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Spirit of the Season

Just a few comments on attitude at this crazy time of year.  People are rushing everywhere to buy “things”.  We’re all checking off items on list, after list, after list.  Presents for the kids.  A bottle of bubbly for Aunt June.  The secret ingredient for Mom’s Special Gravy.

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The roads are full of ice and idiot drivers.  The parking lots are packed and you can’t park even slightly close to the store.  Inside the mall people are pushing, shoving, and according to the news, actually fighting over merchandise.

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Why do we do this?  So we can make our families happy?  Does this look like happy?

My husband and I occasionally give each other Christmas presents, if we really need something, but very rarely.  A nice bottle of Irish Cream and a fire in the fireplace is precious to us. A holiday season without stress, that’s our gift to each other.

We don’t exchange gifts with the cousins we celebrate with.  Why?  Because for us the gift is their company.  The gift is the feast.  The gift is knowing we have family to eat, drink, and be merry with.  We don’t need anything else.

XmasDog_xw600_xh399Christmas is a celebration of love, or it should be.  You don’t have to be religious to get into the holiday spirit.  If someone wishes you a Merry Christmas, and you don’t believe in Christmas, just know they are wishing you good things. It doesn’t matter if it comes out Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah or Happy Holidays.  Someone is still wishing you well.

So before you scream at the guy who pulled into the parking space you were hoping to use, mellow out and remind yourself – this is a season of “good will toward men”.  There really is joy in giving. Even if you’re just giving up the parking space and walking another few feet.  You’ll burn a few more of the extra calories from all the holiday treats you’ve been eating!  So smile, and quit with the Grinch attitude. This is a happy time, if you let it be.

Merry Christmas!  Happy Hanukkah!  Season’s Greeting! Good things!

—E. A. Cooke

How To Winterize A Vacant Home

houseAre you one of many people who chases the sun? If you pack up for warmer climes in winter, this is information you need.

I found a terrific article on preparing your house for winter if you leave town on vacation during the winter months.  I will summarize here, but it’s worth reading the whole thing. The article goes into wonderful detail.

http://www.wikihow.com/Winterize-a-Vacant-Home

The article covers five areas to attend to: plumbing and utilities, the kitchen, the rest of your home, outdoor areas, and security.  They suggest you make a check list so you don’t forget anything.  Makes sense to me.

Winterizing your home while you’re away will keep disasters like burst pipes from happening.  In the insurance business, vacant homes are considered high risk for many kinds of losses. If an insured were not to take common sense precautions, not only does the risk of problems increase, an insurance company could refuse or limit claims due to negligence.

Plumbing & Utilities:

  1. Turn off the water at the exterior. Open all faucets and drain all waterlines, blow the lines of excess water, close the sink and tub drains.  Drain indoor or outdoor pools, fountains and other sources of standing water. Follow manufacturers’ directions to drain dishwashers and refrigerators.
  2. Turn down the thermostat to a level adequate to keep the inside temperature above freezing and to keep things dry.
  3. Unplug all appliances, including microwave ovens and TVs.
  4. For long absences, shut off gas hot water heaters completely.

Kitchen:

  1. Clean out the refrigerator. Empty the freezer. Wash the refrigerator and freezer thoroughly. Place an open bag of activated charcoal on the inside of the open refrigerator.
  2. Remove all food from the pantry.
  3. Guard against insects and rodents. Wash trash containers. Use a botanical rodent repellent under the sink and on counters.
  4. In areas subject to freezing, remove all bottled liquids because their containers may burst when their contents freeze.
  5. Take all the trash out before you leave.

Rest of Home:

  1. Wash everything: linens, bedding, towels. Open empty drawers and closets; use mothballs in the others. Vacuum carpets and floors to get rid of crumbs or other sources of food that may attract rodents.
  2. Remove all fire hazards.
  3. Close flues and dampers.
  4. Arrange for indoor plants to be watered, if necessary.

