Fall foliage extravaganza: ideas for your weekend

winding road in foliageThe upcoming weekend forecast is for warm and glorious weather here in New England, a perfect time for getting out to enjoy the foliage. There’s leaf peeping, apple picking, corn mazes, pumpkin festivals, country fairs and more – we’ve gathered some resources to help you make the most of the nice weather.

Yankee Foliage offers an excellent live foliage map and an extensive selection of suggested foliage drives. They also suggest the 5 Best Pumpkin Festivals in New England.

New England Destinations is a good local guide, offering many ideas for the fall season, including a list of activities for September and October. They also offer their own selection for foliage drives, as well as foliage maps and hotlines.

For more ideas, here are the official state tourism bureaus

If you want current tracking of the weather in this or any other season, Twitter can be a very fun way to do that. Meteorologists have a strong and active presence — many issue updated foliage reports and photos along with the weather. We have a list of New England Weather Resources on Twitter that you can follow.

If you’re heading out for drives, we issue our seasonal caution to be alert for deer and moose. The Insurance Information Institute reminds us that fall is peak season for deer and auto collisions. “Deer migration and mating season generally runs from October through December, and causes a dramatic spike in the movement of deer population. As a result, more deer-vehicle collisions occur in this period than at any other time of year.” Plus, in northern New England, you need to be on the lookout for moose.

Don’t be our next sad story: Look into rental insurance

damage

Here’s a sad story we’ve heard all too often: a renter has a fire and loses everything because they don’t have rental insurance. We aren’t the only ones who hear this story – the Red Cross says they run into this scenario more and more often. In fact, a recent poll by the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) reveals that only 37 percent of renters have renters insurance, versus 95 percent of homeowners who have a homeowners insurance policy.

We hear all kinds of excuses:

Myth: My landlord’s insurance will cover loss. Reality: the landlord’s insurance covers their building, not your property

Myth: It’s too costly. Reality: It is cheaper than you might think – especially considering the alternative. According to I.I.I, “…the average cost of a renter’s policy is only $187 per year, or less than four dollars per week.”

Myth: My possessions aren’t valuable enough to cover. Reality: It’s very costly to replace everything. Even for students in furnished apartments, the cost of replacing clothes, books, laptops, and other personal possessions can add up. Plus, renters insurance covers many things people often don’t expect. It would help protect you if a guest were injured in your home or if a laptop were stolen from your car. It would also help to pay for temporary living expenses if your apartment is destroyed.

I.I.I. offers a Renters Insurance checklist and check out the short video clip below to get advice from a dummy ;-)  We also encourage you to give a call to your local independent insurance agent to learn more.

How to talk like a pirate

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In honor of international Talk Like a Pirate Day which is celebrated on September 19 every year, we’re offering some lessons in pirate speak in the video below or you can check out the pirate glossary. Buccaneers and landlubbers alike should keep an eye out for pirate booty offers on your social media timelines. We heard that visiting a local Krispy Kreme today and ordering in pirate speak will get you a free donut; visiting in full pirate regalia will get you a dozen free donuts. If you need help looking the part, try pirate fashions.

Internet pirates are fun, but the real thing is another story indeed. If you are in a global shipping or maritime industry, you may need insurance coverage against piracy. If your travel needs are more pedestrian, trip insurance might be just the thing – take the travel insurance quiz. For questions about piracy coverage or any other form of risk management, find a local independent insurance agent near you.

Today is National School Backpack Awareness Day

Today is National School Backpack Awareness Day and the American Occupational Therapy Association offers some great tips for parents in the form of simple infographics. The first offers statistics on the number of injuries and the recommended weight that children should limit backpacks to. The second infographic offers parents and caregivers recommendations of features to look for when selecting and purchasing a backpack as well as tips for lightening the load carried by children.

Backpack injuries

Learn more and get more resources at AOTA. Here are more tips for parents from The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

Tips-for-Purchasing-Backpack-Infographic

Scam alert: The IRS won’t phone you to make threats

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Police are warning residents in West Springfield about phone scammers pretending to be IRS agents. Actually, this scam is happening throughout the country – and it’s likely to continue because the IRS says that thieves have conned more than $5 million from victims already.

Here’s how it works: You get a call from an alleged agent who tells you that you owe back taxes. These are pretty sophisticated scammers – they may spoof the IRS toll-free number on caller ID to make it appear that it’s the IRS calling. They may even know the last 4 digits of your Social Security number. The caller threatens to jail you, send police, deport you, seize property or freeze accounts if you don’t take immediate action. The callers are said to be very aggressive and threatening and make repeat calls. After they hang up, they may have other people call you to pretend they are local police or other officials who “corroborate” the scam.

Another variation is to tell you they owe you money and they need details of your bank account to send it to you. There’s always a “you need to act immediately” aspect to the scam.

One North Carolina couple describes how the scam that bilked them out of $16,000 went: they withdrew money from the bank and bought a prepaid credit card and read the number to the fake agent over the phone.

