Author Archive for Brooke Fornalczyk

Protect Your Boat with Insurance and Winterization

Now that summer’s over and the weather is cooling down, it’s time to think about pulling your boat out and putting it away until next year.

As you begin to prepare your boat for the winter, take the time to make sure it still has the right insurance protection. After all, we here at Duncan Financial Group want to make sure you’re ready for the next boating season! (And maybe, just maybe, you’ll also be ready to invite your favorite insurance agent out for a day on the lake. Just a thought.)

First things first: Insurance

If you have a small boat with limited power, you may have some coverage under your Pennsylvania homeowners or renters insurance policy. If you aren’t sure, please check with us. Of course, larger and faster boats, along with personal watercraft, require their own policies. And we can help with those, too!

But do you even need boat insurance during the offseason when your boat won’t even be in the water? Well, that depends. Keep in mind that your boat can still be damaged no matter where it is. Often, damage from fire and theft isn’t covered unless you have a watercraft policy. And there always is the chance that we could get a streak of great weather in November that lures you to take the boat out for a day or two! There are plenty of reasons to keep year-round coverage.

And while you’re thinking about insurance, consider your current watercraft coverage. Is your boat older? It might be time to move to cash-value coverage instead of agreed value. Do you have a lot of expensive fishing equipment? Make sure you have enough optional coverage so your gear isn’t at risk. You might also want to consider uninsured boater coverage and a personal umbrella policy, which provide more liability protection than a standard watercraft policy.

And remember, you might be able to save money on your insurance by taking a boating-safety course, increasing your deductible or bundling your policies with one company.

Now: A different kind of protection

After you’ve squared away protecting your boat with the right insurance options, it’s time to think about protecting your boat in a more literal sense – by properly preparing it for winter. Below are some general tips to follow, but, of course, you should check your owner’s manuals for manufacturer recommendations.

Your engine

Follow manufacturer instructions when winterizing your engine, but you’ll want to flush the engine with fresh water and make sure to drain fuel from the carburetor to prevent a build-up of deposits. Use fogging oil in the cylinders to lubricate cylinder walls and pistons.

Stern drive

Do a thorough inspection and remove plant life or barnacles from the lower unit. Drain the gear case and clean the lower unit with soap and water.

Fuel tanks

Fill your fuel tanks to avoid a buildup of condensation and add fuel stabilizer, following the product instructions.

Fresh water system

Drain the fresh water tank and water heater, and pump a nontoxic antifreeze into the system. Then, turn on all faucets until you see the antifreeze coming out.

Interior

Remove all valuables from the boat. Clean drawers thoroughly, and turn cushions on their edges to allow air to circulate. Clean the refrigerator and freezer.

Cover it up!

A cover will keep your boat clean and protect it from water and UV rays, which can break down hoses and fade upholstery.

Now, with your boat safely stowed, you can focus on your other toys this winter. Snowmobiles, anyone?

Before the Wind Blows, Secure Your Trees and Shrubs

pexels-photo-552769The seasons are changing, and the colors of autumn abound.

Regrettably, fall’s stunning display is often accompanied by some unwelcome weather hazards in Pennsylvania – namely, wind – that can cause considerable damage to the very trees that produce those beautiful fall leaves.

At Duncan Financial Group, we want your yard and home to stay great throughout the season. Take a look at the following tips to ensure you keep your trees and shrubs healthy and avoid destruction that can result when the wind blows.

To protect existing trees

  • Bundle ‘em up. Go to a home and garden store and buy enough landscape fabric and plant ties to cover trees and shrubs vulnerable to the changing weather. Wrap them up for the winter and then unwrap them after spring has sprung.
  • Exercise pruning prowess. Proper pruning is essential to ensure trees can withstand winds, so make sure you use correct pruning techniques or hire a professional.
  • Trees and more trees. If you have trees that are especially susceptible to wind, consider planting more trees. Experts say to choose trees, like conifers and evergreens, to create a windbreak. As an added bonus, a windbreak placed in correct proximity to a home can reduce energy costs by up to 30 percent. Keep in mind: conifers should be planted at least 20 feet away from a structure, evergreens at least 30 feet away.

