Thinking about home renovation? Three words: Planning, planning, planning

Home renovation can increase the value of your home, protect your investment, and make your home a more enjoyable place to live. But if you’re thinking about renovating, it’s really important not to shortchange the planning process.

Consumer Reports has some good start-to-finish advice for you in a recent issue. In addition to the short video clip in this post, they offer advice in the article, Home Renovation Without Aggravation. They outline steps you should take in the planning phase through the work phase, with tips to to help combat shady contractor practices and avoid common and costly mistakes many homeowners make.

The feature also includes these useful articles:

One important consideration in any home renovation is maximizing your investment, particularly for resale value. Not all renovations are created equal, some yield a better return than others. We like the infographic and accompanying article from Six Renovations that Actually Increase the Value of Your Home.

Source: Blog

Insurance quiz time! Test your knowledge

Think you know a lot about insurance? Let’s find out. InsureUOnline – a consumer insurance educational resource site – offers a series of quizzes that test your insurance smarts. Here are a few to get you started – click the images to access the quizzes.

Insurance for the “under 30” crowd


Insurance for domestic partners


Insurance for young families


Insurance for seniors

You can find more quizzes, games and apps at InsureUonline or explore other topics. The site is sponsored by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) so it is a very reputable source of information about insurance.

5 steps to kid car seat safety

1. Know your state law: Child Passenger Safety Laws

2. Get the right seat for your child and your vehicle. Learn more about the four Car Seat Types. Make sure you use a car seat that fits your child’s current size and age. Use this chart to learn about Car Seat by Child’s Age and Size

3. Find a car seat. The Car Seat Finder is an easy-to-use tool that lets you do just that. Simply enter your child’s birth date, weight and height above, and you’ll be provided car seat type results that fit your child according to NHTSA’s best practices recommendations.

All car seats rated by NHTSA meet Federal Safety Standards & strict crash performance standards. While all rated seats are safe, they do differ in their ease of use in four basic categories:

  • Evaluation of Instructions
  • Vehicle Installation Features
  • Evaluation of Labels
  • Securing the Child

Learn more about car seat ease-of-use ratings. To help with finding the right seat, you can also use the Consumer Reports ratings & Buyers’ Guides

4. Learn how to install your car seat correctly. This page offers videos and advice for the different types of kid car seats.

5. Register your car seat so you will be sure to get any car seat recall notices that might be issued

Other resources:


Celebrate Great Outdoors Month in June


Since 2008, Governors from across the country have joined the President in proclaiming June as Great Outdoors Month. The event began as Great Outdoors Week under President Clinton in 1998 and grew significantly under both the Bush and Obama administrations. Now it’s a month-long celebration of the outdoors, emphasizing the wonderful resources available to us all in our state and national parks.

It’s the perfect time to celebrate because our National Park Service turns 100 in 2016. You can explore this site to find your park. It’s a great site that let’s you explore parks by location, by event or by experience. This year, there are many special centennial events, which you can search by date.

National Trails Day is June 4

Saturday June 2 is National Trails Day, sponsored by the American Hiking Society. National Trails Day events will take place in every state across the country and will include hikes, biking and horseback rides, paddling trips, birdwatching, geocaching, gear demonstrations, stewardship projects and more. Visit the site to find events and trails near you. Here are more ideas: 5 Activities to Enjoy on National Trails Day at a Park Near You. Even if you can’t participate in Trails Day, the site is a great resource for learning about the national trail system to find ways and places to enjoy the great outdoors!

BBQ Basics: Take the time to review grilling safety tips

barbecue timePlanning to use the grill this holiday weekend? For many, it’s the kickoff to a long and happy season of outdoor cooking. But before you begin – did you know that the top cause of grill fires is failure to thoroughly clean your grill?  That’s not a task to shortchange!  Besides thoroughly cleaning your grill, take a few minutes to review some basic safety information with your family to prevent any problems. The National Fire Protections Association (NFPA) says that, “Each year an average of 8,900 home fires are caused by grilling, and close to half of all injuries involving grills are due to thermal burns. While nearly half of the people who grill do it year-round, July is the peak month for grill fires followed by May, June and August.”

According to NFPA, the main causes of gas grill fires are:

  • Failure to clean the grill – 19%
  • Grill too close to something that could catch fire – 17%
  • Leaks or breaks – 11%

ESPN Sportscenter anchor Hannah Storm relates her survival experience after an explosive fireball engulfed her when trying to reignite her grill. She faults herself for not having taken the time to review safety procedures – a terrible price to pay.

