Insurance FAQs

AUTO INSURANCE

What is auto insurance?
Auto insurance protects you against financial loss if you have an accident. It is a contract between you and the insurance company. You agree to pay the premium and the insurance company agrees to pay your losses as defined in your policy. Auto insurance provides property, liability and medical coverage:

– Property coverage pays for damage to or theft of your car.

– Liability coverage pays for your legal responsibility to others for bodily injury or property damage.

– Medical coverage pays for the cost of treating injuries, rehabilitation and sometimes lost wages and funeral expenses.

An auto insurance policy is comprised of six different kinds of coverage. Most states require you to buy some, but not all, of these coverages. If you’re financing a car, your lender may also have requirements. Most auto policies are for six months to a year. Your insurance company should notify you by mail when it’s time to renew the policy and to pay your premium.

What is covered by a basic auto policy?
Your auto policy may include six coverages. Each coverage is priced separately.

  1. Bodily Injury Liability
    This coverage applies to injuries that you, the designated driver or policyholder, cause to someone else. You and family members listed on the policy are also covered when driving someone else’s car with their permission.

It’s very important to have enough liability insurance, because if you are involved in a serious accident, you may be sued for a large sum of money. Definitely consider buying more than the state-required minimum to protect assets such as your home and savings.

  1. Medical Payments or Personal Injury Protection (PIP)
    This coverage pays for the treatment of injuries to the driver and passengers of the policyholder’s car. At its broadest, PIP can cover medical payments, lost wages and the cost of replacing services normally performed by someone injured in an auto accident. It may also cover funeral costs.
  2. Property Damage Liability
    This coverage pays for damage you (or someone driving the car with your permission) may cause to someone else’s property. Usually, this means damage to someone else’s car, but it also includes damage to lamp posts, telephone poles, fences, buildings or other structures your car hit.
  3. Collision
    This coverage pays for damage to your car resulting from a collision with another car, object or as a result of flipping over. It also covers damage caused by potholes. Collision coverage is generally sold with a deductible of $250 to $1,000—the higher your deductible, the lower your premium. Even if you are at fault for the accident, your collision coverage will reimburse you for the costs of repairing your car, minus the deductible. If you’re not at fault, your insurance company may try to recover the amount they paid you from the other driver’s insurance company. If they are successful, you’ll also be reimbursed for the deductible.
  4. Comprehensive
    This coverage reimburses you for loss due to theft or damage caused by something other than a collision with another car or object, such as fire, falling objects, missiles, explosion, earthquake, windstorm, hail, flood, vandalism, riot, or contact with animals such as birds or deer.

Comprehensive insurance is usually sold with a $100 to $300 deductible, though you may want to opt for a higher deductible as a way of lowering your premium.

Comprehensive insurance will also reimburse you if your windshield is cracked or shattered. Some companies offer glass coverage with or without a deductible.

  1. Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage
    This coverage will reimburse you, a member of your family, or a designated driver if one of you is hit by an uninsured or hit-and-run driver.
    Underinsured motorist coverage comes into play when an at-fault driver has insufficient insurance to pay for your total loss. This coverage will also protect you if you are hit as a pedestrian.

PROPERTY INSURANCE

What is homeowners insurance?

Homeowners insurance provides financial protection against disasters. A standard policy insures the home itself and the things you keep in it.

Homeowners insurance is a package policy. This means that it covers both damage to your property and your liability or legal responsibility for any injuries and property damage you or members of your family cause to other people. This includes damage caused by household pets.

Damage caused by most disasters is covered but there are exceptions. The most significant are damage caused by floods, earthquakes and poor maintenance. You must buy two separate policies for flood and earthquake coverage. Maintenance-related problems are the homeowners’ responsibility.

What is in a standard homeowners insurance policy?
A standard homeowners insurance policy includes four essential types of coverage. They include:
1. Coverage for the structure of your home.
2. Coverage for your personal belongings.
3. Liability protection.
4. Additional living expenses in the event you are temporarily unable to live in your home because of a fire or other insured disaster.

  1. The structure of your house
    This part of your policy pays to repair or rebuild your home if it is damaged or destroyed by fire, hurricane, hail, lightning or other disaster listed in your policy. It will not pay for damage caused by a flood, earthquake or routine wear and tear. When purchasing coverage for the structure of your home, it is important to buy enough to rebuild your home.

Most standard policies also cover structures that are detached from your home such as a garage, tool shed or gazebo. Generally, these structures are covered for about 10% of the amount of insurance you have on the structure of your home. If you need more coverage, talk to your insurance agent about purchasing more insurance.

