Barbara Eisner Bayer

Barbara Bayer

Have you ever considered what it would be like to live forever? According to scientist Ray Kurzweil, you may get that chance. He believes that in 20 years, immortality is a realistic possibility, thanks to breakthroughs in nanotechnology.

In the meantime, however, it’s likely that your body will expire before you get that chance. But even though your body may be silenced, your presence won’t be gone. I’m not talking about philosophical implications of life and death – I’m talking about your social media profiles. And the government is more concerned about them than you probably are!

USA.Gov is Uncle Sam’s “official web portal” to provide “trusted, timely, valuable government information and services when and where you want them.” Last week, they alerted Americans to the fact that a social media will should be part of everyone’s estate planning package. It’s an interesting point – what does happen to all those photos and penny-for-your-thoughts missives that you’ve spent years creating on Facebook and Twitter? You may no longer have access to them when you enter the pearly gates but, if nothing is done about them, these pearls of posts will live forever.

The government advisory suggests that, much like a traditional will, you appoint a trusted friend or family member as your online executor. Then, once the Grim Reaper has terminated you, that person will be in charge of terminating your accounts. In order to accomplish this, you’ll need to take the following steps:

1. Create a document that lists all your user names and passwords

2. Provide directions as to how you’d like things handled

3. Make provisions for your social media executor to receive a copy of your death certificate

Some sites already have provisions for your account after your demise (whether timely or untimely). Facebook and Twitter will allow a friend or relative to remove your account if they have your death certificate. But Google doesn’t always allow access to a deceased person’s account. It’s important to check each site you belong to before you make your online will, so your language will be in accordance with their policies.

Another choice for you is to use an online service like Legacy Locker or Entrustet to handle it for you – for a fee, of course.

I don’t think I can wait for Kurzweil’s predictions to come true. And it’s likely that I’ll be quickly forgotten after I take my last breath. By not creating a social media will, however, I can guarantee that I will achieve immortality … if not in body, well, at least online.

 

Barbara Eisner Bayer has been writing about personal finance for the past 17 years. She was a columnist at the Motley Fool and Mortgageloan.com, and has written about financial matters for The National Association of Realtors, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Schwab, and Prudential, to name a few. She has also been the Managing Editor at a variety of financial websites, and has worked with financial planners and estate planning attorneys to develop books and newsletters. When she doesn’t have her nose sticking into the financial news, she’s a professional singer and a passionate, but amateur, tennis player.  She hopes that all her financial endeavors will one day earn her the ability to realize her true aspiration – tennis bum!

 

 

Follow us on Twitter @completegrowth.

Barbara Bayer

If you’re one of the fiscally responsible Americans who always pay bills in a timely fashion, you may — like me — feel a bit angry when you hear about consumers who received government bailouts in the form of mortgage loan modifications. I don’t begrudge people in need — many of these homeowners took on too much debt, and could no longer afford their loans. I guess I’m just a bit jealous, because I’d like some help paying my bills, too.

If you really want me to push your buttons, though, consider this: According to a recent study by Experian, many wealthy Americans who can afford to pay, are simply walking away from their mortgages. Why is this happening? It seems that when the value of a home falls well below the amount that a homeowner owes on the mortgage, and the homeowner feels it will take, like, forever for the home to recoup its value, a decision is made to fuggedaboudit and start all over again.

One-third of so-called “strategic defaults” for loans of over $1 million were intentionally planned.  And, according to Experian, 90 percent of these people remain current on their other monetary obligations. The study also revealed that 30 percent of people who defaulted had incomes of more than $150,000. These were deemed strategic defaults, because the homeowners no longer felt that making payments on a house that was underwater was a good financial deal.

At last week’s American Credit Union Mortgage Association conference in Las Vegas, a representative from Genworth Financial said that clients with good incomes, excellent credit scores, and multiple homes and mortgages are the ones most at risk of defaulting. Many financial institutions are now developing tools that analyze which clients are most at risk of going deadbeat, so they can take action before a default actually occurs.

One company, Loan Value Group, is getting proactive by offering a financial incentive to homeowners. If a customer enrolls in the program – which is by invitation – he receives a financial reward each time he makes an on-time payment. And to make it even more attractive, the reward grows, up to a generally pre-determined maximum amount of $20,000. That sounds like a pretty good deal to make people do what they’re supposed to do anyway.

