How to Reduce Risk for Your Business

Every business venture has one thing in common: risk. Markets can change, trends can move in different directions, and technological innovation can force your business model to go from solid to so-so. When all is said and done, business owners and leadership must be prepared for risks in a variety of sectors. Comprehensive insurance coverage is a major risk reducer, but here are other ways you can reduce your risk so that insurance claims don’t happen in the first place.

Employee Safety Training

One significant cause of accidents is inadequate employee adherence to rules, regulations, and standard business and safety practices. Employee training can serve to ensure that beverages are handled carefully, spills are cleaned up quickly, and complaints or issues are promptly addressed so any potential issue does not become a true liability.

Robust Data Protection Assets

From online transactions to data-driven payment platforms, there is very little done without the use of customer data. Data is the lifeblood of every modern business. Hacking and data breaches have plagued even the largest corporations with information technology departments dedicated to this issue full-time. Ensuring your business has the most up-to-date hardware and software will help stop potential data breaches.

Cybersecurity Training

Even the best hardware and software cannot prevent cybercrimes from impacting a business if an employee makes a crucial mistake. Consistent and up-to-date cybersecurity training will help head off any attempts cybercriminals make to infiltrate your network. Teaching employees which emails are legitimate, how to avoid scam websites, and not to respond to unsolicited phone calls claiming to be from “customer support” will help mitigate the risk of falling victim to cybercrime.

Improve Security and Emergency Response Plans and Equipment

No business wants to suffer theft or accident, but there is a marked difference in results when businesses prepare before these events occur. Preventing theft or a worse crime begins by ensuring you have proper safeguards on doors and windows in addition to a monitoring alarm system. Becoming a business member of a Crime Watch or chipping in with others close by to have private security patrol the surrounding area may help reduce the risk of crime. In the case of emergencies, such as fire, proper sprinkler installation in addition to employee training can help reduce the damage incurred by your business, both to property and humans.

Review Your Coverage and Covered Employees

Sometimes accidents are inevitable, but one of the most costly mistakes an employer can make is not realizing a particular employee or category of employees is outside of their insurance coverage.

Business owners should regularly review their insurance policies to ensure that all relevant staff are covered, especially in high-turnover industries, so if an employee must take an action such as throwing out bad stock or breaking glass to provide ventilation in an emergency, it is not fatal to the business.

We can provide additional input and help you choose the right policies to keep your company properly protected.

How to Estimate the Value of Your Possessions

In each of our homes lies a treasure trove of possessions. Some are utilitarian with high monetary value, such as a refrigerator, but have little emotional pull. On the other hand, there may be items handed down from past generations that would likely stir great emotions but have low market value to others. Many would value their possessions based on their attachment to them, but is that how it works when you’re shopping for homeowners insurance or renters insurance? Below are a few ways to estimate the value of your possessions before negotiating your insurance policy.

Calculating the value of your possessions

It’s not easy to calculate the value of your possessions, but using a few easy strategies, you can be well on your way to determining the amount of insurance coverage that is right for you.

1. Walk around your home or apartment and take photos or video of everything you’d like to insure.

2. Make a list of everything you have photo or video proof of, and begin to estimate each item’s worth:

For items with receipts, take photos of the receipts and any warranties.

For expensive possessions like furniture or electronics, getting the model name or number and date of purchase is crucial.

3. For clothes, shoes, nonelectronic household items, and any other household possessions, calculate the value you estimate these all to be worth.

4. Add each group together, and that is the estimated value of your possessions.

How much insurance do you need?

One handy tip is to estimate the amount of money you can afford to pay out of pocket to replace your possessions and subtract it from the total value of your possessions. Arriving at that number will ensure a lower monthly payment but guarantee the peace of mind that comes from comprehensive insurance coverage.

Don’t hesitate to reach out so you’ve got as much information as you need to make a decision that’s best for you.

When Can I Deduct Car Insurance from My Taxes?

Taxes weigh on everyone’s minds, and many are looking for deductions relevant to their circumstances in order to reduce or eliminate an onerous tax bill. Oftentimes, we are familiar with deductions related to our homes or businesses but are less certain about one daily part of our lives: our cars.

Do you use your car for business-related purposes?

While pure personal use of your vehicle is not tax-deductible, there are certain situations where you may be able to deduct car insurance premiums from your taxes. A word of caution: commuting to and from work in a personal vehicle does not qualify for a tax deduction.

The two most common ways to deduct car insurance premiums are:

1. If you are self-employed and the vehicle is used to further your business (such as a house painter using his truck to complete jobs)

2. If you are an employee but your employer does not reimburse you for business-related expenses related to your case (such as a personal assistant getting an employer’s dry cleaning or driving an employer around town)

Are there any other deductions when it comes to my vehicle?

