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Got ICE?

Do you have ICE’s number on your cell phone?

You should add him (or her) to your contacts. ICE is a good person to know. ICE is your “In Case of Emergency” contact. If ever something happens to you, your cell phone is one of the places that paramedics will check.

They will be looking for ICE. ICE can be your spouse, your sister, your best friend – anyone you’d want to be called in case of an emergency.

It’s just one more step toward making your world a safer place.

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Last week, we asked ‘What’s your profile’ for your home’s flooding risk. (Remember – the average home has a 26% chance of flooding, and a 10% chance to be destroyed in a fire.)

If you took the quiz and found that you would like to purchase flood insurance, it helps to know the following:

– Flood insurance is a special insurance program that is backed by the government. Hence its name “National Flood Insurance Program” (NFIP). In fact, flood insurance rates are set by the federal government, but sold through private insurance companies. Since the price is set, you select the insurance company based on the service it provides. (An insurance agent can help you with this.)

– To be eligible, the community you live in must participate in the NFIP, implementing floodplain regulations to minimize future losses.

– You can buy flood insurance nationwide, whether you live in a low-risk or high-risk area. But you must live in a participating community.

– You can buy flood insurance even if your home or property have been flooded before.

– As a private homeowner, you can insure your home for up to $250,000 and its contents for up to $100,000.

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As I was doing research on catastrophes the other day, I ran into a surprising fact:

Did you know that the risk for an average home to be destroyed in a fire is about 10%, while the risk of the same home to be destroyed in a flood is about 26%?

Who would have thought! But, how is that possible?

Flooding doesn’t always occur near rivers and streams, but also happens due to old or blocked drainage systems, fast accumulation of water due to rain or snowmelt, or changes in topography that keep surface water from being absorbed by the ground. Yes, backup of surface waters on two or more adjacent properties qualifies as a ‘flood’. In fact, only about 25% of all flood losses occur in actual high-risk flood zones; the rest, about 75%, happen in low-risk flood zones.

(And no, none of these is covered by a standard homeowner’s policy.)

To learn the flood risk of your property, take part in the One-Step-Flood-Risk-Profile at http://www.floodsmart.gov/.

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It’s Daylight Savings time again. Spring forward one hour this Sunday morning, March 8th, at 2:00am, and rejoice in the feeling that spring is ‘officially’ here.

Those who know me are aware that Daylight Savings is connected to an annual tradition in my home and office. It’s a gentle reminder to change the smoke alarm batteries throughout the house. And with good reason! Studies show that although 85% of dwellings are equipped with smoke alarms, as many as one third of those are not working!

But there is more: Did you know that the smoke alarm itself should be replaced regularly as well? The US Fire Administration (USFA) recommends that homeowners install new smoke alarms every 8 – 10 years.

The major problem with smoke alarms has been their ability to wake you up when you are asleep. And, while the persistent beeping seems to reliably wake up adults, children often sleep right through the alarm, barely stirring to pull their blankets over their heads. If you have kids, consider installing personalized parent-voice smoke alarms. Studies have shown that parent-voice alarms with instructions successfully rouse 96% of children out of deep slumber (compared to 58% with tone alarms) and help them perform better in self-rescue exercises. For maximum protection, record and install parent-voice alarms in addition to conventional tone alarms, talk with your kids about fire safety, and practice fire escape drills.

 

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Looking for Cash?

Just the other day, something triggered me to check in with the Washington State Department of Revenue to find out whether there are any unclaimed funds for me. It is a ritual that I perform every couple of years.

You think I’m joking?

Actually, I’m not! The Washington State Department of Revenue makes an effort to return unclaimed property to its rightful owner. “Unclaimed property” most often includes bank accounts, stocks or bonds, insurance payments, contents of safety boxes, uncashed checks, or returns from utility companies. If an institution or organization has not had contact with the lawful owner of the property for three or more years, they turn such “unclaimed property” over to the state of Washington.

You may wonder “Who has funds and doesn’t claim them? Who would forget about checks or other sources of money?” I don’t know – but there seem to be quite a few folks out there who are unaware of property they own: According to the Department of Revenue, their Unclaimed Property Section received property worth more than $100 million during fiscal year 2008 alone!

You can check and see if some of that is yours:
Go to http://claimyourcash.org/ and find out if there is some money waiting for you (and post a comment if you receive a return.)

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The other day, I read about Jury Duty Scams, a form of identity theft that has been known for a while, but seems to resurface and peak every few years. So I wanted to share this information with you.

The concept is simple: You receive a phone call from a “court officer” who advises that you failed to report for jury duty, which is a crime. Supposedly, a warrant for your arrest is out.

If you were to receive such a phone call, your first reaction would probably be similar to mine: You get nervous, defensive, and protest that you never even received a letter. To clarify the situation, the caller asks for your name, date of birth, and social security number… and you, caught off guard, may be more than willing to give him the information in order to get the problem solved.

And that’s when he gets you.

The caller may even be bold enough to “offer” you to pay a fine – payable by credit card right over the phone.

The FBI advises: As a rule, court officials don’t ask for personal information over the phone; they usually communicate with prospective jurors by mail. So please be vigilant and never ever give out personal information when you receive an unsolicited phone call.

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We have such dedicated and committed educators in our community! We should all be so grateful for the great efforts being made by teachers and students in our area.

Since last September, I have had the honor to serve as a board member of the Everett Public Schools Foundation. This has been a wonderful and rewarding experience. As a board member, I recently had the opportunity to sit on the committee to judge the applications for Classroom Grants. The Foundation awarded 63 grants – a total of $31,500 – for the 2008-2009 school year! These $500 micro-grants allow teachers to bring new programs into their classrooms — programs that can’t be funded by the normal school budget. The grants will impact 14,000 students in the Everett School District. Isn’t that amazing?

