Get rid of that junk: where and how to recycle your stuff


couch loaded with junk

Maybe you’ve recently jumped on the Marie Kondo bandwagon and decided to get rid of all your stuff. Or maybe your closets, cellars and attics are bursting at the seams and you are afraid you’ll be anonymously reported to your local fire department as a hoarder. Having a build-up of unwanted stuff is not only unsightly, it can also be a fire hazard – particularly with chemicals, cleaners and paints.

Sometimes we hang on to junk for sentimental reasons or because we think we may someday find a use for the article again. News flash: You may never fit in that beloved college sweater again. If you haven’t used it or worn in in the last few years, why not give it a second life somewhere?

Often, it’s simply because we don’t know how to get rid of it. We hang on to old phones and computers because we don’t know where to get rid of them or how to clean them of our personal data.

Consumer Reports to the rescue: They have a very useful article about How to Get Rid of Practically Anything – from bicycles and books to tools and appliances. They offer ideas for how to recycle, sell or donate your goods, along with handy links.

It’s great when you can give something a second life. Here are a few of our favorite “get rid of stuff” links, which might duplicate a few in the above article:

Earth911.com – Learn where to recycle and how to recycle. Look up almost anything, from hazardous waste to electronics, enter your zip code and find out where and how to recycle or dispose at a location near you. Very handy!

call2recycle.com – recycling batteries and cell phones. Also see state battery recycling laws and safety information.

Electronics Donation and Recycling – The EPA lists 17 retailers where you can donate or recycle TVs, mobile devices and PCs.

7 Retailers with impressive recycling programs for consumers

Free recycling programs

It’s a win-win when your old stuff can actually be repurposed for someone in need. Many people need help getting back on their feet and setting up a new home: victims of fires or natural disasters, people fleeing domestic abuse, immigrants, homeless veterans or the disabled, for example. Research to see if there are charities or organizations near you that accept donations. Household Goods (Acton MA) and Habitat for Humanity ReStore (nationwide) are great examples. See charities that will pick up various household goods from your house.

If all else fails and you just need to get rid of your stuff expeditiously, you can always use Bagster – Buy the Bagster bag at your local home improvement retailer. Fill it. Bags are strong enough to hold up to 3,300 lb of debris or waste. Schedule your collection online or by phone, and it’s gone!

An alternative that we haven’t tried yet but intent to is Grunts Move Junk – this service is owned and staffed by vets to haul your junk. They do everything from from removing all unwanted junk – big and small – to loading it on trailers, cleaning your vacant spaces, and disposing of goods. They also offer moving services.

Unusual perils in your morning commute: will your insurance cover this?


How’s your morning commute? This commuter encountered an unusual peril, a unique example of road rage, with the Nissan Pathfinder coming out on the losing side.

This clip is dramatic evidence of the size of an American bison in relation to a car – pretty formidable. Below is a clip of an Alaskan moose ambling down the highway to give you a dramatic size perspective.

Wildlife and vehicular collisions are pretty common, and while they peak in October through December, they can occur at any time of the year. State Farm tracks wildlife-vehicle collisions, reporting in October 2018:

The 16th annual State Farm deer-vehicle collision study has some good news. Overall in the U.S., drivers were less likely — one in 167 — to have a crash involving a collision with deer, elk, moose, or caribou. Last year’s survey put that chance at one in 162. It is estimated deer, elk, moose, and caribou collisions dropped slightly to 1.33 million in the U.S. between July 1, 2017 and June 30, 2018 — down from 1.34 million in 2017. And, this is despite the fact that there are nearly four million more licensed drivers.

Those odds are in about the same range as being audited by the IRS (1 in 175) so when you think of it that way, it’s worth thinking about how you’d react to this hazard in a driving situation.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tracks fatalities in animal-vehicle crashes, marking 211 in 2017. They include a breakdown by state.

If you see a deer in the road, should you swerve or not? Here’s some advice from safety expert Mike Winterle, who advises you not to swerve.

“The leading cause of accidents, injuries, and deaths from deer-related accidents is when vehicles swerve in an attempt to avoid hitting a deer. Swerving can result in vehicles moving into oncoming traffic, crashing into trees and other objects, or evening rolling over. While it may be against a driver’s first instinct, the safest thing to do is slow down as much as possible and let your vehicle strike the deer. Instincts tell us to avoid an obstruction in the road, but if you can train yourself to not swerve to avoid deer in the road you will keep yourself, your passengers, and other drivers much safer.”

Here’s some other good advice:

AAA: Wildlife Crossing: Tips to Avoid Animal-Vehicle Collisions
Insurance Information Institute: Avoid a deer-car collision

Does insurance cover animal-vehicle collision damage?

Will the damage caused to the Nissan Pathfinder be covered by their auto insurance? That depends on whether they have comprehensive, which is an optional not a mandatory coverage. See The Insurance Information Institute: Cars and Deer – A Risky Combination; Consider Including Comprehensive Coverage on Your Auto Policy

Damage caused by an accident with deer or other animals is covered under the optional comprehensive portion (not the collision portion) of an automobile insurance policy. Comprehensive auto insurance includes coverage for: fire, theft, vandalism or malicious damage, riot, flood, earthquake or explosion, hail, windstorm, falling or flying objects, damage due to contact with a bird or animal, and sometimes, depending on the policy, windshield damage.

Do you need comprehensive insurance? That probably depends on a lot of factors such as the age of your car and how much you depend on your vehicle. Could you afford to repair or replace it if you have a collision with moose or damage from weather-related perils or human-generated vandalism? Your independent insurance agent can get you a quote and help you think through such scenarios to assess the cost-benefit in your particular situation.

Never plug a space heater into a power strip


burnt power strip cord

The recent frigid weather from the polar vortex prompted fire officials to issue warnings about space heaters, which are a frequent source of home fires: Never plug a space heater into a power strip or an extension cord. Space heaters have a high energy load and should be plugged directly into a wall outlet. Power strips are not designed to handle the energy load of a space heater and can overheat and cause a fire.

Check out this screen grab of a recent tweet from the Deer Lake Fire Rescue department:

Heating equipment is responsible for nearly half of home heating fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Energy.gov says that when buying and installing an electric space heater, you should follow these general safety guidelines:

  • Electric heaters should be plugged directly into the wall outlet. If an extension cord is necessary, use the shortest possible heavy-duty cord of 14-gauge wire or larger.
  • Always check and follow any manufacturer’s instructions pertaining to the use of extension cords.
  • Buy a unit with a tip-over safety switch, which automatically shuts off the heater if the unit is tipped over.

The Electrical Safety Foundation International offers this safety infographic.

Home Heating Fire Prevention infographic

Boston remembers its Great Molasses Disaster


We recently passed the 100 year anniversary of the huge Boston Molasses Disaster, which occurred on January 5, 1919. In today’s world, it can be hard to imagine how a household product could cause a disaster that would lead to the death of 21 people, more than 150 injuries and an entire neighborhood being leveled. That was indeed the case when 2.3 million gallons of molasses burst from a 50-foot tall North End storage tank with powerful force.

Molasses was in important staple of the day, a common sweetener. In addition to household kitchen uses, molasses was a key ingredient in rum and was once used in the manufacture of munitions.

The disaster occurred just after lunchtime on an unseasonably warm January day in a bustling Boston neighborhood. Insurance Journal describes the event:

The initial wave rose at least 25 feet high – nearly as tall as an NFL goalpost – and it obliterated everything in its path, killing 21 people and injuring 150 others. Rivets popped like machine-gun fire. Elevated railway tracks buckled. Warehouses and firehouses were pushed around like game pieces on a Monopoly board. Tenements were reduced to kindling.

Outrunning the molasses was out of the question. The first of it raced through the harborside neighborhood at 35 mph. Not even Usain Bolt, who clocked just under 28 mph at his world-record fastest, could have sprinted to safety.

The storage tank was owned by Purity Distilling Company. After the disaster, they tried to blame the explosion on bombs set by anarchists. The real source of the disaster was a confluence of predictable factors, primarily a poorly-constructed, overloaded storage tank, so badly constructed that it was painted brown to mask all the leakage.

A page dedicated to the molasses disaster with links to historical accounts says:

“Envision a disaster scene with smashed buildings, overturned vehicles, drowned and crushed victims, and terrified survivors running away covered in molasses. Like the modern-day disasters with which we are unfortunately familiar, there was chaos, terror, buildings in ruins, victims to be dug out, trapped survivors to be rescued, rescue workers among the victims, and anguished families rushing to relief centers to find their relatives. It was like any horrible disaster scene, with the addition that everything was covered in smelly sticky brown molasses.”