Are the consequences of a strategic mortgage default worth it? Your credit score will take a huge hit. And potential lenders may not look kindly at the fact that you walked away. This could not only apply to mortgages, but to personal loans or loans for your child’s college education. Fannie Mae will treat a strategic default in a similar way as it does a bankruptcy – you won’t be able to get one of their loans for seven years.

However, the truth is that your credit scores can recover, and you will, most likely, be able to buy a home again. It just may take some time and some healthy financial living.

Strategic defaults may make people like me angry…but if my home was underwater, and I needed to relocate for a job offer, who knows what I would do. In these challenging times, it’s best to stay out of other people’s ethics and, if necessary, enroll in an anger management course.

 

Barbara Eisner Bayer has been writing about personal finance for the past 17 years. She was a columnist at the Motley Fool and Mortgageloan.com, and has written about financial matters for The National Association of Realtors, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Schwab, and Prudential, to name a few. She has also been the Managing Editor at a variety of financial websites, and has worked with financial planners and estate planning attorneys to develop books and newsletters. When she doesn’t have her nose sticking into the financial news, she’s a professional singer and a passionate, but amateur, tennis player.  She hopes that all her financial endeavors will one day earn her the ability to realize her true aspiration – tennis bum!

 

 

Follow us on Twitter @CompleteGrowth.com.

 

Barbara Bayer

Does the thought of grandpa doing the naughty with someone else’s grandma make your stomach churn? If so, get over it. The U.S. Census Bureau has reported that the number of people over age 65 who live together and aren’t married has tripled in a decade, jumping from 193,000 in 2000 to 575,000 in 2010. And it’s not just seniors who find such an arrangement copasetic: the Pew Research Center reported that almost 60 percent of people 50 years old and younger have lived with someone out of wedlock.

It’s likely, therefore, that cohabitation numbers will continue to rise. This will generate a whole set of challenges, especially for the AARP crowd.

Financial

Two people who join their souls – but not necessarily their names – later in life may also be bringing significant assets to the table. Even if you’re with the under-50 crowd, you don’t want to be taken down by someone who doesn’t manage money well. There are certain things to do to bring clarity to the financial aspect of living together.

  • • Sign a cohabitation agreement. This basically states your intentions not to make any claims against each other if things don’t work out. It can also designate how household finances will be handled, and what will happen to your joint residence upon disintegration of the relationship or death.
  • Update your wills. Your heirs may be concerned that your new beloved may have eyes on the beloved inheritance that they’ve been eyeing. Reassure them that all is well by updating your will, and specifying what goes where and who gets what.
  • Sign a durable power of attorney. This will authorize your partner — or someone else, if you prefer — to make financial decisions for you if you’re incapacitated.
  • Keep your accounts separate. This includes checking, brokerage, insurance, and anything else that you’ve been responsible for during your life.

Healthcare

If you haven’t dealt with the healthcare ramifications of unmarried living, you’ll encounter some of the same challenges that gay couples have been facing for years. Did you know that if you’re not legally wed, you have no right to participate in the medical decision-making of your loved one, or even visit that person in intensive care? Yes, it’s ridiculous and unfair, but that’s the way it is.

Investigate if you can register as domestic partners. If your state allows this, you can take advantage of your partner’s health insurance and be involved in healthcare decisions. But if it doesn’t, sign a medical release that’s provided by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which will allow you access to each other’s medical records. Also, have your lawyer draw up a Power of Attorney for Healthcare that allows you each to make health care decisions for the other.

Finally, investigate long-term care insurance. If your partner becomes ill or disabled, you won’t be overwhelmed by the burden, should in-home medical care be required.

Back in the ‘70s, the “sin” of sharing a home with someone out-of-wedlock quickly transformed into the concept of cohabitation, once everyone had a friend or family member participating in such a living arrangement. Now, these former twentysomethings are divorced, and cohabitation has replaced common law marriage as a common way for people in love to share their lives together. Make the most of your years together by protecting your assets, and allowing love to flourish in a worry-free zone.

