A Beginner’s Guide to Insurance

Having the right kind of insurance is central to sound financial planning. Some of us may have some form of insurance but very few really understand what it is or why one must have it. For most Indians insurance is a form of investment or a superb tax saving avenue. Ask an average person about his/her investments and they will proudly mention an insurance product as part of their core investments. Of the approximately 5% of Indians that are insured the proportion of those adequately insured is much lower. Very few of the insured view insurance as purely that. There is perhaps no other financial product that has witnessed such rampant mis-selling at the hands of agents who are over enthusiastic in selling products linking insurance to investment earning them fat commissions.

What is Insurance?

Insurance is a way of spreading out significant financial risk of a person or business entity to a large group of individuals or business entities in the occurrence of an unfortunate event that is predefined. The cost of being insured is the monthly or annual compensation paid to the insurance company. In the purest form of insurance if the predefined event does not occur until the period specified the money paid as compensation is not retrieved. Insurance is effectively a means of spreading risk among a pool of people who are insured and lighten their financial burden in the event of a shock.

Insured and Insurer

When you seek protection against financial risk and make a contract with an insurance provider you become the insured and the insurance company becomes your insurer.

Sum assured

In Life Insurance this is the amount of money the insurer promises to pay when the insured dies before the predefined time. This does not include bonuses added in case of non-term insurance. In non-life insurance this guaranteed amount may be called as Insurance Cover.

Premium

For the protection against financial risk an insurer provides, the insured must pay compensation. This is known as premium. They may be paid annually, quarterly, monthly or as decided in the contract. Total amount of premiums paid is several times lesser than the insurance cover or it wouldn’t make much sense to seek insurance at all. Factors that determine premium are the cover, number of years for which insurance is sought, age of the insured (individual, vehicle, etc), to name a few.

Nominee

The beneficiary who is specified by the insured to receive the sum assured and other benefits, if any is the nominee. In case of life insurance it must be another person apart from the insured.

Policy Term

The number of years you want protection for is the term of policy. Term is decided by the insured at the time of purchasing the insurance policy.

Rider

Certain insurance policies may offer additional features as add-ons apart from the actual cover. These can be availed by paying extra premiums. If those features were to be bought separately they would be more expensive. For instance you could add on a personal accident rider with your life insurance.

Surrender Value and Paid-up Value

If you want to exit a policy before its term ends you can discontinue it and take back your money. The amount the insurer will pay you in this instance is called the surrender value. The policy ceases to exist. Instead if you just stop paying the premiums mid way but do not withdraw money the amount is called as paid-up. At the term’s end the insurer pays you in proportion of the paid-up value.

Now that you know the terms this is how insurance works in plain words. An insurance company pools premiums from a large group of people who want to insure against a certain kind of loss. With the help of its actuaries the company comes up with statistical analysis of the probability of actual loss happening in a certain number of people and fixes premiums taking into account other factors as mentioned earlier. It works on the fact that not all insured will suffer loss at the same time and many may not suffer the loss at all within the time of contract.

Types of Insurance

Potentially any risk that can be quantified in terms of money can be insured. To protect loved ones from loss of income due to immature death one can have a life insurance policy. To protect yourself and your family against unforeseen medical expenses you can opt for a Mediclaim policy. To protect your vehicle against robbery or damage in accidents you can have a motor insurance policy. To protect your home against theft, damage due to fire, flood and other perils you can choose a home insurance.

Most popular insurance forms in India are life insurance, health insurance and motor insurance. Apart from these there are other forms as well which are discussed in brief in the following paragraphs. The insurance sector is regulated and monitored by IRDA (Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority).

Life Insurance

This form of insurance provides cover against financial risk in the event of premature death of the insured. There are 24 life insurance companies playing in this arena of which Life Insurance Corporation of India is a public sector company. There are several forms of life insurance policies the simplest form of which is term plan. The other complex policies are endowment plan, whole life plan, money back plan, ULIPs and annuities.

General Insurance

All other insurance policies besides Life Insurance fall under General Insurance. There are 24 general insurance companies in India of which 4 namely National Insurance Company Ltd, New India Assurance Company Ltd, Oriental Insurance Company Ltd and United India Insurance Company Ltd are in the public sector domain.