2. Your personal belongings
Your furniture, clothes, sports equipment and other personal items are covered if they are stolen or destroyed by fire, hurricane or other insured disaster. Most companies provide coverage for 50% to 70% of the amount of insurance you have on the structure of your home. So if you have $100,000 worth of insurance on the structure of your home, you would have between $50,000 to $70,000 worth of coverage for your belongings. The best way to determine if this is enough coverage is to conduct a home inventory.

This part of your policy includes off-premises coverage. This means that your belongings are covered anywhere in the world, unless you have decided against off-premises coverage. Some companies limit the amount to 10% of the amount of insurance you have for your possessions.

Expensive items like jewelry, furs and silverware are covered, but there are usually dollar limits if they are stolen. Generally, you are covered for between $1,000 to $2,000 for all of your jewelry and furs. To insure these items to their full value, purchase a special personal property endorsement or floater and insure the item for its appraised value. Coverage includes “accidental disappearance,” meaning coverage if you simply lose that item. And there is no deductible.

Trees, plants and shrubs are also covered under standard homeowners insurance. Generally you are covered for 5% of the insurance on the house—up to about $500 per item. Perils covered are theft, fire, lightning, explosion, vandalism, riot and even falling aircraft. They are not covered for damage by wind or disease.

  1. Liability protection
    Liability covers you against lawsuits for bodily injury or property damage that you or family members cause to other people. It also pays for damage caused by your pets. So, if your son, daughter or dog accidentally ruins your neighbor’s expensive rug, you are covered. However, if they destroy your rug, you are not covered.

The liability portion of your policy pays for both the cost of defending you in court and any court awards—up to the limit of your policy. You are also covered not just in your home, but anywhere in the world.

Liability limits generally start at about $100,000. However, experts recommend that you purchase at least $300,000 worth of protection. Some people feel more comfortable with even more coverage. You can purchase an umbrella or excess liability policy which provides broader coverage, including claims against you for libel and slander, as well as higher liability limits. Generally, umbrella policies cost between $200 to $350 for $1 million of additional liability protection.

Your policy also provides no-fault medical coverage. In the event a friend or neighbor is injured in your home, he or she can simply submit medical bills to your insurance company. This way, expenses are paid without a liability claim being filed against you. You can generally get $1,000 to $5,000 worth of this coverage. It does not, however, pay the medical bills for your family or your pet.

  1. Additional living expenses
    This pays the additional costs of living away from home if you can’t live there due to damage from a fire, storm or other insured disaster. It covers hotel bills, restaurant meals and other living expenses incurred while your home is being rebuilt. Coverage for additional living expenses differs from company to company. Many policies provide coverage for about 20% of the insurance on your house. You can increase this coverage, however, for an additional premium. Some companies sell a policy that provides an unlimited amount of loss-of-use coverage, but for a limited amount of time.  If you rent out part of your house, this coverage also reimburses you for the rent that you would have collected from your tenant if your home had not been destroyed.

What is an umbrella liability policy?
If you are ever sued, your standard homeowners or auto policy will provide you with some liability coverage, paying for judgments against you and your attorney’s fees, up to a limit set in the policy. However, in our litigious society, you may want to have an extra layer of liability protection. That’s what a personal umbrella liability policy provides.

An umbrella policy kicks in when you reach the limit on the underlying liability coverage in a homeowners, renters, condo or auto policy. It will also cover you for things such as libel and slander.

For about $150 to $300 per year you can buy a $1 million personal umbrella liability policy. The next million will cost about $75, and $50 for every million after that.

Because the personal umbrella policy goes into effect after the underlying coverage is exhausted, there are certain limits that usually must be met in order to purchase this coverage. Most insurers will want you to have $250,000 or more of liability insurance on your auto policy and $300,000 of liability insurance on your homeowners policy before selling you an umbrella liability policy for $1 million of additional coverage.


LIFE INSURANCE

There are two basic types of term life insurance policies—level term and decreasing term.

– Level term means that the death benefit stays the same throughout the duration of the policy.- Decreasing term means that the death benefit drops, usually in one-year increments, over the course of the policy’s term.
In 2003, virtually all (97 percent) of the term life insurance bought was level term.

Whole Life/Permanent
Whole life or permanent insurance pays a death benefit whenever you die—even if you live to 100! There are three major types of whole life or permanent life insurance—traditional whole life, universal life, and variable universal life, and there are variations within each type.

