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No matter where you live, you'll encounter storms. Most of the time these are routine, but some cause serious and dangerous problems. Here are tips for preparing for storms, and weathering them safely.

  • Always keep a battery-powered radio in your home so that you can tune to radio stations if you lose electricity. Check or change the batteries frequently.
  • Keep a flashlight in an easily accessible spot on every floor of your home. Check the batteries monthly, and replace them as needed.
  • Keep a supply of candles on hand for power failures.
  • As a safety precaution before leaving the house on vacation, unplug all electrical appliances except for those lights connected to automatic timers.
  • If you live in a storm-prone area, nail down roof shingles or use adequate adhesive to keep them from blowing off in a violent wind. For roofs with shingles that are not the seal-down type, apply a little dab of roofing cement under each tab.
  • A lightning-protection system should offer an easy, direct path for the bolt to follow into the ground and thus prevent injury or damage. Grounding rods (at least two for a house) should be placed at opposite corners of the house.
  • Don't go out during a hurricane unless you have to; however, if flooding threatens, seek high ground, and follow the instructions of civil defense personnel.
  • When a major storm is imminent, close shutters, board windows, or tape the inside of larger panes with an "X" along the full length of their diagonals. Even a light material like masking tape may give the glass the extra margin of strength it needs to resist cracking.
  • When a tornado threatens, leave windows slightly ajar.
  • The basement is not a good shelter during a tornado -- it's too close to gas pipes, sewer pipes, drains, and cesspools. A better shelter would be underground, far from the house (in case the roof falls) and away from the gas and sewer systems. Let all family members know where the shelter is.
  • Keep an eye on large trees -- even healthy ones -- that could damage your house if felled in a storm. Cut them back, if necessary.

Prepare for a Flood:

  • Keep emergency building supplies on hand, such as lumber, plywood, nails, hammer, saw, sandbags, shovel, crowbar and plastic sheeting.
  • Plan an evacuation route and meeting place. Practice the plan with your family.
  • Keep an emergency weather alert radio on hand. Be sure to always have backup batteries.
  • Make a written and video inventory. Keep insurance policies and a list of personal property in a safe location outside your home.
  • Prevent floodwater backup by having check valves installed in your plumbing.
  • Move electrical system components to a higher location. If possible, secure shelves and water heaters to walls.

During a Flood:

Keep safe during a flood by following these tips:

  • Listen to your radio or TV for emergency information. Evacuate immediately if told to do so.
  • Do not walk or drive through floods. Even 6 inches of moving water is dangerous.
  • Move to higher ground.
  • Avoid storm drains and sewers.
  • Look out for snakes and animals that seek shelter in your home.
  • Keep away from power lines.
  • Do not enter buildings surrounded by flood water.

After a Flood:

What do you do after your home has been flooded? Follow these tips from the American Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

  • Wait for the water to go down before entering your home.
  • Report downed power lines and gas leaks.
  • Turn off the electricity at the main breaker or fuse box. If you have to step in water to get to your electric box, call an electrician.
  • Turn off the gas if you have gas appliances. Then clean the mud out of the pilot and burners.
  • Check for structural damage.
  • Check the ceiling for signs of sagging. Poke a hole at the edge of the sag to drain water.
  • Find and protect the "irreplaceable" valuables such as money, jewelry, insurance papers, photographs and family heirlooms. Then freeze them in plastic bags to protect them from mildew and further damage.
  • Circulate air through your home by opening windows.
  • Patch holes in the roof, walls or windows with boards, tarps or plastic sheeting.
  • Repair sagging floors or roof sections with 4x4s to brace weak areas.
  • Remove debris such as tree limbs or other trash.
  • Check for broken or leaking water pipes. Do not drink, clean dishes, wash clothes or cook with tap water until it has been declared safe.
  • Drain water in your basement slowly and carefully. Pump 2 to 3 feet of water out and wait overnight. If the water level has risen, it is too early to drain your basement. Draining basements too early may result in serious structural damage.
  • Shovel out as much mud as possible.
  • Hose the house down, inside and out.
  • Hose heating and air conditioning ducts which may have mud in them to rid them of health hazards.
  • Hose out light sockets and electrical boxes. First, make sure the electricity is off.
  • Wash ducts work with a disinfectant or sanitizer, such as the quaternary, phenolic or pine oil-based cleaners.
  • Keep records of damage to the building, damage to the contents, receipts for cleanup and restoration expenses, such as material, labor and equipment rental, and receipts for flood-related expenses such as motel bills.
  • Replace wallboard which can act like a sponge and soak up health hazards in water.
  • Allow wood to dry naturally. It will usually regain its original shape.
  • Collect cleaning supplies such as brooms, mops, brushes, sponges, buckets, hoses, rubber gloves, rags, cleaning products, disinfectants, lubricating oil, trash bags and a hair dryer.
  • Clean and disinfect everything in your house, including the walls, floors, closest, shelves, contents-every flooded part of your house.