The biggest pie of non-life insurance in terms of premiums underwritten is shared by motor insurance followed by engineering insurance and health insurance. Other forms of insurance offered by companies in India are home insurance, travel insurance, personal accident insurance, and business insurance.

Buying Insurance

There are an umpteen number of policies to choose from. Because we cannot foresee our future and stop unpleasant things from happening, having an insurance cover is a necessity. But you need to choose carefully. Don’t simply go with what the agent tells you. Read policy documents to know what is covered, what features are offered and what events are excluded from being insured.

1. Know your Needs

Determine what asset or incident must be protected against loss/damage. Is it you life, health, vehicle, home? Next determine what kinds of damage or danger exactly would the assets be most probably be exposed to. This will tell you what features you should be looking for in a policy. Of course there will be losses which cannot be foreseen and the cost of dealing with them can be very high. For instance nobody can predict that they’ll never suffer from critical illnesses no matter if they’re perfectly healthy at present.

The biggest mistake while it comes to buying insurance, particularly life insurance is to view it as an investment. Clubbing insurance and investment in a single product is a poor idea. You lose out on both fronts because for the premiums you’re paying more cover could’ve been got in a term plan and if the premiums were invested in better instruments your returns could’ve been several times more.

Be wary of agents who want to talk you into buying unnecessary policies like child life insurance, credit card insurance, unemployment insurance and so on. Instead of buying separate insurance for specific assets or incidents look for policies that cover a host of possible events under the same cover. Whenever possible choose riders that make sense instead of buying them separately. Unless there is a fair chance of an event happening you do not need insurance for it. For instance unless you are very prone to accidents and disability due to your nature of work or other reasons you do not need an Accident Insurance policy. A good Life Insurance policy with accidental death rider or waiver of premium rider or a disability income rider will do the job.

2. Understand Product Features and Charges

The worst way of choosing an insurance product or insurer is to blindly follow the recommendation of an agent or a friend. The good way to do it is to shop around for products that suit your need and filter out the ones offering lower premiums for similar terms like age, amount of cover, etc. All details you need about the product features and charges will be provided on the company’s website. Many insurance policies can now be bought online. Buying online is smarter because premiums are lower due to elimination of agent fees. If buying offline in case of life insurance, tell the agent that you’re interested only in term insurance.

Before you sign on the contract make sure you have understood what items are covered and what items are exempted from the cover. It would be so devastating to learn in the event of damage or loss that the item you hoped to cover with the insurance was actually excluded. So many people rush to their insurers after being treated for diseases only to realize that the particular disease was excluded. Understand details like when the cover begins and ends and how claims can be filed and losses be reported.

Don’t choose an insurance company because your neighbourhood friend is their agent and never let them coax you into buying from them. Insurance premiums run for years and it means a sizeable amount of money. Apart from the premiums charged look for the service provided. When you are faced with a peril you want the claims collection processed to be complicated with non-cooperating staff in the insurance company’s office. Seek answers from people who have had previous experience with the company for questions like how customer friendly and responsive the company is when it comes to handling claims.

3. Evaluate and Upgrade in Time

As you walk from one life stage to another or when the asset insured changes your policies must be reviewed. Perhaps your cover will need to be increased (or decreased) or you’ll need to top it up with a rider. Some instances when you need to review your cover are when you getting married, when you have children, when your income increases your decreases substantially, when you’re buying a house/car and when you’re responsible for your ageing parents.

Be Your Own Patient Advocate Before Surgery

When planning for surgery it is useful to learn the art of being your own patient advocate. Today’s health and wellness industry has made it easy for us to obtain information to ensure we receive quality care. When we do our own thorough research ahead of time we can feel confident about having a positive surgery outcome.

How to be a patient advocate in navigating health insurance:

It is important to have a full understanding of your health insurance plan. Here are some of the things I learned this past year:

· When in need of a new insurance plan seek out a local insurance broker to help sort out the best plan for your specific needs. Free of charge, they help us attain emotional health about the coverage we choose. These agents know which plans do not raise their rates yearly, which ones are most appropriate to choose with pre-existing conditions, and which plans will be available long-term.