Outdoor Areas:

  1. Protect the yard and garden.
    1. Arrange to have the lawn mowed and shrubbery trimmed.
    2. Cover any plants that are frost intolerant.
    3. Arrange to have your garden watered if necessary.
  2. Store outdoor furniture.
  3. Lock away expensive vehicles. Pleasure craft such as boats, ATVs, bicycles, canoes, kayaks and cars should be locked in a garage or storage shed. Block window views into this storage space.

Security Measures:

  1. Lock your house at all entry points. Close window shutters.
  2. Make it look like someone is home. Buy a couple of light timers and set them up to turn on automatically in the evenings.
  3. Do not leave valuables in a vacation home that may attract thieves. Take all small valuables with you.
  4. Stop your mail. Stop any other routine deliveries as well. Pay your bills before you go. Ask a neighbor to be on the lookout for packages which may come to you by UPS, FedEx or any another service.

Finally, have someone make regular check-ins.  Leave them a key and your contact information.

After doing all the things suggested in the article, your home should be safe and secure. And after doing all these things, you really will need a vacation!

At the risk of repeating myself, thanks for reading.

—E. A. Cooke

To learn more about commonly misunderstood insurance terms and other insurance topics subscribe to the Avanti Reader via RSS, follow Avanti Business and insurance Services on Facebook or Twitter (@AvantiInsurance) to receive notifications of future posts.

Winter Pet Care

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Taking care of your pet in the winter involves many of the same aspects of taking care of yourself and your family. Dogs, cats, horses, etc. are mammals just as we are, after all. Snow, ice, wind and cold temperatures affect animals much the same way they do us.

Walking the dog:

  1. Protect your pet’s paws against cold, frostbite and discomfort by rubbing them with petroleum jelly before going out. Even better, use pet booties.
  2. Don’t leave your pet outside longer than it needs to do its business.
  3. Towel or wash off your pet’s paws and belly when you get back from a walk. This will dry/warm the animal and get rid of any salt or chemicals put down as ice melt which may be poisonous to your animal. Watch to make sure you pet isn’t licking these poisons off the paws or legs.

 

If your animal must be outside:

  1. They should have a shelter that is out of the wind, large enough to turn around in but small enough to capture their body heat.
  2. Some type of bedding should be available for warmth. Blankets work well with dogs; extra hay for horses or better a horse blanket.
  3. Food and water should be available around the clock. Cold temperatures dehydrate animals just as they do us, and we all burn extra calories just to keep warm.

 

General tips:

  1. Humidify your home.  You’ll enjoy the extra moisture too!
  2. Keep animals inside as much as possible. Animals suffer from frost bite and hyperthermia just as human’s do.
  3. Trim your animal’s coat if necessary to keep it from getting matted due to ice and snow; but don’t shave your animals. They need the coat for warmth.
  4. Bathe your animal on warm days. Being wet in the cold weather will get animals sick just as it could you.
  5. Make sure you animal has a warm, dry place to sleep.
  6. The outside rule about food and drink work inside too. Always have water available and increase the amount of calories your pet eats.
  7. Don’t leave an animal in the car! Just as in the summer, when a car can become an oven, in the winter a car can become an ice box.
  8. Make sure your pet has no access to poisons.  Anti-freeze spills are lethal. Rat poison tends to be used more in winter to keep out warmth-seeking rodents. Make sure your pet can’t get to these.
  9. Use pet friendly ice melts instead of dangerous chemicals.
  10. Lastly, check the engine compartment of vehicles before turning over the engine. Small animals may crawl in seeking warmth.

 

Baby yourself!  Baby your baby!! You’ll both have a better winter.

As usual, thanks for reading.

—E. A. Cooke

To learn more about commonly misunderstood insurance terms and other insurance topics subscribe to the Avanti Reader via RSS, follow Avanti Business and insurance Services on Facebook or Twitter (@AvantiInsurance) to receive notifications of future posts.

Happy Thanksgiving

Tomorrow is the fourth Thursday in November, Thanksgiving Day. Though we all celebrate differently, we all have things to be thankful for.