In the case of traditional whole life, both the death benefit and the premium are designed to stay the same (level) throughout the life of the policy. The cost per $1,000 of benefit increases as the insured person ages, and it obviously gets very high when the insured lives to 80 and beyond. The insurance company could charge a premium that increases each year, but that would make it very hard for most people to afford life insurance at advanced ages. So the company keeps the premium level by charging a premium that, in the early years, is higher than what’s needed to pay claims, investing that money, and then using it to supplement the level premium to help pay the cost of life insurance for older people.

By law, when these “overpayments” reach a certain amount, they must be available to the policyholder as a cash value if he or she decides not to continue with the original plan. The cash value is an alternative, not an additional, benefit under the policy.

In the 1970s and 1980s, life insurance companies introduced two variations on the traditional whole life product—universal life insurance and variable universal life insurance.

What are the different types of permanent policies?

– Whole or ordinary life
This is the most common type of permanent insurance policy. It offers a death benefit along with a savings account. If you pick this type of life insurance policy, you are agreeing to pay a certain amount in premiums on a regular basis for a specific death benefit. The savings element would grow based on dividends the company pays to you.

– Universal or adjustable life
This type of policy offers you more flexibility than whole life insurance. You may be able to increase the death benefit, if you pass a medical examination. The savings vehicle (called a cash value account) generally earns a money market rate of interest. After money has accumulated in your account, you will also have the option of altering your premium payments – providing there is enough money in your account to cover the costs. This can be a useful feature if your economic situation has suddenly changed. However, you would need to keep in mind that if you stop or reduce your premiums and the saving accumulation gets used up, the policy might lapse and your life insurance coverage will end. You should check with your agent before deciding not to make premium payments for extended periods because you might not have enough cash value to pay the monthly charges to prevent a policy lapse.

– Variable life
This policy combines death protection with a savings account that you can invest in stocks, bonds and money market mutual funds. The value of your policy may grow more quickly, but you also have more risk. If your investments do not perform well, your cash value and death benefit may decrease. Some policies, however, guarantee that your death benefit will not fall below a minimum level.

– Variable-universal life
If you purchase this type of policy, you get the features of variable and universal life policies. You have the investment risks and rewards characteristic of variable life insurance, coupled with the ability to adjust your premiums and death benefit that is characteristic of universal life insurance.

What are my health insurance choices?

There are essentially two types of health insurance plans: indemnity plans (fee-for services) or managed care plans. The differences include the choice of providers, out-of-pocket costs for covered services and how bills are paid. There is no one “best” plan for everyone. Some plans are better than others for you or your family’s health care needs, but no one plan will pay for all the costs associated with your medical care.

A. INDEMNITY PLANS

Cafeteria/Flexible Spending Plans are employer-sponsored plans that allow the employee to design his or her own employee benefit package, choosing between one or more employee benefits and cash. Several types of Flexible Benefits or Cafeteria Plans are used by employers, including a pre-tax conversion plan, multiple option pre-tax conversion plan, medical plans plus flexible spending accounts, and employer credit cafeteria plans. For more information about these choices, contact your employee benefits department.

Indemnity Health Plans allow you to choose your health care providers. You can go to any doctor, hospital or other provider for a set monthly premium. The plan reimburses you or your health care provider on the basis of services rendered. You may be required to meet a deductible and pay a percentage of each bill. However, there is also often an annual limit on out-of-pocket expenses, so that once an individual or family reaches the limit, the insurance covers the remaining eligible medical expenses in full. Indemnity plans sometimes impose restrictions on covered services and may require prior authorization for hospital care or other expensive services.

“Basic and Essential” Health Plans provide limited health insurance benefits at a considerably lower cost. When buying such a plan, it is extremely important to read the policy description carefully because these plans don’t cover some basic treatments, such as chemotherapy, certain prescriptions and maternity care. Furthermore, rates vary considerably because, unlike indemnity plans or a managed care option, premiums are community rated and are based on age, gender, health status, occupation or geographic location.

Health Savings Accounts (HSA) are a recent alternative to traditional health insurance plans. HSAs are basically a savings product designed to offer individuals a different way to pay for their health care. HSAs enable you to pay for current health expenses and save for future qualified medical and retiree health expenses on a tax-free basis. Instead of paying a premium, you establish a tax-free savings account that covers your out-of-pocket medical expenses. This means that you own and control the money in your HSA. You make all decisions about how to spend the money without relying on a third party or a health insurer. You also decide what types of investments to make with the money in the account in order to make it grow. However, if you sign up for an HSA, you are generally required to buy a High Deductible Health Plan as well.

High-Deductible Health Plans (HDHP) are sometimes referred to as catastrophic health insurance coverage. An HDHP is an inexpensive health insurance plan that kicks in only after a high deductible is met of at least $1,000 for an individual or $2,000 for a family.