· Whenever you receive a new insurance plan you need to become your own patient advocate by reading through the policy right away. This will inform you if they have placed any restrictions on covering any of your current medical conditions. You do have 30 days to cancel the plan if you find the policy unacceptable.

· If a situation presents where you are not able to pay your medical bill you can make alternative payment arrangements. Those with financial hardships are able to reduce their hospital fees or perhaps waive them entirely.

How to be your own patient advocate for medical visits:

· The health and wellness industry has been great at educating us how to prepare ahead of time for a medical visit. Most of us have already experienced the value of writing down our questions before the visit. To optimize your limited time with the doctor I advise asking your practitioner only those questions they themselves can answer. As my own patient advocate I have learned to query other staff with the remainder of my questions. For example:

1. Direct inquiries about pre-post surgery issues to the surgery scheduler.

2. Ask the front desk staff how to obtain the morbidity & mortality statistics for the doctor and hospital.

· The health and wellness industry has encouraged us to have a trusted person with us during the medical visit. When another is present it allows them to become your patient advocate. I have found their presence vital since way too often my trusted friend brings up issues I failed to mention. It helps me take care of my emotional health when the trusted person is my scribe and documents the doctor’s comments.

· When you need a physician to submit a form (or write a letter) on your behalf it is best to prepare ahead of time. Here are a few examples:

1. When requesting a temporary handicapped parking permit find out ahead of time if the DMV requires you to download their form. If not, draft a letter with your request for the doctor to sign.

2. Whenever you need the doctor to write a letter confirming a medical condition it is best to become proactive as your own patient advocate. Arrive at the medical visit with a sample letter which includes all the pertinent information so you leave with it in-hand.

3. When you need a medical test ordered at another facility come prepared with the name of the facility and FAX number where the request can be sent.

When you follow these guidelines chances are greater you will leave the visit with total confidence that your needs are being handled.

How to be your own patient advocate before and after surgery:

· Know that you can request an early morning surgery when necessary. In taking care of your health and wellness inform the surgery scheduler of needs for early morning surgery if you have health issues that would be compromised when pre-surgery requirements forbid the intake of food or water. Prior to surgery it is best to take care of your emotional health and speed up the time your body is without nourishment.

· It is desirable to have a trusted friend stay in your hospital room overnight. If something unusual presents they can be of immediate value. Today hospitals have a chair that folds down into a bed for these specific purposes.

How to be your own patient advocate in finding the best surgeon:

· The health and wellness industry has made it easy for us to do research online. In your inquiry, seek out the latest state-of-the-art surgery technologies. After studying the various options you are more ready to select a surgeon.

· Search for doctors that use minimally invasive surgical techniques to reduce pain, restore mobility, and promote a quicker return to normal activities.

· In being your own patient advocate you may find the need to look outside your local area for a surgeon. Surgery is an invasive medical procedure. It is in your best interest to feel confident you will receive the highest quality of care.

· I encourage you to inquire how experienced your potential surgeon is. You want someone who has done the procedure hundreds of times to ensure the best outcome.

Hopefully you feel more feel confident about being your own patient advocate when planning for surgery. There are countless online resources available to help sort through the maze of information. Use these guidelines when seeking out what is available and you will find balance in your emotional health.

To Get The Best Credit Cards – Credit Repair = Prime Rate Cards

There are literally thousands, of different credit cards out there for consumers to sift through. Some cards are extremely good, others; not so much. Finding the right credit card can be difficult, especially with so many choices, but most consumers understand one basic principle of credit cards: the lower the interest rate, the better.

The best interest rates on credit cards will be less than 10%, though these credit cards are difficult for many people to get a hold of. They are reserved for people with the absolute best credit scores — people whom banks and other credit agencies view as extremely safe investments. These are people who the financial institutions know are more likely to have the money to pay them back without any bumps along the way.

The best cards are called “prime rate cards” because these credit cards are often tied very closely to the prime rate set by the credit marketplace, one of the main factors used in determining the interest rates for loans and credit cards alike. These cards are going to have the lowest interest rates, and will almost never have any additional fees.