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The First Thanksgiving” (1915), by Jean Louis Gerome Ferris

Some years it seems harder to tally up the good things. This year is hard. The economy is still stagnant.  Many, many Americans are out of work. The world seems to be burning, here, in Europe and in the middle east. Politics are crazy all over the world.

And yet… we do have things to be grateful for. Yes, I know it’s mushy, but when times are hardest is when we need to remember all the things that make such times bearable. Friends, family, random acts of kindness.

Americans tend to gather for a day (maybe a whole weekend) of feasting, football, and family. In 1621 the pilgrims feasted with their neighbors, Native Americans, to celebrate having a roof over their heads and food on the table.  We take those things for granted usually. Sometimes the only thing we remember to be thankful for is having the day off from work.

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While that is worth celebrating, take a moment to remember there are people worse off in the world than you. People hungrier, colder, more raggedly dressed. Lend someone a hand this weekend, in any way that presents itself and be grateful for what you have.

And enjoy your celebration.

Happy Thanksgiving!

—E. A. Cooke

Reminder! It’s Enrollment Time For The Affordable Care Act

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Here are the important dates again:

November 1, 2015: Open Enrollment starts — first day you can enroll in a 2016 Marketplace plan

January 1, 2016: First date 2016 coverage can start

January 31, 2016: 2016 Open Enrollment ends

**If you don’t enroll in a 2016 plan by January 31, 2016, you can’t enroll in a health insurance plan for 2016 unless you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period.

What is my penalty for not having insurance?

For those willing to live without health insurance, next year may be the tipping point at which your money is better spent on a policy than a penalty.  The expectation is the penalty will be almost double.

2015

The penalty for not having health insurance in 2015 is $325 per adult and $162.50 per child under 18 (with a total family maximum of $975, regardless of family size), or 2% of your annual household income, whichever is higher.

Only the amount of income above the tax-filing threshold (about $10,150 for an individual) counts toward the percentage calculation of the penalty.

2016

In 2016, the penalty jumps to $695 per adult and $347.50 per child under 18 (with a family maximum of $2,085), or 2.5% of your annual household income above the tax-filing threshold, whichever is larger. (You pay the fee on the federal income tax return you file for the year you don’t have coverage.)

deadline ahead MEDICARE

Initial Enrollment

During the 7-month period that starts 3 months before the month you turn 65, includes the month you turn 65, and ends 3 months after the month you turn 65. Your coverage will begin the first day of the month after you ask to join a plan. If you join during one of the 3 months before you turn 65, your coverage will begin the first day of the month you turn 65.

Open Enrollment

For those already in the system but would like to make changes:

October 15–December 7.

Special Enrollment

You can make changes to your Medicare Advantage and Medicare prescription drug coverage when certain events happen in your life, like if you move or you lose other insurance coverage. These chances to make changes are called Special Enrollment Periods (SEPs). Rules about when you can make changes and the type of changes you can make are different for each SEP.

Typically, these SEPs give you a 60 day window to enroll.

 I know I’m repeating myself. It bears repeating. The American public is not used to these sorts of restrictions on purchasing, so I want to make sure what happened to me doesn’t happen to you. Don’t get caught without insurance and have to wait until next year’s enrollment!

As always, thanks for reading.

—E. A. Cooke

To learn more about commonly misunderstood insurance terms and other insurance topics subscribe to the Avanti Reader via RSS, follow Avanti Business and insurance Services on Facebook or Twitter (@AvantiInsurance) to receive notifications of future posts.

 

HAPPY VETERAN’S DAY

More than most holidays, I celebrate this day in my heart.  It gives me chills to think of the sacrifices made on my behalf.  While I become more jaded with age, still I feel the same thrill I felt as a child when I see an American flag waving.

American Flag

My father was a Lieutenant in the Army Air Corps during WWII. My husband served in the Air Force before the Gulf War. I have Marine cousins, Army cousins and friends in the Army and Navy.

I feel very lucky to live in a country with an all-volunteer military. It wasn’t always that way, of course. I was very young when my brother received his draft card for Vietnam. We were still grateful for our military men in those days, but they weren’t all volunteers.

