What is auto insurance?
Auto insurance protects you against financial loss if you have an accident. It is a contract between you and the insurance company. You agree to pay the premium and the insurance company agrees to pay your losses as defined in your policy. Auto insurance provides property, liability and medical coverage: Property coverage pays for damage to or theft of your car. Liability coverage pays for your legal responsibility to others for bodily injury or property damage. Medical coverage pays for the cost of treating injuries, rehabilitation and sometimes lost wages and funeral expenses. An auto insurance policy is comprised of six different kinds of coverage. Most states require you to buy some, but not all, of these coverages. If you’re financing a car, your lender may also have requirements. Most auto policies are for six months to a year. Your insurance company should notify you by mail when it’s time to renew the policy and to pay your premium.
What is in a basic auto policy?
Your auto policy may include six coverages. Each coverage is priced separately.
1. Bodily Injury Liability
This coverage applies to injuries you, the designated driver or policyholder cause to someone else. You and family members listed on the policy are also covered when driving someone else’s car with their permission.
It’s very important to have enough liability insurance, because if you are involved in a serious accident, you may be sued for a large sum of money. Definitely consider buying more than the state-required minimum to protect assets such as your home and savings.
2. Medical Payments or Personal Injury Protection (PIP)
This coverage pays for the treatment of injuries to the driver and passengers of the policyholder’s car. At its broadest, PIP can cover medical payments, lost wages and the cost of replacing services normally performed by someone injured in an auto accident. It may also cover funeral costs
3. Property Damage Liability
This coverage pays for damage you (or someone driving the car with your permission) may cause to someone else’s property. Usually, this means damage to someone else’s car, but it also includes damage to lamp posts, telephone poles, fences, buildings or other structures your car hit.
This coverage pays for damage to your car resulting from a collision with another car, object or as a result of flipping over. It also covers damage caused by potholes. Collision coverage is generally sold with a deductible of $250 to $1,000—the higher your deductible, the lower your premium. Even if you are at fault for the accident, your collision coverage will reimburse you for the costs of repairing your car, minus the deductible. If you’re not at fault, your insurance company may try to recover the amount they paid you from the other driver’s insurance company. If they are successful, you’ll also be reimbursed for the deductible.
This coverage reimburses you for loss due to theft or damage caused by something other than a collision with another car or object, such as fire, falling objects, missiles, explosion, earthquake, windstorm, hail, flood, vandalism, riot, or contact with animals such as birds or deer.
Comprehensive insurance is usually sold with a $100 to $300 deductible, though you may want to opt for a higher deductible as a way of lowering your premium.
Comprehensive insurance will also reimburse you if your windshield is cracked or shattered. Some companies offer glass coverage with or without a deductible.
States do not require that you purchase collision or comprehensive coverage, but if you have a car loan, your lender may insist you carry it until your loan is paid off.
6. Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage
This coverage will reimburse you, a member of your family, or a designated driver if one of you is hit by an uninsured or hit-and-run driver.
Underinsured motorist coverage comes into play when an at-fault driver has insufficient insurance to pay for your total loss. This coverage will also protect you if you are hit as a pedestrian.
Can I drive legally without insurance?
NO! Almost every state requires you to have auto liability insurance. All states also have financial responsibility laws. This means that even in a state that does not require liability insurance, you need to have sufficient assets to pay claims if you cause an accident. If you don’t have enough assets, you must purchase at least the state minimum amount of insurance. But insurance exists to protect your assets. Trying to see how little you can get by with can be very shortsighted and dangerous.
If you’ve financed your car, your lender may require comprehensive and collision insurance as part of the loan agreement.
What if I lease a car?
If you lease a car, you still need to buy your own auto insurance policy. The auto dealer or bank that is financing the car will require you to buy collision and comprehensive coverage. You’ll need to buy these coverages in addition to the others that may be mandatory in your state, such as auto liability insurance.
Collision covers the damage to the car from an accident with another automobile or object.
Comprehensive covers a loss that is caused by something other than a collision with another car or object, such as a fire or theft or collision with a deer.
The leasing company may also require "gap" insurance. This refers to the fact that if you have an accident and your leased car is damaged beyond repair or "totaled," there’s likely to be a difference between the amount that you still owe the auto dealer and the check you’ll get from your insurance company. That’s because the insurance company’s check is based on the car’s actual cash value which takes into account depreciation. The difference between the two amounts is known as the "gap."
On a leased car, the cost of gap insurance is generally rolled into the lease payments. You don’t actually buy a gap policy. Generally, the auto dealer buys a master policy from an insurance company to cover all the cars it leases and charges you for a "gap waiver." This means that if your leased car is totaled, you won’t have to pay the dealer the gap amount. Check with the auto dealer when leasing your car.
If you have an auto loan rather than a lease, you may want to buy gap insurance to protect yourself from having to come up with the gap amount if your car is totaled before you’ve finished paying for it. Ask your insurance agent about gap insurance or search the Internet. Gap insurance may not be available in some states.
Do I need insurance to rent a car?
When renting a car, you need insurance. If you have adequate insurance on your own car, including collision and comprehensive, this may be enough.
Before you rent a car:
1. Contact your insurance company.
Find out how much coverage you have on your own car. In most cases, the coverage and deductibles you have on your personal auto policy would apply to a rental car, providing it’s used for pleasure and not business. If you don’t have comprehensive and collision coverage on your own car, you will not be covered if your rental car is stolen or if it is damaged in an accident.
2. Call your credit card company.
Find out what insurance your card provides. Levels of coverage vary.
If you don’t have auto insurance, you will need to buy coverage at the car rental counter.
What’s the difference between cancellation and non-renewal?
There is a big difference between when an insurance company cancels a policy and when it chooses not to renew it. Insurance companies cannot cancel a policy that has been in force for more than 60 days except:
If you fail to pay the premium.
You have committed fraud or made serious misrepresentations on your application.
Your driver’s license has been revoked or suspended.
Non-renewal is a different matter. Either you or your insurance company can decide not to renew the policy when it expires. Depending on the state you live in, your insurance company must give you a certain number of days notice and explain the reason for non-renewal before it drops your policy. If you think the reason is unfair or want a further explanation, call the insurance company’s consumer affairs division. If you don’t get an explanation, call your state insurance department.
The company may have decided to drop that particular line of insurance or to write fewer policies where you live, so you shouldn’t necessarily think the non-renewal is because of something you did. On the other hand, if you did do something that raised the insurance company’s risk considerably, like driving drunk, the premium may rise and you may not have your policy renewed.
If your insurance company did not renew your policy, you will not necessarily be charged a higher premium at another insurance company.
What is homeowners insurance?
Homeowners insurance provides financial protection against disasters. A standard policy insures the home itself and the things you keep in it.
Homeowners insurance is a package policy. This means that it covers both damage to your property and your liability or legal responsibility for any injuries and property damage you or members of your family cause to other people. This includes damage caused by household pets.
Damage caused by most disasters is covered but there are exceptions. The most significant are damage caused by floods, earthquakes and poor maintenance. You must buy two separate policies for flood and earthquake coverage. Maintenance-related problems are the homeowners’ responsibility.
What is in a standard homeowners insurance policy?
A standard homeowners insurance policy includes four essential types of coverage. They include:
Coverage for the structure of your home.
Coverage for your personal belongings.
Additional living expenses in the event you are temporarily unable to live in your home because of a fire or other insured disaster.
Following is an explanation of each of the four elements of a standard homeowners insurance policy:
The structure of your house
This part of your policy pays to repair or rebuild your home if it is damaged or destroyed by fire, hurricane, hail, lightning or other disaster listed in your policy. It will not pay for damage caused by a flood, earthquake or routine wear and tear. When purchasing coverage for the structure of your home, it is important to buy enough to rebuild your home.
Most standard policies also cover structures that are detached from your home such as a garage, tool shed or gazebo. Generally, these structures are covered for about 10% of the amount of insurance you have on the structure of your home. If you need more coverage, talk to your insurance agent about purchasing more insurance.
Your personal belongings
Your furniture, clothes, sports equipment and other personal items are covered if they are stolen or destroyed by fire, hurricane or other insured disaster. Most companies provide coverage for 50% to 70% of the amount of insurance you have on the structure of your home. So if you have $100,000 worth of insurance on the structure of your home, you would have between $50,000 to $70,000 worth of coverage for your belongings. The best way to determine if this is enough coverage is to conduct a home inventory.
This part of your policy includes off-premises coverage. This means that your belongings are covered anywhere in the world, unless you have decided against off-premises coverage. Some companies limit the amount to 10% of the amount of insurance you have for your possessions. You have up to $500 of coverage for unauthorized use of your credit cards.
Expensive items like jewelry, furs and silverware are covered, but there are usually dollar limits if they are stolen. Generally, you are covered for between $1,000 to $2,000 for all of your jewelry and furs. To insure these items to their full value, purchase a special personal property endorsement or floater and insure the item for it’s appraised value. Coverage includes “accidental disappearance,” meaning coverage if you simply lose that item. And there is no deductible.
Trees, plants and shrubs are also covered under standard homeowners insurance. Generally you are covered for 5% of the insurance on the house –- up to about $500 per item. Perils covered are theft, fire, lightning, explosion, vandalism, riot and even falling aircraft. They are not covered for damage by wind or disease.
This covers you against lawsuits for bodily injury or property damage that you or family members cause to other people. It also pays for damage caused by your pets. So, if your son, daughter or dog accidentally ruins your neighbor’s expensive rug, you are covered. However, if they destroy your rug, you are not covered.
The liability portion of your policy pays for both the cost of defending you in court and any court awards — up to the limit of your policy. You are also covered not just in your home, but anywhere in the world.
Liability limits generally start at about $100,000. However, experts recommend that you purchase at least $300,000 worth of protection. Some people feel more comfortable with even more coverage. You can purchase an umbrella or excess liability policy which provides broader coverage, including claims against you for libel and slander, as well as higher liability limits. Generally, umbrella policies cost between $200 to $350 for $1 million of additional liability protection.
Your policy also provides no-fault medical coverage. In the event a friend or neighbor is injured in your home, he or she can simply submit medical bills to your insurance company. This way, expenses are paid without their filing a liability claim against you. You can generally get $1,000 to $5,000 worth of this coverage. It does not, however, pay the medical bills for your family or your pet.
Additional living expenses
This pays the additional costs of living away from home if you can’t live there due to damage from a fire, storm or other insured disaster. It covers hotel bills, restaurant meals and other living expenses incurred while your home is being rebuilt. Coverage for additional living expenses differs from company to company. Many policies provide coverage for about 20% of the insurance on your house. You can increase this coverage, however, for an additional premium. Some companies sell a policy that provides an unlimited amount of loss-of-use coverage — for a limited amount of time.
If you rent out part of your house, this coverage also reimburses you for the rent that you would have collected from your tenant if your home had not been destroyed.
What type of insurance do I need for a co-op or condo?
If you have purchased a condo or co-op, the bank will require insurance to protect its investment in your home. You may, however, need more insurance to cover your personal items, liability or fees that may be charged to you regarding shared areas of the building like the lobby.
You will need two separate policies to protect your investment:
1. Your own insurance policy.
This provides coverage for your personal possessions, structural improvements to your apartment and additional living expenses if you are the victim of fire, theft or other disaster listed in your policy. You also get liability protection.
2. A "master policy" provided by the condo/co-op board.
This covers the common areas you share with others in your building like the roof, basement, elevator, boiler and walkways for both liability and physical damage.
To adequately insure your apartment, it is important to know what structural parts of your home are covered by the condo/co-op association and what are not. You can do this by reading your association’s bylaws and/or proprietary lease. If you have questions, talk to your condo association, insurance professional or family attorney.
Sometimes the association is responsible for insuring the individual condo or co-op units, as they were originally built, including standard fixtures. The individual owner, in this case, is only responsible for alterations to the original structure of the apartment, like remodeling the kitchen or bathtub. Sometimes this includes not only improvements you make, but those made by previous owners.
In other situations, the condo/co-op association is responsible only for insuring the bare walls, floor and ceiling. The owner must insure kitchen cabinets, built-in appliances, plumbing, wiring, bathroom fixtures etc.
Also ask your insurance professional about the following additional coverages:
This reimburses you for your share of an assessment charged to all unit owners as a result of a covered loss. For instance, if there is a fire in the lobby, all the unit owners are charged the cost of repairing the loss.
This insures your property for damage by the back-up of sewers or drains. Water back-up may not always be included in a policy. Check to see that it is included.
This is an inexpensive way to get more liability protection and broader coverage than is included in a standard condo/co-op policy.
Flood or earthquake.
If you live in an area prone to these disasters, you will need to purchase separate flood and earthquake policies. Flood insurance is available through FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program. Both flood and earthquake insurance can be purchased through your insurance agent.
Floater or endorsement.
If you own expensive jewelry, furs or collectibles, you might consider getting additional coverage since there is generally a $1,000 to $2,000 limit for theft of jewelry on a standard policy.
When purchasing insurance, it is important to find an agent or company that specializes in condominiums or co-ops. Also don’t forget to ask about all available discounts. You can reduce your rates by raising your deductibles and by installing a smoke and fire alarm system that rings at an outside service. If you insure your unit with the same company that underwrites your building’s insurance policy, you might also get an additional reduction in premiums.
Can I own a home without homeowners insurance?
Unlike driving a car, you can legally own a home without homeowners insurance. But, if you have bought your home and financed the purchase with a mortgage, your lender will most likely require you to get homeowners insurance coverage. That’s because lenders need to protect their investment in your home in case your house burns down or is badly damaged by a storm, tornado or other disaster. If you live in an area likely to flood, the bank will also require you to purchase flood insurance. Some financial institutions may also require earthquake coverage if you live in a region vulnerable to earthquakes. If you buy a co-op or condominium, your board will probably require you to buy homeowners insurance.
After your mortgage is paid off, no one will force you to buy homeowners insurance. But it doesn’t make sense to cancel your policy and risk losing what you’ve invested in your home.
How do I take a home inventory and why?
Would you be able to remember all the possessions you’ve accumulated over the years if they were destroyed by a fire? Having an up-to-date home inventory will help you get your insurance claim settled faster, verify losses for your income tax return and help you purchase the correct amount of insurance.
Start by making a list of your possessions, describing each item and noting where you bought it and its make and model. Clip to your list any sales receipts, purchase contracts, and appraisals you have. For clothing, count the items you own by category — pants, coats, shoes, for example –- making notes about those that are especially valuable. For major appliance and electronic equipment, record their serial numbers usually found on the back or bottom.
Don’t be put off!
If you are just setting up a household, starting an inventory list can be relatively simple. If you’ve been living in the same house for many years, however, the task of creating a list can be daunting. Still, it’s better to have an incomplete inventory than nothing at all. Start with recent purchases and then try to remember what you can about older possessions.
Big ticket items
Valuable items like jewelry, art work and collectibles may have increased in value since you received them. Check with your agent to make sure that you have adequate insurance for these items. They may need to be insured separately.
Take a picture
Besides the list, you can take pictures of rooms and important individual items. On the back of the photos, note what is shown and where you bought it or the make. Don’t forget things that are in closets or drawers.
Walk through your house or apartment videotaping and describing the contents. Or do the same thing using a tape recorder.
Use a personal computer
Use your PC to make your inventory list. Personal finance software packages often include a homeowners room-by-room inventory program.
Storing the list, photos and tapes
Regardless of how you do it (written list, floppy disk, photos, videotape or audio tape), keep your inventory along with receipts in your safe deposit box or at a friend’s or relative’s home. That way you’ll be sure to have something to give your insurance representative if your home is damaged. When you make a significant purchase, add the information to your inventory while the details are fresh in your mind.
What does a businessowners policy cover?
Insurance companies selling business insurance offer policies that combine protection from all major property and liability risks in one package. (They also sell coverages separately.) One package purchased by small and mid-sized businesses is the businessowners policy (BOP). Package policies are created for businesses that generally face the same kind and degree of risk. Larger companies might purchase a commercial package policy or customize their policies to meet the special risks they face.
Property insurance for buildings and contents owned by the company — there are two different forms, standard and special, which provides more comprehensive coverage.
Business interruption insurance, which covers the loss of income resulting from a fire or other catastrophe that disrupts the operation of the business. It can also include the extra expense of operating out of a temporary location.