Take the time to clean your grill properly and review some basic equipment and safety guidelines. In this video, NFPA reviews some fire prevention basics:

These fire marshals offer detailed barbecue cleaning and safety tips

And a few other tips …

Turn to IIHS 2016 Top Safety Picks when shopping for a new car

crash-testsIf you’re in the market for a new car, here’s an invaluable research tool: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Picks for 2016. There are a lot of new vehicle features and amenities that are fun to shop for and compare, but what’s more important than safety? Fortunately, IIHS has you covered. They issue annual awards that emphasize both crash avoidance and “crashworthiness,” or how a vehicle will fare when put through actual crash tests. For 2016, IIHS picked 61 cars for Top Safety Pick and 48 of those qualified for Top Safety+, the highest award. Here’s the criteria and a short video about the awards.

To qualify for 2016 Top Safety Pick, a vehicle must earn good ratings in five crashworthiness tests — small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraints — as well as a basic rating for front crash prevention.

To qualify for 2016 Top Safety Pick+, a vehicle must earn good ratings in the five crashworthiness tests and an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention.


The IIHS offers a variety of resources to help you in your research. Here are a few that we found particularly helpful.

Insurance losses by make and model

Driver death rates by make and model

Choosing the best vehicle for your teen

“A list of affordable used vehicles that meet important safety criteria for teen drivers. There are two tiers of recommended vehicles, best choices and good choices. Prices range from about $3,000 to nearly $20,000, so parents can buy the most safety for their money, whatever their budget.”

Crash avoidance features by make and model

Crash avoidance features are rapidly making their way into the vehicle fleet. Six of the most common new technologies are forward collision warning, autobrake, lane departure warning, lane departure prevention, adaptive headlights and blind spot detection. IIHS offers a tool to find out which models come with which features.

Dog owners: protect yourself from an expensive dog bite claim

Do you have a dog? If so, you want to be sure that your dog is trained, that you comply with any state or local restraint laws, and that you are adequately covered by your insurance. Although the number of dog bite claims is trending down, the cost for those claims is trending up – the average dog bite claim is now $37,214. That’s the national average so depending on where you live, the cost might be higher: Arizona was $56,654, California is $44,983 and New York is $44,320. Ouch.

May 15 through 21 is dog Bite Prevention Week. Learn how to prevent dog bites and how to keep dogs from taking a bite out of your insurance.

The Insurance Information Institute has some great information on Dog Bite Liability:

There are three kinds of law that impose liability on owners:

1) A dog-bite statute: where the dog owner is automatically liable for any injury or property damage the dog causes without provocation.
2) The one-bite rule: where the dog owner is responsible for an injury caused by a dog if the owner knew the dog was likely to cause that type of injury—in this case, the victim must prove the owner knew the dog was dangerous.
3) Negligence laws: where the dog owner is liable if the injury occurred because the dog owner was unreasonably careless (negligent) in controlling the dog.

Also, see our prior post about 10 dog breeds that might cause problems with your home insurance

Some insurance companies will limit homeowners insurance availability based on dog breed or dog history. PropertyCasualty360 has an article on the 10 dog breeds most often blacklisted by home insurance carriers.

Many insurance companies don’t have a blanket breed ban. The MSPCA cites several national insurers that will instead “… work on a case by case basis, considering the individual dog’s behavior and history, and may require a meet and greet with the dog and/or a Canine Good Citizen certification.”

And here’s a good infographic from the American Veterinary Medical Association:

dog bite infographic

Everything you need to celebrate Bike Month

May is National Bike Month, time to dust off your bicycle and pull it out of the garage if you haven’t already. Get it out now – we’re getting close to National Bike to Work Week from May 16-20 and Bike to Work Day on May 20!

Here are a few local bike sites that have coordinated activities

We have a checklist of resources to help you get ready for the season:

First, brush up on your state’s bike laws

Next, the League of American bicyclists offers a short video on a Basic Bike Check

Be sure your bike helmet fits right

And don’t forget to make sure you have sufficient insurance for your bike and protect your bicycle from bike thieves

Totaled: Upside-down car loans and when Gap Insurance could be a good idea

Boston Public Library Collection - Leslie Jones

Boston Public Library Collection – Leslie Jones

We recently came upon an excellent vintage photo collection of Boston-area car wrecks from the 1930s. Part of a larger Boston Library Collection, the photos were taken by Leslie Jones, a well-known news photographer of the era. Despite the big solid appearance of the cars, the damage is impressive. There weren’t very many safety features built in to these old behemoths. Many of the wrecks look like the vehicles sustained a total loss.

