Insurance FAQ

Auto Insurance

What should I consider when purchasing automobile insurance?

There are a number of factors you should consider when purchasing any product or service, and insurance is no different. Here is a checklist of things you should consider when purchasing automobile insurance.

  1. Don’t base your decision on price alone. Base your decision on a measure of value, which is what you get for your money. Consider the quality of the company’s claims service and consumer education.
  2. Purchase the amount of liability coverage which makes sense for you.
  3. You should decide which optional coverages you want. For example, do you want optional physical damage coverages or is the market value of your car too low to warrant purchasing them.
  4. Once you have decided what you want in your automobile insurance policy, you can now decide who you would like to purchase the insurance from. For example, you may decide you like the idea of purchasing insurance from a mutual company rather than a stock company.

What are some practical things I can do to lower my automobile insurance rates?

If you do shop around, be careful to make sure each insurer is offering the same coverage. Many insurers use the ISO policy forms, but this is not always the case. While other insurers will lessen certain protections in order to make the policy cheaper, so you’ll buy it. It’s in these times where we need to remind ourselves that cheaper does not mean better. The best advice is not to buy insurance based on anyone’s quote, but wait until any new policy is issued before comparing your new policy to your old one… and make sure you received the coverage you wanted before canceling your old policy.

Look for any discounts you may qualify for. For example, many insurers will offer you a discount if you insure multiple cars under the same policy, or if you have had a driver education class in the last five years. Be sure to ask us about discount plans.

Another easy way to lower the cost of your automobile insurance is to increase the deductible. Simply raising your deductible from $250 to $500 can lower your premium sometimes by as much as five or ten percent. However, you should be careful to make sure that you have the financial resources necessary to handle the larger deductible.

I have an older car whose current market value is very low - do I really need to purchase automobile insurance?

Most states have enacted compulsory insurance laws that require drivers to have at least some automobile liability insurance. These laws were enacted to ensure that victims of automobile accidents receive compensation when their losses are caused by the actions of another individual who was negligent.

Except for the minimum liability coverages that you may be required to purchase, many people with older cars decide not to purchase any of the physical damage coverages. It is often the case that the cost of repairing the damages to an older car is greater than its value. In these cases, your insurer will usually just “total” the car and give you a check for the car’s market value less the deductible.

Suppose I lend my car to a friend, is he/she covered under my automobile insurance policy?

Whenever you knowingly loan your car to a friend or an associate, he or she most-likely will be covered under your automobile insurance policy. In fact, even if you do not give explicit permission each time a person borrows your car, they most-likely are covered under your automobile insurance policy as long they had a reasonable belief that you would have given them permission to drive the car. If your not sure what your policy’s exact responsibilities are under these conditions, you will want to review the “definitions” section of your policy.

What is the difference between collision physical damage coverage and comprehensive physical damage coverage?

Collision is defined as losses you incur when your automobile collides with another car or object. For example, if you hit a car in a parking lot, the damages to your car will be paid under your collision coverage.

Comprehensive provides coverage for most other direct physical damage losses you could incur. For example, damage to your car from a hailstorm will be covered under your comprehensive coverage.

It is important to know the differences between the collision and comprehensive coverages for a couple of reasons.

  1. In order to make an informed purchasing decision about these optional coverages, you need to know the difference between them.
  2. The deductibles under the collision and comprehensive coverages are often different in amount.

What factors can affect the cost of my automobile insurance?

A number of factors can affect the cost of your automobile insurance – some of which you can control and some which are beyond your control.

The type of car you drive, the purpose the car serves, your driving record, and where you live all affect how much your automobile insurance will cost you.

Even your marital status can affect your cost of insurance. Statistics show that married people tend to have fewer and less costly accidents than do single people.

I lease my car. Do I need GAP insurance?

Whether you lease your car or have an outstanding auto loan, GAP insurance can provide valuable protection during the early years of your car’s life. As we all know, a new car’s value drops the minute you drive it off the lot. And unfortunately, if a bus plows into the side of your new car five minutes after you drive it off the lot, your insurance only covers the actual cash value of the car. At this point, there’s a good chance the insurance payoff isn’t enough to pay off your outstanding lease (or loan) balance.

