Homeowners insurance blog

Auto Insurance Alternatives Could Leave You in a Vulnerable State

If you feel like gambling, you don’t always have to hit the casinos in Las Vegas or Atlantic City. Depending on where you live, you could choose to take part in a perfectly legal game of chance every time you drive your car.

You wouldn’t be wagering on the draw of the cards or a roll of the dice. You’d be betting that you could pass on auto insurance without suffering any financial consequences.

Unlike homeowners insurance, car insurance is commonly mandated by state laws. Most states require residents who drive to have auto insurance that, at the minimum, includes liability coverage. On the other hand, a small minority of states may offer alternatives to minimum insurance and mandatory liability.

Drivers who live in these states have the option to bet against car insurance, but they should also understand what could happen if the gamble doesn’t pay off. Without the protection of liability insurance, causing a wreck could also wreck your finances.

How Does Alternative Insurance Work?

Each state government determines its own car insurance requirements, which means that the rules could change as soon as the next legislative session. As of May 2016, however, the car insurance alternatives in effect include:

Proof of Financial Responsibility — New Hampshire, Mississippi and Arizona

Although car insurance is generally not mandatory in New Hampshire, drivers must demonstrate that they have the financial resources to cover the costs of an at-fault collision. (If you read between the lines, the state regulations essentially say that buying liability insurance is the easiest, most practical solution.) New Hampshire law is less ambiguous about drivers convicted of offenses such as DWI and reckless driving. For them, insurance may be mandatory.

Mississippi has had a minimum liability insurance system since 2000. However, the state’s insurance department website also mentions that a driver may “technically” satisfy the requirements with a cash deposit, security deposit or bond equal to the required amounts.

Arizona offers a similar option to its own minimum insurance requirements. Instead of insurance, a driver may also show proof of financial responsibility with a $40,000 bond or certificate of deposit.

Uninsured Motor Vehicle Fee — Virginia

In the Commonwealth of Virginia, an owner may have the option to register his or her car as an uninsured motor vehicle. The Uninsured Motor Vehicle Fee costs $500 and is good for 12 months.

Why Is Liability Coverage a Big Deal?

Think of liability insurance as an umbrella for a potentially expensive rainy day. If you cause a wreck that injures other people or causes damage to their property, or both, liability coverage can help assist with the resulting costs.

Although you can’t predict what those costs might be, statistics may give you a general idea. The Insurance Information Institute reports that in 2014, the average auto liability claims amounted to:

  • $16,640 for bodily injury claims
  • $3,290 for property damage claims


Compared with paying several thousand dollars out of pocket due to a collision you caused, paying the average yearly cost of car insurance — $1,222, according to AAA’s 2016 “Your Driving Costs” study — might seem quite reasonable.

Measuring Risk vs. Reward

It’s hard to speculate as to why liability loopholes remain on the books in some states. They could be a pre-1950s relic from a time before states began making car insurance mandatory.

In fairness, states with alternative insurance don’t draw much attention to it. For their resident drivers who do have insurance, protections such as medical pay and uninsured motorist coverage may be required. The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles website even states the potential risks plainly: “If involved in an accident, the uninsured motorist remains personally liable.”

If you live in one of the states where minimum liability insurance may not be required, you could take the gamble. If luck is on your side, you may be able to avoid collisions and the cost of premiums. Just remember that if you lose, the financial stakes could be high.

National No Housework Day: Celebrate, But Don’t Get Carried Away

National No Housework Day is April 7. Before you jump at the chance to put the broom down and kick your feet up, keep in mind that neglecting routine home maintenance for an extended period of time can end up costing you later on.

Think back to the day you got the shiny new set of keys. You promised to protect your investment by keeping the place in tip-top shape.

Then the busyness of daily life starts to set in. Months or years pass, and the household chores and maintenance you neglected have turned into major repair bills.

Instead of waiting until a small maintenance issue turns into a serious and expensive fix, practice preventative home maintenance by following a few key tips. And when April 7 rolls around, you can take your day off from housework with a clear conscience.

Check for cracks in the tile and caulk.

Water can seep through tile and caulk cracks in kitchen and bathroom areas, leading to severe damage and mold buildup. Re-caulking is an easy, inexpensive do-it- yourself project that can end up saving you a lot of money. Consider purchasing a caulk gun and a few tools—it’ll save you a lot of money down the road. If ignored, you may have to replace rotten flooring, drywall and wall studs due to mold and water damage, which can be a huge hit to your bank account.

Don’t let leaks linger. 

Leaky faucets literally equal money down the drain. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, even a slow leak at one drip per second can waste more than 3,000 gallons of water per year in the United States. But there’s hope! Fixing faucets and showerheads at the first sign of a leak can save you up to 10% on your monthly water bill. Purchase a wrench, screwdriver and a few other tools so you can take care of it yourself before it becomes a full-blown problem. You’ll be glad you did.

Be pest preventative.

