Monday, March 17, 2014

How To Protect Yourself From Identity Theft

If you frequently make purchases online, or if you use a credit or debit card while shopping, you know that one of the most common risks associated with these practices is identity theft. Of course, identity theft can happen to anybody, even if you don’t use your debit or credit cards while shopping, but when consumers share important financial information online, they’re putting themselves at a higher risk. Unfortunately, with online shopping becoming more and more popular, identity theft continues to become increasingly common. Luckily, however, there are many steps you can take to safeguard your identity and prevent yourself from becoming a victim. Apart from protecting yourself with the proper identity theft coverage, make sure you follow these tips for keeping your identity safe:
Only Carry the Essentials
Though we can all understand the importance of carrying around a wallet or purse, some people like to carry around their social security card, all their credit cards, their passport, and sometimes even their birth certificates. While there certainly are a few situations in which you would need to present each of these documents to someone, in most scenarios, it’s overkill. Imagine if you were to lose any of these important documents: Someone could find it, begin taking out more credit cards in your name, making unauthorized purchases in your name, and much more. To help prevent this from happening, it’s important to only carry around with you the personally identifying items you need the most: like your driver’s license, insurance card, debit card, and one credit card.
Beware of Fraudulent Phone Calls and Emails
If someone sends you an email informing you that you’re a distant cousin of a wealthy prince in Zimbabwe, and they need your bank account information to send you a share of his riches, 1,000 times out of 1,000 it’ll be a scam. Likewise, if the phone rings and the person on the other line says they’re a government employee requesting personal information, don’t necessarily believe them right off the bat, because this could be a scam designed to rob you of your identity. The only time that you should consider it safe to give out your personal information is if you were the one who initiated the call/email, and you know it’s a trusted source.
Shred Unwanted or Expired Documents
Whenever you get something in the mail, even junk mail, one of the best ways to safeguard your identity is to shred any of the envelopes or documents that have your name, address, date of birth, social security number or account information on them. Scammers have gone to great extremes to get personal information, and they won’t think twice about raiding your trash. In addition, whenever you get a new credit or debit card (or any important documents, i.e. passports), shred the old and expired ones so that your name, account numbers, and personal information can’t be easily recovered.
Only Shop on Secure Websites
As mentioned before, if you like to participate in online shopping, you should be aware of the very real dangers that exist. While online shopping, in and of itself, isn’t inherently bad, you run the risk of becoming a victim of identity theft whenever you put your credit or debit card numbers online—especially when you use your debit card. Unlike debit cards, credit card users are protected by the Truth in Lending Act, which states there’s only a $50 limit on liability for unauthorized purchases, even after your missing card has been used. As for debit cards, however, you could be liable for only $50, but you could quite possibly lose every cent in your bank account too. That being said, the best way to keep your identity safe while shopping online is to only shop on websites that have the secure lock symbol at the top of the page and that start with: “https.” If neither one of these security measures are in place, do not shop through that particular retailer on the Internet.
These are just a few of the things that you can do to prevent becoming a victim of identity theft. However, the most important tip to remember is to simply practice common sense – both online and in the real world. Just keep your personal documents secure and practice safe shopping habits, and your identity will stay protected.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


Get your home ready for spring to avoid related damage

** I am not 100% certain that we are ready for this yet but I am sure hopeful!**

After a long Midwestern winter – lots of snow, ice, sleet and cold – it’s finally time to think about opening the windows to capture those cool spring breezes. But before you throw open the sash, take a few minutes to review this checklist of things to do to keep your home safe and secure throughout the rainy season.

Tips to help property owners safeguard their homes this spring:


Make sure your windows are operating properly. Check to make sure the mechanisms of your windows – whether they’re casement, sliding or double-hung – are functioning properly. Lubricate tough-to-open windows to that opening and closing take little effort.


Trim your trees and bushes. Now’s the time, before the buds are on the greenery, to cut back limbs that overhang your gutters and to trim shrubbery that’s too close to the house. Keeping them away from your home will help prevent moisture buildup, mold, and storm-related damage.


Make sure spring rainfall runs away from your house. Grade your lawn and landscaping beds to direct water away from your foundation. Foundation leaking and cracks can be extremely costly. Use downspout extenders to keep drainage as far away as possible.


If you have ivy crawling up your house, now’s the time to cut it back. As attractive as ivy is, it’s not good for your exterior, whether wood, vinyl, brick or stone. Ivy traps and holds moisture against the home and forms attachments to exterior surfaces that could degrade their strength and integrity.


Fix any leaks you’re aware of. Winter often brings with it ice dams that develop on the shingles over your gutters. If these caused you problems over the winter, have a professional repair the spot, both inside and out to prevent further damage from rainwater.


Repair concrete driveway cracks. Winter cold expands concrete and often leads to cracking. Keep yours from eroding further during this wet, rainy season by patching any spots that may have erupted over the winter.


These tips will help you take on spring with confidence that your house and yard are ready for spring!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

How To Winterize Your Vehicle


Tips for avoiding costly weather-related repairs


When you think of winter, you might daydream about skiing, sledding, holidays and snowmen. But before you start jumping into all the fun, make sure your vehicles are able to take on the demands of harsh weather.


Make Your Car Roadworthy

Get your car into an auto mechanic for a top-to-bottom checkup that includes:

  • Brakes. Brake pads and rotors should be checked for warping, cracking or excessive wear.
  • Coolant system. Have your radiator pressure tested and hoses checked for cracks or bulges that could cause the system to fail.
  • Tires. Ask your local tire retailer to assess your tires’ integrity and replace if needed. At the very least, you should have your tires rotated to help them wear evenly. If you’re able to afford special winter tires, make the investment. Winter tires are made with low temperature-resilient rubber and have deeper treads that do a better job of gripping snow and ice.
  • Windshield wipers. If your blades are more than a year old, they’re probably leaving a pattern of wear on your windshield and should be replaced.

What To Do In An Emergency

Stranded on the side of the road is a dangerous and often frightening situation to be in. Carry these items in an easy-to-reach tote in your back seat or trunk throughout the winter months to help ensure your safety:

  • heavy blanket
  • jumper cables
  • flashlight and spare batteries
  • items to help you get “unstuck” from a snow bank: tire chains and/or sand (or cat litter), a small shovel, and a bag of salt to help melt snow and ice
  • first-aid kit
  • lightsticks or reflective triangles
  • protein-rich snacks like energy bars
  • extra hat, coat, boots and gloves
  • ice scraper

A little effort to get your car in tip-top shape will give you peace of mind as you set out on wintery roads, and help eliminate the risk of a costly repair. More importantly, being practical can help you stay safe!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

An insurance agent's thoughts on the Affordable Care Act AKA Obamacare

So, with the government shutdown, slimdown, or whatever you want to call it, along with the important date of October 1st just passing, the majority of conversations have recently been directed towards the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Many people wonder my opinion, or at least ask for the opportunity to share theirs, so I felt it would be a good idea to post it here and let the word be spread.

First, is the Affordable Care Act inherently good or bad? I don't believe that many things in life can fall on either side of that but are made up of parts of each, especially when it is created by a multitude of men and women. When asked about it being a good or bad law, I say it is a great theory, with many pieces of law that are beneficial to the masses.
- Should a person who is paying for health insurance be allowed to visit the doctor preventatively and not have to pay for it, definitely.
- With the need for our country to keep up or in some cases catch up in education, many young people are staying in school longer and should have access to their parents' plan until age 26.
- Yet, even greater than these two definite yes answers, is the theory of how the economy in total could benefit if people were more proactive with their healthcare, in many aspects; first if there could be a benefit for people to reduce health related risks, (i.e. fitness membership bonuses based on usage), secondly, the aforementioned preventative benefits, and third, having health insurance available to all purchase so when a minor occurrence did happen they were willing to visit a doctor rather than wait until it was an emergency and more costly.

This being said, the first option, is made available by many insurance companies now with an insurance policy. The second is an important measure of the law, but could have been implemented on its own mandate. The third, this idea is great, but it fails to take into account the fact that many people are like me, or even worse and extremely stubborn so even with health insurance plans choose not to go to the doctor until it creates more cost than necessary!

All of this has been the good or possibly neutral points regarding the system, so what could be the bad some people have asked, it sounds great, it will provide "insurance" for everyone and their are government subsidies and tax credits available to help make it affordable, right? Here, in my opinion is the major issue and I will start with the definition of "insurance"!

Insurance is the equitable transfer of the risk of a loss, from one entity to another in exchange for payment. It is a form of risk management primarily used to hedge against the risk of a contingent, uncertain loss.

What this is stating is that the purchase of insurance is based upon the premise that there would be a scale balanced between cost of premium and the long term cost of a possible, not guaranteed loss. This being the reasoning behind underwriting and pre-existing condition waiting periods and exclusions. I am going to add a picture here, that may offend some people but it is currently being used on social media as a justifiable reasoning for the act, so I felt I could explain the world of insurance and the act's detriments with the same photo!

Now, I am an extremely empathetic and sympathetic person and have battled internally on the decision to write this post as I feel extreme compassion on this person for her situation. The pragmatic side of me though wants to make sure both sides of how this works are explained and this is a perfect example of something called adverse selection, I will include the definition and explain in additional hypothetical situations after.

The term adverse selection describes a situation wherein an individual's demand for insurance (the propensity to buy insurance and/or the quantity purchased) is positively correlated with the individual's risk of loss (higher risks buy more insurance), and the insurer is unable to allow for this correlation in the price of insurance.

In essence, in this specific example, she could have most likely purchased an individual health insurance plan the day after she was no longer on her parent's health insurance. This would have been prior to her tumors being considered a pre-existing condition and as long as she kept the policy premium paid, the company would have provided her the insurance she needed at the time the loss occurred. Due to circumstances unknown by us in detail, this choice was not made, (in most cases it is due to cost and the attitude that this type of thing won't happen to me) but when there was a certain loss to take place, her need became greater and she was now willing to pay for insurance rather than paying for the medical treatments needed out of her own pocket.

To compare this situation, let's think of the other types of insurance that the majority of you who will read this have been maintaining for years and see what your reaction would be to adverse selection in those areas.

1. Auto insurance - although a law of most states to carry liability insurance to protect other drivers and their vehicles, many people still do not purchase this insurance, and there is no law that requires the purchase of insurance to protect one's own financial asset or own vehicle (only can be specified by a lender to be required), known as physical damage coverage but yet there are people who aren't required to have this physical damage coverage, that do have it in case their vehicle is involved in an accident and they want to receive compensation in return for that damage, so they pay a premium to do so, not knowing when, if ever they will need it. So, to those people I say, what if, your neighbor, made the decision to not purchase this insurance pulls out of his driveway and smacks right into your vehicle parked on the street. Noticing the large amount of damage on his beautiful vehicle makes his first call to an insurance company to secure insurance and they allow it, and he has paid in $0 premium up front but receives $5,000 from that insurance company to fix his vehicle, while you have been paying your premium for the past number of years and have submitted a minimal claim for a windshield?

2. Home Insurance - Currently the state of Minnesota does not require that you place insurance on your home but for many people they have a mortgage and part of the mortgage clause does require you to do so ( I am hoping you see the trend that the governments requirements for insurance up to this point have been based on only the protection of others, not a requirement to purchase to protect ones self). If the neighbor on the other side of you, had paid off their home and chosen to save the premium money, (some tell us they will save up for a future claim, but rarely do), and not purchase insurance, notices their garbage is on fire right next to their garage, the flames are beginning to heat up the siding, it looks as though it may catch fire as well, and rather than attempt to put out the fire and have minimal damage they could easily repair to their home, they instead go online and purchase insurance for the home, using pictures from the previous week. They then head out for a nice dinner, they have saved about that much money from not paying premiums until now, and when they return to a home engulfed in flames they turn in the claim and rebuild their home. Is that an okay scenario for those of you who are protecting your assets with the risk management tool of insurance?

3. Life Insurance - For the average family, the previous two claims would range from, as mentioned in the first $5,000 or so, and the second around $200,000, but what about this possibility, what if today you entered the doctor's office and he had that difficult discussion with you to tell you that he is terribly sorry but you are facing an extremely rare and speedy disease and within this month you will pass away. You leave, obviously devastated and then remember, that life insurance representative who has been calling you month after month, and how you have blown him off with only a limited savings account and those three little kids and loving spouse at home. They have the mortgage to pay and the rest of their lives to live and you will be leaving them limited financial means. So, you open up your cell phone, looked for that number you constantly push ignore on and call them up, you tell them you would like a $1Million, no make that $3 Million term policy. Please come over this evening and we can sign the papers. You then spend the next two weeks spending every dollar or the limited savings you had created creating memories with your family and then the official policy arrives and that evening in your sleep the disease takes your life. Within a few weeks your family receives their funds and can go on financially while you only made the down payment on the policy, and no other premiums were collected.

Nearly all of you that will read this will consider these items outlandish, or insurance fraud but are expecting this when it comes to health insurance. If you look deep through the Affordable Care Act it states there are penalties to be paid if a person does not have insurance, but in most scenarios these aren't taken directly from your bank account on a weekly basis but removed from your tax refund if you do receive one. So, people will continue to be uninsured, until they have that terrible pain or hear that bad news from a doctor, and then they will go home, sit on their computer, in many cases, and purchase their health insurance, to then go have all the work done they need. Therein creating the scenario for no insurance company to maintain enough financial strength to pay for the claims that were from a legitimate premium paying policyholder for x number of years without continually increasing premiums to no longer make Affordable Care Act insurance, affordable to anyone.

Now, in all three of those scenarios, is there a possibility that a person could purchase insurance just before an incident happened and it be legitimate, yes, but it is a minute percentage and I believe that the same is to be said about health insurance and its nuances. There are people that will purchase health insurance today and complete all medical underwriting to only find out the next month they have a cancerous tumor and will create hundreds of thousands of dollars of expense for their insurance company. The issue is that this will become the norm and not the exception if we move forward with our current plan "as is"!

I 100% agree that our healthcare system and healthcare insurance need to have a reform, their needs to be some allowances made for the child who is no longer able to be on their parents insurance plan but was diagnosed with a lifelong childhood disease, and their needs to be a requirement for preventative visits to be covered by that insurance we are paying for, and their definitely needs to be some pricing control in medicine similar to insurance premiums and how much they can increase annually in certain areas. I do not agree though, that telling everyone they must protect themselves with health insurance, that many will still be unable or unwilling to afford based on their current living choices, and I do not agree, that we can completely eliminate the risk element of insurance and have a successful program.

For the future financial commitment that these companies have made to the millions of people who are currently paying for their health insurance premiums, the companies will have to increase premiums even further to allow for the inability to properly assess the risk that they are now taking on. This will inhibit growth for many businesses as insurance premiums now increase at a more rapid pace than ever before which creates a greater demand for individual insurance where we are placing the responsibility to secure the insurance they so desperately need but require them to part with a portion of their already limited financial resources. Then the question that is often asked is how can we even enforce it to make sure they are paying their portion? Now that is an entirely different but long dilemma!

To make this long winded explanation short, the healthcare system needed to be reformed, but in it's current state, The Affordable Care Act, will create anything but affordability and will eventually price out the very people it was originally intended to protect. To you, fellow Americans, please think about this act from all angles, and let's work together to figure out a solution that is economically responsible, empathetic in nature and sound in logic!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Insurance Premiums Rising? People like this aren't helping!

Just like many expenses we all face each and every month while looking at our budget's, insurance premiums do increase typically over the course of time.

It can be blamed on any number of things and is most often nailed down to increased storm activity along with inflation of replacement of item being insured, but I wonder, if articles like this and those involved aren't more to blame than we think?

Even if they aren't to blame, they are something to laugh at by being so egregious and wild schemed!

I have to say I find #2 most hilarious just thinking of her spending it all gambling!

Enjoy and have a great week!

Remember, at Advantage 1 Insurance, your policy always comes with an agent!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A little safety information on Fireworks!

Today I wanted to share a little information I found from the NFPA regarding Fireworks and their danger. To read the full article and associated video please follow the link to Have a fun and SAFE 4th of July.


Each July Fourth, thousands of people, most often children and teens, are injured while using consumer fireworks. Despite the dangers of fireworks, few people understand the associated risks - devastating burns, other injuries, fires, and even death. The Alliance to Stop Consumer Fireworks is a group of health and safety organizations, coordinated by NFPA, that urges the public to avoid the use of consumer fireworks and instead, to enjoy displays of fireworks conducted by trained professionals.

NH fire officials, injured family recount fireworks incident

Patrick and Marci Foy, and their daughter, Olivia, were attending a family celebration in Pelham, NH, on July 3, 2012. They were among the more than dozen people injured during a consumer fireworks incident. Watch as the Foy’s give a first-hand account of their experience and the impact it continues to have on their lives.

Facts & figures 

  • In 2011, fireworks caused an estimated 17,800 reported fires, including 1,200 total structure fires, 400 vehicle fires, and 16,300 outside and other fires. These fires resulted in an estimated eight reported civilian deaths, 40 civilian injuries and $32 million in direct property damage.
  • In 2011, U.S. hospital emergency rooms treated an estimated 9,600 people for fireworks related injuries; 61% of 2010 emergency room fireworks-related injuries were to the extremities and 34% were to the head.
  • The risk of fireworks injury was highest for children ages 5-19, and adults 25-44, in an atypical year of a very comparable risk across much of the population.
  • On Independence Day in a typical year, far more U.S. fires are reported than on any other day, and fireworks account for two out of five of those fires, more than any other cause of fires.
Source: NFPA’s Fireworks report, by John R. Hall, Jr., June 2013

How hot does a sparkler burn? (See larger image)

Friday, May 3, 2013

There have been a lot of big auto accidents lately.....

For those of you in Central MN, you may have noticed a large number of major auto accidents recently in our region and into the metro area. My theory is it must have something to do with this incredibly long winter creating a greater strain of "Cabin Fever" and greater difficulty with the spring excitement of driving, but the cause of the increase isn't what I want to focus on today, it is to increase awareness that these things do occur. At any given time many of you who will read this could be cruising down the road and happen to be a part of one of these accidents, and what happens if through it all you are found to be liable, either partially or wholly? Does your current auto insurance provide you enough protection for that?

I don't know the specifics of your policy but thought this article was a good start to getting this to be a top of mind issue:

How much coverage do I need?
Almost every state requires you to buy a minimum amount of liability coverage. Chances are that you will need more liability insurance than the state requires because accidents cost more than the minimum limits. If you’re found legally responsible for bills that are more than your insurance covers, you will have to pay the difference out of your own pocket. These costs could wipe you out!

You may want to talk to your agent or company representative about purchasing higher liability limits to reflect your personal needs. You may also consider purchasing an umbrella or excess liability policy. These policies pay when your underlying coverages are exhausted. Typically, these policies cost between $200 and $300 per year for a million dollars in coverage. If you have your homeowners and auto insurance with the same company, check out the cost of coverage with this company first. If you have coverage with different companies, it may be easier to buy it from your auto insurance company.

In addition to liability coverage, consider buying collision and comprehensive coverage. You don't decide how much to buy. Your coverage reflects the market value of your car and the cost of repairing it.

Decide on a deductible—the amount of money you pay on a claim before the insurance company reimburses you. Typically, deductibles are $500 or $1,000; the higher your deductible, the lower your premium.

Thanks to the insurance information institute for this basic information regarding how much auto insurance you may need, now I urge you to contact your agent to learn more or if you bought you current policy online, give us a call and let us give you an insurance evaluation for your protection in the future. If you have any questions don't hesitate to ask!