When planting new trees

  • Know which way the wind blows. Pay attention to the wind patterns in your part of Pennsylvania through the fall and winter seasons and how they affect your particular lot. Plant trees in areas where structures, such as your home, garage or shed, can serve to shelter them from the wind.
  • Give them some space. Plant trees far enough away from structures and foundations. A smaller tree should have at least a 10-square-foot space to itself, and a larger tree needs at least 30 square feet.

At Duncan Financial Group, we hope these tips will ensure that you and your yard hang tough all season long… even when the wind starts howling.

Make Football Season Not Just Fun, But Also Safe

field-sport-ball-america

Finally, we’re welcoming fall, that eagerly anticipated season when we get to enjoy cooler temps, colorful leaves, the start of school and, of course, football season in Pennsylvania!

Football season in the Greater Pittsburgh Area brings with it a whole host of seasonal activities for football fans, from game-day tailgates and sports bar outings, to friendly bets and bowl parties. At Duncan Financial Group , we want your football season to be both exciting and safe, so as you cheer your team to victory, consider the following

  • Keep it clean: Tailgating is one of America’s favorite pastimes! If you’re tailgating, opt for non-breakable, recyclable containers. This will make cleanup easier and help avoid injuries resulting from broken glass.
  • Be smart: Whether you are tailgating, hosting a football-watching party at your house, sitting in the stands at Heinz Field or joining your buddies at the local bar, know your limit on alcohol intake and make sure you have a designated driver.
  • Know where you’re going: Pre-plan travel to and from the stadium to avoid getting lost and to make finding parking easier if you drive.
  • Fill those bellies: Whenever alcohol is consumed, make sure food is too!
  • Be weather wise: If you’re heading to the stadium, be sure to prepare for the weather. In colder temps, bring layers and blankets (especially if you’re bringing the little ones along). Also, avoid umbrellas if you find yourself in a lightning storm.
  • Keep it close: Whether you’re hitting the live game or the local tavern, be sure to keep your valuables, such as wallets, mobile phones and purses, safe. Also, keep it close to you (better yet, attached) at all times to avoid theft.

Wherever and however you’re watching the game this weekend, we hope you enjoy every last minute. Go team!

Game day insurance tips
Here are a few pointers for making sure your insurance provides an additional safety net on game day:

  • Make sure you have adequate auto coverage to cover any contents that may be stolen in the unfortunate event of a break-in at the stadium parking lot.
  • Ensure you have sufficient liability coverage on your homeowner’s policy, as well as medical payments coverage and possibly umbrella coverage. These exist to protect you in the event someone becomes injured while at your house.
  • Consider roadside assistance coverage. In the event your vehicle breaks down or you lock your keys in your car, it can save the day.

Is Your Home as Efficient as it Could Be?

pexels-photo-205325Drafty windows. Leaky faucets. Dirty air filters.

All are common issues and they’re not only annoying — they also cost you money in decreased energy efficiency and higher utility bills.

Would you like to save $200 to $400 a year on your energy costs? That’s how much the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program estimates that homeowners can save by incorporating technologies to make their homes operate more efficiently.

Of course, helping to protect you and your family is our goal at Duncan Financial Group, and keeping your home well-maintained usually means your home will be safer as well. Those are goals we all should share. Several of the tips below from the National Association of Home Builders will help you accomplish both.

Do a home-energy audit

Making your home more efficient can seem like an overwhelming task. But “auditing” your energy efficiency is something you can do yourself, and it’s relatively simple. This will show you where your home loses energy, how efficient your heating and cooling systems are, and ways you can decrease your electricity use. Just inspect the areas listed here and note the problems you find.

Where’s the air? Air commonly “leaks” from homes through gaps around baseboards, electrical outlets and windows or doors. Stopping these drafts can save up to 30 percent of your yearly energy costs. Be sure to check your home’s exterior as well, paying particular attention to areas where two different building materials meet. When you find leaks, seal them with caulk or weather stripping.

Don’t wait … insulate! Check to see if the amount of insulation in the ceiling and walls is sufficient. Your attic door should be insulated and close tightly. For walls, make a small hole in a closet or other inconspicuous place and probe into the wall with a screwdriver — the area should be completely filled with insulation.

Do a systems check. Efficient heating and cooling systems can save you frustration as well as money. Make sure ducts and pipes are insulated properly, and have your equipment checked and cleaned by a professional each year. Filters for forced-air furnaces should be replaced as soon as they are dirty, or every 30 to 60 days.