Liability protection, which covers your company’s legal responsibility for the harm it may cause to others. This harm is a result of things that you and your employees do or fail to do in your business operations that may cause bodily injury or property damage due to defective products, faulty installations and errors in services provided.
BOPs do NOT cover professional liability, auto insurance, worker’s compensation or health and disability insurance. You’ll need separate insurance policies to cover professional services, vehicles and your employees.
How can I insure my home-based business?
Let’s face it. Launching and running a business takes capital, motivation and yes, even physical stamina to handle the stress and demands of a new or growing venture. And it’s risky. In fact, one out of every five businesses fails within the first five years of opening.
Handling inventory, scheduling time, purchasing supplies, handling payroll — there are a myriad of procedures every home or small business entrepreneur needs to know, but one of the most critical and often neglected is buying proper insurance coverage.
Taking a Business Inventory
What would happen if a fire or other disaster destroyed your property, making it impossible for you to get back to business right away? Would you remember what property had been destroyed? One way is by taking a complete inventory of all your personal business property, determining its value, and deciding what’s worth insuring. Having an up-to-date business inventory will help you get your insurance claim settled faster, verify losses for your business’ income tax return and help you purchase the correct amount of insurance.
Start by making a list of personal business property, describing each item and noting where you bought it and its make and model. Clip to your list any sales receipts, purchase contracts, and appraisals you have.
What’s the Right Coverage For You?
Then there’s the question of what types of coverages you’ll need. Aside from personal business property, there is liability insurance, business income, insurance for the building, boiler and machinery, human failure, employee protection and management protection, among others. The type of coverage you need depends on a number of factors including what kind of business you operate.
Do I need business interruption insurance?
Business interruption insurance can be as vital to your survival as a business as fire insurance. Most people would never consider opening a business without buying insurance to cover damage due to fire and windstorms. But too many small businessowners fail to think about how they would manage if a fire or other disaster damaged their business premises so that they were temporarily unusable. Business interruption coverage is not sold separately. It is added to a property insurance policy or included in a package policy.
A business that has to close down completely while the premises are being repaired may lose out to competitors. A quick resumption of business after a disaster is essential.
Business interruption insurance compensates you for lost income if your company has to vacate the premises due to disaster-related damage that is covered under your property insurance policy, such as a fire. Business interruption insurance covers the profits you would have earned, based on your financial records, had the disaster not occurred. The policy also covers operating expenses, like electricity, that continue even though business activities have come to a temporary halt.
Make sure the policy limits are sufficient to cover your company for more than a few days. After a major disaster, it can take more time than many people anticipate to get the business back on track. There is generally a 48-hour waiting period before business interruption coverage kicks in.
The price of the policy is related to the risk of a fire or other disaster damaging your premises. All other things being equal, the price would probably be higher for a restaurant than a real estate agency, for example, because of the greater risk of fire. Also, a real estate agency can more easily operate out of another location.
Extra Expense Insurance
Extra expense insurance reimburses your company for a reasonable sum of money that it spends, over and above normal operating expenses, to avoid having to shut down during the restoration period. Usually, extra expenses will be paid if they help to decrease business interruption costs. In some instances, extra expense insurance alone may provide sufficient coverage, without the purchase of business interruption insurance.
Do I need workers compensation insurance?
Employers have a legal responsibility to their employees to make the workplace safe. However, accidents happen even when every reasonable safety measure has been taken.
To protect employers from lawsuits resulting from workplace accidents and to provide medical care and compensation for lost income to employees hurt in workplace accidents, in almost every state, businesses are required to buy workers compensation insurance. Workers compensation insurance covers workers injured on the job, whether they’re hurt on the workplace premises or elsewhere, or in auto accidents while on business. It also covers work-related illnesses.
Workers compensation provides payments to injured workers, without regard to who was at fault in the accident, for time lost from work and for medical and rehabilitation services. It also provides death benefits to surviving spouses and dependents.
Each state has different laws governing the amount and duration of lost income benefits, the provision of medical and rehabilitation services and how the system is administered. For example, in most states there are regulations that cover whether the worker or employer can choose the doctor who treats the injuries and how disputes about benefits are resolved.
Workers compensation insurance must be bought as a separate policy. Although in-home business and businessowners policies (BOPs) are sold as package policies, they don’t include coverage for workers’ injuries.