Whatever your views on war in general, never forget that today’s men and women of the armed forces have voluntarily sacrificed an easier life for one of duty to a higher purpose. Whether the government uses these people well is a discussion for another day. Today is Veteran’s Day. Well utilized or not, these folks risk their lives for their fellow Americans. For you and for me. These are people of character. They deserve our respect. They deserve our support.

So, thank you to all the selfless individuals who make up the American military on this, your special day.

—E. A. Cooke

Cyber Liability Insurance: A Growing Trend

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What is cyber liability insurance?

Cyber liability coverage covers a business’ liability for a data breach in which the business’ customers’ personal information is stolen by an employee or a hacker. This liability may include monetary business losses, recompense of funds stolen from your customers’ accounts, costs of investigating the crime, costs associated with reestablishing the customers’ credit to pre-crime status, and legal fees.

Coverage offered for data breaches vary greatly from carrier to carrier.  The types of coverage prudent for a given business varies depending on the size of the business, the industry involved, the amount of risk exposure, existing security procedures and what other coverage the business already has in place. Umbrella policies do not cover cyber liability.

History

Cyber liability insurance has been around for a decade, though many people have never heard of it.  In the beginning, only tech companies, finance companies, and healthcare related companies were interested in coverage.  They had a much greater risk exposure than most other companies.  Because of the small premium pool, coverage was highly expensive.

The internet is changing all that.

As more companies store their customers’ information on computers, they have more risk of being hacked.  Businesses that take payments over the internet especially have more risk.  As a result, more businesses are managing their risk by buying cyber liability insurance.  As the pool of businesses paying premiums increases, the cost of cyber liability insurance is decreasing.

Who needs cyber liability insurance?

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard small business owners reply to questions on security by saying, “No one would want my information” or “I’m too small for anyone to hack me”.  Wrong!  Hackers are opportunists.  Small companies that don’t pay much attention to security are exactly the companies they look for.  Small companies may not make the news when they get hacked, but they do get hacked.

Also, the term “cyber” comes from the stolen information being electronic data, not because it is stolen through the internet.  As much as no one likes the thought that an employee would steal from their employer, it happens.  An employee can walk off with a credit card receipt or download information onto a thumb drive.  That’s still “cyber” and covered under this type of insurance.

Susan O’Kelley, Insurance Broker and owner of Avanti Insurance Services, recommends any retail outfit, online or brick and mortar, have some kind of cyber liability insurance. The costs associated with being hacked are too enormous not to have coverage.  Often small businesses go broke dealing with such expenses.

What coverage should I get?

That depends on the nature of your business. As stated earlier, size, industry, existing security and many other variables affect which coverage is right for your business.  This type of coverage is very individualized. Sitting down with your broker and really going over your business model is the best choice.

Good luck!

—E. A. Cooke

Halloween Nightmares

With Halloween this weekend, I’ve been talking with friends about what scares us.

happyhalloween

Most of the answers have been fairly predictable. All the usual fun stuff.

Haunted Houses, Asylums.  Haunted House

Cemetary Cemeteries.

Zombies, Ghouls      Zombies

Vampire Vampires (sparkly or not)

One of my writer friends turned to me and

bet me he could guess what scared me

as an insurance professional.

JURASSIC WORLD!

T-rex

He’s not wrong.

What idiot would insure a dinosaur theme park?

I mean, it worked so well the first three times, right?

Be afraid.  Be very afraid.

Happy Halloween!

Have a frightening time.

—E. A. Cooke

Open Enrollment For Health Insurance Is Almost Here

AFFORDABLE CARE ACT (OBAMACARE)

Doctors3_main

Open Enrollment:

November 1, 2015: Open Enrollment starts — first day you can enroll in a 2016 Marketplace plan

January 1, 2016: First date 2016 coverage can start

January 31, 2016: 2016 Open Enrollment ends

**If you don’t enroll in a 2016 plan by January 31, 2016, you can’t enroll in a health insurance plan for 2016 unless you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period.

What is my penalty for not having insurance?