B. MANAGED CARE OPTIONS

Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) offer access to an extensive network of participating physicians, hospitals and other health care professionals and facilities. You choose a primary care doctor from a list provided by the HMO and this doctor coordinates your health care. You must contact your primary care doctor to be referred to a specialist. Generally, you pay fewer out-of-pocket expenses with an HMO, but you are often charged a fee or co-payment for services such as doctor visits or prescriptions.

Point-of-Service (POS) plans are an indemnity-type option in which the primary care doctors in the POS plan usually make referrals to other providers within the plan. If a doctor makes a referral out of the plan, the plan pays all or most of the bill. However, if you refer yourself to an outside provider, the service is covered by the plan, but you will be required to pay co-insurance.

Preferred Provider Organizations (PPO) charge on a fee-for-service basis. The participating doctors, hospitals and health care providers are paid by the insurer on a negotiated, discounted fee schedule. Costs are lower if you use in-network healthcare services, but you have the option of going out-of-network. If you choose an out-of-network provider, you are generally required to pay the difference between what the provider charges and what the plan pays.


BUSINESS INSURANCE

Most small businesses need to purchase at least the following four types of insurance.

1. Property Insurance
Property insurance compensates a business if the property used in the business is lost or damaged as the result of various types of common perils, such as fire or theft. Property insurance covers not just a building or structure but also what insurers refer to as personal property, meaning office furnishings, inventory, raw materials, machinery, computers and other items vital to a business’s operations. Depending on the type of policy, property insurance may include coverage for equipment breakdown, removal of debris after a fire or other destructive event, some types of water damage and other losses. It may also provide operating funds during a period when the business is trying to get back on track after a catastrophic loss.

2. Liability Insurance
Any enterprise can be sued. Customers may claim that the business caused them harm as the result of, for example, a defective product, an error in a service or disregard for another person’s property. Or a claimant may allege that the business created a hazardous environment. Liability insurance pays damages for which the business is found liable, up to the policy limits, as well as attorneys’ fees and other legal defense expenses. It also pays the medical bills of any people injured by, or on the premises of, the business.

3. Business Auto Insurance
A business auto policy provides coverage for autos owned by a business. The insurance pays any costs to third parties resulting from bodily injury or property damage for which the business is legally liable, up to the policy limits.

4. Workers Compensation Insurance
In all states but Texas an employer must have workers compensation insurance when there are more than a certain number of employees, varying from three to five, depending on the state. Workers comp insurance, as this coverage is generally called, pays for medical care and replaces a portion of lost wages for an employee who is injured in the course of employment, regardless of who was at fault for the injury. When a worker dies as a result of injuries sustained while working, the insurance provides compensation to the employee’s family. An extremely small business, such as one operated by one or two people out of a home, may not need workers compensation insurance. But it often needs more property and liability insurance than is provided in a typical homeowners policy.

Other Types of Business Coverages

1. Errors and Omissions Insurance/Professional Liability
Some businesses involve services such as giving advice, making recommendations, designing things, providing physical care or representing the needs of others, which can lead to being sued by customers, clients or patients claiming that the business’s failure to perform a job properly has injured them. Errors and omissions or professional liability insurance covers these situations. The policy will pay any judgment for which the insured is legally liable, up to the policy limit. It also provides legal defense costs, even when there has been no wrongdoing.

2. Employment Practices Liability Insurance
Employment practices liability insurance covers (up to the policy limits) damages for which an employer is legally liable such as violating an employee’s civil or other legal rights. In addition to paying a judgment for which the insured is liable, it also provides legal defense costs, which can be substantial even when there has been no wrongdoing.

3. Directors and Officers Liability Insurance
Directors and officers liability insurance protects directors and officers of corporations or not-for-profit organizations if there is a lawsuit claiming they managed the business or organization without proper regard for the rights of others. The policy will pay any judgment for which the insured is legally liable, up to the policy limit. It also provides for legal defense costs, even where there has been no wrongdoing.

4. Key Employee Insurance
Life or disability income insurance can compensate a business when certain key employees die or become disabled. These coverages cushion some of the adverse financial impact that results from losing a key employee’s participation.

5. Umbrella Policies
As the name implies, an umbrella liability policy provides coverage over and above a business’s other liability coverage. It is designed to protect against unusually high losses. It provides protection when the policy limits of one of the underlying policies have been used up. For a typical business, the umbrella policy would provide protection beyond the general liability and auto liability policies. If a company has employment practices liability insurance, directors and officers liability, or other types of liability insurance, the umbrella could provide protection beyond those policy limits as well.

For more information about insurance, check out our source page:  http://www.iii.org.