Generally, a car is “totaled” when it will cost more to repair the car than the car’s actual cash value (ACV) is worth. Of course, it’s a little more complicated than that, as Gary Wickert explains in Claims Journal: When is A Vehicle Considered a Total Loss?

The criteria for deciding when a car is a total loss and when it can be repaired vary from insurance company to insurance company and might even be dictated and controlled by state statute or regulation. Further complicating the issue is the fact that insurance companies do not all use the same sources for determining the value of a vehicle. The threshold used by your insurance company to make this determination can be discovered by calling your insurance agent. Insurance professionals, on the other hand, have to be familiar with these rules, criteria, and thresholds in all 50 states.

If your car is totaled, you’ll be paid only for the ACV of the car after any deductibles have been satisfied. If you own the car outright, the check will be sent to you. But if your car is financed, the payment will go to the bank or finance company.

What if you still owe more on the car than the car is worth?

With today’s low down payments and long-term financing arrangements, it can be easy to find yourself under water in a situation where you owe more than a vehicle is worth – in the auto industry this is called being upside-down on a loan – and today, “… it applies to roughly half of all new-car buyers.” Unless you have Guaranteed Replacement Cost coverage or Guaranteed Auto Protection (Gap insurance), you could be out of luck.

Would you still have to pay what you owe on the wrecked car? Absolutely: the folks at NOLO explain: My Car Was Totaled But I Still Owe Money on It

But what happens if your loan amount is larger than the amount of the insurance company’s check? The very short answer to this question is: you are still legally obligated to make your monthly loan payments to the bank or financial lender until the loan is paid off. The fact that your car was a total loss does not change your loan repayment terms. Your legal obligation to repay the loan continues. The bank or lender still has the right to full repayment of the loan, even though you may no longer have your car.

Nobody plans to be in a car crash, but when buying a new car, Gap Insurance might be a worthwhile option if you’ll be putting little or nothing down for a deposit or if you plan on financing the car over an extended period of time.  Here’s what the Insurance Information Institute says about times when Gap Insurance might be a worthwhile investment. If you:

  • Made less than a 20 percent down payment.
  • Financed for 60 months or longer.
  • Leased the vehicle.
  • Purchased a vehicle that depreciates faster than the average.
  • Rolled over negative equity from an old car loan into the new loan.

III says that car dealers often offer a type of gap coverage, but that it might be cheaper to purchase through your  regular insurance company.  Why not check with your local insurance agent to know your coverage options before buying  a new car?

Why it’s important to monitor your credit history every year

creditYour credit history is very important. A good credit report can help or hurt you when you look for a car loan, a mortgage or some insurance policies. You may be denied loans or credit cards if you history is poor, or you may end up paying higher rates on credit cards or for insurance coverage. (See: Credit-Based Insurance Scores: How an Insurance Company Can Use Your Credit to Determine Your Premium) Some employers may even look at your credit rating as a factor in whether or not to hire you.

You should monitor your credit rating yearly, learn more about what helps and hurts you, and review reports to be sure there isn’t anything inaccurate. Some reasons you should monitor your credit annually:

  • Find problems that are hurting your good rating and try to improve
  • Identify mistakes and get them corrected
  • Watch for signs of potential identity theft
  • Somebody else’s information might be mistakenly attributed to you
  • You might find accounts that are not yours

By law, you can get one free copy of your credit report every year. That includes one copy from each of the three major reporting companies: TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. But you need to be careful about where you get your free credit reports from. Here is the authorized source:

Annual Credit Report at 1-877-322-8228

You will hear a lot of promotions for “free credit reports” – but consumer beware! Many of them make reports free but have some type of a catch – see this short video to learn more.

 What if you find problems in your credit report?

According to, you can take these steps to fix any mistakes or problems:
Write a letter. Tell the credit reporting company that you have questions about information in your report.

  • Explain which information is wrong and why you think so.
  • Say that you want the information corrected or removed from your report.
  • Send a copy of your credit report with the wrong information circled.
  • Send copies of other papers that help you explain your opinion.
  • Send this information Certified Mail. Ask the post office for a return receipt. The receipt is proof that the credit reporting company got your letter.
  • The credit reporting company must look into your complaint and answer you in writing.

The FTC offers more information: