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How Non-US Citizens Get Life Insurance

Selecting a life insurance policy is an important step for planning ahead and taking care of the financial well-being of your family. But can you still get coverage if you aren’t a US citizen? In most cases, yes. There are very few instances where your citizenship status disqualifies you from coverage. The circumstances of your policy are different than those of current citizens, so there will be some more hoops to jump through, but there are plenty of providers who should be able to give you the coverage you need.

Learn more about obtaining life insurance as a non-citizen here:

Your Identification Makes a Difference

Whether or not you’re going to have a simple time of getting life insurance depends on the type of ID you have. If you are a green card holder, you are considered a permanent U.S. resident, and you shouldn’t have any problems applying for any life insurance policy you want. The only additional step you will need to take is sending proof of your immigration status to the insurance company.

Things start to get trickier if you hold a visa or a student visa. Visa card holders can be approved by many different carriers, but the companies have varying criteria for determining your residency. Most of these criteria are based on substantial presence and significant interest (more on that below).

The group most likely to have problems qualifying for life insurance coverage is non-citizens who hold student visas. Most insurance companies are hesitant to approve policies because they know that the visa is only temporary. However, it isn’t impossible to get life insurance with a student visa. You just need to speak with your insurance agent to determine the best route to take.

Substantial Presence & Significant Interest

Substantial presence and significant interest are the two primary factors that insurance companies consider when visa card holders apply for a life insurance policy.

To qualify under substantial presence in the United States, you typically need to have lived stateside for a minimum of one year. Many carriers require you to prove you have lived in the US for one or two years, and some require as many as five years. Ask your agent which carriers you best qualify with based on your time spent in the US.

In order to qualify based on significant interest, you need to have a vested reason to remain in or frequent the US. You must prove to the insurance carrier that you own a sizeable amount of property or assets in the country, such as a home or business.

Rely on Independent Agents

Shopping for a great insurance policy within your budget can be difficult enough to begin with. If you are not a US citizen, qualifying for life insurance can present even more obstacles. Trust an experienced independent agent to find a variety of good carriers with policies you qualify for!

6 Ways to Know if Your Brakes Are Failing

Brake failure is easily one of the most dangerous malfunctions that can occur in your vehicle. There are many reasons why brakes fail, but even if you aren’t a mechanic, you should know the signs of brake failure so you can get your car serviced as soon as you start noticing them! Here are six ways to know if your brakes are starting to malfunction.

Your Brake Pedal Has Fallen

A falling brake pedal is one of the classic signs of brake failure. When your brakes are in good condition, your pedal will stay in the same position every day. If it falls toward the floor, it will be impossible not to notice. This means that your brakes are likely out of adjustment, and it could mean that there is a mechanical failure or air in your vehicle’s system.

Your Brakes Are Squealing or Grinding

Brakes that squeal or grind aren’t just nuisances. They’re actually a pretty serious problem because these noises can indicate that your brake pads are wearing thin and/or that the brake is worn all the way down to the rotors.

Your Brake Pedal Is Vibrating

When we say vibrating, we don’t just mean the slight shudder caused by your anti-lock brake system (ABS)  when you slam on the brakes really hard. We mean a shudder that happens when you hit your brake normally, often accompanied by a chattering noise and a hard-to-control steering wheel. The chattering sound is usually produced by warped rotors, which the brakes can’t clamp onto as easily to stop the vehicle.

You Think Your Alignment Is Off

If your car is pulling to one side or the other when you brake, don’t automatically mistake it for a slight misalignment! If you notice the pulling only when you apply pressure to your brakes, it could mean that one of the car’s wheel cylinders or calipers is seized or frozen. It could also mean that you have fluid leaking on the brake pads or shoes.

You Have to Hit the Brakes Harder

If you begin noticing that you have to press your brakes harder than usual to slow down or stop, it could mean that one of your brakes or an axle isn’t performing the way it should. Don’t let this continue for a while; call your mechanic and bring your car in for a checkup as soon as possible.

What to Do

If you think your brakes are failing, it is imperative that you get your vehicle checked out as soon as you can. Properly functioning brakes can do more than save you from a fender-bender and an insurance headache – they can save your life.

How Smoking Affects Your Health Insurance Premiums 

You are probably aware of how smoking can affect your health, but do you know how it changes your health insurance premiums? 

Determining Factors 

Health insurance premiums are determined based on five factors: age, location, plan category, number of dependents, and tobacco use. Insurance companies define tobacco use as the use of tobacco products (cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, and chewing tobacco) on an average of four times a week and within the last six months.   

Tobacco Rating 

Health insurers cannot outright deny coverage to smokers, but they can charge them higher premiums than non-smokers. The Affordable Care Act allows insurance companies to charge smokers up to 50% more for premiums. The explanation for this is simply that smokers are more likely to develop health concerns in the future, and therefore represent a greater risk for insurance companies. This surcharge is also known as tobacco rating, and states may opt out or charge below 50%. At this point most states charge the maximum 50% rate, but there are a handful that have taken the other options.  

Honor System 

It is important to point out that when applying for health insurance, lying about your smoking habits in order to receive lower premiums is considered a form of insurance fraud. In effect, by lying about tobacco use you are misrepresenting your health risks. Even if you use a smoking cessation device such as a vaporizer or an e-cigarette, many insurance companies will still consider you a smoker and raise your premiums in the same they will for tobacco product users.  

Uninsured Dangers 

Because of the higher premiums, some smokers may opt out of health or life insurance altogether. This can be a costly mistake due to the increased risk of diseases that commonly arise from long term tobacco use. If an uninsured smoker does become diagnosed with something like cancer or heart disease, they will surely wish they had insurance coverage to assist with treatment.  

Preventative Care 

There is some disagreement over whether higher insurance premiums actually help people stop smoking, but there are some providers that offer coverage for smoking cessation programs as preventative care.  

Having healthy habits is not only beneficial to your wallet; it is also beneficial to you and those who love you the most. Health insurance can help ensure that you’ll be there for family and friends for many more years to come. Reach out to one of our agents today to learn more about what you can be doing to take precautions for the future of your health. 

Tips for Using Electric Blankets Safely 

One of the most comfortable things on a cold autumn night is a warm, self-heated blanket tucked around your freezing toes! Electric blankets are one of the best modern inventions for warming up your body, but they can also pose safety risks to you and your home if they aren’t properly used. Before you get too cozy this season, take note of these safety tips for using electric blankets. 

Use a Blanket That Was Made with Safety in Mind 

In the past, electric blankets were notorious for starting house fires. Now, though less common, electric blankets are still the cause of several house fires per year. The reason? Older blankets. Blankets that have been around for awhile are more likely to be worn through, and their rheostats (the part that gauges both the blanket heat and the user’s body temperature) are more likely to malfunction. When people fall asleep with old or malfunctioning blankets, they run the risk of overheating, suffering from skin burns, and, in some cases, ignition.  

Keep the Blanket Undisturbed 

Electric blankets work best when left unobscured. As tempting as it may be to bunch up the blanket, sit on it, or lay it under your bed sheets, these things can trap heat and increase the risk of overheating and ignition. Moving the blanket around can also cause the fabric cover to slip away from the plastic heating part, which commonly leads to burns in users’ sleep. Play it safe and keep the blanket flat and uncovered while using it. 

Keep Furry Cuddlers Away 

Cats and dogs love warm spots too, and they will take advantage of your electric blanket if you let them. It isn’t a good idea to give your pets access to the blanket, though. Teeth and claws don’t mix well with a blanket full of heating coils and electric current. If left unattended, your pets could easily create shock and fire hazards for themselves and your family. If you’re afraid you won’t be able to keep them away, consider purchasing a low-voltage blanket instead. 

Protect Your Home! 

Winter weather brings an abundance of risks to your home. Make sure your house and belongings are covered by a solid home insurance policy from an independent agent! Not only can independent agents find you the best rates, but they get to know your family and understand the extent of coverage you need. Give us a call with any insurance questions you have today! 

How to Teach Your Teen to Drive in Wet Conditions 

Every driver’s safety hinges upon their skill behind the wheel. If it is your first time training a teenager on how to drive in the rain, it’s a good idea to teach them everything they need to be aware of both before and during the driving session. Many of these are things that experienced drivers do on autopilot every time it rains, so it may be easy to forget to teach a young driver. 

We’ve put together some important points for you to include in your training, so your teen doesn’t have any unpleasant surprises when he or she hits the road in the rain. 

Before Hitting the Road: Know What to Check For 

How Are the Tires? 

  • The car you have your teen driving probably has tires that are in good condition, but teach them how to measure a tire’s tread using a gauge anyway. When they’re out on their own, they need to know that a worn down tire doesn’t have enough tread depth to evacuate standing water from between the road surface and the tire. They should know how to tell when it’s time for a replacement. 
  • Also teach them how to check the pressure. Tires that have too much or too little pressure can lead to reduced traction, early tread wear, or tire failure.  

How is Your Visibility?  

  • Show your teen how to check the quality of their windshield wipers. If they leave streaks across the windshield, they are probably old and worn down. Good windshield wipers are critical for being able to see clearly in heavy rain. 
  • Make sure your teen understands how important it is to run their headlights in the rain. Many experienced drivers still don’t abide by this rule of the road! Being seen by other cars is arguably one of the most important parts of driving in the rain. Show your teen how the daytime running lights, while useful, don’t activate the rear tail lights. Without rear tail lights, it can be difficult for other drivers to see your teen’s car in heavy rain, and their chances of getting struck from behind are increased. 

On the Road: Things to Always Keep in Mind 

  • Slow down! Driving slower in the rain is crucial, especially when it hasn’t been raining for very long and the fresh water is mixing with slippery “road sludge.” A wet, slick road surface offers less grip compared to a dry surface, and braking distances can double. 
  • Teach your teen to use the air conditioner to keep their windshield from fogging up. The A/C dehumidifies the car and keeps the windows clear. If the A/C doesn’t work, tell them to crack the back windows to allow air to circulate. 
  • Make sure your teen understands how longer braking distances can really put them in danger driving in town or on the interstate. They should know to keep a further distance from the vehicle in front of them, so they have plenty of time to stop if traffic suddenly slows down.  
  • Teenagers can be nervous and use jerky movements while driving. This will improve over time, but make sure your teen knows that smooth steering inputs are paramount, especially in the rain. Jerky or rushed steering can cause loss of control on a slick road. Show them how important it is to always look far ahead and anticipate every action they’ll take on their journey. 

Everyone was a new driver once, but it is evident by the amount of needless accidents that not everyone was properly taught. Rainy weather is one of the most dangerous conditions to drive in, but making sure that your teen is prepared and confident will give you both peace of mind and decrease their likelihood of getting in an accident. If your teen hasn’t started driving yet, make sure they’re prepared to legally hit the road with car insurance! 

Winter Is Coming: Prepare Your Coverage For the Cold

We just celebrated the first day of autumn! Whether it’s still 90 degrees where you are, or the leaves are already crunching underfoot, it’s important to remember that winter will be here sooner than we expect it to be. And while some of us look forward to the cold and others dread it, we all have something in common as long as we own a home and belongings: our insurance policies need to be in order before the cold weather hits.

Insure New Home Renovations

If the warm summer weather made you want to roll up your sleeves and make improvements to your house, then you’ll want to reexamine your insurance policy before the winter hits. Depending on what kind of improvement you made, the addition to your home may not be covered under your existing policy. Before the renovation has to stand up against its first winter, check with your agent and make sure your costly project is protected with the right coverage.

Double Check Your Automobile Policy

With an uptick in holiday travel, dreary weather, freezing temperatures, and earlier nightfall, it’s no surprise that car accidents are more likely to occur in the winter. Before the weather takes a turn for the worse, check in on your auto policy and make sure your coverage is ready to handle claims for liability and collision.

While you’re checking up on your automobile coverage, consider checking in on the boat or RV insurance policies, too. If you usually discontinue or downgrade your summer fun policies in the winter, make sure these vehicles are secured from theft and fire as much as possible. Talk to your agent about where you store your boat or RV for the summer, and see what your biggest risk factors are.

Account For an Increase in Personal Property

Summer vacations are a great opportunity to load up on keepsakes, souvenirs, and decor. If your trip this year included purchases like exotic artwork, antiques, jewelry, or something else, you’ll want to use this fall season to check your personal property policy and make sure it has enough coverage to protect these new, one-of-a-kind items.

Independent Insurance Agents Here to Serve You

Having a lot of property to protect is quite a responsibility, but it is always worth it when something goes wrong. We’re here to help take the stress out of that responsibility, and ensure you’re properly covered all year round. Give us a call to go over your policies this fall, so you can cozy up stress-free when winter rolls around.

5 Surprising Household Hazards

We know you do everything you can to keep your house safe, especially if you have small children or adventurous pets. You’ve tied up the drawstrings on your blinds, placed non-slip grips on the shower floor, secured your cleaning liquids in an upper cabinet, and changed the batteries in the smoke detector, so everything checks out as safe, right? Well, not necessarily.

