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Which Home Alarms Do You Need?

Technology has made home alarms of all kinds — from security to smoke, radon to radiation — more accessible than ever. Many of them can be configured to work together, and some even alert you to trouble through your phone or other mobile device, so you can feel confident even when you’re out of the house.

So, what home sensors do you need? Only you can answer that question – it depends on what you’re comfortable with. For your peace of mind and safety, you may want to consider the following types of alarms for your home.

Start With the Basics

Whether you’re in a house, condo or apartment, smoke alarms and carbon-monoxide (CO) detectors are absolute musts. They can alert you and your family in the event of a fire or if deadly gas is building up in your home.

  • Smoke alarms: According to the National Fire Protection Association, you should install these inside every room where people sleep, with at least one on each level of your home. For maximum safety, use both ionization and photoelectric alarms, which respond to different types of fires, or a dual-sensor alarm, which will respond to both flaming and smoldering fires. You can choose from alarms that are hard-wired into your home’s power supply or ones that run on batteries. Be sure to test them regularly and replace the batteries twice a year when you set your clocks forward or back.

    You also should consider smoke alarms that can be linked, so when one goes off, all of the alarms in the house sound. Other options include alarms with strobe lights (for the hearing impaired), voice commands instead of loud beeping (which may help wake children more easily) and even light for visibility in the dark.

  • Carbon monoxide alarms: Carbon monoxide is odorless — and deadly, killing about 400 people in the U.S. each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If your home has gas appliances or a wood-burning fireplace, you may be especially at risk. But, every home needs carbon monoxide detectors – on every level of your home and outside of sleeping areas.

    There are battery-powered and plug-in CO alarms available, and some can be linked to smoke detectors as well. Be cautious about combination smoke-and-CO alarms, however, as the detection capabilities may be limited.

Then Consider Other Types of Home Detectors

Other alarms are more about your specific living circumstances and what will make you feel most safe. There are plenty of different products available, so consider your lifestyle, your location and other factors.

  • Natural gas and propane: Natural-gas detectors typically provide an alarm for propane and CO leaks as well. They’re a good option for those with appliances powered by natural gas, or people who own RVs and trailers with large propane tanks.
  • Water: These alert you to leaks from appliances or pipes via sensors you can place around your home. Some require you to be present to hear the alarm, while others connect to a central hub that can provide alerts to your phone or other device.
  • Radon: Detectors are available that provide constant monitoring of this deadly gas. You could also start with a single-use radon test to help determine if a problem may be present.
  • Radiation: If you live near a nuclear power plant, you might want to monitor the amount of radiation in your home. Some radiation occurs naturally and poses little problem for humans. But, elevated levels can cause harm.

And, What About a Security System?

There are more options than ever for home security today. Some do-it-yourself security systems include cameras and the ability to see what’s happening at your home via your phone or other electronic device. Of course, systems installed and monitored by a separate security company are still available, as well.

Some alarms can provide benefits beyond safety, too. Installing them may qualify you for a discount on your insurance. Check with your independent agent for more details.

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A Good Defense is Always the Best Offense

We’ve discussed how car crashes in the United States each year impact our economy and society. Sure, they lead to higher car insurance costs for each of us, but their impact goes much deeper, and they remove almost 2.5% from our gross domestic product (GDP) each year. We’ve also discussed how they can impact individuals on a deeply personal level, since crashes can result in the loss of life. But despite all of the statistical data that gets thrown our way, one thing is perfectly clear: the vast majority of these crashes, collisions and so-called accidents are preventable.

We’re not kidding. Most automobile accidents are preventable. If every single driver employed the basic techniques of defensive driving, the number of crashes would be dramatically reduced.

What is Defensive Driving?

If you’re like a lot of people, you may be wondering what the actual definition of defensive driving even is. To put it simply, defensive driving is the act of applying driving rules and techniques that can help motorists reduce risks and anticipate dangerous situations. Below are some tips on how to be a better defensive driver.

Focus on the Task at Hand: Driving

The first step in becoming a defensive driver is to recognize that you can control how you drive. You should be thinking safety first. You can’t rely on others on the road to make your safety a priority. That’s your job. So, wear your seat belt, don’t drive aggressively and keep your full attention on the task at hand: driving.

Visualize Everything

Constantly scanning the road with one’s eyes is another habit of good, defensive drivers. This means checking the front, left side, right side and rear with all of your mirrors. Make sure you’re scanning far ahead, not just casually looking around you. This will give you time to react to any situation that could be coming your way. Keep your eyes peeled for other vehicles, bicycles, motorcycles or pedestrians even pets and wildlife should be on your radar.

Always Have an Escape Route

This means not following too closely and not getting boxed-in. On multiple lane roads, such as freeways, center lanes are preferred, as they maximize your ability to go left or right.

Don’t Tailgate

Most driver guides insist on leaving a two-second space between yourself and cars you are following. This doesn’t go far enough. Allow for at least three-to-four seconds of space between yourself and the car you are following. Anything less is too close. Having this space cushion will allow you to react to any situation.