GAP insurance was created for just such a situation. If a loss occurs (theft, total loss in a collision, etc.), GAP insurance will pay the difference between the actual cash value of the vehicle and the current outstanding balance on your loan or lease. Some lenders and lessors actually require you to carry GAP coverage until the outstanding loan/lease amount drops below the value of the vehicle.

GAP insurance is typically not very expensive, since the coverage amount is relatively small. However, the cost will vary depending on the type and value of the vehicle you purchase.

Homeowners Insurance

What is homeowners insurance and who should buy this type of coverage?

Homeowners insurance is one of the most popular forms of personal lines insurance on the market today. The typical homeowners policy has two main sections: Section I covers the property of the insured and Section II provides personal liability coverage to the insured. Almost anyone who owns or leases property has a need for this type of insurance. And most often, homeowners insurance is required by the lender as part of the requirements in obtaining a mortgage.

What is the difference between "actual cash value" and "replacement cost"?

Covered losses under a homeowners policy can be paid on either an actual cash value basis or on a replacement cost basis. When “actual cash value” is used, the policy owner is entitled to the depreciated value of the damaged property. Under the “replacement cost” coverage, the policy owner is reimbursed an amount necessary to replace the article with one of similar type and quality at current prices. The choice of which policy best suits your needs or desires is up to you when purchasing a homeowners policy, although if you currently have an actual cash value policy we can upgrade your protection to replacement cost for additional premium.

What factors should I consider when purchasing homeowners insurance?

There are a number of factors you should consider when purchasing any product or service, and insurance is no different.

Here is a short list of things you should consider when you purchase homeowners insurance.

  1. First and foremost, purchase the amount and type of insurance that you need. Remember that if your policy limit is less than 80% of the replacement cost of your home, any loss payment from your insurance company will be subject to a coinsurance penalty. Also, determine the amount of personal property insurance and personal liability coverage that you need.
  2. Second, determine which, if any, additional endorsements you want to add to your policy. For example, do you want the personal property replacement cost endorsement, the earthquake endorsement, etc..?

What are some practical things I can do to lower the cost of my homeowners insurance?

There are a number of things you can do to lower the cost of your homeowners insurance.

One way to lower the cost of your homeowners insurance is to look for any discounts that you may qualify for. For example, many insurers will offer a discount when you place both your automobile and homeowners insurance with the them. Other times, insurers offer discounts if there are deadbolt exterior locks on all your doors, or if your home has a security system. Be sure to ask us about any discounts you may qualify for.

Another easy way to lower the cost of your homeowners insurance is to raise your deductible. Increasing your deductible from $250 to $500 will lower your premium, sometimes by as much as five or ten percent. However, be careful to make sure that you have the financial resources necessary to handle the larger deductible.

Where and when is my personal property covered?

Coverage C, which provides named perils coverage, applies to all your personal property (except property that is specifically excluded) anywhere in the world. For example, suppose that while traveling, you purchased a dresser and you want to ship it home. Your homeowners policy would provide coverage for the named perils while the dresser is in transit even though the dresser has never been in your home before.

Do I need earthquake coverage? How can I get it?

Direct damages due to earthquakes are not covered under the standard homeowners insurance policy. However, unless you consider yourself living in an area that is prone to earthquakes, you may not want this coverage. If you do live in a part of the country with high earthquake activity you may want to consider adding an earthquake endorsement to your homeowners insurance policy. This endorsement will cover damages due to earthquakes, landslides, volcanic eruptions and other earth movements.

Will my homeowners policy cover me for losses that occur outside of my home?

There is only one way to find out the answer to this question, and that is to check your policy. Homeowners policies regularly provide protection for off-premise destruction or theft, which covers your possessions while they are outside your home. For example, if your luggage were stolen while you’re on vacation, a homeowner’s policy containing off-premise protection would cover the loss. This type of protection can also protect your kids’ stereo equipment and other possessions when they go off to college – if they live in a dormitory. Once a child moves to an off-campus apartment, he or she will typically need to purchase a separate renters insurance policy to cover their personal property.

If your homeowners policy does not contain off-premise protection as part of your standard coverage, you may be able to purchase this coverage for an additional charge.