Don't automatically sign up for the same employer health insurance plan you've always had. Employers have been making big changes to their health insurance options in attempts to lower their costs, such as raising premiums, cutting back coverage, and boosting deductibles and other out-of-pocket expenses. The policy with the lowest premiums may end up costing you the most by the end of the year. You need to run the numbers through your potential expenses for the upcoming year to determine which policy is best for your family.

Many employers are offering incentives to encourage you and your family to get your health insurance elsewhere, such as offering bonuses if you don't sign up for your employer's plan or surcharges if your family could get coverage somewhere else but signs up for your policy instead. Check out all of your coverage options, such as insuring your whole family on your employer's policy, switching everyone to your spouse's employer plan, or staying on your employer's plan yourself while your spouse and kids go elsewhere. You need to run the numbers for each of your options and can mix and match to get the best deal.

You may get an even better deal by foregoing your employer's plan and buying health insurance on your own, or staying on your employer's plan yourself but having your spouse and kids sign up for their own policy. If they're healthy and live in a state with a competitive health insurance marketplace, they could reduce their premiums significantly.

Don't automatically keep COBRA health insurance coverage with your former employer after you leave your job or get divorced. If you're healthy, you could find a better deal on your own.

Raising your deductible to at least $1,000 for singles and $2,500 for family policies can save you a lot of money and help you qualify for a health savings account, which provides big tax benefits. The money you contribute lowers your taxable income, grows tax-deferred, and can be used tax-free for medical expenses at any age. Unlike flexible-spending accounts, which your employer may already offer, you don't have to use up the money by the end of the year.

Maximize the tax benefits of your health savings account by not using the money for your current medical expenses. If you can afford it, pay your medical bills with other cash and leave the HSA money in the account to grow tax-deferred (or tax-free if used for healthcare costs). Shop for an HSA with low fees and good long-term investing options.

Because higher deductibles and copayments mean you'll be paying a larger portion of your healthcare costs yourself, you need to become a smart healthcare shopper. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you can switch to any lower-cost medications, shop for basic medical supplies on your own, make most of free preventive care, and take advantage of your employer's tools to help minimize costs.

If you don't have health insurance through an employer, buying an individual policy may cost a lot less than you'd expect, especially if you're healthy and live in a state with a competitive health insurance marketplace. Shop around online and through an agent, comparing premiums as well as overall costs, and raise your deductible to qualify for an HSA.

Recent graduates who are healthy can generally get a much better deal by buying their own health insurance policy, keeping the deductible high, and qualifying for a health savings account, which can help them build a giant tax-free fund for future medical expenses. A short-term policy may be a cost-effective way to find coverage for just a few months. All of these options tend to be less expensive than staying on their parents' policy through COBRA, unless they're in poor health.

Health insurance prices vary a lot from company to company, especially if you have any medical problems. One insurer may reject you while another offers a great rate. It helps to work with an agent or broker who knows which insurers tend to be most competitive for people with your condition and the best strategies for strengthening your case. Shop around again if your health improves.

Learning to save money when you purchase life insurance for you or your loved ones may seem like an impossible task, but it’s quite easy. Read on to find out how to save money on life insurance by following these top tips from a financial services planner.

Even with all the available information online, it’s always a good idea to have a few Top Tips in your back pocket when you’re shopping for life insurance. They’ll help you ask the right questions and find the best policy.

1. Name a Beneficiary - Making the mistake of failing to name a beneficiary could put your life insurance into part of the estate, putting it through probate. Save your relatives trouble by following through on naming the beneficiaries on your policy.

2. In the early years a Reviewable Life Insurance Policy will be cheaper but a Guaranteed Policy will work out as better buy in the long term.