Make your home less enticing to unwelcome critters by disposing of trash, wiping up spills and not leaving food out that could attract bugs, rodents or other outdoor creatures. Since it’s much harder to get rid of pests after they arrive, make it a habit to have your home checked and sprayed for termites and other pests regularly before you have to deal with an infestation.

Everything in moderation.

Taking a break from housework every now and then is a healthy practice. However, not maintaining your home for extended periods of time could end up costing you both time and money down the road.

So go ahead, relax and enjoy this year’s National No Housework Day—just try not to celebrate for too long.

Skipping Town This Spring? Keep These Safety Tips In Mind

The mercury is rising, and after a long winter, many people are beginning to feel stir crazy. The snow kept us indoors for months, and now we’re craving changes of scenery.

If you and your family plan to trade the winter blues for sand between your toes and waves crashing over your beach chair, be sure to follow these tips for a safe, stress-free spring vacation.

Keep your home safe.

Departing for an adventure after many months of cold and dreary weather is undoubtedly exciting. So exciting, in fact, that you may be tempted to post about your travel plans on social media. Don’t. Especially if your profile is public, posting about being away from home can let burglars know that it’s a good time to ransack your home and take any valuables you’ve left behind.

Tell a trusted neighbor you’ll be on vacation so they can keep an eye on your place. Let the police know as well so they can drive by periodically. They can alert you if anything looks suspicious or out of place and nip any problems in the bud.

Make sure all doors and windows are locked before you take off. Also, stop your mail for the length of time you’ll be away and consider investing in a light timer. Homes with piles of mail and newspapers, combined with lights constantly off or on, can signal that your home is an ideal target for burglaries.

Protect your identity.

According to statistics gathered by Experian’s ProtectMYID identity theft awareness program, 39% of Americans experienced some form of identity theft while traveling in 2015, a nine percent increase from the year before. Although it’s a real threat, there are precautions you can take to decrease your risk of being a victim.

Be wary of using a shared Internet connection when traveling, especially when accessing private information, such as checking your bank account. Public WiFi offered at many airports can be decrypted, giving hackers easy access to your personal information. If you absolutely need to log on to an unprotected hotspot, limit activity to casual communication.

Watch your wallet.

Many thieves engage in electronic pickpocketing to steal your credit card information without ever laying hands on your wallet. Through Radio Frequency Information technology (RFID), pickpocketers can simply wave an electronic scanner near your purse or pocket, activate the RFID chip embedded in your credit card and download your information within seconds. Since carrying your credit cards is a necessary part of travel, consider purchasing a RFID-blocking money belt or wallet. Made with a special material that can block electronic scanners, these wallets can stop thieves in their tracks and keep your information safe.

Renting a car?

If renting a car during your trip is necessary, check with your insurance provider to make sure that your auto policy will cover you in case of any mishaps.

If you’re traveling abroad, bear in mind that some countries may require you to obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP). An IDP translates the license issued in your country of residence into another language, allowing you to rent a vehicle and drive on foreign soil. If you’re not sure if an IDP is necessary, check with the consulate of the country you’re visiting. Finally, study the rules of the road in your destination country in order to maintain safe driving habits while abroad.

Bon voyage!

No matter where your destination is, enjoy your time away worry-free by following these simple safety tips.

Black History Month: African American Inventors You Should Know

It’s Black History Month – a time to reflect and pay tribute to famous African Americans who were instrumental in bringing about positive changes in history. In their honor, we’re highlighting several African American pioneers in science and technology whose inventions have greatly impacted society.

Marie Van Brittan Brown and Albert Brown: Inventors of the Home Security System

According to the National Crime Prevention Council, a home is invaded an average of every 13 seconds in the United States, resulting in about 2.5 billion break-ins each year. However, technology can help decrease the chances of you becoming one of these statistics. Studies conducted by the FBI have found that 1 in 3 homes without a security system will fall victim to a burglary, compared to 1 in 250 homes that do have a security system.

Marie Van Brittan Brown and her husband, Albert Brown, understood the importance of keeping a home safe. They invented the first home surveillance system in 1966, which was later patented in 1969. Their invention enabled recordings from a closed-circuit television camera to be displayed in real time on a monitor, allowing homeowners to keep an eye on what would otherwise be out of sight. This system was the forerunner to the modern home surveillance systems.

Modern home surveillance systems not only help deter burglars, but can allow you to see a burglar entering your home and provide you time to get your family out safely and alert the police. These systems also provide video evidence if a crime is committed. This recorded evidence can be helpful when filing a police report.
Additionally, installing a home surveillance system can help you save on your homeowners insurance. Taking this action to decrease your risk of being the victim of a burglary also means you’re reducing the risk that you’ll file a claim, making you a more ideal candidate to insure. Because you’re less risky, your provider may award you discounts.

Garrett Morgan: Inventor of the Yellow Traffic Light

In a study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from 2007–2011, an average of 751 people die each year in the United States from collisions involving running red lights. This number is steep, but would likely be even higher if not for the modern traffic management system in the United States.

Garrett Morgan, “The Man Who Stopped Traffic,” is credited with coining the first three-position traffic signal. The inventor was inspired to create this traffic control device after witnessing a fatal automobile collision. Morgan dedicated his time and energy into coming up with a solution that would decrease the likelihood of wrecks of that magnitude. Although this was not the original traffic signal, Morgan’s invention added a new caution position to the traffic light, patented in 1923, which we now recognize as the yellow light.

Yellow traffic lights, or warning lights, are designed to optimize safety and traffic flow and typically last an average of three to six seconds before turning red. This signal alerts drivers that the light will be turning red momentarily, giving them time to safely stop. Morgan’s invention has greatly contributed to safer roadways in the United States. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that the yellow traffic light, when coupled with red-light safety cameras, can effectively minimize the annual occurrence of collisions due to motorists running red lights by 5.6%.

Though the yellow light has made driving safer, wrecks from motorists running red lights still occur daily. Your best bet to avoid being involved in this type of collision is to be a defensive driver. And if you take a defensive driving course, you could save on your auto insurance payments.

Otis Boykin: Inventor of the Pacemaker Control Unit

Heart disease causes an average of 610,000 deaths each year in the United States. Although it remains the leading cause of death in both men and women, heart complications are much more manageable thanks to modern medical technology. After data from more than 1,500 heart failure patients was analyzed, a team at the John Hopkins Medical Institute found that pacemakers could reduce mortality from heart failure by 51%.

African-American inventor Otis Boykin greatly improved the pacemaker of his time, creating a control unit for the device in the 1960s. This invention helped to accurately direct information sent from the computing system to the wiring within the pacemaker, making it more precisely regulated and functional. Boykin’s invention paved the way for the creation of the modern pacemaker, a battery-powered device implanted in the body that uses electronic pulses to stimulate the heartbeat.

According to research conducted by cardiologist Dr. Erik O. Udo, pacemakers can increase life expectancy in individuals with heart conditions up to 93%. Furthermore, this device could make it easier for patients to avoid high life insurance premiums by showing a history of improving health.

African American inventors: changing lives, one device at a time.

Thanks to these African American inventors and their creations, the standard of living has dramatically improved for millions, affording users greater peace of mind within the home, increased safety on the road and improved manageability of health conditions.

Although these pioneers are no longer with us, they have left a lasting impact on our community.

Batten Down the Hatches: How to Prepare Your Home for Winter Weather

Snowflakes and icicles dust and drip from rooftops throughout the country, especially after Winter Storm Jonas rolled through the eastern U.S., producing more than a foot of snow in 14 states, according to the Weather Channel. But winter is far from over. You’ve prepared for the season by pulling your warmest garments to the front of your closet, but have you gotten your home ready? According to Property Claim Services, winter storms cost more than $1 billion per year in insured losses.

You may not know what Mother Nature has in store for the rest of the season, but you can take steps to winterize your home and prepare for the unexpected.

Ice, Ice, Baby

Freezing rain or fluctuating temperatures can cause snow to melt and then refreeze, making  driveways and walkways around your home hazardous. Keep these areas free of snow by shoveling and using salt or kitty litter to help prevent slip-and-fall incidents. If guests do slip, fall and are injured on your property, you may be liable for medical expenses. Speak with your agent to make sure your policy has plenty of liability coverage to protect you from out-of-pocket expenses.

Take a Little Off the Top

Trim any dead or damaged branches on the trees in your yard. With snow piling on top of said branches, they may not be able to withstand the weight, causing them to snap, fall and either injure someone or damage your home or car.

Show Your Pipes Some TLC

In the winter, pipes are at risk of freezing and bursting. Though this type of water damage can be covered by your insurance policy, claims are often costly. According to the Insurance Information Institute, burst pipes account for about 22% of home insurance claims and average $4,024 per claim.

To prevent becoming a statistic, insulate your pipes. It’s also a best practice to keep your thermostat at 65 degrees or above, let warm water drip from your faucets and open cabinets to keep pipes toasty when temperatures dwindle. If your pipes do freeze, know where your shut-off valve is located so you can turn off your home’s water supply and help prevent extensive damage.

Raise the Roof

Check your roof for loose or missing shingles, and walk around your home searching for gaps, cracks or openings around windows, doors or in the foundation. If you see any part of your home’s exterior in disrepair, fix it before snow or rain can seep in and cause damage.

Review Your Policy

Thoroughly walk through your homeowners policy to make sure you have the appropriate coverage for a range of winter-related claims. If you’re unsure if your insurance is up to snuff, contact your agent and have him or her explain the ins and outs of your policy and various scenarios in which you would or wouldn’t be covered.

Even though the weather outside if frightful, completing a full check of your home’s external and internal vulnerabilities to the elements can help prevent winter damage and save you the headache of costly repairs.