You should check the liability portion of your policy to determine your level of coverage for accidents that occur outside your home. Homeowners policies typically cover accidents that occur on your property – if the mailman slips on your sidewalk, or if a neighbor is injured in your backyard. Many policies will even cover you for accidents that occur away from your property. For example, if you run a shopping cart over someone’s foot at the grocery store, many policies will cover the medical bills. But once again, the only way to know whether you’re covered is to carefully read your homeowners insurance policy.

How much of the exterior of my property is covered by homeowners insurance--fencing, driveway, etc.?

Many people don’t realize it, but homeowners insurance covers a lot more than just your house. A standard homeowners insurance policy provides broad protection for personal property and other structures located in and around your home.

Several different types of coverage are included in every standard homeowners insurance policy (HO-1, HO-2, and HO-3–the three standard policy types available for most homes). Coverage A is strictly for the physical structure of your home, including additions permanently attached to the structure (such as an attached garage). Coverage B insures other structures on the premises, including detached garages, fences, swimming pools, driveways, and sidewalks. The limit on this coverage is typically 10 percent of the Coverage A amount. Coverage C insures your personal property, including all of your household possessions and other items such as awnings, outdoor antennas, and carpeting. The limit on Coverage C protection is typically 50 percent of the Coverage A amount. Additionally, all standard homeowners policies include various “additional coverages” for items such as debris removal, trees, and shrubs. Each of these coverages has its own dollar limit.

While homeowners insurance coverage is very broad, there are certain items which are not covered. For example, motorized vehicles (e.g., cars, motorcycles, go carts, golf carts, and snowmobiles) are not covered by your homeowners insurance. Animals, birds, and fish are not protected under homeowners insurance, either.

Keep in mind, too, that your homeowners insurance policy only covers the above-listed property if it is damaged or destroyed by an insured peril. Personal property is only protected against the perils listed in your policy, while your dwelling may be insured against named perils (HO-1 and HO-2) or open perils (HO-3).

My neighbor's tree fell across my fence. Will their insurance cover the damage?

In most cases, your insurance will be the one to cover the damage. Although the tree fell from your neighbor’s property, the damage affected your property. Your homeowners insurance covers damage to your property, so you should make a claim under your policy. Your policy probably also provides coverage to remove the debris from your property (typically up to $500).

There are a few exceptions to this general rule, however. For example, say you notice that your neighbor’s tree has a large, dead branch hanging precariously over your property. You notify your neighbor in writing of this hazard and ask him to address the problem, but he chooses to ignore it. Two weeks later, the branch comes crashing down and destroys your fence. In this case, you may have some recourse against your neighbor’s insurer, because your neighbor had notice of a potential hazard and did nothing to improve the situation. Make sure you keep records of all correspondence and actions regarding the situation, so that you have something to back up your story if you have to contact your neighbor’s insurer.

Complications may also arise depending on what actually caused the tree to fall. If the tree fell in a windstorm, or if it was struck by lightning, there is little question that the damage will be covered. However, certain perils such as floods and earthquakes are not covered under standard homeowners policies. If the tree fell as a result of such an event, the damage may not be covered at all. To find out for sure, you’ll have to contact your insurer.

Renters Insurance

Why would I want to buy renters insurance?

If you live in an apartment or a rented house, renters insurance provides important coverage for both you and your possessions. A standard renters policy protects your personal property in many certain cases of theft or damage and may pay for temporary living expenses if your rental is damaged. (including loss of use). It can also shield you from personal liability. Anyone who leases a house or apartment needs should consider this type of coverage.

How does a renters policy protect my personal property?

A renters policy provides named perils coverage. This means your property is protected from all the perils that are specifically listed on your policy. These usually include:

  • Fire or lightning
  • Windstorm or hail
  • Explosions
  • Riots
  • Aircraft
  • Vehicles
  • Smoke
  • Vandalism or malicious mischief
  • Theft
  • Falling objects
  • Weight of ice, snow, or sleet
  • Accidental discharge or overflow of water or steam
  • Sudden and accidental tearing apart, cracking, burning, or bulging
  • Freezing
  • Sudden and accidental damage from artificially generated electrical current
  • Volcanic eruptions (but this doesn’t include earthquake or tremors)

Renters coverage applies to your personal property no matter where you are in the world. This means you’re covered when you are on vacation as well as at home.