Yes, you may also be able to deduct other costs such as fuel, parking fees, car repairs, and even depreciation if your costs are more than 2% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). Every penny counts, so don’t miss out on auto expense deductions that could benefit you this tax season.

Contact our office today with any of your insurance coverage questions or concerns. We’re here for you.

Top 5 Insurance Concerns for Business Owners

Business owners pour their hearts, souls, and resources into making their enterprises run well and generate profit. However, even the best-run business needs insurance for when the unexpected happens. Here are the top five insurance concerns business owners have when it comes to insurance coverage.

Data breach/cybersecurity: As major corporations battle hackers and news of data breaches makes national headlines, business owners are increasingly concerned that their online transactions and sensitive information will be exposed.

Complaint or dispute: No matter the size of the business, there are often a myriad of agreements one must enter into. Sometimes, divergent points of view lead to a payout for one party or another that the business must cover.

Injury: Injuries abound in our everyday lives. From small to large, they can cause havoc in our personal lives. These concerns are only magnified when you’re responsible for what could happen to customers, employees, and others.

Property damage: Whether property damage results from natural causes (such as a flood, hurricane, or tornado) or a burst pipe, few businesses have the cash on hand to completely repair and replace their lost inventory and supplies and get back to normal without an insurance policy.

Auto concerns: Oftentimes, personal auto insurance will not cover business activities, so any time an employee gets behind the wheel of their own personal vehicle or a business-owned vehicle, an insurance policy should be in place to cover each possible situation.

Let us help you review your policies and determine what specific coverage is best for you. Give us a call or email us today.

Will Primary Care Physicians Go the Way of the Landline?

More than half of millennials (adults aged 23 to 38) use retail clinics, urgent care centers, and even ERs over old-fashioned visits to their primary care physicians (PCPs). Why is this, and how will it affect the future of PCPs?

One recent study found that millennials often avoid doctor visits altogether, instead first seeking information from Google and WebMD when they suffer symptoms. Because millennials grew up with access to more information and technology, they want the ease of online scheduling if they do choose to visit a doctor, and they may prefer telemedicine over traditional doctor visits.

This generation feels time-stressed, according to many reports, so waiting to see a PCP may not fit their busy lifestyles. Millennials may also lack the job security that would enable them to use paid sick time to visit their PCPs. Instead, they often wait until they are so sick that they visit urgent care facilities or the emergency room, which offers later hours.

They are taking a risk, however. According to International Business Times, this less structured medical treatment can increase medical costs and lead to poorer health outcomes. With no PCP, a lack of continuity in medical treatment when one is ill can result in a missed diagnosis, medication errors, and rising healthcare costs.

Responding to this change in medical delivery, the healthcare industry is developing new delivery models, including drop-in clinics at drugstores and increased telemedicine offerings. Driven by younger consumers’ demand for price transparency, medical providers are increasingly discussing prices with their younger patients. According to Forbes magazine, the growing cost of insurance means this generation may delay traditional visits.

Be Better Prepared for the Unexpected When You Travel

Is travel getting riskier? Whether traveling for business or pleasure, travel is riskier than ever. Take the recent case of the man in Phoenix for the Fiesta Bowl who was carjacked and shot by a group of local teens. A survey cited in Business Travel News by International SOS, a travel risk-management firm, found that over half of travel managers reported increased business travel risk in 2019, and almost half believed travel risk will increase in 2020.

Security threats, civil unrest, and even weather-related risks can cause travel problems at home and abroad. A travel insurance policy can help ensure outside help if you become sick or injured while traveling on vacation or business.

Business travelers face different concerns from those traveling for pleasure; however, the risks are similar. Travel insurance can help protect you against last-minute trip cancellations and lost luggage. Some policies offer kidnap and ransom coverage, repatriation in case of injury or worse, and expert help in medical emergencies.

Consider this. You’re in Cuenca, Ecuador, and fall, suffering a compound leg fracture. Who is the best doctor in Cuenca to repair your injury? Should you have the injury stabilized in Cuenca and then travel elsewhere for further treatment? What if, after a serious injury, you need to return home for treatment? The right policy can offer emergency medical assistance and response. Highly trained medical and security personnel can direct you to the appropriate medical treatment and, if needed, return you to the US for care.

Usually, travel insurance is inexpensive. The rates vary based on the travelers’ ages, the deductible and coverage limits you select, and where you travel. While travel insurance websites offer online quotes, it’s better to work with an experienced agent to determine the broadest coverage for the best rate.

Why You Should Shop Around for Life Insurance

Many of us have life insurance through our employers because it is simple. All you have to do is click a box. It’s easy to choose the default, so you do it. And who could blame you? But doing so is often a mistake.

Although your company may provide a certain level of life insurance at no cost, if the insurance is worth more than $50,000, it’s not really free.

