How Smoking Affects Your Health Insurance Premiums

You are probably aware of how smoking can affect your health, but do you know how it changes your health insurance premiums?

Determining Factors

Health insurance premiums are determined based on five factors: age, location, plan category, number of dependents, and tobacco use. Insurance companies define tobacco use as the use of tobacco products (cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, and chewing tobacco) on an average of four times a week and within the last six months.

Tobacco Rating

Health insurers cannot outright deny coverage to smokers, but they can charge them higher premiums than non-smokers. The Affordable Care Act allows insurance companies to charge smokers up to 50% more for premiums. The explanation for this is simply that smokers are more likely to develop health concerns in the future, and therefore represent a greater risk for insurance companies. This surcharge is also known as tobacco rating, and states may opt out or charge below 50%. At this point most states charge the maximum 50% rate, but there are a handful that have taken the other options.

Honor System

It is important to point out that when applying for health insurance, lying about your smoking habits in order to receive lower premiums is considered a form of insurance fraud. In effect, by lying about tobacco use you are misrepresenting your health risks. Even if you use a smoking cessation device such as a vaporizer or an e-cigarette, many insurance companies will still consider you a smoker and raise your premiums in the same they will for tobacco product users.

Uninsured Dangers

Because of the higher premiums, some smokers may opt out of health or life insurance altogether. This can be a costly mistake due to the increased risk of diseases that commonly arise from long term tobacco use. If an uninsured smoker does become diagnosed with something like cancer or heart disease, they will surely wish they had insurance coverage to assist with treatment.

Preventative Care

There is some disagreement over whether higher insurance premiums actually help people stop smoking, but there are some providers that offer coverage for smoking cessation programs as preventative care.

Having healthy habits is not only beneficial to your wallet; it is also beneficial to you and those who love you the most. Health insurance can help ensure that you’ll be there for family and friends for many more years to come. Reach out to one of our agents today to learn more about what you can be doing to take precautions for the future of your health.

How Marriage Can Change Your Insurance Needs

You already know that marriage will change a lot of things in your life. When you say “I do” you are combining your entire world – and often your home – with someone else’s. Among the changes that come with married life are adjustments you should make to your insurance coverage.

Home & Property

If you and your spouse move in together after getting married, you will want to have both of your names listed on the policy to ensure you both benefit from its protection. In addition to this change, you should consider increasing or adjusting your personal property coverage. Even before the wedding, you will want to get the engagement ring covered. Even if you never take the ring off and have no chance of losing it, there is still a chance that stones could fall out. Over the course of your engagement and even after the wedding, you may also receive valuable gifts. Whether you live together prior to marriage or combine your households after, wedding gifts can increase the total value of your possessions and require updates to your personal property coverage.

Auto

Auto insurance can undergo some of the biggest changes for married couples. Studies have found that married people have fewer motor vehicle accidents and take fewer risks while driving. Your auto insurance rates may decrease significantly after you get married. However if one spouse has a poor driving record, combining policies may not be the best option. It is best to get your agent’s advice on this matter, since he or she will be in the best position to tell you how you and your spouse can benefit from policy changes.

Life

If you and your future spouse do not already have life insurance policies, the event of your marriage is a good reason to consider purchasing life insurance. After all, once the two become one, you will most likely come to reply on each other financially. If either of you already possesses life insurance, you may want to update your beneficiary information to include your new spouse. Younger couples may not believe they need life insurance, but this coverage is likely going to be the least expensive while you are young and healthy. Life insurance will help protect your new family from the unexpected for years to come.

Health

Marriage is one of the qualifying life events that allow you to make changes to your health insurance policy outside of open enrollment. Usually valid within 60 days of the wedding, you can change your policies or add your spouse to your plan. Even if both partners already have health insurance through your employers, it can be worth it to speak to your agent about whether your current health coverage has everything you need.

Last but not least, if you are changing your name after getting married, be sure to submit the change to your insurance company after finishing the legal side of the process! Marriage can be a wonderful thing, and when you have the proper insurance you are able to enjoy it even more fully.

WHY STAY AT HOME PARENTS NEED LIFE INSURANCE

You may think that the only parents who need life insurance are working parents, but that isn’t exactly correct. A stay at home parent is more than just a mother or father. These individuals wear many hats: tutor, chef, chauffeur, housekeeper, caretaker, and more. The true value of these duties is priceless, but the economic value of them is clearly measurable. Purchasing a life insurance policy for a stay at home parent is a smart and compassionate way to ensure that your family is financially protected in the event of the unthinkable.

THE VALUE OF THE INVALUABLE

Purchasing life insurance for a stay at home parent may seem strange since one of the purposes of life insurance is to replace the insured’s income that dependents rely on. Even though they do not earn an income, a stay at home parent’s work may be valued at over $100,000 a year. This means that in the case of a stay at home parent’s death, the surviving parent could be responsible for over $100,000 of equivalent services each year. Daycare alone can cost up to $20,000 a year, depending on the state you live in and the age of the child. Even if it doesn’t cost that much, this kind of expense can put a heavy burden on a surviving parent – and this is only one example. For this parent to continue earning an income, some or all of the work the stay at home parent previously performed will need to be outsourced. Having a life insurance policy in place for the stay at home parent can assist in alleviating these newfound financial responsibilities.

CONSIDER TERM LIFE INSURANCE

A term life insurance policy is a good option for a stay at home parent since it can cover a range of years in which the family is at the most risk in case of the stay at home parent’s death. After children are grown, there are fewer services that a stay at home parent performs, and less coverage may be needed.

OTHER ADVANTAGES

In addition to providing assistance with the duties of child and home care, life insurance for a stay at home parent can also provide financial help with final expenses, debts, and other common uses for life insurance.

SPEAK TO AN AGENT

If you and your spouse are considering purchasing life insurance for the stay at home parent in the family, the best way to figure out what kind of coverage is best for your needs is to speak to one of our independent agents. We are here to help you think about the difficult things so your family can be better protected.

Teens and Distracted Driving

Starting to drive is one of the most exciting experiences for teenagers, but it can also be one of the most dangerous. According to the CDC, teenagers are the most likely age group to get into a traffic accident. Teens are more likely to speed and less likely to wear seatbelts than older drivers. They are also much more likely to become distracted while driving, resulting in a much higher potential for injury-causing or even fatal accidents. What are the most common distractions facing teen drivers, and what can be done?

Cell Phone Usage

Perhaps the most obvious cause of teen distracted driving is the use of cell phones while on the road. Cell phone use while driving is illegal in some states, but many people–especially teenagers–still engage in it. Both talking on the phone and texting are dangerous for the teen driver, and many teens will even open and use social media apps while driving. Distracted driving causes 15% of all injury-causing accidents, so as the most susceptible to distracted driving, teens should be made highly aware of the potential consequences of their actions.  

Talking on the phone can cause mental distraction and manual distraction, and even hands-free conversation methods can cause distraction. Texting while driving is much more dangerous, as it causes mental, manual, and visual distraction. Taking your mind off the road is never good, but focusing your mind, hands, and eyes elsewhere is an incredibly dangerous combination. When you are distracted in these ways, reactions to potential dangers are much slower or may be completely missed.

Other Distractions

Cell phones are a serious distraction for teen drivers, but they are not the only source. Anything that takes your hands off of the wheel and mind or eyes off of the road can cause an accident. This includes activities such as eating, changing the music, applying makeup, and interacting with passengers. This last is perhaps the most dangerous of all. Studies have found that teenagers’ chances of a crash increase significantly with each additional passenger in the vehicle. This is especially true if the fellow passengers are teen peers.

Solutions

It is important for parents to share the dangers of distracted driving with their teenage children, but it is even more important for adults to model responsible driving behavior. Teens will not heed warnings against phone usage or other risky activities if they regularly see their parents engaging in these behaviors.

There are also some mobile apps that will prevent cell phone usage while a car is in motion or when manually enabled before driving. These apps can be a good way to help teens become accustomed to leaving their phone alone while driving, so that in the future they can practice self control on their own.

Be Prepared

Educating teens about distracted driving and helping them find ways to combat these dangers can greatly help reduce teenage traffic accidents. However, we cannot control everyone on the road, and even the safest drivers can experience a collision. Make sure you and your family is covered in the event of a car accident with the right auto insurance.

Strategies to Reduce Employee Illness and Injury

As a business owner, the health and safety of your employees should be a top priority. Not only are healthy employees happier, but they are more productive, too. Ultimately, having high health and safety standards will also reduce costs to your business since insurance premiums will be lower with a cleaner safety record. Additionally, having employees that are healthy and able to work will reduce costs that would arise from loss of productivity or hiring and training in the case that your employee has an accident and is unable to continue.

ROOT CAUSES

Workplace injuries or illnesses can occur for a number of reasons. Improper application of safety procedures or protective gear, misuse of equipment, lack of ergonomic solutions, and overexertion from overtime work are common themes that lead to workplace injury–or even death. It is important to pay attention to the past injuries or accidents that have occurred at your business, so you can plan to prevent them in the future.

EDUCATION IS KEY

The best way to ensure that health and safety standards are met in your workplace is to regularly educate both management and staff about the proper procedures. While everyone may receive this kind of training in orientation, employees that stay on for several years will eventually forget what they learned and may unintentionally lapse in their duties to uphold the company’s standards. For this reason, it is a good idea to schedule employee health and safety refreshers at regular intervals.

DEVELOP A PLAN

With regular meetings about wellness and safety comes an increased awareness of the unique safety concerns that may be present at your business. Each type of business will have its own specific concerns. Meetings can be an excellent way to hear the concerns and opinions of all employees and identify matters that may need to be investigated or procedures that may need to be adjusted. If your business does not already have a health and safety plan, use these meetings to develop one based on the input of your management and staff.

GET INSURED

Implementing high health and safety standards can do a lot to reduce the frequency of employee illness and injury, but accidents may still happen. In the case that they do, you want to make sure your company has the right insurance coverage to take care of your employees and prevent losses to your business.

6 Ways to Know if Your Brakes are Failing

Brake failure is easily one of the most dangerous malfunctions that can occur in your vehicle. There are many reasons why brakes fail, but even if you aren’t a mechanic, you should know the signs of brake failure so you can get your car serviced as soon as you start noticing them! Here are six ways to know if your brakes are starting to malfunction.

YOUR BRAKE PEDAL HAS FALLEN

A falling brake pedal is one of the classic signs of brake failure. When your brakes are in good condition, your pedal will stay in the same position every day. If it falls toward the floor, it will be impossible not to notice. This means that your brakes are likely out of adjustment, and it could mean that there is a mechanical failure or air in your vehicle’s system.

YOUR BRAKES ARE SQUEALING OR GRINDING

Brakes that squeal or grind aren’t just nuisances. They’re actually a pretty serious problem, because these noises can indicate that your brake pads are wearing thin and/or that the brake is worn all the way down to the rotors.

YOUR BRAKE PEDAL IS VIBRATING

When we say vibrating, we don’t just mean the slight shudder caused by your anti-lock brake system (ABS)  when you slam on the brakes really hard. We mean a shudder that happens when you hit your brake normally, often accompanied by a chattering noise and a hard-to-control steering wheel. The chattering sound is usually produced by warped rotors, which the brakes can’t clamp onto as easily to stop the vehicle.

YOU THINK YOUR ALIGNMENT IS OFF

If your car is pulling to one side or the other when you brake, don’t automatically mistake it for a slight misalignment! If you notice the pulling only when you apply pressure to your brakes, it could mean that one of the car’s wheel cylinders or calipers is seized or frozen. It could also mean that you have fluid leaking on the brake pads or shoes.

YOU HAVE TO HIT THE BRAKES HARDER

If you begin noticing that you have to press your brakes harder than usual to slow down or stop, it could mean that one of your brakes or an axle isn’t performing the way it should. Don’t let this continue for awhile; call your mechanic and bring your car in for a checkup as soon as possible.

WHAT TO DO

If you think your brakes are failing, it is imperative that you get your vehicle checked out as soon as you can. Properly functioning brakes can do more than save you from a fender-bender and an insurance headache – they can save your life.

What to Expect In a Life Insurance Exam

If you are reasonably healthy with no preexisting medical conditions, it is likely that your best bet for getting great life insurance at a low rate is to take a physical exam. This exam determines if you are prone to illnesses that would make you a higher risk to insure, such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, stroke, etc. We’ve put together a list of things to expect from your exam so you can be better prepared to take it.