There will always be hazards anywhere you go, so home will never be completely safe, but here are a few common household hazards that are easy to miss, and easy to fix.

Trash Cans

A trash can that closes well is important to keep curious noses and little hands from digging into rubbish that could contain a multitude of hazards. Items like broken glass, toxic substances, and spoiled food can still pose a threat, even after they’re in the trash can. So, forego the cheap flip lids and purchase a lid that closes well enough to keep kids and dogs away.

Broken Garage Door

Electronic garage doors are made to sense objects (or people!) underneath them and retract to keep injuries from occurring. Like all electronic things, garage doors experience malfunctions and breakdowns which, in this case, can be harmful or even deadly. If your garage door starts acting funny or experiences some damage, call a professional to come service it for you – an important fix of this magnitude shouldn’t be left up to instructions from the internet.

Window Screens

You want to throw those windows open with abandon because the weather outside is irresistable! We get it, but don’t think that a child is safe just because the window has a screen. The small, transparent frame that keeps bugs from getting in isn’t enough to catch the weight of a falling or pushing person, so make sure the windows on your upper floors have bars! At least until the kids get older.

Treadmills

Treadmills can easily be one of the most dangerous items in your house for both children and adults if they aren’t operated with care. Falls on a treadmill can result in traction burns, broken bones, pinched skin and snagged clothing, and more. Every treadmill should come with an attached safety magnet to be worn during workouts. Make sure every user wears the clip, and turn on the safety switch or unplug the treadmill when it isn’t in use.

Electronic Appliances

From blow dryers to microwaves, electronic appliances have the ability to malfunction and cause fires or electrocution. Always pay attention to any unusual display messages on your appliances, and carefully follow instructions for proper use. If you know you’ll be running many outlets at once, invest in a surge protector to protect you and your other appliances.

And Don’t Forget Home Insurance

No matter what happens in your house, a good home insurance policy with liability coverage will always have your back. Independent agents have the ability to shop multiple carriers for good policies that fit your unique risks and budget! So, if you don’t have your home insurance policy yet, get in touch with your independent agent to find the right coverage for you.

How to Handle a Parking Lot Accident

Parking lots are considered one of the most dangerous places to drive for a reason. With limited visibility, crowded spaces, and mediocre signage, parking lots are hot spots for fender benders on a daily basis. When an accident happens in a parking lot, there are typically three characters who have an important role to play in resolving the wreck quickly and calmly: the driver, the victim, and the witness. Here, we break down what you should do in this situation according to your role:

If You Are the Driver

As the offending driver, there are several scenarios you can find yourself in here. The number one thing to remember is, no matter what, don’t drive off! You may be panicking and thinking you can get away with it, but hit-and-runs are pretty serious offenses in most states, and parking lot surveillance cameras are more common than you’d think.

If the car was parked, go inside the establishment and try to track down the driver. The best way to do this is to get a customer service representative to describe the victim’s car and make an announcement over the intercom. If the driver doesn’t appear, it’s time to take all the matters into your own hands. If the damage to the car is as minor as a scratch or small dent, write a note that includes your name, number, and explanation of the accident and secure it onto the other driver’s car. If the damage is more extensive, call the police to come document the accident in the parking lot. This professional documentation helps police track down the other driver, and it can protect you in the long run when it’s time to file an insurance claim.

If You’re the Victim

If your car is the one that got hit, it is important to contact your auto insurance agent as soon as you can. The faster an accident is reported, the more accurate the claim will be. If the other driver is still at the scene, make sure you write down their name, phone number, driver’s license number, address, and insurance company.

Whether the other driver is still there or not, record evidence of the accident. Take pictures of the damage and look for witnesses in the parking lot. Before you leave, go into the store and ask the manager if he or she has any security camera footage you can check. If the other driver left, this last step can help you and the police track them down!

If You’re a Witness

As a witness, you may feel like you aren’t involved in the accident, but you actually play a very important role here. If you see a parking lot accident happen, you should provide assistance to the victim and driver. If the offending driver drove away, then help the other driver document the damage. Also provide them with your contact information so the police or insurance company can contact you later if needed. Having a witness on hand can really help the victim later on. It isn’t against the law to turn your head and not help out, but it is the right thing to do and a generally accepted social rule to stop and help if you witness an accident.