If you don’t already have a top notch credit score, then your chances of scoring a prime rate card isn’t good, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work yourself up to a point where you qualify. No matter how bad your credit is, it can be repaired given time and the right advocate on your side.

If you’re credit score is bad or even just average — you will want a prime rate card, then you need to remember that credit repair equals prime rate cards. There is no easy way to “cheat” the system, and having good credit is far more important than getting one prime rate card. Besides, if you repair your credit correctly and maintain a high score, then you won’t have to chase after a prime rate credit card because the banks and lenders that make these cards will start coming after you.

Credit repair can be done by anyone, and many people would be surprised by how quickly a score can recover if you do the right things. A friend of mine at one point in his life had about $3,000 in credit card debt in grad school, and late payments on his credit report from as early as two years before, and a score around 550. Not good. But he paid all his bills on time after that initial missed payment (and always added a little extra just to make sure he was over) and paid all his debt off so his balance was $0.

The result? In about four months of not having any balance, his credit score was a 729. That’s an excellent score, especially considering how close those last delinquent payments were. In addition to that, my friend had less than seven years of total credit history, meaning if the balance stayed at zero the score was only going to continue to climb and get better.

The point of is that it doesn’t have to take ten years to clean up a credit report. If credit repair is one of your tactics then a score can improve rapidly. Even if it takes more time, doing the right thing tends to have a snowball effect. Don’t be surprised if your score goes up five points in one month, then seven, then seven, then thirty-eight. More often than not — that’s exactly how it will happen when you represented by a reputable credit repair company such as Lexington Law.

When aiming for the best credit cards possible: all you need to remember is that credit repair = prime rate cards. It really is that simple. If you want the best cards, get your credit repaired and before you know it the companies will be flooding your mailbox with prime credit card offers and low interest financing.

Over 40 Ways to Decrease Your Auto Insurance Costs

There are multiple articles titled “7 ways to save on car insurance” or “5 Tips to lower your auto insurance costs” etc, but would it not be great to have all those saving tricks and discounts at one place? Below you will find such a list for Auto insurance. This list is a comprehensive overview of all opportunities to save on car insurance in Canada, and was compiled based on the results of numerous discussions with insurance brokers and through analyses of different insurance offerings.

1. Shop around: Search, Compare, and switch insurance companies. There are many insurance providers and their price offerings for the same policies can be very different, therefore use multiple online tools and talk to several brokers since each will cover a limited number of insurance companies.

2. Bundle: Do you need Home and Auto Insurance? Most companies will offer you a discount if you bundle them together.

3. Professional Membership: Are you a member of a professional organization (e.g. Certified Management Accountants of Canada or The Air Canada Pilots Association)? Then some insurance companies offer you a discount.

4. Students: Being a student alone can result in a student discount.

5. Alumni: Graduates from certain Canadian universities ( e.g University of Toronto, McGill University) might be eligible for a discount at certain Insurance providers.

6. Employee / Union members: Some companies offer discounts to union members.

7. Seniors: Many companies offer special pricing to seniors.

8. Direct insurers: Have you always dealt with insurance brokers / agents? Getting a policy from a direct insurer (i.e. insurers working via call-center or online) often can be cheaper (but not always) since they do not pay an agent/broker commission for each policy sold.

9. Annual vs. monthly payments: In comparison to monthly payments, annual payments save insurers administrative costs (e.g. sending bills) and therefore they reward you lower premiums.

10. Loyalty: Staying with one insurer longer can sometimes result in a long-term policy holder discount.

11. Annual review: Review your policies and coverage every year, since new discounts could apply to your new life situation if it has changed.

12. Welcome discount: Some insurers offer a so called welcome discount.

13. Benchmark your costs: Knowing how much other consumers similar to you pay for their insurance can help you identify the most cost-friendly insurance providers.

14. Car Insurance Deductibles: Increase your car insurance deductibles if you believe that you are capable of incurring higher payments for damages in case of an accident. This is especially suited for more experienced car drivers.

