Safeguarding Your Wedding Ring

Wearing a wedding ring is a tradition that dates back centuries. According to The Knot.com, the custom began with the Romans, who believed that “the vein of love” in the fourth finger of the left hand traveled directly to the heart.

Today, brides and grooms still exchange rings as a symbol of love. Because your wedding ring has such deep sentimental value, you want to do all you can to take care of it. Here are some tips from DiamondHelpers.com:

  • Protect the setting – Take your diamond off and put it in a safe place when washing dishes. Never put it near the sink because it can accidentally fall down the drain. Avoid wearing your diamond when gardening or during household repairs, since these activities might scratch the setting or damage the prongs that keep the stone secure.
  • Avoid exposing your diamond to household chemicals – Chlorine and hairspray can accumulate on the surface of a diamond and dull it. Periodic cleanings are crucial if you want to keep your diamond brilliant and prismatic.
  • Clean your diamond – Gently scrub it with a soft-bristle brush in a solution of plain alcohol diluted in warm water. Periodic ultrasonic cleanings by your local jeweler are also recommended to clean hard-to-reach areas under the settings.
  • Check the prongs – Be sure to occasionally take your diamond ring to a trusted local jeweler to check for loose prongs. They can weaken or break, even with normal wear.

Another important way to protect your wedding ring is to have adequate insurance should it be lost or stolen. Start by examining your homeowner’s or renters’ insurance. Although this policy may cover your ring if it is stolen, there may be no coverage if it is lost. Read your policy carefully, as it may have a coverage limit for certain kinds of personal property, such as your wedding ring. If the value of your ring exceeds the policy limit, or if you want to ensure that you have coverage if the ring is lost, consider purchasing a rider.

A rider is an endorsement to a homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy that provides coverage for a particular piece of personal property. Items such as jewelry or furs whose full value is not covered under standard policies are typically covered by riders.

Typically, the additional premium required to insure a wedding ring would be approximately $1-2 per $100 of appraised value. For example, a ring appraised for $10,000 would cost about $100-200 per year to insure, but maybe slightly more in higher crime areas. To request coverage, you must have your wedding ring appraised and provide a certified copy of that appraisal to your insurer.

Using a Cell Phone While Driving Is Similar to Driving Under the Influence

A 2005 study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that drivers who use cell phones while driving were four times more likely to get involved in an accident. It also concluded that accident risk wasn’t affected by whether the driver was using a hand-held phone or a hands-free phone.

New research from Carnegie Mellon University shows that just listening on a cell phone while driving is enough to distract a driver.  In this study, 29 volunteers used a driving simulator while inside an MRI brain scanner. They steered a car along a virtual winding road, driving at a high, fixed rate of speed. They were tested while driving undisturbed, and while driving and trying to decide whether a sentence they heard was true or false. The researchers measured activity in 20,000 brain locations, each about the size of a peppercorn.

After a thorough analysis of the data, the researchers were able to conclude that:

  • When the drivers were tested while listening to the sentence to see if it was true or false, they lost 37 percent of the normal activity of their brain’s parietal lobe. This is significant because this area of the brain is the one motorists rely on the most when driving. The parietal lobe assimilates all the information the body receives from the senses, and uses it to determine how near/far perceived objects are. There was also a decrease in the activity of the occipital lobe, which assimilates visual information.
  • When the drivers were tested while listening, they lost their ability to control the car. They not only were unable to stay in their lane, but they frequently hit objects such as guardrails. These are the kinds of driving errors most closely associated with motorists who drive while under the influence of alcohol.

Debunking Some Popular Car Insurance Folklore

You have probably heard at least one piece of urban folklore regarding some aspect of your daily life. Folklore is a bit of “wisdom” that gets repeated over and over as true, even though it usually has little or no basis in reality. It typically develops when people try to make sense out of a process they perceive as being complex, without bothering to investigate the facts.

Even something as routine as buying car insurance comes with its own folklore. Here are some popular myths:

Myth 1: The color of your car affects your insurance rate. This bit of folklore developed out of another popular myth – that people who drive red cars get more speeding rickets than other drivers. Insurance companies, in anticipation of this phenomenon, supposedly base a driver’s insurance rates on the color of the car they are driving, which is coded into the VIN number of your vehicle.