 

Barbara Eisner Bayer has been writing about personal finance for the past 17 years. She was a columnist at the Motley Fool and Mortgageloan.com, and has written about financial matters for The National Association of Realtors, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Schwab, and Prudential, to name a few. She has also been the Managing Editor at a variety of financial websites, and has worked with financial planners and estate planning attorneys to develop books and newsletters. When she doesn’t have her nose sticking into the financial news, she’s a professional singer and a passionate, but amateur, tennis player.  She hopes that all her financial endeavors will one day earn her the ability to realize her true aspiration – tennis bum!

 

Follow us on Twitter @CompleteGrowth.com.

 

Barbara Bayer

Like Dorothy Gale in the Wizard of Oz, who didn’t quite make it into the storm shelter before the tornado hit, most people are not prepared for disasters. The east coast had plenty of warning before Hurricane Irene hit, but northeasterners, who had not experienced a serious hurricane in approximately 50 years, were simply not ready.

On the Friday before Irene made her presence known, I was having lunch in a local eatery and discussing storm preparations. The conversation engaged people from several tables and, believe it or not, many people teased me for taking what they considered “extreme precautions.” Turns out that they weren’t so extreme after all because, according to the New York Times, the mountains of the Hudson Valley – my area – saw the storm’s worst deluge.

I want to share a bit about my planning with you, so that if a hurricane or tropical storm ever threatens your area, you’ll know what to do. As a survivor of three devastating hurricanes, I’m pretty familiar with the ropes.

Power hungry

If you take electricity for granted, a lengthy power outage can do you in, both physically and emotionally. Owning a generator will significantly help, but not everyone has one in place. If you’re in the generator-less majority, preparing for a life without power can help you keep your sanity.

Most media outlets were warning people NOT to use candles because of the fire hazard. But candles are a godsend, for sure. Purchase large ones that will burn for a long time, or ones enclosed in glass.

An even better alternative is to purchase oil lamps. They are safer, give lots of light, and evoke the feel of the 18th Century.

Food glorious food

According to the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service, refrigerated food will stay okay for four hours, while food in a full freezer will remain safe for 48 hours (24 hours in a half-full fridge). During Irene, many people were without electricity for four to seven days, and ost everything in the food department. If you know you may be losing power, eat as much as you can from your refrigerator in the days preceding the disaster, and your food loss will be minimal.

Stock up on non-perishables – they will keep you healthy and satisfied during a prolonged outage. Essentials for my family include peanut butter and jelly, crackers, cereal and the blessed Parmalat, fruit, power bars, nuts, dried fruit, bread, and tuna fish. We also keep a few packets of mayo on hand – the kind you get with your sandwich when you go to Wal-Mart — to keep that tuna edible.

Another essential is to purchase canned foods that you find tolerable when eaten cold. We’re partial to canned spaghetti and meatballs or ravioli, corn and string beans. I was somewhat offended when Patrick McGeehan of the New York Times had the nerve to write, “some residents of the Catskills region of New York subsisted on canned spaghetti heated on outdoor grills.” I don’t think that Mr. McGeehan would be eating chateaubriand if he lost power for four or five days.

Water water everywhere – except where you need it

Everyone I know stocked up on bottled water. Great! But that’s not going to cut it if you’re a homeowner with a septic tank and enjoy going to the bathroom. Because when the electricity goes, so does your water and your ability to flush!

I can live without almost anything except bathroom facilities. Therefore, I fill up the bathtub, as well as every pot and pan in the house. Each time you flush, you just throw a bucket or two of water in the tank, and you can last for almost a week.

Insurance woes

There were an overwhelming number of basements in my area that were flooded by four feet of water. These people lost everything in their basements, including boilers. Unfortunately, many were woe to discover that their insurance policies didn’t cover losses from flooding. Does yours?

Probably not. Flood damage is generally not covered by standard homeowner insurance policies. Call your insurer to find out if yours does. If you’re not covered, you can buy insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program. Otherwise, you may be out-of-pocket for some hefty expenses.

After about a week, almost everyone in Irene-devastated areas had power, although some towns were flooded beyond recognition. But once things returned to normal, you could see relief and joy from everyone who was happy to have returned to the 21st Century. When things run smoothly, there is no place like home.