For those willing to live without health insurance, next year may be the tipping point at which your money is better spent on a policy than a penalty.  The expectation is the penalty will be almost double.

2015

The penalty for not having health insurance in 2015 is $325 per adult and $162.50 per child under 18 (with a total family maximum of $975, regardless of family size), or 2% of your annual household income, whichever is higher.

Only the amount of income above the tax-filing threshold (about $10,150 for an individual) counts toward the percentage calculation of the penalty.

2016

In 2016, the penalty jumps to $695 per adult and $347.50 per child under 18 (with a family maximum of $2,085), or 2.5% of your annual household income above the tax-filing threshold, whichever is larger. (You pay the fee on the federal income tax return you file for the year you don’t have coverage.)

MEDICARE

Initial Enrollment

During the 7-month period that starts 3 months before the month you turn 65, includes the month you turn 65, and ends 3 months after the month you turn 65. Your coverage will begin the first day of the month after you ask to join a plan. If you join during one of the 3 months before you turn 65, your coverage will begin the first day of the month you turn 65.

Open Enrollment

For those already in the system but would like to make changes:

October 15–December 7.

Special Enrollment

You can make changes to your Medicare Advantage and Medicare prescription drug coverage when certain events happen in your life, like if you move or you lose other insurance coverage. These chances to make changes are called Special Enrollment Periods (SEPs). Rules about when you can make changes and the type of changes you can make are different for each SEP.

Typically, these SEPs give you a 60 day window to enroll.

 I know I’m repeating myself. It bears repeating. The American public is not used to these sorts of restrictions on purchasing, so I want to make sure what happened to me doesn’t happen to you. Don’t get caught without insurance and have to wait until next year’s enrollment!

As always, thanks for reading.

—E. A. Cooke

To learn more about commonly misunderstood insurance terms and other insurance topics subscribe to the Avanti Reader via RSS, follow Avanti Business and insurance Services on Facebook or Twitter (@AvantiInsurance) to receive notifications of future posts.

 

Cyclist Vs. Motorist

Have you ever gotten annoyed by a bicyclist while driving?

How about getting annoyed with a driver while cycling?

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I don’t know how many times I’ve heard family, friends and work associates complain of others not being able to share the road properly. Many have been in cars and many have been on bikes. If there is actually a collision, whichever vehicle you’re driving, you could find yourself legally at fault.

Many people equate a cyclist with a pedestrian and assume the more vulnerable party is automatically the victim. Not so.

A bicycle is considered a moving vehicle and is answerable to the same laws as a motor vehicle. Both parties are required to follow the traffic laws of the state. According to injury.findlaw.com, there can be negligence found on either the driver’s or cyclist’s behalf.  As with all car accidents, reckless or negligent operation of a vehicle has an effect on who is legally at fault and who will be financially responsible for damage and injury.

Have you ever seen a bicyclist run a stop sign? Change lanes without warning? Turn without a hand signal? Or make crazy hand signals that don’t tell you what they are about to do? In the eyes of the law, this is the same as a car running a stop sign, changing lanes or turning without signaling. Other things that are considered negligent for a cyclist is riding on the wrong side of the street, where an automobile driver would not be looking for traffic, or riding on and off the sidewalk. Depending on what state you live in and what age the rider is, it may be illegal to ride on the sidewalk at all.

Considering that cyclists are more physically vulnerable in an accident, they should have very good motivation to a) avoid an accident in the first place, and b) not give the courts an excuse to find them guilty of negligence or recklessness, thereby forfeiting compensation by the other party.

As a driver and a cyclist, I encourage everyone operating any kind of vehicle to be aware of the traffic laws in their area and to be super aware of your surroundings, so you can’t be taken by surprise. Not only should everyone on the road be considerate of others for manner’s sake, but for safety’s sake, as well.

As always, thanks for reading.

—E. A. Cooke

To learn more about commonly misunderstood insurance terms and other insurance topics subscribe to the Avanti Reader via RSS, follow Avanti Business and insurance Services on Facebook or Twitter (@AvantiInsurance) to receive notifications of future posts.