Truth: Both myths are false. An insurer takes a number of factors into consideration when determining rates, but color isn’t one of them. Driving a red car isn’t necessarily a precursor to a speeding ticket and the VIN number doesn’t provide any information about a vehicle’s color.

Myth 2: It’s more expensive to insure a two-door car than a four-door one.

Truth: It’s possible. Depending on the way companies classify cars when they analyze loss, injuries and claims, something as simple as the number of doors on your car could affect your insurance rates. Thus, one company may associate a relatively low history of claims with a particular model, while another company may have experienced nothing but trouble with the same vehicle.

Myth 3: Parking tickets affect your rates.

Truth: Parking tickets alone won’t affect your insurance rates. However, unpaid parking tickets could lead to license suspension which would affect your insurance rates. 

Myth 4: If I lend my car to a friend and they wreck it, their insurance will cover the damage.

Truth: Your car, your responsibility! And even though you weren’t in the car at the time of the accident, you will still receive a mark on your insurance record and your premium could possibly increase.

What’s the Difference Between Policy Cancellation and Non-Renewal?

In some policyowners’ minds, whether your insurance company cancels your auto coverage, or simply chooses not to renew it, it all means the same – you’re suddenly without insurance. However, it isn’t quite that simple. The difference between cancellation and non-renewal can be a significant factor in finding another auto insurance policy.

There are specific conditions, outlined in each state’s laws, under which an auto insurer is permitted to cancel your policy. Here are some common ones:

  • Failing to pay your premium in a timely manner.
  • Losing your ability to drive because your license was suspended or revoked, or because it expired during the term of the policy. This can also apply to any members of your family who are covered under the policy.
  • Falsifying information on your insurance application.

Your insurer has the right to cancel your policy at any time if you’re guilty of one of these actions. If it decides to do so, it must send you a written notice of the cancellation that explains why your coverage is being cancelled. Depending on the laws of your state, your insurer must provide 10 to 30 days notice before the cancellation becomes effective.

There is one other instance where an insurer has the right to cancel your coverage, and that is during the 60 day binding period immediately following your application. An insurer could cancel your policy during this time if it discovers some information that marks you as an unacceptable risk.

If your auto insurance is cancelled for any reason, you will likely have trouble finding another insurance company willing to issue you a policy. The only cancellation circumstance where the possibility of reinstatement exists, is being cancelled for not paying your premium.

In this case, you would be sent a letter informing you that your premium was not received and providing a specific amount of time to rectify the situation. If the payment is received before the cancellation date, you will receive a letter of reinstatement. However, reinstatement does carry consequences. You will probably have to pay a late fee and an extra premium to cover the period between the cancellation and the reinstatement.

You auto insurer can also elect not to renew your policy. State laws aren’t always as specific about what constitutes reasons for non-renewal as they are about reasons for cancellation.

If your insurer decides not to renew, it is usually because you filed too many claims for at fault accidents, were convicted of driving under the influence, or were cited for too many traffic violations during the previous three to five years.

As is the case with cancellation, your auto insurer has between 10 to 30 days to send written notice of non-renewal, which should explain the reason they chose not to renew. If this isn’t included in your non-renewal notice, request an explanation from your insurer. The one advantage non-renewal has over cancellation is that it is less of a deterrent in finding another company to provide you with auto coverage.

Don’t Be Victimized Twice By a Hit and Run Driver

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that nationally, from 2003 to 2006, one out of every eight accidents was a hit-and-run; however, some regions of the country exceeded the national average.

The South had more than one million reported hit-and-run crashes, making it number one nationwide. The Midwest ranked second with over 835,000 reported incidents. California received state honors for having one of the highest rates of hit-and-run accidents in the nation.

If you are the victim of a hit-and-run, it doesn’t matter where your region ranked on NHTSA’s survey. What is important is that you aren’t victimized twice because you aren’t prepared for the financial consequences. In a hit-and-run accident, you become responsible for all the expenses associated with medical care, car repairs and replacement car rental that normally would have been covered by the at-fault driver’s auto insurance carrier.

