The 10 Most Common Mistakes Insurance Agents Make

Problem #1

Prospects have more sales resistance training than agents usually have in sales presentation skill.

Prospect response to insurance agents is designed to get as much information as possible and be in control of the situation. Prospects often mislead insurance agents about their intentions, how much they’ll spend, who makes decisions, etc.

The prospect intent is designed to turn agents into unpaid consultants, lead them on until they have all of the information they need, and often use their quotes to compare with their current agent or a competitor.

When prospects have what they need, they stop returning the agent’s phone calls.

Does this make prospects bad people?

Of course not.

We all use this system for dealing with salespeople…it’s almost second nature.

Why do prospects do this?

It’s simple.

It works.

The stereotype of an agent is not a good image for most of us, and prospects are afraid of being sold something they don’t want. In order to protect themselves, prospects feel they need a way to deal with agents. It is an instinctive reaction to the negative stereotype of agents that causes prospects to put up a defensive wall.

So how do most agents deal with the prospects system of defense? Most play right into it. Many don’t use a systematic approach to selling. They allow the prospect to take total control of the sales process. The agent eagerly:

o gives their knowledge

o makes commitments without getting any in return

o wastes resources on pursuing deals that will never close

o gives quotes to non-prospects who never buy

o misinterpret the ubiquitous “I’ll think it over and get back to you” as a future sale

How do most sales organizations contribute to the problem? Frequently they focus on product knowledge and overlook teaching what circumstances or concepts products fit best with.

The solution: Train agents on a systematic approach to making presentations so they have “a track to run on.” The training should balance both the prospect and agent’s best interest.

Problem #2

Spending too much time with prospects that will never buy.

A manager recently evaluated two of his agents like this: “Gary spends too much time with non-buyers, and gets too involved in non-productive activities. One root cause of this behavior is that he doesn’t ask the tough questions. Amy is strong with prospects, but both she and Gary have lost deals because the competition asks for the business while they give quotes to the prospect.” Why is this true?

Agents don’t ask the hard questions up-front for fear of making their prospects angry, they are afraid they will lose something they don’t have. Most agents think their job is to close everybody.

Over the years sales training has emphasized, “Don’t take NO for an answer.” Insurance agents are taught to be persistent…handle stalls and objections…trial closes…always be closing…and yes, even be manipulative. No wonder prospects need sales resistance to shield themselves!

Prospects realize agents don’t want to hear “NO” and that when they do, they’ll “hang in there” and try to turn “NO” into “YES.” When the poor prospect really means “NO,” s/he has found the easiest way to get rid of a agent is to tell them, “I’ll think it over, and I’ll get back to you.” How many “think it over’s” really turn into business?

The solution: Agents need tools to separate tire-kickers from buyers. They need an approach that obtains support early in the sales cycle. They need to learn the fine art of tactfully qualifying prospects in, not qualifying them out. The top agents learn to ask the hard questions up-front, saving precious resources for real opportunities. “NO” is an acceptable response from a buyer. “Going for the NO” requires a tremendous paradigm shift for most agents, but it can take all the pressure off the agent and increase productivity. This approach allows prospects to feel in control, this then relaxes them, and lets them buy instead of feeling like they are being “sold.”

Problem #3

Agents talk too much.

A manager recently said, “My agents’ listening skills aren’t where they need to be; someone says something and they don’t find out the real reason or intent behind the question, which leaves the prospect feeling like my agents don’t understand them or their issues.

Of course, when we sent them to the College of Product Knowledge, filling them with technical knowledge and then sent them out to make their quotas, we should have expected this result.”

So what’s the problem telling our story? First, people buy for their reason, not the agents reasons, not even their company’s reasons. Second, most companies’ presentations sound the same to the prospect, and when they sound the same, the agent just becomes another agent to the prospect, and then to the prospect, low price becomes the determining factor in getting the business.

The solution: Asking questions is the answer. Teach insurance agents to stop regurgitating to the prospect and start asking questions. Prospects should do at least 70% of the talking on the sales call. The only way this will happen is for the sales rep to ask a lot of questions.

Questions gather information. Ask questions to find out what the prospect’s “pain” is. This is the same thing your family doctor does during an office visit. They ask – they don’t tell you anything until they have made the proper diagnosis.

Problem #4

Weak Agents focus on price.

Price is never the real issue! Agents focus on price because it’s often the first thing the prospect asks about. Yet study after study confirms that quality and services are almost always more important than price. Price is never the main reason for getting and keeping business. People buy our products to either solve a problem they have, or improve something about their current situation or protect against future occurrences.

The solution: Teach agents to be more effective in asking questions and getting to real issues. Once they learn to do this, price will not be the determining factor in making sales.

