Earthquakes – make sure you’re covered.

After last year’s floods and a relatively calm winter, the 5.8 magnitude earthquake that rocked the Northeast last August may seem like a distant memory. However, it should have served as a reminder that our region is not exempt.

If you didn’t call your insurance representative last August now is the time to take precautions. Unfortunately, most standard homeowners policies exclude earthquake coverage to your dwelling for earth movement meaning earthquakes, and any other earth movement including earth sinking, rising or shifting.

Don’t be complacent: You can purchase an endorsement or a separate policy to your homeowners, renters or business policy to cover your losses from earthquakes and aftershocks. Since different building materials react differently to earth movement (brick versus wood, for example), premiums vary by the type of construction of the building and they usually are determined by a percentage of the building’s value.

But, remember, once a quake is detected it’s too late. You can’t buy the coverage within 72 hours after an earthquake, and damaging aftershocks are always a possibility within that period of time.

If you belong to a townhouse or condominium association that has inadequate earthquake coverage or none at all, you could be charged for repairs to common property. If you have earthquake coverage and loss assessment coverage on your unit owners policy, you may be able to extend it to cover you for this liability to the association. Please check with your agency for more information.

Even if you rent, you still need insurance

Renters face the same risk as homeowners if a disaster strikes their residences. The landlord or condo association may have insurance, but this will protect only the building, not your possessions inside. If you think your landlord has to pay for the damage or the cost of replacing your items, think again. Your landlord carries insurance that will cover his or her loss in a situation where the building is destroyed or damaged in some way. It doesn’t cover yours.

Renters insurance covers most of your possessions against losses from fire or smoke, lightning, vandalism, theft, windstorm and water damage from plumbing. However, most policies set a limit on jewelry, firearms and silverware. If your valuables exceed the limit, you may want to consider a floater policy which provides additional coverage on these items.

Don’t forget about the additional living expenses. With renters insurance your policy will pay for the cost of additional living expenses and temporary housing while the rental property is being repaired. Renters insurance also covers you if another person is injured at your home or elsewhere by you, a family member or your pet. It also pays your legal defense if you are taken to court.

Also, you should take an inventory of all your possessions. Your inventory should list each item, its value and serial number. Photograph or videotape each room, including closets, attics, basements, storage buildings and your garage. Keep receipts for major items in a fireproof place. Keep several copies of your inventory and receipts in another location.

Renters insurance is relatively inexpensive. Just like any other type of homeowners insurance policy, your renters insurance premium will depend on a number of factors: where you live, your deductible, your insurance company and whether you need additional coverage. Many insurers offer a discount for protective devices including smoke and fire detectors and burglar alarms.

Don’t underestimate the importance of renters insurance. Call your agent today. Be prepared for the unexpected before it occurs.

Are you one of the 10 percent?

According to the Self Storage Association, nearly 1 in 10 U.S. households or 10 percent (10.8 million of the 113.3 million U.S. households in 2007) currently rent a self storage unit. This number has increased from 1 in 17 U.S. household (6 percent) in 1995, or an increase of approximately 65 percent in 15 years.

Are you one of the 10 percent? If so, did you know there are specific insurance related issues to address when renting a storage unit? Do you have the proper coverage? Give our agency a call today. We can help you make sure your possessions are covered properly even when they are not in your home.

Standard homeowners and renters insurance policies often include off premises coverage for personal items that are stored off your property, but there are exclusions, e.g., flooding, earthquakes, mold and mildew, vermin or poor maintenance. And, there may be limits for the amount of possessions that can be stored off your property. You will also need an additional insurance policy for big ticket items, e.g., furs, jewelry, fine art, etc..

Once you’ve found a well maintained, secure storage facility with good reputation be sure to ask about the insurance coverage offered with the rental unit in the event of theft, fire and other happenstances.

But, before you sign your storage facility renters agreement, give your agency a call. They will review your current insurance policy to make sure you have the right coverage for your needs, discuss the difference between actual cash value or replacement cost coverages and answer any question you may have about storing your property off site.