 

Barbara Eisner Bayer has been writing about personal finance for the past 17 years. She was a columnist at the Motley Fool and Mortgageloan.com, and has written about financial matters for The National Association of Realtors, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Schwab, and Prudential, to name a few. She has also been the Managing Editor at a variety of financial websites, and has worked with financial planners and estate planning attorneys to develop books and newsletters. When she doesn’t have her nose sticking into the financial news, she’s a professional singer and a passionate, but amateur, tennis player.  She hopes that all her financial endeavors will one day earn her the ability to realize her true aspiration – tennis bum!

 

Follow us on Twitter @CompleteGrowth.com.

 

Barbara Bayer

In the not-too-distant past, there were two potential dangers to dining out: getting food poisoning, or having a waiter spit in your food. (Read this if you think that the latter is just a rumor.) But these days, an even more dubious danger awaits diners: an irritable waiter may take revenge on unwitting diners by spitting on their credit ratings by skimming their credit cards.

One way this truly nasty subset of identity theft occurs is when someone runs the magnetic strip of your plastic through a portable electronic device, which can happen in a restaurant when you pay your bill. Other ways this can happen is either at a gas pump or an ATM machine, where a skimmer is actually installed in the machine – and the owner of the business may not even know.

Just this month alone, there have been two less-than-appetizing reports of restaurant employees pulling this fraud. A waitress in Mugs N Jugs restaurant in Port Richey, FL, said that she skimmed the cards of people who made her work too hard. It’s probably not surprising that one of her victims said she wasn’t a very attentive waitress. Perhaps she should have introduced herself by saying, “Hello, I’m Kathryn, and I’ll be your waitress and thief tonight.”

You don’t have to be an angry person to engage in this crime: A waiter in Laurel, Maryland was convicted last week of a similar crime, although he didn’t care whether the diners treated him poorly or not.

How can you protect yourself from credit card skimming?

     1. Keep an eye on your plastic. If you hand the waiter your card, watch what he does with it. You may be accused of being paranoid, but you’ll feel a lot worse if someone charges thousands of dollars to your account.

     2. Don’t use unfamiliar ATMs. Banks have video cameras, which can be a deterrent to criminals. And it’s easier to set up a freestanding bogus machine outside the bank than to tamper with one inside.

     3.  Make sure no one’s looking over your shoulder when you’re at the gas station. If you’re really worried, pay inside.

     4. Compare your receipts to your statement. It’s time to stop being careless, and run a careful monthly check to compare your receipts to the actual charges on the bank statement. It may be too late if someone’s already using your card number, but you can quickly prevent further damage.

The more conscious you are, of course, the less likely you are to be skimmed. On the other hand, you can always choose to be nice to your waiters, no matter how snarky they are. The good karma you’ll accumulate may be enough to protect you in the future.

 

Barbara Eisner Bayer has been writing about personal finance for the past 17 years. She was a columnist at the Motley Fool and Mortgageloan.com, and has written about financial matters for The National Association of Realtors, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Schwab, and Prudential, to name a few. She has also been the Managing Editor at a variety of financial websites, and has worked with financial planners and estate planning attorneys to develop books and newsletters. When she doesn’t have her nose sticking into the financial news, she’s a professional singer and a passionate, but amateur, tennis player.  She hopes that all her financial endeavors will one day earn her the ability to realize her true aspiration – tennis bum!

 

Follow us on Twitter @CompleteGrowth.com.

Barbara Bayer

Personal Finance Meets Batman

August 16th, 2011

When you think of The Dark Knight, you think of the 2008 deliciously dark Batman film that starred Christian Bale and Heath Ledger. For me, however, the dark night occurred last weekend when, at 3 am, a real live bat flew into my room and brushed across my shoulder in a desperate attempt to flee my homestead.

At first, I didn’t know what had hit me. What kind of creature was in my bed? Could it have been a mouse? It certainly wasn’t my husband, who had just snuck out to the bathroom.  I’m not afraid of mice, but I am afraid of visitors to my bed who aren’t invited. So I reacted in a logical way — I went batty and started screaming.

My gallant husband handled the bat situation and, soon, all was back to normal. Except it wasn’t. I felt frightened, insecure, violated — which is something I’ve been experiencing a lot lately, and not because a little bat had flown into my house.