Why do some apartment complexes require tenants to have renters insurance?

The owners of these apartment complexes require their tenants to have renters insurance to ensure that they have personal liability coverage. Owners of apartment complexes carry property insurance to protect themselves in the event that the apartment building is damaged. However, if a negligent tenant causes damage, the owner’s insurer will sue the responsible tenant for the amount of damage they caused. The owner wants to make sure that the tenant has insurance coverage that will protect him or her in this event.

What if I share my apartment with a roommate? Do we both need to have renters insurance?

Standard renters policies cover only you and relatives that live with you. If your roommate is not a relative, each of you will need your own renters policy to cover your own property and to provide you liability coverage for your own actions.

I'm single. Do I need life insurance?

Single people often think they don’t need life insurance, and in many cases, they are right. However, there are many factors that determine your need for life insurance; marital status is just one.

First of all, do you have any dependents? Just because you aren’t married doesn’t mean you have no financial responsibilities. If you have children, or if you provide support for a parent or grandparent, your death could create a serious financial hardship for these dependents. Life insurance can provide a continued stream of income for your loved ones if you die prematurely. It can also provide peace of mind for you, knowing that they will be taken care of when you’re gone.

Do you have a mortgage or other loans that are jointly held with a cosigner? If so, your death would leave the cosigner responsible for the entire debt. You might want to consider purchasing at least enough life insurance to cover these debts in the event of your death. If you have debts for which you alone are responsible, your creditors can make a claim for payment against any assets in your estate.

Are you at risk for any serious medical conditions? If, for example, your family medical history includes certain genetic conditions (diabetes, certain types of cancer, etc.), it may make sense to purchase life insurance while you are young and healthy. Purchasing life insurance after you develop such a condition could be difficult, or even impossible. If you choose to buy insurance for this reason, consider adding a guaranteed insurability rider to your policy. This rider guarantees you the right to purchase additional insurance at specified times, without having to provide proof of insurability.

If you died tomorrow, would you leave enough to cover your funeral expenses? If not, who would be responsible for paying? For many families, even a relatively simple funeral can create a major financial burden. For this reason alone, you might consider purchasing a small life insurance policy, or even a simple burial policy. As an alternative, you could invest the premiums you would spend on such a policy, and make sure your family knows this investment is earmarked for your final expenses, should the need arise.

Even if you determine that you don’t need life insurance, make sure your other insurance needs are covered. You may not realize it, but disability insurance is just as important as life insurance. Statistically speaking, you are much more likely to become disabled than to die prematurely. Disability insurance can replace lost income if you are unable to work due to serious illness or injury.

I applied for a life insurance policy and was told that I would have to take a medical exam. What should I expect at this exam, and is there anything I should do to prepare for it?

Generally, you won’t have to take a complete medical exam if you’re under age 40 and applying for life insurance coverage of less than $100,000. However, the older you are, the less life insurance you can buy without a medical exam. Of course, these figures also depend on your health history and the underwriting guidelines of the insurance company.

A typical medical exam may include a basic physical, blood work, and urine tests. Some insurers also require EKGs and/or treadmill EKGs (stress tests), especially for large life insurance policies. You’ll also have to provide information on your medical history, including the names of doctors you’ve seen, dates you saw them, and any treatment recommended. A nurse or doctor (often an independent contractor) who is paid by the insurance company will normally conduct the exam.

If you have a medical condition, there’s really nothing you can do to hide it. In fact, you shouldn’t try. Insurers have access to an amazing amount of medical information through the Medical Information Bureau, so even if you attempt to obscure the facts, there’s a good chance an insurance company will find the information it needs. In addition, if the insurance company discovers you have withheld information, it will look at everything else much more closely.

There are a number of simple steps you can take to make sure you get the best possible results at your medical exam:

  • Get a good night’s sleep the night before the exam
  • Fast for eight hours before the exam if possible to ensure the most accurate results
  • Don’t smoke for at least one hour before the exam
  • Avoid caffeine for at least one hour before the exam
  • Avoid alcohol for at least eight hours before the exam
  • Don’t engage in strenuous exercise for 24 hours before the exam
  • Limit your consumption of salt and cholesterol for 24 hours before the exam
  • Cancel the exam if you get sick–even a minor infection can distort the results