Problem #5

Product knowledge is over-emphasized and misused. As a result, selling often becomes nothing more than “pitching and presenting.”

Most sales training focuses on product knowledge. studies show that 80% of training dollars spent annually are spent on product knowledge training. Agents, once filled with this product knowledge, are eager to share this information and become a Professional, Unpaid Educator. The focus then becomes totally on product, and not on the prospects problem, which is where it belongs.

The solution: Provide training in the strategy and tactics our agents need to help prospects clearly define their problems and co-build solutions that fit their needs. Product knowledge is important, but how it’s used at each phase of the buying process is the key.

Problem #6

Agents fail to get prospects to reveal budgets up-front. Many insurance agents are uncomfortable talking about money. Discussing money is seen as intrusive, and unpleasant. Many agents avoid talking about money, until the prospect forces the issue. This is one of the five most common weaknesses that agents have.

The solution: Knowing whether there is money upfront will help the insurance agent distinguish between a prospects who is ready to solve a problem from one who is not committed. Comfortably talking about money is a key to management, where resources are evaluated based on bottom line impact. Teach your agents to find out two things about money:

o How much the problem is costing the prospect; in other words the amount at risk.

o How much they’d be willing to invest to solve the problem.

Without a candid discussion about money, the agent is left to make certain assumptions. And we all know what happens when we make assumptions!

Problem #7

Agents fail to get firm commitments from prospects.

Insurance agents are often very willing to jump at the opportunity to do a quote, presentation, etc. This approach is incredibly time-consuming and resource intensive.

How many quotes has your team/distribution sent out over the last twelve months that resulted in nothing? How much does it cost your team/distribution on an annual basis to do quotes that go nowhere?

The solution: Agents must learn what motivates people to buy. They must master the skills required to help prospects become comfortable sharing problems, and they must learn to determine the prospects’ level of commitment to solve these problems before they begin to offer their solutions.

Problem #8

Lack of sufficient prospecting.

A quote from a manager: “They don’t do enough prospecting, even ‘when I use a long stick.'” All professional agents will eventually be faced with a bout of call reluctance. You know the story – they have so much paperwork on their desk they can’t possibly find the time to prospect for new business OR they’re so busy calling on existing customers (who incidentally aren’t buying anything) there’s no way they could add any new appointments. Getting ready to get ready. The BT club (bout to) Sound familiar?

o Over 40% of all veteran sales professionals have experienced bouts of call reluctance severe enough to threaten their career in sales

o And 80% of all new agents who fail within their first year do so because of insufficient prospecting activity.

The Solution: Insurance agents need to develop a realistic activity plan. Monitor the plan weekly and implement effective accountability.

Problem #9

The insurance agent has a strong need for approval.

It’s an easy and common mistake. “I love people, so I’ll be an insurance agent.” You end up with an insurance agent that would rather make “friends” with their prospects than conduct business. While developing relationships are an important part of the selling process, selling is not a place for people to get their emotional needs met. In fact, it’s the opposite: a tough and demanding profession, full of rejection. People who internalize the rejection end up getting out of the profession. Truth is, they should never have gotten in the business. Sales interactions are fundamentally different than social interactions. Successful professionals understand and accept that the bottom line of professionally selling is: MAKING MONEY.

The Solution: Evaluate yourself to determine if you have this need for approval. Managers need to ask pre-hire screening questions that helps to hire stronger people and teach them a system that helps strike the appropriate balance between developing relationships and getting commitments.

Problem #10

Insurance agents don’t treat sales as a profession.

Professionals like doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, and CPAs’ all have one thing in common – they attend continuing education to maintain and increase their proficiency. Yet how many insurance agents are continually seeking new ways to increase their skills? Many have the attitude, “I’ve been selling for years, what more can I learn?”

The solution: Top performers in every profession are always looking for ways to sharpen their skills and gain the fine edge that leads to consistent success. Managers need to invest in top performers and help them grow their skills. Ego stunts your growth so managers have to be willing to set their ego aside and be willing to grow, modeling behavior that demonstrates it is more important to the manager to be effective than to be right. We can all learn from each other.

In Summary:

Hiring: Distributions, supervisors and managers must complete, step-by-step, a formal process for profiling, attracting, recruiting, interviewing and hiring top performers. Look to hire goal achievers not goal setters. Most managers hire goal setters and are surprised when agents never achieve their goals. The truth is the agent only had a wish list. Ask the agent when interviewing or coaching to describe goals they set and “how” they achieved the goal. If they didn’t achieve then it was it a goal or only a wish list?

Effective recruiting and hiring is the most important job of any manager. No amount of training, coaching or mentoring will make up for a poor hiring decision. Do it right the first time.

