Coronavirus facts, myths, travel issues and more

The coronavirus, also known as COVID19, originated in China, and has spread to at many other countries – the New York Times has an updated coronavirus tracking map where you can follow the outbreak across the globe. As of today, there are 60 identified cases in the U.S. – check the map for state breakdowns. We don’t yet know how we will be affected in the U.S. – we can only see that it spreads rapidly and viruses don’t respect borders.

As with many emerging illnesses, there’s a lot of fear about the potential impact. There’s also quite a bit of misinformation and many myths are circulating already. Fear and over-reaction create many additional problems. In times of health emergencies, it’s important to rely on trusted and authorized sources of information. Here in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) has a dedicated coronavirus site with information for the public about how the illness spreads, symptoms, testing, FAQs, fact sheets and more. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, web resources from the World Health Organization (WHO), includes helpful, reputable information. Be careful about any information that you see posted on social media – make sure you know your source.

It’s important to keep perspective.  From what we know now, coronavirus has high contagion but relatively low number of deaths in proportion to cases. Like influenza, it is of most concern to elderly and people with compromised immune systems. Remember, our usual flu season is still in progress, and the CDC estimates that between Oct. 1 and Feb. 15, seasonal influenza, aka “the flu.” has claimed the lives of 16,000 people.

This 10-minute video interviews two pathologists about the most common myths about the coronavirus, while presenting many facts about the disease and offering sensible advice for self protection.

CDC Coronavirus Prevention Guidance

There is currently no vaccine to prevent coronavirus, but the best way to prevent the disease includes the everyday prevention methods that help spread of respiratory diseases, influenza and other viruses. The CDC says:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a facemask.: CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID19. Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.

Travel issues and travel insurance

One big issue that people are questioning is whether it’s safe to travel. Right now, the countries on highest alert for travel are China and South Korea. The CDC is also warning travelers to Italy, Iran, and Japan to “practice enhanced precautions.” Check the CDC travel health advisories and the State Department’s travel advisories for the current status of countries you may be planning to visit. For more information, see CDC Travel.

The next question people have is if they should reschedule travel, and whether travel insurance will cover them if they have to cancel or have travel disrupted due to coronavirus. The bad news is, not always – it depends. It’s important to know the extent of your travel coverage and understand what is and what isn’t covered. PropertyCasualty360 addresses this in their article: Will travel insurance cover coronavirus?

“Tour operators and travel insurance brokers are reporting an increasing number of requests from customers asking to change their travel plans. Meanwhile, many U.S. airlines, including United, America and Delta, have canceled several flights to China.

Consumers may be surprised to learn that in either situation, their travel policy probably wouldn’t cover them.”

Most travel insurance is designed to protect you in case you need to cancel a trip, lose belongings, or require medical attention. But for cancellations related to coronavirus, only certain reasons qualify.”

They discuss the various scenarios in which a traveler may be covered, and those in which the traveler would not be. If you are planning a trip, it’s worth reading. And for more good travel planning advice, see Consumer Reports: How the Spread of Coronavirus Could Affect Your Travel Plans.

Additional coronavirus resources

Here are a few other resources that we’ve found helpful:

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Newlyweds & insurance

Like 2.3 million other couples this year, you may be putting the finishing touches on your plans for a wedding. On average, there are 6,200 weddings per day in the US, but some months are more popular than others. The Spring is an active time, with 10% of all weddings in May and 11% in June. Statistics say that the average wedding budget is $20,000 and the average number of guests is 178.

From the event to the honeymoon, it’s a big deal with a lot of details, so it can be easy to overlook insurance. But we’re not just talking about wedding event insurance which, if you plan a costly event, you should definitely consider to cover cancellation or losses such as stolen gifts, damaged photos, rings or gowns and other unforeseen problems. In this case, we’re talking about insurance matters that you and your spouse should consider as you embark on a financial life together.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) offers a handy tip sheet about insurance matters that engaged couples should discuss: Combining Your Insurance: Just got engaged? Don’t forget to talk about insurance. It discusses decision points and money saving tips for homeowners and renters insurance, auto insurance, health insurance, and life insurance.

Of course the easiest way to cover insurance is to make an appointment with your local independent insurance agent, who can walk you through all the considerations both for the event itself and for the various coverage options you’ll need going forward. As you embark on a new life together, you no doubt have many hopes, plans and dreams. The right coverage can keep you on track by protecting you from unexpected losses. Your agent will know the best coverage options and the ins and outs for saving money.

Below is an infographic Insurance Survival Guide for Newlyweds, also from NAIC. (For a larger version, click the link or the image).

Insurance survival guide for newlyweds infographic

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

In the market for a new car? Calculate the full costs

If you’re in the market for a new car over the coming year, there’s a lot more to think about in terms of cost than just the sticker price. If you aren’t figuring in the associated financing costs, taxes, insurance, depreciation, gas and maintenance, you are only getting a partial picture of the true cost to drive a car. According to AAA, the cost of car ownership in 2019 was $9,282 or $773.50 a month. That’s 5% more – or $433 – than the prior year.

One of the key culprits to the costs? Finance charges, which AAA says average about 40% of the total costs.

“A key contributor to the increase was a large jump in financing costs. Rising federal interest rates and higher vehicle prices fueled a spike in finance charges, which rose 24% in 2019 from $744 to $920. It comes as long-term loans are becoming more common. Such loans offer lower monthly payments, but they ultimately cost the consumer more, meaning car buyers are paying more, and longer, for vehicles that lose value the moment they’re sold.”

Although long-term loans might seem cheaper, AAA says that they are ultimately costing the consumer more. They estimate that, on average, every 12 months added to the life of a loan adds nearly $1,000 in total finance charges.