Will My Home Insurance Policy Cover My Dog’s Breed?

As dog owners, we love our furry little companions more than anything. Unfortunately, some insurance companies don’t if your pooch falls under certain breed categories. There are a number of breeds that many insurance companies are hesitant to offer coverage for because statistics show that they are more likely to bite and cause injuries. This, of course, can cause problems when it comes time to buy home insurance. Be prepared to work with an independent agent who can shop multiple carriers if you own a full-breed or mix of one of these breeds:

  1. Pit Bulls & Staffordshire Terriers
  2. Rottweilers
  3. Doberman Pinschers
  4. Great Danes
  5. Perro de Presa Canarios
  6. Chow Chows
  7. German Shepherds
  8. Akitas
  9. Alaskan Malamutes
  10. Siberian Husky
  11. Bull Mastiffs
  12. Wolf Hybrids

What to Keep In Mind

The average claim payout for dog bites is $30,000. If you’re found responsible for rehabilitation costs and/or lost wages, not to mention your legal fees, you could quickly find yourself in a lot of financial trouble. Your homeowners policy should include liability coverage, typically starting somewhere around $100,000. If you own a dog that made it on this list, ask your provider how much more it would cost to upgrade that amount to $200,000 or more.

On that same note, some carriers may require you to purchase an umbrella policy if your dog is labeled as an aggressive breed or has a bite history. Whether it is required or not, you may want to consider this additional policy because it raises your liability coverage close to the $1 million mark! Plus, it could come in handy for any incident that occurs on your property, not just dog bites.

Prevention

Every dog is a liability, regardless of its breed. Reduce the likelihood of a dog-related lawsuit by socializing & training your dog early on, playing non-aggressive games, and being aware of your dog’s behavior and removing it from situations it finds stressful. As always, make sure to spay/neuter your dog, heavily supervise it around small children, and keep it securely fenced or on a leash when outside.

If you own one of these breeds, it is going to be more difficult to procure home insurance, especially at a good rate. If you’re in the market for a new home right now, contact our agency to get ahead of the curve and find a company that will insure your home (and your pup) at an affordable rate!

How Can Your Business Be Prepared for a Fire?

A fire at your business might seem improbable, but it is not impossible. Hopefully, you’ve insured your equipment and space, but even so a fire can be a major setback and, even worse, can seriously endanger everyone present. Fire prevention and safety should be practiced and encouraged in the workplace, and there are specific measures that can be taken for everyone’s safety. It is vital that everyone in the workplace is familiar with your fire plan, and there is equipment that every business should have handy.

What is your fire plan?

While the equipment and materials in your business may be costly, nothing is more important than everyone’s individual safety. That means that your first priority should be educating each employee in fire safety and devise an escape plan in the event of a fire. Any decent sized building should have an evacuation plan displayed for everyone to see. Of course, never include elevators in these plans.

Several local governments can arrange for a fire marshall to visit your business and instruct everyone. Sometimes, if a marshall cannot visit, a building’s property manager can assess the structure and inform everyone of the best ways to escape in the event of a fire.

Equipment

Almost every fire code that you’ll ever be subjected to will require at least one fire extinguisher on each floor of your business. It’s never a bad idea to have more though, since they can put out small fires quickly and save valuable equipment from being damaged. Fire blankets are not always required, but having one on hand could save someone’s life.

Most laws will also demand that you have a sprinkler system and smoke detectors in place. Make sure to test the batteries in your smoke detectors routinely, since they can be your first indication of danger. In some scenarios, particle detectors capable of alerting you of other chemicals may be a wise investment. Lastly, having a first-aid kit in a known location, like the kitchen, can be instrumental in treating any injuries caused in a small fire.

Training

The correct response to a fire is the best way to combat it. Make sure your employees know to call 911 in case of a fire and remain calm. At least one fire drill should be conducted each year, just to be positive that everyone knows how to exit the building properly.

If there are no employees trained in first aid, then hosting a workshop or class could prove valuable. When going over fire safety, teach everyone how to operate a fire extinguisher. Lastly, make sure that all of your employees know how to deal with different types of fires, such as grease and electrical fires.

Fires are unpredictable and can cause a lot of damage, so being ready to prevent or handle one can save lives and money. For more tips and advice, contact one of our agents. If you aren’t insured in case of a fire, we can help with that as well. Preparation is key to fire safety!