Was it because the stock market had experienced irrational 500-point swings in one day? Was it because every day there seems to be a child/wife/person missing with no logical explanation? Was it because some crazy drugged-up old lady crossed the double line and hit my car last month? Or maybe it’s those technical traders, who are warning about the death cross that’s springing up everywhere!

All these events remind me of one thing — life is unpredictable, and things can change in the blink of an eye. Because of this, it’s important to have the proper protection in all things, in case the inevitable occurs. The following list is a brief summary of what’s necessary to keep your sanity.

1. Emergency fund.  There’s a reason why this piece of advice is in every personal finance column ever written. You need three to six months of living expenses socked away in a liquid bank account. This will cover you in the short term if you lose your job, or have a medical emergency.

2. An investing philosophy. The markets are unpredictable, so it’s imperative for your peace of mind to have an investing strategy that lets you sleep at night. Asset allocation, diversification, and building a balanced portfolio are bottom line stuff — but if you feel nervous, you need to make changes. It doesn’t matter if your advisors tell you that you “should” have 70% in stocks and 30% in fixed income —  if you’re not comfortable with your investments, make adjustments, even if that means having too much cash. A solid strategy can help you ride the market through any short-term fluctuations.

3.  Proper insurance.  The problem with insurance is that years go by when you don’t need it, which has you questioning why the heck you have it in the first place! Until, of course, something happens.  Review your various policies to make sure you have proper coverage. Homeowners, for example, feel like their premiums are burning holes in their pockets until, perhaps, their pipes freeze, their basements flood or, worst of all, the sewage backs up. Make sure you’re covered for all possibilities.

4.  Keep your mortgage reasonable.  If you know anyone who has been battling the banks to keep their home during the past few years, you’ll know that it’s a situation you never want to be in. Make sure you can easily make your mortgage payment, and pad that emergency fund, just in case. Now’s a great time to refinance – rates are at historic lows. If there’s a slight chance your job is in danger, or if you’re considering leaving your employment for any reason, refinance before you go, or you won’t be a qualified candidate.

5. Basic estate planning. You don’t need a lot of money or a fancy lawyer to get the basics, which are a will, a health care proxy, and a power of attorney.  A few hundred dollars can get you enough protection to save whatever you’ve accumulated during your lifetime, and make sure that your assets go wherever you want them to.

Whew … glad I got that off my chest. One last piece of advice – NEVER watch The Dark Knight before going to bed. You never know who will take it as an invitation for a visit.

 

Barbara Eisner Bayer has been writing about personal finance for the past 17 years. She was a columnist at the Motley Fool and Mortgageloan.com, and has written about financial matters for The National Association of Realtors, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Schwab, and Prudential, to name a few. She has also been the Managing Editor at a variety of financial websites, and has worked with financial planners and estate planning attorneys to develop books and newsletters. When she doesn’t have her nose sticking into the financial news, she’s a professional singer and a passionate, but amateur, tennis player.  She hopes that all her financial endeavors will one day earn her the ability to realize her true aspiration – tennis bum!

 

Follow us on Twitter @CompleteGrowth.com.

Barbara Bayer

When Pundits Go to the Dogs

August 9th, 2011

There’s something to remember about financial advice that’s given by pundits on TV and in magazines — it’s not always right. The financial media is always looking for “news” and “headlines” and stories that are “groundbreaking.” And if there isn’t anything fresh that’s worth reporting, it’s time to create something new! Just in the same way as sex sells, so do fresh ideas – even if they’re more bogus than big.

Case in point – an article in the August 2011 Smart Money magazine entitled “A New Trick: Don’t Roll Over.” No, they’re not talking to Fido – they’re talking about the benefits of not moving your 401(k) to a self-directed IRA if you leave your place of employment. I think, however, that if Fido could read, he’d be barking up a storm over this advice.

Their basic premise is as follows. One of the great benefits of the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (EGTRRA) was retirement account portability. Once that became law, employees were allowed to roll over their 401(k) money into a self-directed IRA if they left their jobs. That began 10 years of articles boasting the benefits of a rollover.

But now, Smart Money discovered a new “trick” — keeping your retirement money with your former employer is actually a good thing.

It is?