Let there be (efficient) light. Lighting can account for up to 20 percent of your home’s total electricity use, so consider compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) bulbs, which last longer and use far less energy than incandescent bulbs.

The only thing left to do after you complete your audit (and make any necessary changes)? Figuring out how to spend the money you’ll save each year!

Avoiding Distractions While Driving Could Save Your Life

person-woman-smartphone-carYou’ve seen them on the roads; you might even know a few of them.

And you could be one yourself.

Distracted drivers in come in all shapes, sizes, ages and experience levels. Even if you’re not one today, you could become one at any moment — in the time it takes you to answer your cell phone or check the kids in the back seat when you’re driving through {neighborhoods}.

If you or someone else you know thinks you can drive just fine while talking on your phone, think about this: More than 450,000 people were injured in crashes that reportedly involved distracted driving in 2009, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. More than 5,000 of those people died.

Distractions on the road come in many forms, according to www.distraction.gov, a U.S. Department of Transportation website. There are three main kinds of distractions:

  • Visual – taking your eyes off the road
  • Manual –taking your hands off the wheel
  • Cognitive – taking your mind off what you’re doing

To help you avoid all three kinds of distractions the next time you’re behind the wheel of your car  here are a few tips:

  • Put your phone in silent mode and store it away from the front seat or in a purse or bag. This helps reduce temptation.
  • Have a passenger answer your phone or return text messages for you.
  • If a call or a text can’t wait, pull over in a safe spot before using your phone.
  • This one seems obvious, but finish shaving or applying makeup before you get in the car!
  • If you’re emotional, wait until you’ve calmed down before hitting the road.
  • Avoid road rage. You’ll be happier and safer.

Whenever you’re on the road, it’s not a time to multi-task. Focus on driving safely.

Do You Have Enough Coverage to Rebuild Your Home?

Ipexels-photo-106399magine how devastating it would be to lose your home in a fire. Now imagine not being able to rebuild it completely because you didn’t have the correct amount of insurance.

Selecting the proper amount of coverage is the single most important decision you can make with your Homeowners policy. Without it, you may not have enough coverage to rebuild after a total loss. This is called “insurance to value.” Below are some explanations and tips to help you make the right choices for your needs — and remember, if you need help, we’re just a phone call away!

What is insurance to value?

Insurance to value is the relationship between the amount of coverage selected (typically listed as “Coverage A” or “Dwelling Coverage” on your policy declarations page) and the amount required to rebuild your home.  Insuring your home for anything less than 100% insurance to value could mean you wouldn’t have enough coverage to replace your home in the event of a total loss

Why is the cost to rebuild different from the market value?

A home’s market value reflects current economic conditions, taxes, school districts, the value of the land and location, and other factors unrelated to construction cost.  The cost to rebuild your home is based only on the cost of materials and labor in your area.  It is important that you insure your home based on its reconstruction cost, NOT its current market value

Why is reconstruction more expensive than new construction?

New-home builders typically build many homes at once, and solicit bids from various sub-contractors to receive the best pricing. Their business model is based on economies of scale. For example, they may purchase 20 bathtubs at once, securing a lower unit cost. These economies of scale don’t exist when building a single home.

How can I make sure I have the correct amount of insurance?

Work with your agent to provide detailed information at time of purchase to be sure that you receive a thorough and accurate quote.

Ask us about additional coverage options that may be available.

Review your insurance to value calculation on a regular basis with your agent.

Tell your agent about any changes or improvements that you make to your home.

 

Insurance Tips for Back-to-School Time

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College is expensive enough without finding out too late that an accident or theft isn’t covered under your current policies. So, as you get your children ready to head off to school in the fall, there’s one vital “to-do” to add to your list (other than writing that tuition check): a review of your insurance coverage.

It’s important to keep in mind that policy language varies from state to state, and there are never “one-size-fits-all” situations, but below is a general guide. If you have questions, or want to go over your insurance needs, don’t hesitate to contact us!