That’s why the Insurance Information Institute recommends that you purchase Uninsured Motorist coverage, if not already required in your state. Since being involved in a hit-and-run accident is essentially the same as being in one with an uninsured driver, uninsured motorist coverage will pay the costs resulting from the accident.

Also consider that some auto insurance companies don’t necessarily cover the cost of a replacement rental car, even if a hit-and-run driver damaged yours. So it makes sense to add replacement rental car coverage to your auto policy because it typically costs less per year than the average daily rate for most rental cars.

While having proper insurance protection is important if you are involved in a hit-and-run, the best strategy is to avoid being a victim in the first place. Here are some simple tips to remember:

  • If you have to stop on the highway, be safe — Stop on the right shoulder. Stopping on the left side will increase your chances of being involved in an accident by 80 percent.
  • Carry flares or triangles in your trunk — Use these to mark your location once you come to a stop on the side of the road. You should also put on your hazard lights. Emergency flashers, used in conjunction with flares/triangles, are an effective way of giving other drivers advance warning of your location. Flares/triangles can also act as a backup if flashers become inoperable in the event of a failure in your car’s electrical system.
  • Become a member of an emergency roadside service — Although you may have to wait as long as an hour for assistance, it is preferable to trying to fix the problem yourself. Working on your vehicle in high traffic or where oncoming motorists may not see you is asking for trouble.
  • Maintain your car — Tire blowouts are a common reason vehicles become inoperable. Always keep your tires inflated according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Check your tires periodically for wear and tear, cuts, or abrasions that could cause the tire to deflate while you are driving.

Cutting the Cost of Your Teenager’s Car Insurance

Auto insurance for teenagers has always been expensive, and that will probably never change. It’s common for most parents to add their teen as a named driver to the family auto policy because it is usually the most affordable alternative.

However, less expensive doesn’t mean cheap. That’s because insurers calculate their rates based on the likelihood of a driver getting into an accident. The National Safety Council says that drivers between the ages of 16 and 17 are three times more likely to be killed in a traffic crash than drivers between the ages of 25 and 64. Statistics like these make drivers under the age of 25 bigger risks in the eyes of auto insurance companies, so expect your premium to increase anywhere from 50 to 75 percent.

There are some other important factors that affect how much you will pay when adding your teen to your insurance:

  • Gender – Teenage boys are considered to be more reckless and bigger risk takers than teenage girls. All of that bravado comes with a price, higher rates than for teenage girls.
  • Experience – Lack of driving experience translates into higher premiums because insurers assume that inexperience makes the driver more prone to accidents.
  • Geography – Driving in a high-traffic geographic area is another rate booster because it increases the probability of getting into an accident.

While the deck seems to be stacked against you, there are ways you can lower premiums:

  • Buy them an older model car – Older cars cost less to insure than newer models.
  • Avoid the extrasAll of those add ons that teenagers love, like chrome rims and big stereo systems, will increase the rate you’ll pay.
  • Lower/drop collision coverage on older cars – If the value of the car is less than the product of your annual premium times 10, think about dropping the collision and/or comprehensive coverage portion of your policy.
  • Raise your deductible – A higher deductible can lower your auto insurance rate by 15 to 30 percent.
  • Enroll the teen in a defensive-driving class – This could result in a premium decrease.
  • Obtain car insurance from the same company that provides your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance – Many insurers will offer a 10 to 20 percent discount for multiple lines of coverage.
  • Maintain your credit score – Insurers base your premium in part on your credit score; the higher it is, the lower your rate will be.
  • Ask about low mileage discounts – As gas prices increase, many people aren’t driving their car as much. If you drive less than the annual average miles allotted by your insurer, see if you can qualify for a low mileage discount. 

Can Your Car Insurance Survive a Storm?

With winter coming to a close, it’s time for many parts of the country to start preparing for tropical storms. Such storms can cause massive amounts of damage, not only to your home, but also to your car. Do you have enough auto insurance coverage to withstand that kind of destruction?

The Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I) says that even with comprehensive auto coverage, you may not be fully protected. Comprehensive coverage will pay for losses caused by fire, falling objects, catastrophic storms, vandalism, or animals. It will also protect your car against flood damage.

What you may not be aware of is that even with comprehensive coverage, your auto insurance does not automatically pay for a replacement rental car while your car is being repaired, or while waiting for an authorization from your insurer to purchase a new one.

That’s why it’s important to review your car insurance annually with your insurance agent to determine the extent of your coverage. It’s also a good time to talk about the need for additional coverages such as rental car reimbursement.

Here are a few more tips if your car suffers storm damage:

  • Report damage as soon as possible. If your car is not drivable, your agent or claims center may be able to save you time and money by having the car towed directly to the repair facility instead of to a temporary storage facility. In addition, arrangements may be made immediately to provide you with a replacement rental car, if your policy includes this coverage.
  • Know what your deductible is, as well as any additional charges you will be expected to pay before you authorize any repairs. Be sure your insurance adjuster, claims representative or repair facility appraiser reviews the damage with you and explains the repair process, including the use of original or generic auto parts.
  • Ask about warranties on repairs. You should also find out if your insurer has a repair facility referral program that offers a written limited or lifetime repair warranty backed both by the repairer and insurer for as long as you own your vehicle.
  • Do business only with a reputable insurer. Obtain insurance from companies that have a proven track record of handling auto insurance claims effectively. Get a referral or contact your local Better Business Bureau or State Department of Insurance.

Using Airbags Without Seat Belts Increases Risk of Spinal Cord Injury

The National Safety Council reports that significant cervical spine injuries can result from car crashes occurring at speeds as low as 5 miles an hour and that result in little or no damage to the car itself. According to a recent study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh, the risk of injury increases when airbags are deployed during a crash and the driver and passengers aren’t wearing seat belts.

The cervical spine is the seven vertebrae of the spinal cord that comprise the neck. It can be damaged when it is compressed against the shoulders during a collision or when the head is violently jerked either backwards or forwards, causing injuries to the muscles and ligaments of the neck. The resulting neck sprain is commonly referred to as whiplash.

The research team, lead by Dr. William F. Donaldson III, used data gathered from a Pennsylvania trauma database to identify crashes resulting in spinal cord injuries from 1990 to 2002. They examined approximately 12,700 spinal injury patient records and of these, 5,500 were identified as either drivers or passengers who experienced fractures of the cervical spine.

After studying the cervical spine injury records, researchers found that drivers who were not wearing a seatbelt had a 54 percent rate of cervical spine fractures. However, drivers who used both an airbag and seatbelt had only a 42 percent rate of injury. After adjusting for other factors, the relative risk of cervical spine fracture was 70 percent higher for drivers using an airbag alone compared to drivers who used an airbag and seat belt.

The risk of cervical fracture was approximately seven times higher for passengers who used only an airbag. For both drivers and passengers, men were more likely than women to be injured when using an airbag alone.

Another important discovery the researchers made was that drivers and passengers who used an airbag alone were more severely injured than those who used both. They also spent more time in the intensive care unit and more total time in the hospital.

The results of the study indicate that drivers and passengers who use airbags without seatbelts have a higher rate of cervical spine fractures and have more severe injuries, including injuries to the chest, abdomen, and head. Dr. Donaldson and his team concluded that using a seatbelt with an airbag and maintaining at least 10 inches between the steering column and the sternum may decrease the severity of injuries in general, in addition to reducing the instances of airbag induced cervical spine injuries.

When Your Adult Kids Move Back Home, Double-Check the Insurance

The slow economy of the past few years has exacerbated a trend that was already underway, that of adult children moving back in with their parents. A 2007 study found that one-third of people aged 18 to 34 were living in their parents’ homes. In addition to the issues this trend raises in households with regard to cost-sharing, work-sharing and personal boundaries, insurance issues arise. Home and auto insurance forms are very clear that minor children have coverage under their parents’ policies. This becomes less clear the older the children get, and it becomes ambiguous when they return home after living on their own for some period of time. Parents and their adult children may be risking thousands of dollars in financial loss if they do not handle the insurance correctly.

The standard homeowner’s policy provides coverage for the person named on the policy’s information page, that person’s spouse if a resident of the household, residents of the household who are that person’s relatives, and a full-time student under age 24 who is a relative and who resided in the household prior to moving out for school. Therefore, the policy covers parents and minor children, and it covers college students while they’re away from home. However, it is questionable whether an adult child moving back in with her parents is a resident of the household. Even courts have had trouble setting a precise definition of residency. For example, suppose a woman and her son relocate to her hometown following a divorce and they move in with her parents while she looks for an apartment. Is she a resident of her parents’ household while she’s living with them? Does it depend on how hard she’s looking for a new place? What if she is looking but falls ill and is unable to actively search for a period of weeks? At what point does she become a resident and not merely a guest? There is no hard and fast rule. In situations like these, the best way to eliminate any doubts about coverage may be for her to buy a renter’s insurance policy.

Auto liability insurance, which insures against a person’s legal responsibility for injury or damage to others, has a few other wrinkles. The standard policy covers the person named on the information page, the resident spouse, and any family member for the use of any auto. The policy defines “family member” as a person related to the named insured person by blood, marriage or adoption and who is a resident of the household. Therefore, the woman in the previous example has coverage for the use of any vehicle if she is a resident of her parents’ household (other policy provisions eliminate coverage for certain vehicles.) However, even if she is not a resident, she has some coverage: The insurance covers any person while using a vehicle listed on the policy if she is using the vehicle with a reasonable belief that she has permission. If she is temporarily living with her parents and her father loans her his car to run to the store, she has coverage. However, she does not have coverage while driving a vehicle she owns if her father’s policy does not list it. Again, the solution here is for her to carry her own auto insurance; this makes moot the question of whether she is a resident of her parents’ household.

Insurance companies have designed policies to easily fit households with parents and minor children, but they did not have returning adult children in mind. Because these situations can be complex, it may be best to consult with a professional insurance agent to determine the right approach. The wrong decision can result in a nasty surprise when a claim occurs.

Protect Your Child from the Dangers of Electrical Outlets

When bringing a child into the home, parents take many safety precautions. Unfortunately, those precautions do not always ensure that the child will avoid harm. Electrocution may not happen often, but its effects can be deadly.  Household wiring and large and small appliances cause the majority of electrocutions in the U.S each year. In 1997 (which is the most current data available), the CPSC found that 86 percent of reported injuries involved children 1 to 4 years old. The most common foreign objects stuck into electrical outlets were keys and hairpins. There are several options you can implement to help protect your children against this preventable safety hazard.

Most parents know to install plastic outlet protectors for all the outlets within their child’s reach. But do they really protect as well as we assume? A 1997 Temple University study tested the effectiveness of the different types of plastic outlet protectors with 37 children ages 2 to 4 years. For the round, flat face style protector with two prongs, 47% of the 4-year-olds and 31 % of the 2-year-olds were able to remove this protector. Another oval style had a 3/16″ thick oval face with tapered sides. Again, 47% of the 4-year-olds but only 18% of the 2-year-olds could remove this type of protector. Yet another style with a 1/16″ thick face and lacking tapered sides could be removed by all of the 2- and 4-year-olds!

However, you do have other choices. Some manufacturers make a child tamper-resistant outlet, rather than a cover. They resemble regular outlets, but behind the face of the outlet are plastic shutters. The shutters remain closed until something is inserted into both vertical outlet holes at the same time, at which point the shutters open and the plug can be inserted. This design is based upon the premise that most children will not stick two objects in the same two vertical outlet holes at the same time. This type of outlet costs between $6.00 to $8.00 each compared to a typical electrical outlet receptacle that usually costs no more than $5.00 a piece.

Outlet face covers are another option for you to consider. These covers have faces that swivel or slide over the outlet holes, requiring you to push the cover away while inserting the plug for a secure fit. These covers range from $6.00 to $10.00 each. Both the tamper-resistant outlet and the face covers should be available at your local home improvement or electrical supply store. Whatever type of protection you choose, ensure that you take some of these simple steps to protect your children from this very real safety hazard.