Managing: Implement a sales management process that emphasizes more effective recruiting, hiring, coaching, growing, and developing agents. Most of all quit accepting excuses for poor performance from yourself and your agent, raise your expectations and implement a rigorous accountability process. This starts with your team production-if you are not meeting standards. how can you expect to hold your agents accountable?. In management, you don’t get what you want – you only get what you expect and inspect. Remember, you manage things – you lead people.

Training: Tapes, books and one -day seminars are fine for intellectual learning or external motivation, but if you want to be a better golfer, pianist – or a better sales person, you must practice and develop new skills. Selling is a skill that can be taught, learned, and mastered over time.

Phone scripts and rebuttals are intended to assist in moving your management and sales career forward or allowing you to increase you current volume of business.

Remember these are only meant to be sales tools, they do not work, you have to work them.

The key is to do enough of the right things, enough of the time.

Give success time to happen-and do something today to make it happen!

The clock starts NOW!

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Cancun Weather – Best and Worst Months to Go

Cancun weather is one reason why this Mexican resort enclave is the second most popular vacation destination in the Caribbean region.

Other reasons why Cancun draws so many tourists include its hotel, shopping and restaurant strip; the inexpensive bus transportation system; plenty of things to do; and convenient access to and from U.S. airports. It is 1.5 hours flight time from Miami and four hours from Chicago.

The best time to go to Cancun depends in part on whether you prefer to spend a lot of time on the beach and in the water, or if you like to spend most of your time shopping, dining and visiting the various attractions in the region. Some fabulous Mayan ruins are located nearby.

Cancun weather is generally warm throughout the year — in fact many hotels and resorts have open air lobbies — but offshore breezes can make the air and water more chilly in winter months.

Average Temperatures

The average year-round high temperature for this resort destination is nearly 88 degrees Fahrenheit and the average low temperature is just less than 74 degrees, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

Cancun weather in May through September is the warmest time to visit when the average high temperature exceeds 90 degrees each month — peaking at 92.5 in August.

Cancun weather in December, January and February is coolest when the average high temperatures are about 83 degrees.

The average low drops below 70 degrees in January and February, and barely breaks 70 in December.

Average Rainfall

The average rainfall is 4.4 inches per month and the average number of rain days per month is 9.6.

The rainfall and rain days are about average for a Caribbean destination.

February, March and April are the driest months when it rains less than 1.8 inches a month. It also rains only five days a month during that time.

Total rainfall increases in June, drops in July and climbs during the most active hurricane season months of September and October, when it rains nearly nine inches per month.

November also has a higher than average amount of rain.

Best Times to Go

Vacationers will find that the best time to go to Cancun is February through May, while they should avoid it in September and especially in October.

However, be aware that water temperatures in February and March are chilly and not comfortable for swimming for any great length of time.

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Rental Property – The Responsibilities of the Renter and the Owner

When you rent someone’s property, it’s good to know how what your responsibilities are in order not to have inconvenient situations. When some people rent someone else’s property they think that they are responsible only for a few little things and the rest of responsibilities should be taken care by a leasing agent. But usually it is vice versa. When someone rents a house or apartment, they are usually obligated to sign a contract where all the responsibilities of leasing agent and renter are fully described. In case if something happens both parties understand what they are responsible for.

Responsibilities Of Renters

Normally, renters bear responsibility for the area that is around their apartment and for the apartment itself. Usually, these are areas inside the apartment as well as their backyard. So this includes common sense responsibilities and rules of maintenance and cleanliness of the area. Such things such as repairing certain parts of the interior or the exterior or painting the walls are the responsibilities of the renter.

But still, this is not it. Renter is responsible for some other things in leasing agent’s house. If something happens with the bathrooms, the renter is also responsible for fixing it if it’s possible. But if such things happen and that renter doesn’t feel comfortable to accomplish this job she might contact the maintenance contractor for proper help.

Renters must know their responsibilities and always show respect to other renters in their area and not cause damage intentionally. Not picking up trash after yourself if you left it somewhere is the same as intentional littering. Renters that don’t follow these rules are fully responsible for their actions and might be forced to pay fines.

Responsibilities Of Leasing Agents

If something happens with that exterior of the building or the equipment is not working properly then it is the responsibility of the leasing agent. Leasing agent is always supposed to take care of his renters and make sure that they are always provided with all the necessary utilities and that everything is working properly in his apartment. For instance, if problems with water occur in the apartment then the leasing agent he supposed to contact maintenance staff.

And also, one more of responsibilities of a leasing agent taking care of public areas. This is usually that surround that area of the apartment, such as grassy parts of the land.