They say it’s good because:

  1. 1. Fees are lower.
  2. 2. A fiduciary will manage your plan and – according to someone quoted in the article – pick “the best products for participants.”
  3. 3. You’ll have access to a stable value fund.

These are benefits? Really?

The article states that, “The fees for 401(k) plans at large employers are about a third of what they’d be in a comparable IRA.” Both Fidelity and Schwab charge a total of $0 to roll over an account and $0 a year to maintain a rollover IRA. Gee, Smart Money…I don’t see how you can beat those prices.

As far as a fiduciary goes, I’ve always thought it’s much better to manage your own investments, so you have control of exactly where your money goes. And if you can’t devote yourself to a portfolio of individual stocks, there’s a huge assortment of index funds, exchange traded funds (ETFs), and low-fee mutual funds to choose from. No 401(k) fiduciary knows as well as I do how I want to spend my money.

Finally, a major plus, according to the magazine, is that I’ll have access to a “stable value fund” although, according to them, this is similar to a money market fund. So why not just keep it in an IRA money market fund?

These really aren’t benefits at all, just benefits for the sake of writing an article with a so-called fresh viewpoint. The real advantage still goes to rolling over a 401(k) into a self-directed IRA.

  • • You have total control of your investments.
  • • You’re no longer limited to the funds in your employer’s 401(k).
  • • You can have all your investments consolidated in one place if you’ve worked for different employers.
  • • You have total control of your investments.

Okay, so I repeated one twice. But that’s because it’s the greatest advantage of them all.

August might be the month of dog day temperatures, but that doesn’t mean the financial media should present ideas that are dogs.

 

Barbara Eisner Bayer has been writing about personal finance for the past 17 years. She was a columnist at the Motley Fool and Mortgageloan.com, and has written about financial matters for The National Association of Realtors, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Schwab, and Prudential, to name a few. She has also been the Managing Editor at a variety of financial websites, and has worked with financial planners and estate planning attorneys to develop books and newsletters. When she doesn’t have her nose sticking into the financial news, she’s a professional singer and a passionate, but amateur, tennis player.  She hopes that all her financial endeavors will one day earn her the ability to realize her true aspiration – tennis bum!

 

Follow us on Twitter @CompleteGrowth.com.

Barbara Bayer

Auto insurance –  it’s expensive and a pain in the rear, but you can’t leave home without it – at least not in your own car. However, if you find yourself in the midst of an accident, and your insurance company does right by you, you’ll never regret the bucks you’ve paid over the years.

Basics

Do you really understand your auto insurance policy? If not, you should!

First, you must protect your car. The two coverages available for your vehicle are Collision and Comprehensive. The first pays if your auto collides with an object or vehicle. You’ll also be covered if another vehicle hits yours, but the amount of aggravation involved in realizing that coverage will depend on whether you’re in a no-fault state.

If you are, you may need to go out-of-pocket for your deductible in the short term, until the offending driver’s insurance company pays you back  — so make sure that your deductible is a figure you can comfortably afford. Otherwise, you may be sitting with a damaged and undriveable vehicle should an accident occur.

Comprehensive protects you from acts of God or evildoers, including theft, vandalism, fire, and falling objects. Once I drove through a paint puddle, which splattered my car with black paint. When I discovered that it was covered under my policy, I was elated, because a polka-dot vehicle is not dreamy.

In addition to protecting your car, you must protect yourself. That’s where the other basic coverage – liability – comes in, just in case you are at fault in an accident. It comes in three types:

  • • Bodily injury: Protection from lawsuits if you’re sued for medical expenses, lost wages, and suffering
  • • Property damage: Money to repair any problems you caused to another vehicle, house, fence, etc.
  • • Uninsured motorist coverage: Covers your expenses if you’re involved in a hit-and-run.

On your policy statement, you’ll see numbers under liability coverage, like 100/200/75. This means that you have $100,000 for bodily injury per person, $200,000 total per accident, and $75,000 property damage per accident.  If you reduce these coverages, your premium will be lower. Don’t reduce it too much, though; if you’re in an accident and are found liable, you may have to go out of pocket big-time if you’re sued and lose the case.

Other coverage includes personal injury protection (PIP) for your medical expenses, rental car reimbursement, and emergency road service.