 

HOMEOWNERS (may vary by state and individual policy)

  • Coverage of personal property: Most homeowners policies provide 10 percent of Coverage C (Personal Property) for property owned by an insured that is at a residence other than the insured’s. For example, if the contents of a policyholder’s home are insured for $100,000, a student’s property up to $10,000 would be covered if living in a dormitory – provided the damage is caused by a covered peril and the student meets the definition of an insured.
  • For apartments or houses off-campus, the same coverage generally applies. Certain items, such as jewelry or expensive electronics, may require special coverage, or a “rider.” Renters insurance is strongly recommended if a particular policy does not cover a student’s personal property.
  • Liability coverage: There usually is an exclusion for damage to property rented to an insured, so generally damage to a dorm room or apartment would not be covered.
  • Ensuring adequate coverage: Contact us to get specific answers and information about your coverages. Also, it’s a great idea to create an inventory of the items your student is taking to school, as is keeping photos of and receipts for the items.
  • Renters insurance: If your student’s needs can’t be met under your current policy, don’t forget renters insurance. Landlords’ policies generally only cover the structure, not the possessions of renters.

 

AUTO (may vary by state)

  • Coverage without a car at school: If your student will continue to drive while at home on school breaks, they should continue to be listed on your auto policy. If they are attending school more than 100 miles from home, and are not taking a vehicle with them, the policy may qualify for a distant-student discount.
  • Coverage with a car at school: In most instances, a car registered to parents and listed on their policy will be covered if used by a listed student away at school. But you should make sure that your insurance carrier writes coverage in the college’s state and location. And note that a change to the principal location of the vehicle could result in a change in premium.
  • Driving a friend’s car at school: Students generally would be covered while driving a friend’s car if the students are listed on their parents’ policy and do not have regular use of the vehicle. The coverage would likely be secondary in this case, as the carrier for the friend’s vehicle likely would be the primary coverage.
  • Coverage discounts: In addition to the possible distant-student discount mentioned above, students may qualify for a good-student discount. To qualify, most insurance carriers require that a student must be enrolled in at least four courses per term as a full-time student at an accredited college or university and meet certain academic qualifications. Also, drivers under the age of 21 who complete a driver education course may be eligible for a policy discount.

 

Going away to school is an exciting time for both students and their parents. Making sure you’ve got the right insurance coverage can help you protect your assets as you invest in your child’s future. We’re happy to discuss your coverage and options — just give us a call or stop by!

Tying the Knot? Tie up Loose Ends With Wedding Insurance

pexels-photo-476971Getting married is a big step that you’re no doubt commemorating with a big celebration. And, that often comes with a (fairly) big price tag. So, have you considered insuring the whole to-do?

As with other sizeable investments, you can insure big events, such as your wedding. But, that’s not the only way insurance can play a role in your big day and the events that follow. Here are four tips for insuring your wedding, rings and more:

Big day, big investment… protect it

Of course you want your big day to go off without a hitch. But, you also want to prepare for those pesky ‘what ifs’. What if the caterer backs out? What if the bride’s dress gets lost in her checked baggage? What if your venue goes out of business?

Event insurance typically covers unexpected issues with the site, weather, vendors and illness or injury, so you aren’t stuck with the tab. For example, if you need to find a new caterer the day before the wedding, your policy may help with the costs.

Say ‘I do’ to covering your rings.

Regardless of the monetary value of your engagement and wedding rings, it’s important to protect your investment… preferably right after you purchase them. We can help. Call us from the jewelry store if you like, and we’ll schedule your new bling on your renters insurance, condo insurance or homeowners insurance.

Cover your bases by covering your gifts.

While you’re dancing the night away, you don’t want someone walking away with your gifts. But, unfortunately, it happens. You may want to consider a policy to protect your gifts. And, of course, you’ll want to include them as part of your home inventory and personal property coverage. Some items, such as collectibles and china, may need scheduled coverage, just like your rings.

Start your honeymoon right.

If your honeymoon costs as much as a car, it may make sense to get travel insurance. Policies can include coverage for trip cancellation or delay, and even medical insurance. Frommers.com says it should cost no more than 8 percent of your trip price.

 

Whether your wedding is a small family affair or the biggest event of the year, you deserve to have a stress-free day. Let us help you select the insurance coverage you want for your wedding and everything that goes along with it. So, when the big day arrives, all you have to worry about is having a great time!