Agency Checklists also features an article on the disaster, including several photos. They note that the disaster marked the beginning of stricter construction codes and accountability.

“According to a Time magazine article on the flood, the resulting court case in which the U.S. Industrial Alcohol (USIA) corporation, owner of the Purity Distilling Company who operated the tanks, was forced to pay “… restitution amounting to about $15 million in today’s money” due to the structural weakness of the tanks used to hold the molasses. It was revealed during the ensuing lawsuit that the engineer who oversaw the construction of the North End tanks did not even know how to read blueprints, and that the tanks has subsequently been painted to match the color of molasses in order to hide the constant leaks in the tank.

As a result of these revelations and the tragedy which resulted from such negligence, Massachusetts instituted stricter construction codes, essentially creating the idea and requirement of “accountability in construction.”

A century ago, liability insurance was in its early days. ( IRMI: Early Liability Coverage.) Businesses rarely had adequate insurance and the courts were often a victim’s only financial remedy for damages or loss.

Today, business insurance is a social safety net that protects a business owner from financial losses and provides financial remedy for personal injury, death and property loss by third parties, as well as for a business owner’s litigation costs. In addition, insurance companies play another important role, providing an additional layer of public protection through risk and loss exposure identification during the underwriting process, as well as loss prevention expertise for business owners.

If you’re interested in more information on this unusual disaster, we’ve included a few links and a video clip of a 22-minute video documentary.

Update your life insurance beneficiaries!


man updating beneficiaries on life insurance policy

Pop quiz: When is the last time you updated your life insurance beneficiaries and beneficiaries on other important financial documents?

If you are like most people, you probably don’t think about your beneficiaries very often, but you should. Financial advisers say that failing to keep your beneficiaries up-to-date is a common and costly mistake. Failure to periodically update your beneficiaries could have unintended consequences. You’d probably prefer that your current spouse rather than a former spouse would be the beneficiary of your assets – but if you haven’t updated your paperwork, your ex could see a big payday on your passing!

As you prep for tax filing and gather your financial documents, it’s a good time to add beneficiary updates to your checklist to be sure that your designated beneficiaries are up to date. Life and circumstances change. Parents die, marriages dissolve, children are born, and any of these events may warrant a change in beneficiaries.

What documents should you check? In the linked article above, financial advisers say:

In addition to IRAs of the traditional, Roth, SIMPLE and SEP varieties, beneficiaries should be checked on 401(k) plans, 403(b) and deferred-compensation employer plans, life insurance policies, 529 education accounts and any bank or other account designated as “Transfer on Death.”

Here are some best practices to consider when naming beneficiaries:

Always name a beneficiary. People who have wills often think they have their beneficiaries covered, but this assumption can be wrong. Generally, beneficiaries named in insurance policies and retirement plans will take precedence over any instructions you leave in your will. Make sure you have specified individuals as beneficiaries in your policies and plans. People often name their “estate” as the beneficiary but this can lead to benefits being tied up in probate court. Failure to name a beneficiary may also mean that you miss out on certain plan or policy advantages. For example, if you name an estate as beneficiary, an IRA will be liquidated on your death and taxes will be due. If your spouse is named as beneficiary, he or she could potentially continue to enjoy tax-free growth.

Be specific. Avoid ambiguous language. Simply stating “my husband” or “my niece” may not be sufficient, particularly in instances of multiple marriages. It’s a good idea to use full names of intended beneficiaries to avoid potential confusion or disputes.

Name a secondary beneficiary. Make sure that it will be you and not your state law that determines who will be the recipient of your policy benefits. If your primary beneficiary should pass away and you have not named a secondary or contingent beneficiary, your insurance policy or retirement plan will be distributed according to your will. If you have no will, the decision will default to state law.

Keep important records in a secure place and tell a trusted family member what and where they are. Many people die suddenly without leaving instructions as to where a will, insurance papers and other important records are kept. All too often, benefits go unclaimed because family members don’t know about potential benefits or can’t find important account information. Bank accounts and insurance policies are overlooked. Make sure someone in your family is familiar with your most important records and where they are kept.

Further reading:

You can also talk to your independent insurance agent about updating your life insurance. Don’t have life insurance or don’t have an independent insurance agent? If you live in New England, find a Renaissance Alliance insurance agent near you to help you with life, auto, homeowners, and many other types of insurance.

Posted in Uncategorized