Don’t forget to ask for discounts available.  Some will come automatically, like reduced premiums for airbags and motorized seatbelts. But you can also get reductions for a good driving record, anti-theft devices, multiple policies, good grades for a student driver, and multiple policies. Nationwide offers discounts to members of a Farm Bureau, and GEICO offers a discount to Berkshire Hathaway (BRK) shareholders. But you’ll need to let them know that you qualify.

If the thought of car insurance makes you sick, here’s a compelling idea: buy a GM car in Washington or Oregon before September 6, 2011. In order to spur sales, the company is offering free insurance through MetLife for any vehicle.

 

Barbara Eisner Bayer has been writing about personal finance for the past 17 years. She was a columnist at the Motley Fool and Mortgageloan.com, and has written about financial matters for The National Association of Realtors, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Schwab, and Prudential, to name a few. She has also been the Managing Editor at a variety of financial websites, and has worked with financial planners and estate planning attorneys to develop books and newsletters. When she doesn’t have her nose sticking into the financial news, she’s a professional singer and a passionate, but amateur, tennis player.  She hopes that all her financial endeavors will one day earn her the ability to realize her true aspiration – tennis bum!

 

Follow us on Twitter @CompleteGrowth.

Barbara Bayer

One of the most horrendous sounds imaginable is the crashing of steel – as in car on car  — especially when you are in one of the vehicles. Shock is generally the initial reaction, even if the accident is minor and no one is hurt. But it’s the aftershocks of blame and liability that can make a bad situation worse. Is anyone ever prepared for a car accident?

Even the most defensive drivers can find themselves in the midst of an auto mishap. How do I know?  Last Friday, a very old, very medicated woman, crossed over the double line and into my beautiful three-month old car. If I hadn’t reacted quickly by swerving to my right, it would’ve been a head on collision. Luckily, she only hit my car’s side view mirror, rear door, and back panel.

I’m still learning from this experience. Lesson number one: No matter how careful you are, you have no control over the driving habits of others.  Lesson number two: It’s essential to protect yourself – and your finances – prior to becoming a statistic.

The scene of the crime

Every authority on the subject is in agreement about the first step – take a deep breath and stay calm and centered. If you didn’t see it coming, you’ll be wondering what the heck happened. If you did see it coming, you’ll be wondering what the heck happened. You may feel angry, scared, or confused. But whether you’re the victim or the perpetrator, you need to protect yourself.  It’s hard to fathom that fact, especially if you’re the innocent driver minding her own business. But the business of insurance companies is to pay out as little as possible, even if their driver is 100 percent responsible.

Once you ascertain that your body parts are all working, move your car to the side of the road, so no more injuries occur from intense rubbernecking. Then call 911. The sooner the police arrive at the scene, the quicker chaos will leave the site.

I was fortunate – or perhaps unfortunate – that the other party was seen driving erratically just five minutes earlier, and the police had been alerted and were out looking for her. As a result, they arrived quickly on the scene. As did an ambulance.

Even if your injuries seem minor, consider letting the EMS team take you to the hospital.  Injuries may take a few days to manifest and, if there’s a lawsuit in your future, you’ll be best served by starting your journey in the ER.

The next step is to grab a pen and paper and document information. First, get the names of any witnesses, because they are imperative to any insurance claims. Many people don’t want to get involved, and will leave the accident scene ASAP, so don’t let them get away! Especially if you’re the victim, you’ll need independent substantiation because, apparently, very few perpetrators will admit that it was their fault, even if they know it is. Oh yes … if you’re the perpetrator, don’t admit to anything. If there are legal issues down the road, it’s harder to build a defense once you’ve accepted liability.

Write down every piece of information about the other driver. This includes:

  • • Name
  • • Address
  • • Phone number
  • • Type of Car
  • • License Plate
  • • Insurance Information

Once the authorities arrive at the scene, they’ll get all this info from the driver and put it in the police report. What you don’t know is that it could take more than two weeks for you to get a copy of that report, and four to six weeks before the insurance company can get it from the DMV. If you’re the victim and don’t want to be out of pocket, you’ll need all that information to make a claim with the perpetrator’s company as soon as possible.

Finally, find out what tickets, if any, were given to the other driver. (You’ll know very shortly what you’re getting if you were at fault.) This is imperative, because it will prove liability.

Once everything is settled and you’re back home, call your insurance company. They’re trained to be sympathetic and help you through this, and to minimize your costs if you’re not responsible. Even in a no-fault state, the other insurer is responsible to pay for your automobile repairs if you are the victim. However, your own insurance company is responsible for your medical claims.

The crazy lady in my accident received a ticket for crossing the double line and a DUI for prescription drugs. There were two witnesses who corroborated my story. Yet she still insists she did nothing wrong. She must’ve read the “never admit liability” part of this article even before I wrote it.

Please don’t pooh pooh this information. Print out the above list and keep it in your glove compartment. No matter how well you’ve heard everything I’ve just said, you may forget it all in the midst of a crisis. The sound of crashing cars is deafening, and blurs even the best of memories.

Next week: Auto insurance

 

Barbara Eisner Bayer has been writing about personal finance for the past 17 years. She was a columnist at the Motley Fool and Mortgageloan.com, and has written about financial matters for The National Association of Realtors, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Schwab, and Prudential, to name a few. She has also been the Managing Editor at a variety of financial websites, and has worked with financial planners and estate planning attorneys to develop books and newsletters. When she doesn’t have her nose sticking into the financial news, she’s a professional singer and a passionate, but amateur, tennis player.  She hopes that all her financial endeavors will one day earn her the ability to realize her true aspiration – tennis bum!

 

Follow us on Twitter @CompleteGrowth.

Barbara Bayer

Credit Card Insecurity

July 7th, 2011

I’ve been rather well behaved during my first few blog missives. But today, I’m going to venture away from my straight-laced persona and bellow the truth about credit card security – it sucks!

I know this from personal experience because, last month, Citibank informed me that I was one of their 360,083 customers whose account was breached. They assured me that only my name, account number, and contact info was stolen. Only? Gee, thanks. But they didn’t compensate me for the time it took me to change all my direct payment accounts. Oh, and did I mention that this is not the first time this has happened with my Citi Card?

It turns out that the 360,083 Citibank customers are not alone. According to a study by Javelin Strategy & Research that was just released, all the major credit card companies are doing a lousy job on fraud prevention. Out of a possible score of 45 for prevention, they averaged only 24 points; and for detection, they averaged only 17 points out of a possible 35. The largest credit card company, American Express, ranked seven out of nine for safety. And I guess it won’t come as a huge surprise that Citibank came in last place.

What are the banks doing to protect their customers?

Who knows. According to Javelin, there a lot of things they could do. They could send text message alerts if a large purchase is made without a card present. They could stop asking us to provide social security numbers. And they could limit access to online accounts if security software isn’t in place.

But “could do” is conditional, and is a lot different than the definitive “will do.”

Because the banks may not be protecting you fully, here are some steps you can take to protect yourself:

1.  Always enter a banking or credit card website through a separate browser, not through a link in an email.

2.  If someone representing a bank calls you and asks you for personal information, always call him back before giving it. This way, you can be assured that you’re reaching the real bank, and not a schemer.

3.  Update the security software on your computer.

4.  Monitor your credit card accounts for unauthorized activity. You are the best person to know which charges you did and didn’t make.

Lucky for me, no one used my credit card number. And if someone had, I’d be protected under Regulation E, a rule set forth by the Federal Reserve that limits a customer’s liability for unauthorized use.

Credit card issuers should upgrade their security. But until they do, it’s up to you and me to make sure we have protection, and never leave home without it. This advice may be the only thing about credit cards that is priceless.

 

Barbara Eisner Bayer has been writing about personal finance for the past 17 years. She was a columnist at the Motley Fool and Mortgageloan.com, and has written about financial matters for The National Association of Realtors, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Schwab, and Prudential, to name a few. She has also been the Managing Editor at a variety of financial websites, and has worked with financial planners and estate planning attorneys to develop books and newsletters. When she doesn’t have her nose sticking into the financial news, she’s a professional singer and a passionate, but amateur, tennis player.  She hopes that all her financial endeavors will one day earn her the ability to realize her true aspiration – tennis bum!

Follow us on Twitter @CompleteGrowth!

Barbara Bayer

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