I continue to be impressed and inspired by the teachers who put together such thoughtful and creative programs for students and parents. It definitely gives me a new lookout on life and the future.

I also was invited to be a judge for the Youth of the Year award for the Snohomish County Boys & Girls clubs. A committee of five business people and volunteers from the community interviewed nine finalists (each from one of the Boys & Girls clubs in Snohomish County) on Tuesday. We met with an inspiring group of young people, many of whom have overcome huge obstacles in their family lives! The decision was extremely difficult (they are all winners in my book), but I am happy to say that Sara Higbee, from the Edmonds Boys & Girls Club, was chosen to represent our county in the state competition. The state winner will be announced at a gathering in the Governors mansion in April. The state winner goes on to compete for the regional and national titles. In recent years, Snohomish County has had two National “Youth of the Year” winners. Good luck, Sara, we’re rooting for you!

Witnessing the efforts that people of all ages put forth in our community is a humbling and inspiring experience. I’d like to thank every one of them for giving me this opportunity to hear about their work.

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Claudia Live On TV!

Last week, I had the honor of being invited to attend and testify at a Senate Financial Institutions, Housing and Insurance Committee’s Work Session. I was asked to speak about catastrophe coverage on a standard homeowners insurance policy.

And so I found myself on my way to Olympia, WA yesterday morning, with a short presentation and a stack of handouts in my purse, and with shaky knees. It’s not every day that one is invited to testify in front of several State Senators! The fact that the session was being broadcast live on TV (on TVW, Washington State Public Affairs TV Network) did not help calm my nerves!!

But – I did it! And what helped me a lot, was the realization of just how important this information is. So many homeowners seem to have no idea about the catastrophic loss exclusions on their homeowners policy.

Among the most important ones:
Earthquake and Flood are NOT covered on a standard homeowners policy. Coverage needs to be purchased separately as an endorsement, or as a stand-alone policy. Many homeowners take a gamble on this topic, and decide that the odds of their home being damaged or destroyed in an earthquake or a flooding event are rather slim. That is not correct!

My research has turned up some numbers that baffled even me, and I consider myself an insurance insider:

1. Only about 25% of all flood losses occur in actual high-risk flood zones. The rest – 75% (!) – happen in low-risk areas! (There are a variety of factors that can cause flooding, but I’ll talk about those another time.)

2. The risk of an average home being destroyed in a fire is about 10%. THE RISK OF AN AVERGAE HOME BEING DESTROYED IN A FLOOD IS ABOUT 26%! Yet, most people consider fire protection more important.

Oh my.

If you would like to receive a copy of my Catastrophic Loss Exclusions worksheet, or more information on the topic, please e-mail me at claudia@mcagent.org.

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With the economy in a downturn, we are all looking for ways to save. And I understand that something as abstract as ‘insurance’ can be an easy target for cutting some expenses. But I urge you to not cut any coverage without first seeking professional advice!

The danger: Many drivers opt to decrease their Liability and Underinsured Motorist (UIM) limits in order to save money. But if an at-fault accident happens, drivers with low liability limits may find themselves in debt for years! Even worse, if you are hit by a driver with low liability limits, you may never receive the amount awarded to you by a jury. Why? Because the other party may not have enough insurance, let alone enough savings, to pay for your injuries. That’s when your own UIM coverage kicks in. Don’t hurt yourself by keeping these limits low!

Liability and UIM coverage go hand-in-hand and are the most important insurance coverages you have. If it’s been a few years since you reviewed your current auto insurance, chances are that your liability limits no longer match today’s standards. There are more high-end vehicles on the roads than ever, and if you happen to hit one (and, worse, injure the neuro-surgeon who’s driving it), your liability limits may not be enough to pay for bodily injury, property damage, and loss of wages. I recommend liability limits of at least 250/500, that means up to $250,000 per person and up to $500,000 per accident.

Sounds like a lot? I’m afraid, it’s not.

There are ways to dramatically increase your liability limits and still save money on your insurance:

1) Increase your deductibles. A low deductible translates into a higher premium. Save on your monthly insurance payments by raising the deductible.

2) Get all the discounts you deserve. Reap the benefits of Multiple Car Discount, Good Student Discount, and Good Credit Discount. Also, most insurance carriers offer better rates when they insure both the home and the auto insurance policies for a customer.

3) Notice a change in driving habits. If you drive less because you work from home or carpool, or if you are retired, notify your insurance agent. Less driving means more savings.

Call your agent today and ask them to provide you with a few quotes.

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…when rain- and thunderstorms hit. Not every flood comes from a tidal surge or raging river!
In fact, you don’t even have to live near a river to be affected by a flood. Excessive rain, ice, or snow, insufficient storm drains, and increased development –and pavement– can cause water back-up and flooding even nowhere near a large body of water. About 25% of all flood claims occur in such low-to moderate-risk areas!

A customer of our agency experienced such a situation last fall, when his neighbor’s retaining wall caused rainwater to back up, flow into his yard, across the deck and through cracks of the sliding glass door into the living room. The damage was not covered by his homeowners policy.
If you live in a flood plain, we highly recommend that you have flood insurance. (This may even be a mandatory requirement by the lender.) But with recent years’ weather patterns the way they have been, we advise flood insurance for everyone.

Why think about this now? Because flood insurance takes 30 days to issue! Once the rains hit, it may be too late. Flood policies are available for about $400 per year. (And please keep in mind: Financial assistance from FEMA is a low-interest loan that’s only offered in the event of a presidential disaster declaration. If your home sustains damage due to a flood, it is your responsibility to pay for repairs if you don’t have flood insurance.)

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