  • With a “Guaranteed Policy” the insurance company guarantees never to increase your policy’s premium.
  • With a “Reviewable Policy” your insurance company can review the cost of your policy at regular intervals, which usually means increasing the policy’s premiums after each review. The review intervals are usually between 2 to 5 years but can vary between insurance companies.
  • If you compare the two policies, the early years the premiums for a “Reviewable Policy” will undoubtedly be lower than the premiums for a “Guaranteed Policy”. After that, the premiums for a Reviewable Policy increase eventually catching up with and overtaking, the premium for a “Guaranteed Policy”.
  • If you currently have a tight budget, then a Reviewable Policy may be the best choice. On the other hand, if the premiums for a Guaranteed Policy are affordable for you, we think they represent your best buy.

A Joint Life Insurance policy is usually written on a first death basis. What this means is that the policy will pay out on the death of the first policyholder, subject to the policy being in force at the time. The bad thing is that it leaves the second person older and uninsured.

Older individuals can struggle to get life affordable insurance premiums, so rather than a Joint Policy consider taking out separate policies now. Overall it will work out to be a little more expensive, but you get twice the coverage and double the peace of mind.

Shopping for homeowner insurance is one of those nagging home buying details that sometimes manages to slip though the cracks. It’s not unusual for insurance agents to receive last-minute frantic phone calls from title and / or escrow companies requesting a home insurance binder. To save yourself trouble, it’s a good idea to start shopping for a homeowner policy as soon as your purchase offer is accepted. Here are a few tips about buying homeowner insurance that are designed to save you time and money:

Determine Insurability

Your insurance agent needs extensive information from you to quote you the best rate for your policy. To determine insurability, an agent will ask:

  • When was the home built?
  • How old is the plumbing and electrical?
  • What type of roof?
  • What’s the square footage?
  • How many claims have been filed over the past 5 years?
  • Where is the home located?

If the home is located in a rural area without a nearby fire department or there is no fire hydrant on the street, some companies may refuse to insure it. In that case, you may have to inquire at a specialty or surplus-lines company, and this quote will take longer to obtain.

Deductibles

You can save money by having a higher deductible on your policy. Typically, insurance companies will start giving discounts at a $500 deductible and increase the discount as your deductible increases. Most companies offer deductibles up to $10,000. Be careful, however, because many mortgage companies will not allow you to exceed a $1,000 deductible, so check with your lender before opting for a higher deductible.

How Much Insurance Do You Need?

Most agents use a cost estimator to figure cost replacement estimates. This will ensure that your home is insured for the correct amount. Insurance companies do not insure dirt. If you buy a home that includes a large lot, do not be astonished when you receive an insurance policy for a lot less than what you paid for the home. This is because you are buying coverage for the home and not the land.

In the past, replacement coverage was called Guaranteed Replacement Cost. There is no such coverage anymore. Today it is Replacement Cost Coverage, which means each insurance company designates a percentage of additional coverage on top of the insured amount. This is designed to protect the homeowner who has suffered a loss from having to pay additional construction costs to rebuild. It can cost more to build because of inflation or simply because material prices have increased. For example, if the dwelling coverage is insured for $300,000, and the company has 125% replacement cost coverage, the homeowner would receive an additional $75,000.

I recommend 200% replacement cost coverage, which gives homeowners double the coverage.

Policy Options

You have other choices on your home insurance policy that you can tailor. Liability coverage is a part of your homeowner's insurance policy that is often overlooked. This protects the insured against claims arising from bodily injury and property damage to others. For example, if your five-year-old was playing with matches and set your neighbor’s house on fire, your liability coverage would pay for this damage. You might have to move out of the neighborhood, but your insurance policy would pay your neighbor.

It is common to see $300,000 in coverage for liability, but the cost to raise it to $500,000 is about $20 more a year. You can have up to one-million coverage on most policies. Over that, you need an excess liability policy or “umbrella” policy. Umbrella policies give you an additional $1,000,000 liability coverage for a $300 to $500 premium.

Available Discounts

Make sure that you are getting all of the credits for which you are eligible. If you have an alarm system that reports to a central station (a company such as Brinks or ADT), in some cases, you can get up to a 10% discount. If you are over 50 and care to admit it, you may be eligible for a discount. Companies have different names for age preference policies, from senior discount to mature policyholder discount.

The most common discount is the multi-policy discount. This will save you money on your home and auto insurance. By combining the two policies with the same company, you are given a certain percentage discount on both. the percentage discounts vary among companies, so it’s best to shop around.

Review Your Policies

Call your agent and review your homeowner policy at least every three years. Needs change, markets change and coverages change. You should stay up-to-date on your insurance because you never know when you will need to rely on it.

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