Buying insurance can be confusing, but when the unexpected happens – a house fire, a fender bender or a broken bone – it’s a relief to know that some of those financial losses will be covered. But how do you know how much coverage you need? And what questions should you ask before buying a policy? Many consumers aren’t sure. Insurance coverage is far from one size fits all, so here’s a look at mistakes some consumers make when buying insurance.

1. Assuming insurance is out of reach. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 48 million Americans had no health insurance in 2012. And about 30 percent of U.S. households have no life insurance, according to LIMRA, a worldwide research and consulting organization for insurance and financial services. In some cases, consumers skip insurance because they think it’s out of their budget. Often, that’s not the case, according to Marvin Feldman, president and CEO of the LIFE Foundation, a nonprofit organization that educates consumers about financial planning and insurance. The LIFE Foundation collaborated with LIMRA on the 2013 Insurance Barometer Study, which found that the average consumer thinks life insurance is three times more expensive than it actually is. “[Consumers are] not researching it to determine what the cost is,” Feldman says.

When buying health insurance or property and casualty insurance, ask about potential discounts. “Two-thirds of consumers don’t realize they can get financial help if they buy their own health insurance, and they can get financial help if they go and buy in these health insurance marketplaces,” says Lynn Quincy, senior policy analyst with Consumers Union, a division of Consumer Reports. “You may be way overpaying if you don’t investigate this possibility.” While health insurance discounts are often income-based, homeowners and auto insurers offer discounts for everything from being a member of groups like AARP, to being a good student or a good driver, to having a home security system.

[Read: Is Your College Student Properly Insured?]

2. Relying on assumptions or outdated figures. Changing economic conditions mean you might need more insurance coverage than you had in the past. Take life insurance. In the past, consumers might have based their life insurance coverage on their current income, but “if something happens and you’re no longer around, you need more capital at work to provide the same income [to your beneficiaries],” Feldman says. Disability and long-term care insurance are even more complicated than traditional life insurance. “For disability, do you want coverage that lasts forever? Are there health issues in your family?” Feldman asks. “That’s where you need to speak to somebody to get some guidance.”

In the case of homeowners insurance, your home could be underinsured if you’ve renovated or if the cost to build a home has increased due to higher material costs or other factors. That’s why experts recommend reviewing insurance coverage once a year to make sure it still fits your needs. Talk to your insurance agent if you’re unsure.

3. Shopping on price alone. Comparing insurance policies can be confusing, but resist the urge to simply choose the policy with the lowest premium. Consider the company’s reputation and the coverage you’d get for that premium. “As a general rule with health insurance, the higher the premium, the lower the amount you pay when you go to the doctor,” Quincy says. Private health insurance plans must provide coverage examples showing what your estimated out-of-pocket costs would be for, say, having a baby or managing Type 2 diabetes. Some examples might not apply to you, but they can help you compare plans and see how much you might pay in coinsurance and copays.

“Make sure you’re shopping apples to apples and getting quotes based on the same coverage that you have,” says Lori Conarton, a spokeswoman for the Insurance Institute of Michigan. Your property and casualty insurance may not cover things like food spoilage in the event of a power outage or stolen electronics worth more than $1,000, so you may want to purchase extra endorsements to cover those possibilities, she adds.

With disability or long-term care insurance, prices can vary depending on the length of the elimination period – the amount of time you must wait before coverage kicks in – and whether the policy includes inflation protection, so consider these factors, too.

4. Glossing over the details. Make sure you understand what your insurance policy covers. For health insurance, it’s cheaper to see doctors who are in-network and buy prescription drugs covered by the formulary, so Quincy suggests checking to see if your doctor is in-network and if your prescription drugs are covered before you buy a policy. Otherwise, you could get an expensive surprise.

Read your insurance policy and contact your insurance agent if anything is unclear. “Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t find out what coverage they should have had until they have a loss,” Conarton says. “Here in Michigan, we’ve had a lot of winter weather, and some people don’t know that flooding is not covered under a regular homeowners insurance policy.” However, you can usually buy a separate flood insurance policy. Many people also assume that drain and sewer backups are covered by insurance, but often they’re not, Conarton adds.

[Read: How to Get Your Insurance Claim Paid.]