Don’t Speed

Your speed should always match conditions, which means sometimes the posted speed limit is too fast. Wet or icy roads and limited visibility may decrease the time you have to react to other drivers, so keep that in mind as you’re driving.

Be Aware, Not Paranoid

Don’t let yourself become overwhelmed by dealing with too many risk factors at the same time. Only concentrate on those that seem to have the biggest chance of disaster.

Don’t Become Distracted

A defensive driver is not a distracted driver. Anything that takes your mind off of the task of driving is a distraction.


Overall, these are the basics of defensive driving. Remember, you are in control of your own outcomes. Take matters into your own hands and don’t rely on other drivers to always do the right thing. In addition to being much safer, employing these practices will also help your auto insurance policy by helping reduce the number of claims on your file.

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Deadly Driving: A Look At Teen Drivers

If you’re seeking a car insurance plan, there are many, many factors that get taken into account, particularly if you have a family with kids in it—kids who will one day likely be sitting behind the wheel of your family car. Getting your teen started down the road with a learner’s permit can be one of the most nerve-wracking experiences in your entire adult life. Most teens are ready and eager to hit the open road, but there’s a lot of consideration that needs to go into making sure your teen is safe and insured properly for any circumstance that may arise. Teenagers and younger drivers are hands-down the most accident prone demographic on the road: They crash more, seem to think less, and tend to engage in more risky behaviors, like drinking and driving or texting while behind the wheel. You want your teen to be safe, and you also want them to be taken care of by your insurance plan.

If you’re curious about the proper way to be sure your teen is well cared for by your insurance plan, check out this handy guide to the best insurance for your young driver. Every parent’s ultimate desire is for their teen to stay safe, but the odds of your 16-year-old getting into a fender bender are too high to not make entirely sure that your insurance policy is reliable and effective for any situation. Whether you’re the parent of a soon-to-be-driving teen yourself or you simply want to be more aware of those young folk you share the road with teen drivers today.

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4 Ways to Get Financially Fit in Your 40’s

Many people in their 40s are facing an uncomfortable fact: They simply aren’t where they’d hoped to be financially. Fortunately, all their life experience can help correct for past mistakes.

“There’s a different trigger moment for everybody,” says Jay Howard, financial advisor and partner at MHD Financial in San Antonio, Texas. “But regardless of when it comes, people find themselves looking down the barrel of a gun as they consider retirement.”

One challenge is that it’s impossible to advise 40-somethings based on tidy “life stage” demographics. Some are just starting families, while others are sending offspring to college. They’re married, single, divorced, and just about everything in between.

But for those still grappling with financial instability, these four principles can help in moving forward with confidence:

1. Acknowledge what you’ve done right.
It could be one great decision sandwiched in between some fails, or just a single good habit that can mitigate the impact of a host of wrongs.

Take the example of Kiera Starboard, a 46-year-old controller at a San Diego software firm. A mom to two adult sons and a teenage stepson, she always made having sufficient life insurance—both term and permanent—a priority, the result of her previous training as a financial advisor. “Even if it was tight, I made the payments,” she says. “It was a priority for my family’s sake, and for my own peace of mind.”

Unlike the 40% of Americans who have no life insurance, Starboard was protected when the unthinkable happened last August. Less than two years into her marriage, her husband, Steve, was killed while riding his motorcycle to work—one month after they purchased a small, additional life insurance policy to supplement his employer coverage.

“To have had to deal with financial stress on top of everything else, it would have been unbearable, incapacitating,” says Starboard. “My stepson and I are certainly in a much better position today than we would have been, had Steve and I not followed the advice I used to give to others.”

2. Take action to shore up the decades ahead.
For many, the hardest part can be learning to put your own long-term future first—sometimes for the first time in your life.

“I see people focusing on their kids’ college savings, and not enough on retirement or an emergency fund for themselves,” says Starboard. Many advisors point out that kids can borrow for college if necessary, but no one can borrow for retirement.

The most important step is clear, says Howard: “You must have a written financial plan, period. Because that plan will dictate what you must do to be successful for the entirely of your life.

“The financial plan is your road map,” he continues. “In it will be your portfolio requirements, your savings goals, and your insurance-related needs.”

Finally, make sure your plan takes inflation into account, commonly estimated at 3% a year. Says Howard, “Inflation is the silent assassin that eats away at your nest egg.”

3. Apply the hard-fought wisdom you’ve gained.
“Treat the numbers determined by your plan—such as monthly savings—as bills that need to be paid,” advises Howard. When money comes in, it’s easy to start thinking of a new kitchen or a trip to Tulum. “Just be patient and keep the bills paid.”

Using that wisdom also applies to the big stuff. As the executor to her husband’s estate, Starboard has held back making any major decisions. “In a prior loss, I committed to real estate transactions and other things prematurely. At the time, it really felt like the right thing to do but my grief clouded my perception. I had a painful, expensive learning lesson.”