So basically, the leasing agent is always has to take care of his renters and make sure they don’t have any complaints or concerns. If the leasing agent doesn’t pay attention to any complaints that he’s renters might have, this may lead to having problems with clients or with the local housing authority. Again, if the client or the renter is not provided with what he expected and paid for, he will be very disappointed about the maintenance service. In these cases renter might call a maintenance company to resolve the situation and bill the expense to the owner.

So before you rent an apartment to a renter as a leasing agent make sure that both of the above are working fine. A renter faced with this kind of problems, can contact the department of housing and ask them to provide advice what to do in this situation.

In some cases, leasing agents may break their rules of that agreement and disobey points of the contract. The department of housing is usually responsible for enforcement in this kind of situation and if the renters still have complaints, they have the authority to force the owner to provide a remedy.

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BCIN? Difference Between Designer, Architect and Engineer According to the Ontario Building Code

As I meet with new clients and friends every day, I commonly hear the same questions “What is a BCIN?” “When is a BCIN required?” etc. Here is some clarification to the public on some important issues about choosing a company to provide you with plans. Please note that this information applies only in the Province of Ontario.

What is a BCIN?

A BCIN stands for ‘Building Code Identification Number’. This number is assigned by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs & Housing, to successful applicants who have completed the requirements outlined in Division C Section 3.2 of the Ontario Building Code. There are two distinct types of BCIN number, individuals & firms. Individuals are people who have completed the exams and have received a BCIN from the MAH; however, they do NOT carry any insurance. As a result this limits the types of projects that the person can do. Firm BCIN’s on the other hand MUST carry valid liability insurance, and depending on the amount of designs fees that a firm charges in a year will dictate the required amount of insurance coverage they must have. Insurance is expensive but it is there to protect you so avoid working with companies who do not have it. For most people, a home is your single largest asset; do you really want to get plans from someone without insurance?

How do I know if I am choosing a registered company?

The Ministry of Municipal Affairs & Housing maintains a database of all registered BCIN holders. The registry is available through a system called QUARTS. Once on the Public Registry, this system allows you to search by the individual’s name, the company’s name or the BCIN #. Once you have found a business or individual, it will bring you to a page with details on the company. It lists the mailing address of the business & contact details. At the bottom it should also show the Registration as ‘Registered Designer’ and the Status as ‘Current’. If it shows up as ‘lapsed or expired’ then this means that they either do not have valid insurance for that year, or that they are late in filing their paperwork.

Do I need an architect or engineer for my project?

Probably not! There have been massive changes to the system in the last few years, opening the doorway for a new title; designers. Architects & Engineers are NOT required for any project less than 600m² (6,458 sq.ft.) and less than 4 storeys. For most residential and small commercial projects, you do NOT need an architect or an engineer. However, and this is important, if the project involves severe structural modifications, an engineer may be requested by the municipality to review the plans. On this note, there is a BCIN exam which will supersede this requirement! If your design company is a registered company in the Category of ‘Building Structural’ then they can complete the plans.

When do I need a BCIN ‘stamp’ for my project?

Depending on the type of project you may or may not need a BCIN number on your drawings. You do not need a BCIN number if the project relates to the construction of a house that is owned by the person who produces the drawings or if it relates to a farm building less than 3 storeys. There are a few other instances, but these are probably the two most important. Often I hear homeowners ask for just the drawings to submit for permit (no stamp). This is allowed, but as the homeowner you must be knowledgeable of the drawings (after all, you are claiming that you have produced them). It is okay to admit to the municipality that you hired someone to draw them for you, but at the end of the day you will be responsible to ensure that the drawings meet code. If the city has approved your building permit based on the drawings and you proceed to build your project to the drawings only to later find out that there is a problem, you will be on the hook to make any necessary adjustments to pass inspection. Most companies will charge from $200 to $2000 for the use of their BCIN number on the drawings. This may seem expensive but it is the security blanket that will keep you safe and ensure that your drawings meet code! I also personally apply for the permits and handle all the paperwork on my client’s behalf when I charge this fee; which most people prefer as nobody likes to stand in line for half a day to submit paperwork to the City.

I hope that this will help to clarify any questions you may have had regarding the requirements of having someone produce building permits for your project. I look forward to working with you, and if you have any questions then please don’t hesitate to ask!

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How to Travel With Books – Advantage and Disadvantage of Travel Books

Is it necessary to purchase a travel book or is it realistic that we can get similar information from other resources? Usually, most individuals have a major question on buying a travel book. So here are the pros and cons of purchasing one such book.

Advantages of a Travel Book

A travel book, which may be a paperback or e-book, comes in handy while traveling. Glancing through a travel book enables you to understand the custom and culture of a particular place in the world. So you can adapt yourself to that particular environment and stay there comfortably for longer periods.