When, Where, and How Long

The exam itself won’t be much different than a routine exam with your doctor. However, there is no set office location that insurance companies operate out of, and they know that scheduling an appointment can be difficult. Therefore, they will send out a paramedical technician either to your home or workplace, depending on your preference. You’ll want to schedule the exam early in the morning if you can, because fasting blood work will be required. The exam itself should only take about 30 minutes.

Before Your Exam

To get the best results possible from your physical, drink plenty of water the day before and the morning of your exam. Also, skip your morning coffee – caffeine will elevate your blood pressure, which could mean a difference in your test results and cost of premium, even if you aren’t prone to blood pressure issues! Similarly, avoid alcohol, nicotine, excessive salt, and fatty foods a few days before your exam, as these substances can negatively affect your blood work results. Make sure to study up on your medical history and be ready to list any medications you take, as well.

During Your Exam

During the exam, your tech will perform routine health checks you would normally expect from a doctor: height/weight, pulse, blood pressure, blood work, and a urine sample. If you are an older applicant, your technician may ask you to undergo an EKG to measure your heart’s electrical activity. These tests are performed to check for the following:

  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Elevated cholesterol
  • Nicotine usage
  • Recreational drugs
  • Hyperglycemia
  • Blood diseases such as HIV and hepatitis

After Your Exam

The results from your paramedical exam will be given to the insurance company and taken into consideration along with your age, family medical history, and lifestyle. If all goes as it should, expect to hear back with your actual quote within a few weeks.

If you’ve been keeping healthy and prepared for the exam properly, you should pass the exam and score a lower premium on your policy! If you’re concerned that the results of your exam are inaccurate, you can ask your carrier to schedule a second exam. This will not do away with the results of the first exam, but the two will be combined and your new premium will be based on the composite.

Keep In Touch With Your Agent!

If you have any questions at all before or after your paramedical exam, don’t hesitate to give your independent agent a call. Not only are they experts in the insurance field, but they can direct you to the right carriers for your case to help you get the best price on life insurance, no matter the state of your health.

How to Handle a Parking Lot Accident

Parking lots are considered one of the most dangerous places to drive for a reason. With limited visibility, crowded spaces, and mediocre signage, parking lots are hot spots for fender benders on a daily basis. When an accident happens in a parking lot, there are typically three characters who have an important role to play in resolving the wreck quickly and calmly: the driver, the victim, and the witness. Here, we break down what you should do in this situation according to your role:

If You Are the Driver

As the offending driver, there are several scenarios you can find yourself in here. The number one thing to remember is, no matter what, don’t drive off! You may be panicking and thinking you can get away with it, but hit-and-runs are pretty serious offenses in most states, and parking lot surveillance cameras are more common than you’d think.

If the car was parked, go inside the establishment and try to track down the driver. The best way to do this is to get a customer service representative to describe the victim’s car and make an announcement over the intercom. If the driver doesn’t appear, it’s time to take all the matters into your own hands. If the damage to the car is as minor as a scratch or small dent, write a note that includes your name, number, and explanation of the accident and secure it onto the other driver’s car. If the damage is more extensive, call the police to come document the accident in the parking lot. This professional documentation helps police track down the other driver, and it can protect you in the long run when it’s time to file an insurance claim.

If You’re the Victim

If your car is the one that got hit, it is important to contact your auto insurance agent as soon as you can. The faster an accident is reported, the more accurate the claim will be. If the other driver is still at the scene, make sure you write down their name, phone number, driver’s license number, address, and insurance company.

Whether the other driver is still there or not, record evidence of the accident. Take pictures of the damage and look for witnesses in the parking lot. Before you leave, go into the store and ask the manager if he or she has any security camera footage you can check. If the other driver left, this last step can help you and the police track them down!

If You’re a Witness

As a witness, you may feel like you aren’t involved in the accident, but you actually play a very important role here. If you see a parking lot accident happen, you should provide assistance to the victim and driver. If the offending driver drove away, then help the other driver document the damage. Also provide them with your contact information so the police or insurance company can contact you later if needed. Having a witness on hand can really help the victim later on. It isn’t against the law to turn your head and not help out, but it is the right thing to do and a generally accepted social rule to stop and help if you witness an accident.