Oh, and another tip: Don’t forget to include the property in your storage facility in your home inventory

Overseas auto rental insurance

We’ve written before about rental cars and whether or not to take the insurance offered by the rental agency. In the United States, more often than not, your personal auto insurance policy will protect you against theft or damages to a rental vehicle too. Give us a call before you rent to be sure. Not only that, the credit card you use to book the vehicle may offer additional coverage. Even taking a rental across the borders to Canada, odds are you are covered. Though again, double check first. However, heading down Mexico way or crossing the ocean to, say Europe or Asia are different scenarios entirely.

Beyond the U.S. and Canada everything is reversed. Unless you have an umbrella policy that covers you worldwide the odds are your personal auto policy won’t cover your rental. Your car rental agency certainly can sell you a policy, but we’d like you to give us a call to make sure you have the coverage you need without the pressure of a decision at the vehicle rental desk, and a line waiting behind you.

Just as in the U.S., you’ll need liability, collision and comprehensive coverage. And, just like each state here has different coverage requirements, you’ll need to meet the minimum auto insurance standards of the country or countries you'll be visiting. Call your agent if overseas travel is in your future. We’ll review what your current policy covers and offer specific advice on the coverage you’ll need.

Teen drivers

There’s no shortage of worries for parents when their children reach legal driving age. In addition to their concerns for safety and responsibility, the effect a new, young driver will have on the bottom line of an insurance policy also demands attention. Many parents assume there’s not much that can be done aside from the grin and bear it routine. However, there are several strategies that parents and teens together can employ to relieve some of the added financial stress.

Raising your deductible is one adjustment you and your agent can make. Opting for a higher deductible, such as $1,000 instead of $250 or $500, can save you money, but you do assume greater financial responsibility if there is an accident.

If you have a good driving record yourself, adding your child to your existing policy likely will be the best option. Though, if that isn’t the case, acquiring a separate policy might be the better, cheaper option.

In terms of what car you want your child to drive, a car noted for its safety features will help lower your premiums. Another option is to buy an older car with a low market value and do away with collision and comprehensive coverage altogether. Even if it’s totaled, it may not be worth much more than the deductible.

There also are steps your child can take to ease the financial burden. Many insurers offer a discount for children who receive good grades. Taking an insurer approved driver safety course, passing a safety test, or even just watching an instructional film also can earn a discount. Additionally, some carriers reduce premiums when a young driver leaves home for college, or reaches the age of 23 or 25.

Most importantly, keeping your agent informed will help you best. Let them know when your child reaches driving age, when he gets his permit, when he passes graduated licensing requirements, when he goes to college, if he takes a driver safety course, etc. They’re here to make sure your family has the coverage it needs for the price you want.

In Summary

Staying informed and up to date on your insurance policies isn’t just a wise precaution, it also can save you money. If you haven’t reviewed your coverage in a while you might be paying for things you no longer own, or unnecessarily covering additional drivers such as children who have since moved out or bought their own car.

Other insurance carriers might be offering better, cheaper options that meet your coverage needs. If you’ve simply been renewing your policy over and over for a while, sitting down with your agent for a review might leave you with better protection as well as a little more money in the bank.

Call your agent and go over the policies together to make sure you’re properly covered and not paying for something unnecessary. They’re here to help.

For more information talk to your financial professional, legal advisor, or the author of this article.

Your Professional Insurance Agent …
We want you to know about the insurance you’re buying.

Alan Plafker, CPIA is President of Member Brokerage Service LLC, a Melrose Credit Union Service Organization. He is a Certified Professional Insurance Agent and licensed Insurance Broker. He serves as First Vice President on the Board of Directors the PIANY (Professional Insurance Agents Association of NY), serves on the Board of CIBGNY (Council of Insurance Brokers of Greater NY), and serves as Treasurer for the New York Independent Livery Driver Benefit Fund Board of Directors. His Agency insures thousands of polices for TLC Insurance as well as many policies for all types of insurance. You can reach him in his Briarwood, Queens office at (718) 523-1300 Ext. 1082, or visit the website at:


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