  1. They Come In Handy — The travel guide comes in various forms such as, e-books, paperbacks and the file formats. You can have easy access to these books, which would assist you with all details compatible to the region you are traveling to.
  2. They Provide Enormous Information — Electronic or traditional travel guides provide you with answers to all types of questions such as how to learn some sayings that can be used in the place where you are traveling to? How to get data on where to reside, what to see and where to eat? How to get a clear knowledge about the history of a specific region or the atmosphere that it has?
  3. They Suit To Your Requirements — To access full information about a specific country or a region, both types of general and specific travel books are made available. The e-book may easily fit into your e-book reader whereas the paperback can fit into your backpack.

Disadvantages of Travel Book

  1. The Price — The e-book and paperback travel guides are very expensive compared to the information obtained from travel websites or from those who have moved or traveled to that region.
  2. Qualitative Images In Travel Books — Most travel books are in black and white. Only a few e-books consist of colored photos. Hence make a thorough revision before purchasing a travel guide or an e-book.
  3. Travel Books Make The Trip Less Natural — Traveling can be made more spontaneous by acquiring suggestions from locals than from travel books.

Conclusion

Considering travel books is essential while you are scheduling to travel. At the same time, never fail to revise the pros and cons in order to make the trip, the most memorable one.

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Types and Examples of Larceny

When someone is talking about larceny crimes they are talking about the crimes that are associated with personal property. Property has two different titles, which are personal or real. Personal property is any real property that has been cut from the ground. Personal property can become a real property if it becomes attached to the ground. Real property is any property that is affixed to the ground like an apartment or house. The definition of larceny is liable to definition changes that are determined by severance or attachment. When someone is charged with crimes against property, it means a crime in which the defendant acquires property which belongs to someone else. These can include extortion, receipt of stolen property, larceny, false pretenses, robbery.

If you are charged with larceny it means that you have illegally taken of someone’s property, with the intention of permanently dispossessing the owner of their property. It could be goods or money. There are many different forms of larceny, which can include:

• Petty-this is where the property amounting to a smaller prices is being stolen. For a crime to be considered petty larceny the object stolen has to be less than four hundred dollars. If they are convicted of this crime they will have to pay a fine or do jail time.

• Grand-this is also known as felonious larceny and occurs when the property stolen is more than four hundred dollars. In New York, the amount of the robbery has to be more than one thousand dollars for it to be considered a felony. If you are convicted of this misdemeanor are subjected to time in prison. If the crime committed is a crime of a large magnitude can result in longer prison time. In addition to going to prison, you are also liable for fines related to the crime, court fees, and restitution payments.

Examples of larceny

• Snatching a purse-if the offender uses force to snatch the purse and instills fear in the victim it is known as robbery. If there is no force or fear in the victim then it is larceny.

• Shoplifting-this crime occurs when an individual shoplifts certain items from a store and does not pay for them. It also happens if you switch price tags so you are paying an lesser amount that what the actual value is.

• Embezzlement-this crime is when there is misappropriation of funds from an account that belongs to the victim.

• False check -this is a crime when the person issues bad checks to an owner for acquiring the property.

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Advantages of Bus Travel

Bus is the most popular transport nowadays. Many people choose bus as the best transport for them because of the many advantages they find in it. Others never get on a bus, thinking only of the disadvantages, which are truly a lot. Here I will tell you the reasons why it is better to choose travelling by bus rather than travelling with your car for example.

The good standpoints for travelling by bus

Many people choose bus transport because it is cheap. This is the main reason why when you get on a bus you will see mainly students and old people. The tickets for long destinations are much cheaper than the flight tickets. You can also by a card for every month and travel at reduced fare. This is also a good advantage to choose bus transport, because it saves you money that you can spend on your next vacation.

Another good advantage of bus transport when going on short travels is that bad weather won’t be a problem for the bus driver. If you are planning to go to the nearest village with your bicycle and it starts raining or snowing, you will get wet for sure. If you choose the bus, you can save yourself this uncomfortable situation and it also can save you money because it won’t get you sick. Also if you choose to take a flight and the weather surprises you and a storm comes out, you may be waiting for hours because of delayed flights.

However, this won’t happen if you choose bus travel. In modern buses, you will have an air conditioner, toilet, the bus-hostess will offer you drinks and snacks to make your trip more enjoyable, and there are also at least two TV sets in new travel buses. So you can enjoy your trip watching a movie and having a snack without worrying when will be the next stop for the toilet. Also if you are travelling on a bus for more hours or even days, you can always make new friends there. So, the new social contacts are the other advantage of the bus. And if you have to choose between a plane or bus, remember that you will see much more if you are travelling with a bus. The bus also stops at many places during the travel and in that time, you can have a coffee or a cigarette if you are a smoker. In the plane this could not be done.