5 Surprising Household Hazards

We know you do everything you can to keep your house safe, especially if you have small children or adventurous pets. You’ve tied up the drawstrings on your blinds, placed non-slip grips on the shower floor, secured your cleaning liquids in an upper cabinet, and changed the batteries in the smoke detector, so everything checks out as safe, right? Well, not necessarily.

There will always be hazards anywhere you go, so home will never be completely safe, but here are a few common household hazards that are easy to miss, and easy to fix.

  1. Trash Cans

A trash can that closes well is important to keep curious noses and little hands from digging into rubbish that could contain a multitude of hazards. Items like broken glass, toxic substances, and spoiled food can still pose a threat, even after they’re in the trash can. So, forego the cheap flip lids and purchase a lid that closes well enough to keep kids and dogs away.

  1. Broken Garage Door

Electronic garage doors are made to sense objects (or people!) underneath them and retract to keep injuries from occurring. Like all electronic things, garage doors experience malfunctions and breakdowns which, in this case, can be harmful or even deadly. If your garage door starts acting funny or experiences some damage, call a professional to come service it for you – an important fix of this magnitude shouldn’t be left up to instructions from the internet.

  1. Window Screens

You want to throw those windows open with abandon because the weather outside is irresistible! We get it, but don’t think that a child is safe just because the window has a screen. The small, transparent frame that keeps bugs from getting in isn’t enough to catch the weight of a falling or pushing person, so make sure the windows on your upper floors have bars! At least until the kids get older.

  1. Treadmills

Treadmills can easily be one of the most dangerous items in your house for both children and adults if they aren’t operated with care. Falls on a treadmill can result in traction burns, broken bones, pinched skin and snagged clothing, and more. Every treadmill should come with an attached safety magnet to be worn during workouts. Make sure every user wears the clip, and turn on the safety switch or unplug the treadmill when it isn’t in use.

  1. Electronic Appliances

From blow dryers to microwaves, electronic appliances have the ability to malfunction and cause fires or electrocution. Always pay attention to any unusual display messages on your appliances, and carefully follow instructions for proper use. If you know you’ll be running many outlets at once, invest in a surge protector to protect you and your other appliances.

And Don’t Forget Home Insurance

No matter what happens in your house, a good home insurance policy with liability coverage will always have your back. Independent agents have the ability to shop multiple carriers for good policies that fit your unique risks and budget! So, if you don’t have your home insurance policy yet, get in touch with your independent agent to find the right coverage for you.

How Whole Life Insurance Can Be Useful During Your Lifetime

Permanent life insurance, sometimes referred to as whole life insurance, is a policy guaranteed to remain in force for the insured’s entire lifetime as long as the premiums are paid. While it serves its purpose of helping your beneficiaries when you pass away, it can also help you financially during your lifetime in several ways.

Fixed Premiums & Tax Free Benefits

The premiums on a whole life insurance policy are usually higher than premiums on term life, but the good news is that whole life premiums are fixed. The premium is based on the age of issue, and they usually do not increase with age. The policyholder either pays premiums until death, or establishes a limited pay policy that can be paid up in 10 to 20 years, or by age 65. The death benefit paid by a whole life insurance policy typically passes on to your beneficiaries income tax-free.

Opportunities for Policy Dividends

When insurance companies experience better-than-expected performance, they sometimes pay whole life insurance policyholders a return of premium. These dividends are never a guarantee, but they can be a nice surprise to increase a policy’s death benefit or cash value! What you receive from the dividends is also not usually considered taxable income, so the reward is 100% yours to keep.

Cash Value

The cash value of a whole life insurance policy makes it valuable to you long before death. A whole life insurance policy allows for accumulation of cash value on a tax deferred basis over time. The policyholder can use this cash value to help cover unexpected expenses, debts, or simply go towards retirement income. Unpaid loans and withdrawals will reduce the cash value and the death benefit, but utilizing this option may be worth it if you find yourself in a tight spot financially.

Get the Coverage You Need Today

Are your beneficiaries protected in the event of your death? If not, it’s time to look into a life insurance policy. The benefits in this blog accompany a whole life insurance policy, but there are multiple coverage options available depending on your needs. Contact our independent agents to get your questions answered and get on the road to great coverage!