Why not? Because the tax code offers a tax exclusion for only the first $50,000 of group term life insurance coverage offered “directly or indirectly” by your employer, according to the Internal Revenue Service. If the life insurance policy does not exceed $50,000, you do not pay taxes on it. If the life insurance policy does exceed $50,000, however, you are taxed.

On the other hand, a life insurance policy that is not employer-offered is not taxed, ever. That is one reason it may be wise to shop around for your own life insurance, but there are others.

For example, if you change jobs and your health changes for the worse, you may not be able to get outside insurance. Who wants to be in that situation? You may think you are not planning to change jobs, and your health may be fine, but, if life insurance outside your employer is offered at a comparable price, why take the chance?

The solution: compare a policy offered by your employer to the exact same kind of policy you could purchase yourself and see which is ideal. We can assist you with that. If you need help, please reach out to us.

How Do I Go About Buying a Foreclosure Property?

A foreclosure is a property that has been taken back by the lender from the borrower who was unable to keep up with the payments. There are opportunities here to get a home at below market price, but there are things you’ll want to be aware of as well.

The first thing you want to do is find out what foreclosure properties are available in your area. Working with a real estate agent who is certified in handling what are called “distressed properties” is a good place to start.

They’ll be able to give you details on available foreclosures and other properties similar to those foreclosures, called “comparables.”

Once you have found one or more that you like or at least a price range in which you want to buy, you’ll want to get preapproved by your lender in that price and payment range. In fact, you could get preapproved before you see a real estate agent to see beforehand what you can truly afford.

Once you locate a property and make an offer, a couple of things need to happen. The first is that you’ll want to get a home inspection.

Though this is optional, it is recommended, as it can head off many surprises down the road should you end up buying the property. Foreclosures are sold on an “as is” basis and may come with hidden issues. Better to know now rather than later.

Also, the lender will order an appraisal, which you’ll pay for, to see if the property is worth what the selling bank says it’s worth.

If it comes in low, you’ll either pay the difference between the contract price and the appraised value or move on to another property. Your real estate agent, however, should be able to very closely determine the appraised value before you put in an offer.

I would be happy to answer any and all questions you might have about financing or buying a foreclosed property. Please just give me a call.

Should I Be Checking My Credit Scores Regularly?

The answer to this question is a resounding “yes.” You should be checking your credit regularly. Aside from the obvious checks for identity theft issues, you want to be looking to make sure it is accurate.

There are three credit bureaus which maintain credit files on you. They are Experian, Equifax and TransUnion and each should be checked regularly.

This is especially true if you are planning on making some major purchase in the near future, such as a home or car. If there are issues that need to be addressed, it is always better to start this process earlier rather than later, as it may take time to update.

It is important that you check all three bureaus. In theory, all the bureaus should provide the same scores.

In reality, though, creditors decide which of the bureaus they want to report to and when they report to them, causing some of the differences in the scores.

When you apply for a mortgage, lenders will use the middle score of the three as your credit score when making a lending decision.

So how would you go about checking your credit? You can go directly to each bureau, and each one will provide you with one free credit report each year.

If you want information more frequently than on an annual basis, you can go to many of the free online services such as Credit Karma, and some will set up credit monitoring services for you, if that’s what you’re looking for.

Please let me know what questions I can answer for you with regards to credit as it pertains to getting a mortgage.

The Pros and Cons of Refinancing

Closing costs are those costs associated with the purchase of a home that go beyond what you are providing as a down payment.

Refinancing your mortgage can be a great way to lower either your interest rate or payment or to use the equity in your home to fund other things, such as home projects or education. (Equity is the difference between what your home is worth and what you currently owe on it.)

If you’re interested in refinancing, there are two types of refinancing options available to you. The first is called a rate-and-term refinance. This is where you take no cash out of the transaction. The other type is called a cash-out refinance, and it allows you to take money out.

On the pro side, mortgage interest rates are still at relatively historic lows. With home prices increasing in many parts of the country, this means equity has grown over the last few years for many homeowners, making it easier for them to refinance their homes than it has been for some time.

On the con side, there are things you need to think through before you start the process of refinancing your home. The first is whether it’s the best option you have available at this time.

For example, if it costs you $1,500 to refinance your mortgage and lower your payment by just $40 per month, consider your payback period (how long you’ll be enjoying the payback of this lower payment). If you are planning to move in a few short years, you may want to consider other options.

Also, with increased equity in your home, you’ll have access to more funds than you might have otherwise. Tapping into this money could mean a higher mortgage payment (sometimes significantly higher than what you have now), and it will be higher for as long as you have this mortgage.

Lastly, cash-out refinances carry a higher interest rate than rate-and-term refinances.

If you have any questions about how this process works, I’d love to answer them. Just give me a call.