4. Focus on your shining future—really.
Forward thinking is an essential part of your financial plan, says Howard. “Get help really envisioning what kind of retirement you want. For each aspect, really drill down. For instance, where do you want to live? Do you want to be near your grandkids? Will you have the money to go see them? How often? It’s not just financial planning, it’s life planning.”

If all that forward thinking feels presumptuous, Howard recalls the eminently quotable Yogi Berra, who once said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.”

And finally, remember the simple refrain: it’s never too late.

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6 Reasons Millennials Should Consider Life Insurance

There is facial recognition software that will name your friends and ask you if you want to tag them on your social media profile. You can text someone a message from half a world away, and you can play a video game with a complete stranger on another continent. Technology has accomplished so many amazing things in the past 20 years, but there’s still no way to bypass our own mortality.

While it’s never pleasant to discuss, your death is inevitable. It is easy to forget this when you’re young. Everything seems to be going as planned and most young people have little connection to the heartache of death, outside of the passing of their grandparents.

But early adulthood is an advantageous time to purchase life insurance. The benefits to doing so are many. If you’re not sure whether you need insurance or not, consider the following:

1. You have dependents. First of all, life insurance is not for you. It’s for those you leave behind. The people who depend on you—your dependents. Dependents don’t have to be children. For insurance purposes, these are people who father with son on shoulders rely on your income, who would have to go without, should something happen to you. This could be a spouse, a live-in boyfriend/girlfriend with whom you own a house. You should also consider your children, parents, grandparents, siblings with special needs, etc.

If you have any dependents in a long-term care situation (or those you could envision requiring this help in the near future), either due to old age or disability, life insurance is a necessity. Most young people simply do not have the financial means necessary to cover these sorts of long-term care expenses. An insurance policy can help with that.

Additionally, if you have a stay-at-home spouse, consider the ramifications of your death. Not only would this person be forced to secure employment outside of the home, but pay for childcare as well. How quickly do you think your spouse could find something that would cover these expenses?

Life insurance gives you peace of mind, knowing your loved ones wouldn’t be financially affected by your death.

2. Costs are lower. Life insurance premiums are risk calculations based on mortality. Since average life expectancy is somewhere around 79 years old, there’s less risk for a company to insure a Millennial in good health. Less risk for the company, means relatively inexpensive premiums for you. Coverage can usually be obtained for pennies on the dollar. (Think about the cost of a fancy latte every week.)

Premiums are based on the age of the applicant and rates usually increase with age. If you purchase a policy as a 20-something, it will be at a lower rate than if you wait until you’re 40. You could save a couple hundred dollars a year, for as many as 30 years, if you act now versus later.

Plus, qualifying for coverage as a healthy Millennial can be a lot easier and less expensive than applying after you’ve been diagnosed with a health condition. Don’t wait. A health issue can crop up over night and qualifying for a life insurance policy can be a very different experience once you’ve been diagnosed.

3. You’d like an additional savings vehicle. If you always have a reason to dig into your savings, consider purchasing a permanent life insurance policy that not only has a death benefit but a savings component as well. You can borrow against it as well as use it in retirement, depending on the policy and company behind it.

Think of a permanent life insurance plan as a portfolio asset that will help secure your loved ones and your retirement. Your generation understands the importance of saving for its future. A permanent life insurance policy can help you do that with minimal effort on your part plus there’s no limit to what you can contribute to the savings portion, unlike a 401(k) or a Roth IRA. Once you’re retired, you can draw on the savings portion of the policy tax-free.

4. You’d like to supplement your company-backed insurance. Millennials who are fortunate enough to have a good paying job with excellent benefits may receive life insurance through their company. While this provides some peace of mind, consider purchasing other, independent coverage. If you become sick and are no longer able to work, your work policy will no longer cover you. Since you’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness, you may not be able to secure a life insurance policy at this time. Now, when your family needs the benefit the most, they no longer have it. Plus most basic coverage will not cover everything your family needs at a time when they are ill-equipped to provide for themselves.

5. You want your funeral expenses and debts covered. Even if no one depends on your income, such as a spouse or children, you should consider your debts and your burial expenses. The average funeral alone costs between $10,000 and $15,000. Some debts would be waived with your death while others would be collected through whatever assets you left. Are your parents in a position to handle these sorts of expenses or will this create a financial hardship for them?

Millennials will want to decide what amount of coverage they need to pay for both funeral expenses and their recoverable debts when deciding an amount of insurance coverage.

6. You’d like to leverage riders for more coverage. Life insurance is not all about the death benefit paid out to your loved ones. There are also riders that can be added to policies to address needs for things like long-term care and disability. You are more likely as a young person to be injured in an accident than you are to be killed in one. If you were injured and unable to work for a certain period, or permanently disabled, do you have a plan in place to cover your expenses? A disability rider to your life insurance policy could safeguard against the unexpected.

Frankly, most people will never need the financial comfort provided by a life insurance policy while they’re young. But if your family is the one who does, your forward thinking and planning will ease their concerns during a very difficult time. How will you plan for your future?