One other key expense factor is that as new cars come equipped with more technology to make driving safer and more convenient, maintenance and repair costs go up. Sophisticated sensor in bumpers mean that a simple fender bender can require a costly replacement and recalibration of sensors. See our prior post on high tech cars equaling high cost repairs.

Because cars can be such a big budget item, it can pay to do advance research to ensure you make the best purchase and consider other factors than just the sticker price. Here are some car-buying tools to help you anticipate and calculate the total cost of ownership of various makes and models.

Talk to your insurance agent!

One other source for keeping annual costs of a new car down is to talk over auto insurance options with your insurance agent.  Be sure you are taking advantage of any available discounts, such as discounts for safe drivers, low mileage, seniors, good students, and more. Plus, bundling your auto and homeowners policies with one insurer can yield discounts on both.

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Insurance and The Oscars

Americans have about a $40 billion a year love affair with the movies and this weekend, that love culminates in the annual celebration of the Oscars. You can Google “Oscars 2020” for a hub of news, lists, videos, history and more related to events. And check out this handy guide for how to watch or stream the events live.

Behind all the glitz and glamour, insurance is one of the factors that helps make everything run smoothly. No costly event occurs without insurance – there are too many potential things that could go wrong. Expensive events – and these might range from a wedding to something as elaborate as The Oscars – should secure Special Events insurance. For weddings, there are special wedding packages you can purchase; for a complex event, custom packages are tailored to encompass the many risks, which would protect all parties against unforeseen losses due to any number of problems – event cancellation, sudden unavailability of a venue, failure of key vendors, catastrophic weather that might force a cancellation or ill health on the part of key performers, to name a few examples.

But even special events coverage may not be enough to cover the risk. In Insurance Business America, Lauren Ingram talks to insurance experts about a number of insurance risks posed by an event such as the BAFTAs or Oscars that may not be a consideration at another event. As one example: “the accumulation risk of celebrities within one location and the security risk of having a number of high net worth individuals all within one location” might make the event a potential target of terrorism.

Other parties – vendors and even the stars themselves – might need coverage of their own for various risks related to the events. For just one example, consider this: The New York Times notes that the expensive jewels adorning the stars – ranging in value up to $12 million – are generally rented. The jewelers who loan them out require the stars to secure their own insurance coverage for the gems. But according to Chubb, the lending jewelers will generally provide security and someone to escort them. The article offers an interesting behind-the-curtains look at a little known aspect of the gala. (By the way, if you own expensive jewelry, you should make sure you have a special policy to cover it. This is true of any expensive collections – talk with your agent about the limits of your homeowners policy.)

Here are a few other Oscars and insurance-related items of interest:

Personal events such as weddings benefit from insurance, too
Private events can also benefit by similar types of coverage. As the average cost of a wedding climbs – in the U.S., the average cost of a wedding in 2019 was a whopping $38,700. with he ceremony and reception taking up a huge chunk of that, at $29,200. Wedding insurance can cover costs for cancellation due to weather, illness, or venue unavailability. It can also cover losses if gifts are stolen, damage or loss of photos, rings, gowns, and the like, and other unforeseen problems. If you are planning a costly reception, you may want to discuss wedding insurance options with your agent. In addition to insurance for cancellation or other problems, your reception venue may require liability insurance. You should also be sure to verify that your wedding venue and your vendors are properly insured, and learn exactly what and how their insurance might extend to cover any problems you might experience. Your local independent insurance agent can help you find the right coverage for your event.

 

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Tax scam season: Be on high alert for these fraud schemes

From now through April 15, it’s the top tax scam season. Not that tax scams only happen in the first few months of the year, they can occur year-round. But criminals know that taxes are on your mind and they will try to take advantage of that.

Be alert for tax-related identity theft
With the frequency of large-scale data breaches, there’s a better than average chance that your personal information has been breached. Your data may even be in the hands of criminals, making you susceptible to identity theft. You may not be aware of this at all until you get a notice from the IRS about a tax filing that you never made. When you look into it, your realize that it is not just a mistake – you are the victim of a crime.

The IRS says that it’s not uncommon for identity theft victims to be unaware that they are compromised until they run into some type of tax problem or tax alert.

Here are warning signs that that the IRS says may indicate that you are a victim of tax-related identity theft:

  • You get a letter from the IRS inquiring about a suspicious tax return that you did not file.
  • You can’t e-file your tax return because of a duplicate Social Security number.
  • You get a tax transcript in the mail that you did not request.
  • You get an IRS notice that an online account has been created in your name.
  • You get an IRS notice that your existing online account has been accessed or disabled when you took no action.
  • You get an IRS notice that you owe additional tax or refund offset, or that you have had collection actions taken against you for a year you did not file a tax return.
  • IRS records indicate you received wages or other income from an employer you didn’t work for.

The IRS offers steps to take if you are a victim of tax-related identity theft, a data breach or employment related identity theft in their Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft.

Phone impersonation and other common tax scams

Tax-related identity theft is only one type of season tax crime – be alert for these “usual suspects” that the IRS has identified as some of the most common scams:

Impersonation Telephone Scams – The IRS won’t call you to demand immediate payment via a debit card or gift card. They won’t send the police to your house to collect a debt or arrest you. See: How to know it’s really the IRS calling or knocking on your door

Impersonation email scams – the IRS does not send unsolicited emails.

Fake calls from Taxpayer Advocate Service numbers – spoofed calls from criminals  posing as IRS assistance services trying to extract personal information.

‘Ghost’ tax return preparer “Tax Transcript” email scam –  Don’t get caught by a phony tax prep scammer or promises to get your you refunds sooner.

A new version of a Social Security scam – A criminal poses as the IRS and threatens to cancel your SS number.

Check out our other fraud posts for more alerts on scams and tips to stay safe.. And here are more tax season tips from prior years:

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.