head, spine and chest areas. Hold onto the furniture and be prepared to move with it.
  • If you’re in a high-rise building, move against an interior wall: Again, try to find a desk or table to crawl under. Do not use the elevators. Expect the fire alarms and sprinklers to go off.
  • If you’re in a car, pull over and stop. Avoid bridges and overpasses. Stay in the car until the shaking stops.
  • If you’re outdoors, find a spot away from buildings, trees and power lines. Lie on the ground.
  • If you’re on a sidewalk near buildings, try to duck into a doorway to protect yourself from falling glass or debris.

After an Earthquake

  • Be prepared for aftershocks. Although they may be smaller and less intense than the main quake, they could cause additional damage or cause tottering buildings or other structures to fall. Stay indoors until after the shaking stops and you’re sure it’s safe to exit.
  • If no one in your house is injured, place a sign saying “all OK” on the door so emergency teams can assist those who do need help.
  • Check your house carefully for chimneys or walls that might be damaged and ready to fall.
  • Reposition anything in your closets and cupboards that may be damaged or ready to fall.

Are You Prepared for a Disaster?

March 19, 2012 by Stratford Insurance Group

Most Americans are not fully prepared in the event of a natural disaster, according to a new national survey by Trusted Choice® and the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (the Big “I”).

Of all survey respondents, less than 22% said they felt they are fully prepared in case of a disaster. More than half of respondents (51%) admitted they are only somewhat prepared, and more than a fifth of households (22.7%) reported that they were not prepared at all.

The survey further revealed that many households have not even taken the most basic steps to protect against a disaster. For example, more than two-thirds of those surveyed (67.7%) said they had not created a photo or video home inventory of their belongings. More than 40% have not assembled a disaster and emergency supplies kit in their homes. Sixty-eight percent of homeowners have not made any structural improvements or reinforcements to better protect their property from a disaster.

Of all survey participants, almost 36% said they don’t have or don’t know if they have adequate insurance coverage to help them through a disaster, and an alarming 62% say they have never discussed a complete disaster preparedness plan with an insurance agent.

Because this is such an important topic, watch for more related posts during the coming weeks.

Who Really Needs Your Social Security Number?

March 17, 2012 by Stratford Insurance Group

Believe it or not, Social Security numbers were not intended to be used for identification when they were introduced in 1936. But, some 75 years later, nearly every form we fill out asks for our Social Security number. To reduce your risk of identity theft, you should only disclose your number when absolutely necessary. Since the advent of Social Security, many federal and state government agencies have begun to require Social Security numbers. While many federal and state agencies are required to obtain your number, some are not. If an agency requests your number, it must tell you the following:

  • Whether or not you are required to provide your number;
  • How your number will be used; and
  • The specific law that gives them the power to request it.

In addition to government agencies, some private businesses (including insurance agencies) must obtain your Social Security number. Generally, private businesses must obtain your number if you’re engaged in a transaction with any type of tax implication. Additionally, if businesses could potentially launder money or fund terrorism, Social Security numbers are required by law. If a private business must obtain your number, it should be able to explain why.

Do You Need An Umbrella Policy?

March 15, 2012 by Stratford Insurance Group

Many think that an umbrella policy is too expensive and only for wealthy people. But, in reality, many people are candidates for umbrella coverage because of their typical possessions and everyday activities. So who could benefit from an umbrella? People who:

  • Drive a car or let someone else use their car.
  • Host dinner parties or other gatherings.
  • Use social media sites.
  • Have children and participate in carpools or other activities.
  • Own a home, rental properties or multiple residences.
  • Have a pool, hot tub, trampoline, ATV, boat, motorcycle or other ‘toy’.
  • Have a pet or occasionally watch a pet for someone else.
  •  Travel overseas and rent a car.

While many of these activities are covered by underlying policies, a few are not and a personal umbrella policy may apply in that instance. For example, most auto policies have geographical restrictions, but most umbrella policies provides worldwide coverage. An umbrella policy will also protect you if the damages exceed the limits of your underlying policies. In addition:

  • Umbrellas may kick in when underlying home and auto policy limits are exhausted and can help fill potential gaps in coverage.
  • Liability coverage on an auto insurance policy can fall short if you’re in a catastrophic car accident.
  • Damages can add up quickly if you are sued for hospital bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
  • If you’re sued for an accident and can’t pay the damages, plaintiffs can go after your income and, in some states, your retirement savings.

Personal umbrella policies are very affordable. A $1 million umbrella, in most cases, is less than $200 per year.

Should You Decrease Your Homeowner’s Coverage?

March 13, 2012 by Stratford Insurance Group

Reducing your homeowners insurance because the value of your home has declined seems logical. But there’s a very good reason why this is one way you don’t want to save money. Home values have fallen so far and so fast that when you get your insurance renewal, it’s easy to feel that you’re grossly over-insured. However, you need to insure your home for the replacement value, not the market value. If you suffer a catastrophic loss, the cost to rebuild would be far higher than what you could sell your home for right now.

Consumer Reports Money Adviser recently reported that about two-thirds of homeowners are significantly under-insured. The average home is now worth a third less than it was five years ago. But, at the same time, the cost of reconstruction is up. So the typical person who thinks they’re over-insured is actually under-insured.

To make sure you are adequately insured, talk with your agent or insurance company. Insurers used to rebuild even if you didn’t have enough stated coverage, but that’s no longer the case. It’s up to you and your agent to stay on top of this.

To save money you may want to raise the deductible on your policy. Some mortgage lenders have a cap on how high you can set your deductible so check with yours about any limitations. As you bump up your deductible and the level of coverage, you could have an even lower premium than you do now. But, should you have a claim, there will be more initial dollars coming out of your pocket. But Consumer Reports Money Adviser says that only 6% of people make a claim during a five year period of having a policy, so the likelihood that you would is tiny.

Here We Go …

March 11, 2012 by Stratford Insurance Group

Now that our new website is live, you can look forward to frequent posts from one or more of our insurance experts. We will strive to only post information that we feel is relevant to our clients. And, we welcome your comments on our posts.

For now, use the “Subscribe via RSS” button at the right to automatically have new blog posts appear automatically in Google Reader, or whatever reader you use.

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