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
AnnualCreditReport.com

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 consumer.gov, 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:

Boston Marathon Monday 2016 Toolkit

Marathon runners on the run in cityThis year will mark Boston’s 120th Marathon and the forecast is sunny and warm. If you plan to attend, we’ve gathered some links and tools to help you prepare … or if you’re an armchair observer, we have links to mobile devices, social media sites and online streaming. Remember. Marathon Monday coincides with Patriots Day, which is  a legal holiday in Massachusetts – one of only two states to commemorate the day as a holiday.

Boston Marathon Event Information

Get a route map or download a mobile app to track runners

Policies for 2016 Boston Marathon Spectators (PDF)

Mile-By-Mile Guide To The Boston Marathon

Your guide to the 2016 Boston Marathon route, start times and more

Transportation in the Greater Boston area on Marathon Monday

Follow on social media: Boston Marathon Twitter and Boston Marathon Facebook

Watch online: Official Online Streaming site

Spectator Guidelines – what not to bring (click link for larger)

Boston Marathon security - what not to bring

Security: If you see something, say something

As summer approaches, are your windows kid-proof?

window safetyWe’re a little late in jumping on the National Window Safety week bandwagon – it runs from April 3 to 9 this year – but we’d maintain that window safety isn’t an issue that should be confined to a single week of the year. The National Safety Council says that “Window Safety Week coincides with the arrival of spring, when homeowners naturally want to open the windows and let in fresh air. Its goal is twofold: For families to understand the role of windows in escaping a fire or other emergency and to learn to safeguard against accidental window falls.”

Every room should have two ways to exit – usually, that is at least one door and one window. The National Safety Council offers these window safety tips as part of your escape plan.

  • Make sure windows are not nailed or painted shut
  • Do not install air conditioners in windows that may be needed for escape
  • Make sure at least one window in each bedroom meets escape and rescue requirements
  • Window guards, security bars, grilles or grates render windows useless in an emergency unless they have a release mechanism; update them if necessary
  • Develop an emergency escape plan and practice it during the day and at night
  • Keep emergency escape ladders in second- or third-story bedrooms and teach everyone in the home how to use them

If you have young children, you have another safety issue to consider. Every year, more than 3,300 children under the age of 5 fall from windows, suffering injuries serious enough to send them to the hospital; sadly, about eight children a year die from these falls.

The Window Safety Task Force offers these tips to protect children from window falls:

  • Avoid the placement of furniture near windows to prevent children from climbing
  • Do not rely on insect screens to prevent a window fall
  • Keep children’s play away from open windows and doors
  • Install building code-compliant devices designed to limit how far a window will open or window guards with release mechanisms to help prevent a fall
  • Teach your child how to safely use a window to escape during an emergency

Here are some additional tools:

Window Safety Brochure
Fire Escape and Window Safety: A Balanced Approach
Window Safety Checklist

April Fool’s Day on the Web: 2016 edition

April Fools Day

It’s late enough in the day that you’re probably already suspicious of pranks, so we don’t think we’re issuing any spoilers here with our April Fool’s Day roundup.  We’ve gathered a few of our favorites from around the web. But warning – if you live in China, don’t go any further because April Fool’s Day has been banned in China. (Unless that’s a great big prank from China!)

Think insurance is a serious business? Usually we are very serious, but we like to kid around, too.  Here are a few of today’s jokes — but we think most of them are a little too close to the truth to be funny!

Google always has a few tricks up their sleeve:

We liked this Jobs for Babies idea and wish it was a real thing.

 

Here’s an item we think would be a big seller: Trulia’s real estate map to help home buyers avoid hipster neighborhoods

Here’s one we think wouldn’t be a big seller: The Mark Zuckerberg fashion line for HM

The Washington Post has a really good roundup – it’s YUGE: April Fools’ Day hoaxes: 2016’s comprehensive, updating (and upsetting) list – just be warned that we can’t vouch for everything being work safe or work appropriate!

See our April Fools Day roundup from 2014 for more oldies but goodies.

We wish the prediction for snow this weekend was a big joke, but unfortunately it looks real! We remember an actual April Fool’s Day storm in 1997 that dumped the region in about 30 inches of snow!

Motorcycle Insurance Coverage and a Toolkit for Spring

Don’t last week’s snow fool you – it’s just about time to take that motorcycle out of mothballs and get it on the road. But first, before you do anything else, check to be sure that you have motorcycle insurance to protect that investment.

The Insurance Information Institute (III) offers the lowdown on motorcycle insurance:

“Most states require motorcyclists to carry a minimum amount of liability insurance, to cover bodily injury and property damage costs caused to other people involved in an accident. In addition, uninsured/underinsured (UI/UIM) motorist coverage is recommended, or even required, in many states as part of a motorcyclist’s policy to cover expenses for damage were caused by another driver who either does not have insurance, or whose insurance is inadequate.
The mandatory minimum limits for these coverages in states where they are required for motorcyclists are generally similar to those required for automobiles.”

We think its a good idea to have some of the optional coverages, too: collision, first party medical coverage, emergency road service and coverage for customization and equipment.

III offers more details on motorcycle coverage here with tips on saving money such as a lay-up policy or those who suspend use in the winter and multibike discounts.

Motorcycle laws, safety tools & other resources

msfThe Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) is an internationally recognized developer of the comprehensive, research-based, Rider Education and Training System (RETS). Some insurers offer discounts for certified safety training so check to see if your insurer does. In addition to courses, MSF offers many free resources in their online library. One we like is the booklet You and Your Motorcycle Riding Tips – MSF says that many manufacturers include this booklet with their new motorcycles. They also have similar booklets for 3-wheeled motorcycles and scooters. Their Tire Guide looks pretty handy, too.

The American Motorcyclist Association has a good resource on motorcycle laws by state.
The guides cover information like eye protection, handlebar height, lane splitting and other information that bikers need to know.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has a good guide on Motorcycle helmet laws by state. They note that, “Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia have laws requiring all motorcyclists to wear a helmet, known as universal helmet laws. Laws requiring only some motorcyclists to wear a helmet are in place in 28 states. There is no motorcycle helmet use law in three states (Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire).” IIHS also has a good Q&A about motorcycle safety and related topics

BikeBandit offers some excellent tips on how to prep your motorcycle for spring – he touches on everything from batteries to fluids.

Do you need some out-of-this-world insurance?

alien abductionYou can insure against almost any adverse event. In prior posts, we’ve talked about celebrities insuring body parts and people insuring some rather unusual objects and special collections.

But here’s one that you may not have thought about: Are you insured against alien abduction? The website says that it is “the perfect policy for anyone who thinks they have everything covered.” We particularly like some of their promotion lines:

  • “Don’t Leave Earth…Without It.”
  • “Beam Me Up…I’m Covered”

A Single Lifetime Premium coverage can be had for $19.95, and it offers a $10 million payout if you can prove you were kidnapped by aliens.  What do you need to do to qualify? They say: “We accept all pre-existing conditions – You cannot be turned down regardless of Age or Frequent Flyer Status.” There is one stipulation.  They will only pay out once.

Most people buy it for someone else but name themselves as the beneficiary. They say they have had claims!

Learn more in this video clip: