MONTGOMERY – The start of a new year is a good time to re-evaluate your insurance coverage needs. Changing circumstances may require updated policies. Did you have a baby? Get married? Purchase a new home or car? If so, you'll want to check whether you have the right protection.
Talk with your agent and review your policies to see if they meet your current needs. Even if you haven't experienced a life-changing event, you could be eligible for discounts or new insurance products that may better serve your needs.
1. Life insurance
Changes such as a birth, divorce, remarriage or even a new mortgage or new job are indicators that you might need to make changes to your life insurance policy, or at the very least review your policy.
Read your policy carefully and answer these questions:
- Do premiums or benefits vary from year to year?
- Do the total benefits grow over time?
- Are there benefits that are not guaranteed?
- Do premiums change over time?
- What happens if I quit paying premiums – do I maintain some of the benefits?
- Are there any impacts associated with interest earned on the policy?
- In what situations and through what procedures can you access cash values?
- Can the policy be converted into another form of insurance or annuity?
In the case of the birth of a child or a new marriage, you may want to consider increasing your death benefit. Check with your agent to see if your insurance company requires a physical exam before increasing your coverage levels.
Alternatively, events like paying off your mortgage, retirement or children finishing college might mean that you can lower your life insurance coverage and premiums. Ask your life insurance company whether you have the option of "conversion privileges" from your current term life insurance policy to a new whole life insurance policy. You may also be able to expand your death benefits so they can be used while you are still living. Ask your insurance agent or company about these options.
2. Homeowners/rental insurance
This past year we witnessed a significant number of natural disasters. If you were impacted by a catastrophe or live in an area prone to floods, earthquakes or wildfires, make sure you're properly covered. These disasters can be costly, and may not be covered under a standard policy. Discuss the possibility of adding coverage for these perils with your agent or insurance company.
The start of a new year is also a great time to update your home inventory and make sure your homeowners or rental policy is up-to-date. Take photos or video of your prized possessions. Remember to note valuable antiques, artwork or jewelry so your agent or insurance company can help determine if they are properly covered. Creating a home inventory from the NAIC's free smartphone app, myHOME Scr.APP.book, takes some of the headache out of this process. Download the app from iTunes or Google Play. You can also download a paper version.
Remember to add any new expensive or sizable gifts to your home inventory, too. Include as many details as you can and take photos of each item. Most basic home insurance policies have standard limits for big-ticket items like electronics, art, jewelry or sporting equipment. You may need special coverage, so call your agent to discuss changes for your policy.
3. Auto insurance
Have you had any changes to your driving habits? If so, tell your agent to ensure your auto policy will cover you in case of an accident. Also take some time to check your auto insurance policy by following the guidelines below:
Make sure your coverage is appropriate for your life situation. Liability is the part of the policy that pays for any injury or damage if you cause an accident. If your liability insurance is too low, you may be legally exposed for any damages above your liability limits.
Review your deductibles for comprehensive and collision coverage. This is the amount you will pay if your car is damaged or totaled without fault of another driver. Raising or lowering this amount can affect your premium.
Make sure you have a copy of your insurance card and your insurance agent or company's number in your vehicle at all times.
It is a good idea to accurately record details of an accident if you are in one. The NAIC smartphone application WreckCheck assists you through the process of gathering information following an accident. It allows you to easily email your notes directly to your agent to assist with the claims process. Download the free app from iTunes or Google Play.
4. Health insurance
You may have recently enrolled or changed your health insurance through your employer, Medicare or your state exchange. Make sure you have new insurance cards and paperwork before you visit a doctor.
Check your provider lists to make sure visits to your doctor and any specialists are still covered by your policy, as in-network or preferred provider lists change from year to year.
Read through your documents and make note of co-pays for in-network and out-of-network providers to avoid surprises.
If you're planning a vacation check with your insurance carrier to identify urgent care centers and hospitals that accept your insurance coverage. Ask your carrier about applicable co-pays and deductibles if care is needed. Here's an explanation of health insurance terms you may find on your paperwork.
5. Protect yourself from identity theft and fraudulent activity
The Equifax data breach of 2017 exposed the personal information of more than 145 million people. A data breach can potentially expose a consumer's data putting them at risk for identity theft or other fraudulent activity. There are some things you can do to protect your identity in the coming year and beyond by following the tips below:
Don't give out any personal information like your social security number or bank information over the phone.
Consider purchasing identity theft insurance. Several companies offer identity theft insurance, which generally costs between $25 and $60 per year.
When purchasing an insurance policy:
- Ask for copies of everything you sign and keep a copy of the initial policy payment receipt or check you gave the agent or company.
- Call the insurance company if you don't receive a copy of the insurance policy outlining your coverage and its limitations within 30 days of your purchase.
- The best way to protect yourself from insurance fraud is to research the agent and company you're considering. Before writing your check or signing the contract, call your state insurance department to verify they are licensed in the state they are selling
Find more information about your insurance needs and tips for choosing the coverage that is best for you and your family at www.InsureUonline.org.
For more from the Alabama Department of Insurance and links to content, see http://qrne.ws/adoi.