Another good advantage of buses is that they reduce the traffic jams in the rush hour in big cities. Imagine that everyone uses cars. The traffic jams will be a lot bigger than they are now. In some countries like India, a bus can gather more than 150 passengers. Imagine that all these people were using their cars instead of bus transport the cities will be crowded.

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Tips On How To Clean Your Dirty And Smellygage

Your luggage travels in different conditions. The rain, the muddy pathways and the dirty pavements can all make your luggage dirty and smelly. If you do not take good care of it, your precious travel bag can wear out faster.

Cleaning your dirty and smelly luggage should not be too daunting. Let me tell you some tried and tested cleaning tips:

1. Vacuum your luggage. Try to get rid of as much dirt and dust from your travel bag as you can. Also vacuum the casters and the interior of the bag. You might want to use a vacuum machine with a good filter to effect suck minute dirt and dust particles.

2. If you are using a canvas luggage, try cleaning it with a mild dish washing liquid. Mix two drops of the dish washing liquid in two cups of warm water. Soak a sponge or a clean towel in the mixture. Wring out the excess. Use this to wipe the interior and the exterior of the machine.

Make sure you remove dirt particles. Also wipe away dirt and crusty mud on the wheels of the luggage.

3. For your leather luggage, try to get rid of the mud using a leather polisher. Apply leather polisher on a clean rag. Wipe it all over the bag.

4. Get a soft bristled brush and use this to remove dirt particles in the zippers, wheels and the handles of the bag. You can try soaking the brush in the dish washing liquid solution first. This will loosen up the crusty mud or dirt.

5. Sprinkle baking soda on the interior and exterior of the luggage. Leave it on for an hour. Baking soda can effectively diffuse unwanted luggage odor. This will also help get rid of lingering stains and dirt.

6. After an hour, vacuum the travel bag again to get rid of the baking soda residues.

7. To deodorize the luggage bag once again, try spraying it with lemon juice solution. Just mix one cup of lemon juice with one cup of water. Place it in a spray bottle. Spray it all over the luggage. This should work in diffusing unwanted bag odor.

8. Let it dry completely. Place the bag in an area not directly exposed to the sun.

If you are traveling during rainy seasons, make sure you use a luggage cover for your bag. These can be purchased from travel bag stores. They can protect your bag from further damage.

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Do You Have Sufficient Auto Insurance Coverage?

Imagine getting ready to leave your house and you open your door and the rain is pouring down. Now you start to frantically look for your umbrella…. ah, there it is! You step outside, open your umbrella, and you are now protected from that pouring rain. If it were a bright sunny day with no rain in sight you probably would not even care about where your umbrella is or if you even had one! The same is true about insurance. Until you need it, do you really care about it? Unfortunately, too many people realize that they have insufficient coverage only when an unexpected incident occurs and they have to place a claim with their insurance company.

So, a logical starting point to determine if you have proper insurance coverage is to understand the basics. To ensure that you do have the proper coverage, you first need to acquire a good understanding of the basics of auto, home, personal umbrella, and life insurance coverage. For this article, we will focus on auto insurance coverage.

Auto Insurance basically covers you for liability and property damage as it relates to your motor vehicle. There are other optional areas of coverage as well, but for our discussion let’s stay focused on the basics, which are the most important anyway. Your auto insurance policy’s first and/or second pages are the declaration pages of your auto insurance policy. The declarations pages describe your auto coverage limits in numeric dollar values.

Here is a sample of what you may see on your auto insurance policy’s declaration pages:

-Bodily Injury/Property (BIPD) 250/500/100

-Limited or Unlimited

-Medical (Med) $5,000

-Personal Injury Protection (PIP) 250 w/250 Ded

-Uninsured/Underinsured (UM/UIM) 250/500/100

-Collision $500 (Coll) Deductible

-Comprehensive (Comp) $500 Deductible

-Rental Insurance (RI) 80%/1500

Let’s take a look at each of these coverage definitions and amounts in more detail.

The BIPD represents Bodily Injury (BI) / Property Damage (PD). Basically, in the example above, this individual policyholder has liability protection for $250,000 per individual or $500,000 maximum per incident, plus $100,000 in property damage to the other party’s vehicle in a collision. Liability coverage is protection for times when you have been deemed and proven negligent in an auto accident and you therefore become legally liable for the resulting compensatory and/or punitive damages to the other party or parties. The BI, of the BIPD, will cover you for negligence on your part that resulted in bodily injury to the other party or parties. BI also covers the cost of attorney fees associated with any litigation brought against you by the other party. In the above example, this person has $250,000 in coverage for all inclusive liability and attorney fees per individual injured or $500,000 for the entire incident.