15. Being a second driver: Driving a car only occasionally? Become a second drive instead of being a principal driver

16. Minimal coverage: Driving an old car without large value? Get a minimal coverage required by law (mainly liability) w/o collision damage (you are still protected if you damage somebody’s car but damages on your car will not be covered)

17. Minimal Coverage: Driving an old, inexpensive car? Then only get a minimal coverage plan which is required by the law (mainly liability) without collision damage coverage (does not cover damage costs for your vehicle)

18. Leverage your Credit Card: Check if your credit card insurance includes rental car protection. Paying with a card that has insurance for rental car protection can you save you around $20 per day in Collision Damage Waiver fees.

19. Leverage rental car coverage: If you frequently rent cars and have an auto insurance policy, you should check if your own auto insurance policy actually covers the rental car. If it is the case, you can save on all Collision Damage Waiver costs for rental vehicles.

20. Rental car rider: If your existing auto insurance policy does not cover your rental car, you can often add it as a rider (policy extension) for $20-30 dollars a year. Compared to $20/day you would pay when renting a car, it’s not a bad deal!

21. Location, location, location: Car insurance costs are different from one province to another (e.g. moving from Ontario to Quebec will surely reduce your insurance costs by half). If you move within a province, you should check for any changes in car insurance costs, and ideally you should move to where costs are lower (e.g. Burlington, Ontario has one of the highest car insurance rates in Ontario)

22. CAA member: CAA Members: Are you a member of the CAA? Some insurance providers will reward you with lower insurance premiums, including, of course, the CAA.

23. Dashboard camera: Get a dashboard camera for your vehicle. Even though installing a dashboard camera does not result in direct savings (insurance companies do not offer any insurance discount related to dashboard cameras) but it can prove you not-at-fault when it is the case in an accident. It results in you avoiding unfair premium raises.

24. Driving Course: Successfully completing a driving course is sometimes recognized by some insurance providers and could help you reduce your premiums.

25. Improving your driving record: Do you have a bad driving record? Every three years previously incurred tickets are removed from your insurance history and your insurance premiums can go down.

26. At-Fault Accidents: Have you been in a couple of accidents in the past where you were at fault? With a little patience (six years with no accidents), your risk profile will improve allowing you to once again enjoy reasonable insurance premium rates.

27. Age: Senior drivers enjoy lower auto insurance premiums. Thus in several years your premiums can go down.

28. Car Make and Model: Wisely choose your car, as some car models are more susceptible to theft or even have a history of more risky drivers (e.g. Toyota Camry, Acura MDX, Toyota RAV4, and Honda Civic are usually quite expensive to insure)

29. Good Student: Yes, having good grades can have many positive impacts, and even on your auto insurance rates! E.g. one insurance company rewards students who are younger than 25 and have good grades (grade average of B or higher) with a discount up to 25%.

30. Multiple-cars-bundle: Bundle several cars on one policy and your rate can go down

31. Anti-theft system: Installing a certified anti-theft system in your car results in a lower risk of theft and thus can lead to insurance discounts.

32. Winter Tires: Having winter tires is important for driving safety during the winter, but can also help reduce your insurance premiums.

33. Repair costs: Choose a car that would cost less to repair in case of damage. The repair costs for certain cars (e.g. Mini Cooper or BMW) are higher than other (e.g. Ford Focus) and insurance providers are aware of that.

34. Claim History: Keeping a clean claims history can sometimes be more financially feasible than submitting claims for small damage repairs which could result in increased premiums. Contacting an insurance provider/broker could help you find out what makes sense.

35. Being married: In most provinces your marital status affects your insurance premiums (except in Nova Scotia)

36. Short distance to work: Finding a house close to your place of work reduces the distance that you need drive daily to work and thus results in lower insurance premiums.

38. Drop glass coverage: For cars with inexpensive windshields, it can be more economical to drop the glass coverage since in combination with the deductibles to be paid in case of an accident you’d pay more. It is up to you to calculate.

39. Retiree Discounts: Some insurance companies will offer different retirement discounts for drivers.

40. Disabilities: Some companies offer discounts for people with disabilities.

41. Hybrid vehicles: Many companies award driving a hybrid vehicle with lower insurance premiums.

42. Private Garage: Parking your car in a safe location (e.g. private or secure garage) normally results in lower insurance premiums with auto insurance providers.