Everyone Who Hates Speeding Tickets, Raise Your Right Foot!

pexels-photo-451590Slow down, save money and lives

How many times has the following happened to you? You’re speeding down Rt. 30 when you spot a police car. You quickly hit the brakes and slow down, relieved that you didn’t get caught…this time. Now take a minute to think what could have happened if you hadn’t been so lucky.

First, your speeding could have hurt somebody-or yourself. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, speed is a contributing factor in more than 30% of fatal crashes and nearly 20% of non-injury accidents. That’s a big risk to take. Second, getting a ticket could put a big hit on your wallet. Of course, that’s not nearly as important as the health and safety impacts of speeding, but in this economic climate, more and more people are watching every dime. And who wants to write a check to the state for speeding?

At Duncan Financial Group, we want you to be safe. We also want to make sure you get a great price on the insurance coverage you need. Thankfully, easing up on that lead foot can help accomplish both.

How a ticket impacts your insurance

If you get a speeding ticket, that violation can stay on your driving record for three years or even longer. And because your driving history plays a large part in determining how much you’ll pay for insurance, the fewer tickets you have, the better. Different carriers have different policies when it comes to checking your driving record and dealing with drivers who have violations.

If you receive a ticket, and it’s your first in several years, you may not see much of an increase… depending on the severity of the offense. In fact, many states will allow you to enter a deferment program if it’s your first ticket, keeping the violation off your record if you complete a safety course and avoid further tickets. But that second ticket (or third, or fourth) can bring some serious financial penalties.

While there are too many variables to say specifically how much each additional violation will increase your premium, it’s safe to say that the jump will be significant. And unfortunately, you can be stuck paying those higher premiums for years. Significant violations can have a bigger impact as well. If you’re going 20 miles per hour over the limit, you’ll likely pay more than someone with a ticket for 5 mph over.

Insurance companies know that speeding increases the risk of accidents, and they’ll view you as an increased risk… for good reason. In fact, if you have a serious violation, or too many tickets, your insurance carrier could drop your coverage altogether. For younger drivers (typically under the age of 25), it’s especially important to avoid tickets, because companies already view these drivers as riskier than the general population

. And keep in mind, even if your premium doesn’t go up, having a violation on your record could prevent you from receiving the lowest possible rate on your insurance. Of course, we think the best policy is simply to obey speed limits.

Not only will you avoid tickets and possible insurance hassles, but your risk of accidents will decrease. And you’ll get better gas mileage. Sounds like a good deal to us!

I’m borrowing my friend’s car am I covered?

pexels-photo-97079Most people have an idea of what’s covered and not covered under their various insurance policies. But at Duncan Financial Group, we get a lot of questions about borrowing or loaning a car.

Now that summer is here, and you might be looking to borrow your neighbor’s truck for a home-improvement project or a trip to the local landfill, we thought it was a great time to provide a little more information.

Generally, insurance coverage follows the vehicle rather than the driver. So in most instances, as long as the owner of the car has insurance, it’s covered even if someone other than the owner is driving it — as long as they have the owner’s permission.

The borrower’s insurance is considered secondary, meaning that in the event of an accident, it could apply if the owner’s insurance is insufficient to fully cover the damage.

It’s important to note that there are some exceptions to what is called comprehensive use coverage. For example, permission must be given by the owner, unless the borrower has a reasonable belief that they are allowed to use the car. However, the borrower cannot give permission to someone else. So if your teenager allows one of his or her friends to drive your car to {local destination}, your coverage likely won’t apply.

Coverage might also be denied if the borrower operates the vehicle in a negligent or criminal manner. And if the borrower is using your car for business purposes, your personal auto policy likely won’t cover that.

If you have a regular long-term arrangement to either borrow or lend a car, the borrower should probably be added to the owner’s personal auto policy. Those who don’t own a car, but often borrow one, might also consider named non-owner coverage, an endorsement that provides bodily injury and property damage liability, uninsured motorists coverage and more.

Ultimately, it’s usually safe to loan your friend your car for occasional errands or projects. And the same goes for borrowing a car. Just make sure it’s for normal use. You’ll want to confirm that the car has coverage and that your insurance, whether you’re the owner or borrower, will apply.

Feel free to give us a call if you have any questions. After all, you don’t want to wait until after an accident to get answers!