The PD, of the BIPD, covers the damage to the other party’s vehicle as a result of your negligence; thus, in the above example, up to $100,000 in property damage to the other party’s vehicle or property. Now, being cognizant of the litigious society that we live in, we ask if $250,000 per person or $500,000 per incident is enough BI coverage? This is a personal decision for every individual to make depending upon their current assets and net worth, and their knowledge of recent jury decisions and awards on BI cases. A major factor affecting this decision is an understanding that you are self-insured for any amounts awarded in excess of your BI coverage amount, should the jury award compensatory and punitive damages greater than your BI coverage amount. So, in this example, should the jury award $750,000 to the individual driving the other vehicle who suffered bodily injury because you collided with them as a result of your negligence, then you are self-insured for the amount in excess of $250,000 which in this case would be $500,000. If you do not have the $500,000 to settle the award, then the judge has many other options to ensure restitution to the injured party such as: garnishing your wages, selling off some of your assets, placing a lien on your property, etc. Now, you can get an umbrella policy to cover you up to a certain amount in excess of your underlying auto BI coverage. We will look at how an umbrella policy works in more detail in an upcoming article.

Next, we have “limited right to sue” versus “unlimited right to sue” coverage. Basically, under the “limited” right to sue lawsuit option, you agree not to sue the person who caused the auto accident for your pain and suffering unless you sustain one of the permanent injuries listed below:

-Loss of body part

-Significant disfigurement or scarring

-A displaced fracture

-Loss of a fetus

-Permanent injury

-Death

Please note that choosing this option does not waive your right to sue for economic damages such as medical expenses and lost wages.

Under the “Unlimited” right to sue lawsuit option, you retain the right to sue the person who caused an auto accident for pain and suffering for any injury. Most people will choose the “limited” option because it is far less costly and it provides the ability to sue the negligent party for most major and permanent injuries. However, many attorneys will usually choose the “unlimited option” for their own personal coverage and pay the significant extra cost because they want the right to sue for any injury.

PIP coverage stands for Personal Injury Protection coverage. PIP is paid from your own policy. PIP covers medical expenses, and possibly lost wages and other damages. PIP is sometimes referred to as “no-fault” coverage, because the statutes that enacted it are generally known as no-fault laws. PIP is designed to be paid without regard to “fault,” or more properly, without regard to legal liability. PIP is also called “no-fault” because, by definition, a claimant’s, or insured’s, insurance premium should not increase due to a PIP claim. A PIP claim may be subrogated by your insurance against the other party’s insurance company if the other party was determined to be the neglligent party in the accident. PIP is a mandatory coverage in some states.

Uninsured/Underinsured (UM/UIM) is coverage from your policy that may pay for injuries to you and your passengers, and possibly damage to your property, when as a result of an auto accident the other driver is both legally responsible for the accident and determined to be “uninsured” or “underinsured.”

An uninsured driver is a person who has no auto insurance coverage, or had insurance that did not meet state-mandated minimum liability requirements, or whose insurance company denied their claim or was not financially able to pay it. In most states, a hit-and-run driver is also considered an uninsured driver as it pertains to paying for injuries to you or your passengers.

An underinsured driver is a person who had insurance that met minimum legal requirements, but did not have high enough coverage limits to pay for the damage caused by the accident. In these situations, UIM coverage can pay you for your damages. It is important to note that uninsured and underinsured is separate coverage, although in many states they can or must be purchased together. Some states mandate purchase of UM/UIM, but many do not.

Collision coverage insures you for damage to your vehicle. No matter if it is a collision between your car and another car, or your car and a stone wall. You are covered if your car sustains damage as a result of colliding into something or something colliding into it, whether you are at fault or not. Your deductible will usually apply. If you collide with another vehicle and the other party is at fault, then your insurance company may subrogate the claim against the at fault party’s insurance company to recover the claim amount.

Comprehensive (Comp) basically covers what collision coverage does not. When your car sustains damage that did not result from colliding with another motor vehicle or object, the comprehensive portion of your policy will pay for the damages. If you do not have comprehensive coverage then you would have to pay out of your own pocket for any damage to your vehicle not related to a collision. Here are the perils typically covered by comprehensive auto insurance coverage: fire, theft, vandalism, broken or damaged glass, animal inflicted damage, falling objects, storms (hail, wind, etc.), and water damage. Your deductible will usually apply.

Rental Insurance (RI) is coverage for you to rent a car while your vehicle is being repaired because of a covered incident. In the above example of declaration page values, the 80%/1500 means that you have coverage for $80 per day and $1,500 maximum total cost to rent a car while your vehicle is being repaired. This is an optional coverage that many people take, but some do not.

Well, that is it! That is the basics of understanding your auto insurance coverage. Not so bad, right? Now that you understand the basics of auto insurance coverage you can review and analyze your personal auto insurance policy’s declaration page coverage information while taking into consideration your personal financials to determine whether or not you have sufficient coverage.