Who are the most susceptible victims? The elderly. Immigrants worried about deportation. People who actually do owe money and are worried about it. But anyone, really. Most of us think we are too smart to be scammed but even smart people can be fooled by master criminals who know how to expertly prey on our trust, our fears or our greed.

If you have elderly parents or neighbors, you may want to alert them to this scam!

Here’s what the IRS says:
The IRS has issued repeated warnings but have issued another recent phone scam warning due to the volume of the calls happening around the country.

There are clear warning signs about these scams, which continue at high levels throughout the nation,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “Taxpayers should remember their first contact with the IRS will not be a call from out of the blue, but through official correspondence sent through the mail. A big red flag for these scams are angry, threatening calls from people who say they are from the IRS and urging immediate payment. This is not how we operate. People should hang up immediately and contact TIGTA or the IRS.”

Additionally, it is important for taxpayers to know that the IRS:

  • Never asks for credit card, debit card or prepaid card information over the telephone.
  • Never insists that taxpayers use a specific payment method to pay tax obligations
  • Never requests immediate payment over the telephone and will not take enforcement action immediately following a phone conversation. Taxpayers usually receive prior notification of IRS enforcement action involving IRS tax liens or levies.

“It Started Like Any Other Day” – Be Prepared

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September is National Preparedness Month – a time for you, your family, your workplace and your community to devote energies to ensuring you are prepared for emergencies and natural disasters. Think it’s unlikely that a disaster will happen to you? That’s what everyone thinks – check out the brief video to meet three survivors from three recent natural disasters: Hurricane Sandy; the Moore, Oklahoma tornado; and the Poinsettia Wildfire outside of San Diego, They talk about how suddenly and dramatically their lives changed when disaster struck.

This month, learn how you can take part in America’s PrepareAthon. Check out the resources and learn what protective measures to take before, during and after an emergency. It’s particularly important to have a plan and to have an emergency kit.

It’s also a pretty good time to check with your local insurance agent to see if your current coverage is adequate to protect your most important assets in the event of a disaster.

More funny insurance ads to start your week

It’s back to business and back to school after the long holiday weekend. We thought that one way to gentle you back into the work week would be to post a few ads from our humor file.

The first is a cute one-minute “ad-nimation” – a clever promotion for certified general accountants in Quebec.

SHEEP from Guillaume Blanchet I Filmmaker on Vimeo.

The second is a post from Central Beheer an insurance company located in Apeldoorn, Netherlands, a firm that is renowned for its clever advertisng.

Don’t lose money on prepaid debit cards!

debit-cards

Prepaid cards are popular because they are easy to get, you can avoid cash and you don’t need a bank account to get one. Plus, because they are debit cards and not credit cards, you only spend up to what is loaded on the card. They are popular for everything from gift cards to paychecks — and re-loadable prepaid cards are increasingly popular for travel and as a funding source for kids going away to college.

But – and there is a huge butnot all prepaid cards are created equal. If you are not careful, you can wind up paying outrageous fees and charges to buy the card, to use the card, to add money to the card, and more. Plus, not all prepaid cards are backed by the FDIC, so if they are lost, tough luck (although you might check with your agent to see if your Homeowners policy will cover a cash loss up to a limit – typically no more than $200). To make matters worse, prepaid card scams are proliferating so you need to be on the alert.

While prepaid cards can be a good choice in some circumstances, It’s really important to be a smart consumer and to educate yourself about the pros and cons before you buy. Here’s a quick video from consumer.gov that talks about how you can lose money.

And here are a few good resources to educate yourself about prepaid cards and how to be an smart consumer.

Kudos to RI kids and their awesome coach for a great life lesson

The nation has been riveted by the spectacle of Little League pitching phenomena Mo’ne Davis this past week – quite the sporting story indeed. But while all eyes have been on Ms. Davis, here in New England, we’ve had our own reason to be proud.

A big hurrah to the kids from Rhode Island’s Cumberland American Little League who represented New England so well in the recent Little League World Series. Kudos also to their stellar coach, David Belisle, who offered the kids a moving lesson in sportsmanship and how to handle loss. The team will be welcomed home today – expected arrival at Diamond Hill Park in Cumberland at 5 p.m.

The speech is a little more inspirational than this classic one!

Deferring Social Security can yield higher monthly benefits

Waiting to take Social Security benefits after your full retirement age will increase your monthly benefits as much as 76 percent, according to the nonpartisan National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI). This short video explains why.

Here’s an example of how claiming benefits earlier or later would affect  someone who would be earning $1000 at the normal retirement age.

social security exampleNASI says offers this advice:

  • If you need Social Security to make ends meet, take it. You’ve earned it.
  • If you can wait, even a year or two, your monthly benefit will be higher – for the rest of your life.
  • If you are married, you have two lives to plan for. If you are the higher earner, waiting to take Social Security means a higher survivor benefit for your spouse if she or he outlives you.

You can visit Social Security to get an estimate of your retirement benefits. Once on Social Security, can you expect benefits to go up? Most years, there is a small increase called a cost of living adjustments (COLA). To see how much Social Security benefits have increased over the years, see this chart on COLA increases from 1975-2013.