5. Setting your deductible too low. Setting a low deductible typically means higher premiums, and in the case of property and casualty insurance, a greater likelihood of small claims that could ultimately raise your premiums. Insurance is designed to protect against losses you could not cover yourself, so if you can afford to pay the first $500 or $1,000 in losses yourself, you may not need a lower premium. “Consider your own financial situation,” Conarton says. “How much of the risk are you willing to assume before you make a claim and the insurance company pays on your claim? You really have to think about how much of that loss you could pay yourself.”





Life insurance is not a simple product. Even term life policies have many elements that must be considered carefully in order to arrive at the proper type and amount of coverage. But the technical aspects of life insurance are far less difficult for most people to deal with than trying to get a handle on how much coverage they need and why. This article will briefly examine the top 10 misconceptions surrounding life insurance and the realities that they distort. 

Myth #1: I’m Single and Don’t Have Dependents, so I Don’t Need Coverage
Even single persons need at least enough life insurance to cover the costs of personal debts, medical and funeral bills. If you are uninsured, you may leave a legacy of unpaid expenses for your family or executor to deal with. Plus, this can be a good way for low-income singles to leave a legacy to a favorite charity or other cause

Myth #2: My Life Insurance Coverage Needs Only Be Twice My Annual Salary
The amount of life insurance each person needs depends on each person’s specific situation. There are many factors to consider. In addition to medical and funeral bills, you may need to pay off debts such as your mortgage and provide for your family for several years. A cash flow analysis is usually necessary in order to determine the true amount of insurance that must be purchased – the days of computing life coverage based only on one’s income-earning ability are long gone. 

Myth #3: My Term Life Insurance Coverage at Work Is Sufficient
Maybe, maybe not. For a single person of modest means, employer-paid or provided term coverage may actually be enough. But if you have a spouse or other dependents, or know that you will need coverage upon your death to pay estate taxes, then additional coverage may be necessary if the term policy does not meet the needs of the policyholder. 

Myth #4: The Cost of My Premiums Will Be Deductible
Afraid not, at least in most cases. The cost of personal life insurance is never deductible unless the policyholder is self-employed and the coverage is used as asset protection for the business owner. Then the premiums are deductible on the Schedule C of the Form 1040

Myth #5: I Absolutely MUST Have Life Insurance at Any Cost
In many cases, this is probably true. However, people with sizable assets and no debt or dependents may be better off self-insuring. If you have medical and funeral costs covered, then life insurance coverage may be optional. 

Myth #6: I Should ALWAYS Buy Term and Invest the Difference
Not necessarily. There are distinct differences between term and permanent life insurance, and the cost of term life coverage can become prohibitively high in later years. Therefore, those who know for certain that they must be covered at death should considerpermanent coverage. The total premium outlay for a more expensive permanent policy may be less than the ongoing premiums that could last for years longer with a less expensive term policy. 

There is also the risk of non-insurability to consider, which could be disastrous for those who may have estate tax issues and need life insurance to pay them. But this risk can be avoided with permanent coverage, which becomes paid up after a certain amount of premium has been paid and then remains in force until death. 

Myth #7: Variable Universal Life Policies Are Always Superior to Straight Universal Life Policies Over the Long Run
Many universal policies pay competitive interest rates, and variable universal life (VUL) policies contain several layers of fees relating to both the insurance and securities elements present in the policy. Therefore, if the variable subaccounts within the policy do not perform well, then the variable policyholder may well see a lower cash value than someone with a straight universal life policy. 

Poor market performance can even generate substantial cash calls inside variable policies that require additional premiums to be paid in order to keep the policy in force. 

Myth #8: Only Breadwinners Need Life Insurance Coverage
Nonsense. The cost of replacing the services formerly provided by a deceased homemaker can be higher than you think, and insuring against the loss of a homemaker may make more sense than one might think, especially when it comes to cleaning and daycare costs. 

Myth #9: I Should Always Purchase the Return-of-Premium (ROP) Rider on Any Term Policy
There are usually different levels of ROP riders available for policies that offer this feature. Many financial planners will tell you that this rider is not cost-effective and should be avoided. Whether you include this rider will depend on your risk tolerance and other possible investment objectives. 

A cash flow analysis will reveal whether you could come out ahead by investing the additional amount of the rider elsewhere versus including it in the policy. 

Myth #10: I’m Better off Investing My Money Than Buying Life Insurance of Any Kind
Hogwash. Until you reach the breakeven point of asset accumulation, you need life coverage of some sort (barring the exception discussed in Myth No.5.) Once you amass $1 million of liquid assets, you can consider whether to discontinue (or at least reduce) your million-dollar policy. But you take a big chance when you depend solely on your investments in the early years of your life, especially if you have dependents. If you die without coverage for them, there may be no other means of provision after the depletion of your current assets. 

The Bottom Line
These are just some of the more prevalent misunderstandings concerning life insurance that the public faces today. Therefore, there are many life insurance questions you should ask yourself. The key concept to understand is that you shouldn’t leave life insurance out of your budget unless you have enough assets to cover expenses after you’re gone. For more information, consult your life insurance agent or financial advisor.




If you’re young, single, and think you don’t need life insurance, you may want to reconsider, especially if you’re paying off student loans.

According to a June 26, 2013, forbes.com article, student debt load topped $1 trillion as two-thirds of students graduate with debt. There are nearly 37 million student loan debt borrowers in the U.S. currently repaying a student loan, according to The Federal Reserve.1

That’s a whole lot of debt, some of which you may carry. If you were to die before your debts were paid off, who do you think will have to carry that burden?

Well, depending on the type of debt and its terms, if you had a co-signer, such as your parents or grandparents, it will likely be them, or possibly their estate if they are no longer living. Think about that before you say you’re young and single and couldn’t possibly have a need for life insurance. You may need it just as much as someone raising a family.

Truth is, most people rarely consider life insurance while they’re in their 20s because they mistakenly believe it is only something their parents buy to protect themselves in case one of them dies and the surviving spouse is saddled with paying all the expenses.

And although you may not be married yet or, perhaps, like an increasing number of young Americans, marriage is not part of your plans for the foreseeable future, your death would still have a financial impact on your loved ones.

Plus, there are actually a number of benefits you gain by purchasing life insurance at a young age.

First, if you were to buy life insurance today, it would likely ensure that you would be eligible for insurance in the future—even if the state of your health changes.

Second, the older you get the more expensive insurance becomes. However, the opposite is usually true if you buy now. The cost of permanent life insurance essentially ‘freezes’ at the rate when you first purchase it, as long as you continue to pay the premiums.

Look ahead. Who knows what college financing will look like in the future? With permanent life insurance in place, you may be able to take a loan against the cash value of the policy to help your kids or grandkids with their education.2 It’s hard to imagine now, but you just never know.

If you are single, don’t overlook the need for life insurance. For more information about the types of coverage available, start your research at Individual Life Insurance.

Do’s And Don’ts When Insuring Your Home


1)  Recognize that underinsurance after a total loss is a very common problem.Many homeowners find themselves underinsured after a total loss even though they followed their agent or insurer’s recommendations. If you find yourself in this position, get educated and enforce your rights. The promise of security that insurers advertise and sell is part of the contract you paid for. It’s up to you to enforce your rights under that contract. Search UP’s website for details on underinsurance.www.unitedpolicyholders.org.

2)  Establish a contact at a reputable insurance company, agent or broker’s office that is qualified and authorized to advise you on properly insuring your home. The advice you’ll get from an agent that only represents one insurance company will be different from the advice you’ll get from an “independent” agent or broker that represents several competing companies.

3)  Be specific that you want to make sure your home is properly insured and that you want to buy full replacement coverage. Many agents fear that if they tell you the true cost of fully insuring your home you will go elsewhere to find a cheaper policy. Be clear that you will pay a fair premium for full replacement coverage and insist you don’t want to gamble or underinsure your home.

4)  Answer all questions truthfully so the insurance company knows the size of your home, other structures, the style of construction, major improvements, unusual features and your high value personal property items.

5)  Follow the insurer, agent or broker’s recommendations on increasing or maintaining your limits. Get and keep a record of the insurer, agent, or broker’s confirmation that your limits are adequate.

6)  For extra security, buy the highest percentage replacement cost endorsement you can afford. This is a “fudge factor”. If you suffer a major loss and it turns out your insurer set your limits too low, this endorsement is designed to bridge the gap. Replacement cost endorsements are sold as percentage amounts above your stated dwelling limits. Most insurers offer 25-100% above limits. Shop around for this important protection.

7)  Figure out the cost to replace your contents and adjust your policy limits accordingly. Some items such as jewelry, art items and collectibles may be better insured if they’re specifically listed in your policy contract. This is known in the industry as “scheduling.” Scheduled personal property items are listed with separate coverage limits in a document that becomes part of the policy contract.

8)  Make sure you have enough contents coverage. A replacement cost endorsement that increases your dwelling limits may not also increase your contents limits. Most insurers set the limits for your possessions, (“contents”) as a percentage of the limits on your dwelling. Contents limits are typically set at 50-75% of dwelling limits. Most insurers sell a replacement cost endorsement that only increases dwelling limits. This means your contents limits will stay at the amount stated on your “declarations page” even if the replacement cost endorsement kicks in to increase your dwelling limits. A few insurers sell a policy that allows both dwelling and contents limits to increase. If yours doesn’t, make sure you get confirmation that your limits in all categories are high enough or buy coverage elsewhere.

9)  Make sure your policy offers adequate coverage for building code upgrades.The safest bet is full building code upgrade coverage, which is available from companies such as Fireman’s Fund, Safeco, Chubb, and Allied. Most other insurers offer either an extra 10% for building code upgrade coverage or a flat $25,000.

10)  Your Additional Living Expense (ALE) limits should cover rent, etc. for at least two years after a total loss. Many companies require you to use your ALE coverage within 12 or 24 months after a loss, even if you haven’t exhausted the limits. This can be a problem because it always takes longer to rebuild than you anticipate, especially in a disaster area. If your insurer only offers 12 months of ALE, consider switching to a competitor. You may not have to pay a lot more for better ALE coverage. If your insurer offers a fixed dollar amount with no time limitation, divide that amount by 24 months to compare the coverage. Some policies refer to ALE as “Loss of Use.”

11)  Make sure you tell your agent about improvements to your home. Most carriers require you to report any renovations costing $5,000 or more.

12)  Take steps to make your home eligible for better, cheaper coverage. To qualify for the best coverage, homeowners need a newer roof, updated plumbing, wiring, heating system, and a bolted foundation. Ask your agent what you can to do to lower your risk of loss.

13)  Opt for higher deductibles. Increasing your will lower your premium. You’re generally better off paying small claims out of pocket anyway, especially until insurance regulators reign in “use it and lose it”. “Use it and Lose It” refers to some insurers’ recent practice of refusing to renew the policies of customers who file claims. This allows insurers to continue to collect premiums but shrink payouts by discouraging customers from filing claims…use your insurance, lose your insurance!

14)  Avoid extra headaches after a loss: Photograph or videotape your home and contents and store copies of the photos or the negatives off-premises.

15)  If your agent contacts you at renewal time to review your coverages, spend time with him or her discussing your policy limits and insist again that you want to make sure you’re fully insured.

16)  To be extra safe, check the dwelling limit (“Coverage A”) that appears in your policy against what you know about your home and construction costs in your area. If they don’t match, ask your agent or insurer to explain why they don’t. Contact reputable homebuilders in your area to determine the current range of per square foot construction prices for your type and size home. Apply that range to your home; add at least 15-20% to account for future price increases and post-disaster price spikes and compare it with the dwelling limits your insurance company has set. Discuss and resolve any discrepancies with your insurer, agent or broker.

17)  Double check the formula your agent or insurer used to set your dwelling limits (“Coverage A”). Ask the agent or insurer to send you a copy of the worksheet he or she used to calculate the cost to rebuild your home. Some insurers give their agents worksheets that are designed for calculating homes less than 3,000 square feet with newer construction. These worksheets may cause homes that have unique characteristics or higher quality of materials to be underinsured. If your home is large enough, your insurer may send out an appraiser, and if they do, make sure you get a copy of the appraiser’s report.


1)  Don’t rely on the purchase, appraised or estimated sale price of your home to set your dwelling limits. That is not predictive of the cost to rebuild.

2)  Don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish by buying the lowest priced homeowners policy. Your home is your biggest asset – make sure it’s covered.

3)  Don’t understate the size and amenities of your home to get a lower premium quote.

4)  Don’t underestimate your personal possessions. You’ll be surprised how much it costs to replace what you had if you suffer a major loss.

5)  Don’t be afraid to switch insurers to get a better policy. Loyalty doesn’t benefit you in this context. Many homeowners pay premiums to an insurer for 20 years without ever filing a claim, but when they suffer a major loss and find themselves underinsured – that customer loyalty doesn’t matter. Don’t expect your insurer to reward you by increasing your limits without a fight, just because you’ve been a long time customer. It just doesn’t happen.

6)  Don’t wait until after a loss to get appraisals of valuables. Do store copies off-premises.


Term Life Insurance For People Over Age 50, 60 And 70

In a number of blogs and financial sites there have been an ongoing abundance of articles and comments regarding the cost and availability of life insurance for people over age 50, 60 or 70. Unfortunately, a lot of the information and opinions provided are just plain wrong! For example, a major financial portal, in an article entitled “Term or Whole Life” states:

“……… people who need coverage starting in their 60s and beyond may have no alternative but to buy whole life. Most companies simply won’t sell policies to people over about age 65.”

What a bunch of baloney! Right now, I’m looking at term life quotes for a male born January 1, 1938, making him age 74. The quotes I’m seeing show the availability of 10 year, 15 year and 20 year guaranteed term insurance and hybrid term policies from numerous top rated companies.

Not only is life insurance readily available, all underwriting classes (Standard, Preferred and Preferred Plus) are also open to applicants. There is no penalty for being over 50 or 60 or 70.

These quotes are not from marginal or specialized life insurance companies. Even after the ongoing financial markets turmoil, the companies offering these term insurance products are all rated at least A and A+ by A M Best and offer the most competitive rates available in the marketplace. Don’t you know that Lincoln National, ING, Transamerica , West Coast and other top tier insurers would be shocked to hear that they won’t sell you a policy if you’re “over about age 65?”

There is no penalty for being over age 50, 60 or 70 when you are shopping for term life insurance. Don’t be led astray by financial columnists, insurance agents, financial planners or your friends. Do your own research.



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Does Volunteering Your Time Mean Volunteering Your Insurance

Millions of Americans donate time—their most valuable asset—to serve as a volunteer board member on non-profits, booster clubs, churches, PTAs and civic organizations, just to name a few. The decisions these folks make can have a dramatic impact on their respective organization—and not always for the better. If a volunteer endeavor goes bad, would a volunteer board member have coverage against a lawsuit under his or her homeowner’s policy?

Homeowners’ Insurance

The last thing volunteers want to consider is what would happen if their favored organization file suit against them as a result of their efforts. But it happens, and not infrequently. This does happen, especially when volunteers make decisions that directly influence the finances of an organization. Often, the only insurance these volunteers have to back their efforts is a homeowner’s policy. Unfortunately, this policy may be of little assistance. The reason homeowners’ policies do not usually cover liability stemming from actions as a volunteer is the nature of the claim. The policy is designed to cover claims of “bodily injury,” such as someone slipping on cracked pavement in your driveway; and/or “property damage,” such as accidentally setting your neighbor’s house ablaze when burning some brush on a windy day.

Claims against board members do not usually involve bodily injury or property damage. Rather, they involve bad decision making that results in financial loss to the organization, such as the decision to invest in an IT system that turns out to be a debacle, costing the organization tremendous time and money.

There is another problem. Homeowners policies do not cover “professional services.” This is important to note, because board members are often asked to serve in a capacity consistent with their profession. For example, a church member who is a CPA may be asked to serve on the church’s board as finance chairman. Even though he is not paid for his services, the “professional services” exclusion under his homeowner’s policy would still apply.

In addition to the above, homeowners policies do not cover claims of personal injury unless this coverage is specifically added. Personal injury insurance is added to the homeowner’s policy to cover claims such as libel, slander, wrongful eviction, and false advertising.

What to Do

Events causing claims are unpredictable. While the reasons shown above prove it’s unlikely, not all claims against volunteer board members are excluded by a homeowners policy. Decisions to purchase personal injury coverage and a personal umbrella policy will increase your ability to find coverage for a suit against you.

The best method for insuring the actions of board members is for the organization to purchase a directors and officers (D&O) liability policy. These policies are relatively inexpensive for most non-profits. Before volunteering, request information on the organization’s D&O policy. The absence of this insurance leaves you at risk of having no personal insurance to defend a suit brought against you by the organization and should influence your decision to serve.