Stay tuned for future articles that will explain the basics of understanding homeowner’s, personal umbrella, and life insurance coverage. You never know when it is going to rain!

Joseph Rubino, Agent

NJ Licensed Property & Casualty, Health, and Life

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Real Estate and the AMT: Rental Or Investment Property

The Alternative Minimum Tax is a very important consideration for taxpayers who own real estate because just about every tax rule applying to real estate is different for the AMT than it is for the Regular Tax. This article on Real Estate and the AMT will address those situations where the individual holds the real estate as an investment, typically as rental property. The differences in tax treatment between the Regular Tax and the AMT can be significant.

Interest expense

Interest paid on the mortgage taken out to acquire the property is fully deductible, both for the Regular Tax and the Alternative Minimum Tax. Unlike itemized deductions that allow a tax benefit for what amounts to personal expenses, the tax law generally allows all deductions a taxpayer has to make in the pursuit of business income. Thus, the limitations discussed in the previous article on home mortgage interest do not apply.

If, however, the equity in the rental property is used as security for an additional loan – a second mortgage, for example – then the taxpayer must look to how the proceeds of that loan are used to determine interest deductibility. If the proceeds are used for a car loan or to finance a child’s education, for example, then the interest is nondeductible personal interest. If the proceeds are used to improve the rental property, the interest is deductible.

Suggestion – it is best that taxpayers keep personal borrowings separate from business borrowings. Mixing the two creates recordkeeping challenges and can result in disputes with the IRS.

Property taxes

Property taxes paid on rental or investment property are allowed in full both for Regular Tax purposes as well as for the Alternative Minimum Tax.

Planning idea – if you have an opportunity to pay your property tax bill either this year or next, pay it in a year when you have enough income from the property so as not to generate a rental loss. This strategy can help avoid triggering the passive activity loss limitations described below.

Example – in Florida property tax bills are mailed in October, and are payable under the following discount schedule: November – 4%, December – 3%, January – 2%, February – 1%. If you have a loss from the property in 2010 but expect to generate income in 2011, do not pay your bill in November or December – forgoing that small discount could help you avoid the loss-limitation rules.

Depreciation

Depreciation is allowed for property held for investment. The portion of the cost allocable to land is not depreciable, but for the building itself and the furniture, appliances, carpeting, etc. a depreciation deduction may be taken.

Real property (this is the legal definition of the house or other building) held for rental/investment may only be depreciated for Regular Tax purposes under the “straight-line” method, over a useful life of 27.5 years. Thus, a property with $275,000 allocated to the building would be depreciated at the rate of $10,000 per year.

Personal property (this is the legal definition of things such as furniture, appliances, carpeting and the like) may be depreciated for Regular Tax purposes under an “accelerated” method over a useful life of five years. An accelerated method allows a larger depreciation deduction in the early years, in recognition of an obsolescence or decline-in-value factor that you see in new property (cars are a good example).

For purposes of the AMT, however, personal property may be depreciated only by using a straight-line method. Thus, an AMT item will be generated in the early years if the accelerated method is used.

Planning idea – for personal property consider electing the straight-line method for Regular Tax purposes. While giving up a little tax benefit from the greater depreciation in the early years, it could mean avoiding paying the AMT.

Active/passive investment rules and the “at-risk” rules

A taxpayer who is not “active” in managing investment property may not use losses from rental property to offset other income such as salaries and wages, dividends, interest, capital gains, etc. Instead, these losses are deferred until the taxpayer either sells the property or generates passive income from this or other passive investment sources.

The at-risk rules similarly deny using these types of losses to the extent the taxpayer has acquired the investment with borrowed money and does not have personal liability on the debt.

Planning idea

If these loss limitations apply, consider the planning ideas mentioned above to minimize the losses being generated each year. They are not doing you any good anyway.

Sale of the property

Several different AMT issues can arise on the sale of rental/investment property. One is that your gain or loss may be different for the AMT than it is for Regular Tax purposes. This would be caused if different depreciation methods were used. For example, if the personal property was depreciated using an accelerated method for Regular Tax purposes, then the basis in that property when calculating gain or loss on sale would be different because the straight-line method had to be used for Alternative Minimum Tax purposes.

Gain on the sale of investment property generally is capital gain, although a portion may be treated as ordinary income depending on the accelerated depreciation method was used. Capital gains in and of themselves are not an AMT item, but nonetheless they can result in AMT being paid. This is because the AMT exemption amount is phased out for taxpayers at certain income levels, so this additional income can have the result of reducing the exemption which in turn increases taxable income for purposes of the Alternative Minimum Tax.

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