Reduce or Pause Auto Insurance During Coronavirus? Insure Only One Car?

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Many of us are driving less these days. Nearly all of the major auto insurers are providing some sort of refund – this detailed list suggests an overall average of 15% to 25% back on two months of premiums. But what if you don’t need to use your vehicle for an extended period of time? You might:

  • Reduce your coverage levels to the minimum liability coverage levels required by your state for driving, saving money on premiums but assuming some risk yourself (depending on how much you actually drive).
  • Suspend your coverage as if your car was in storage. This would include liability and collision insurance. You may consider keeping comprehensive insurance to protect against theft, fire, or other damage.
  • Something in between. If you feel like you are driving a lot less, you could do some combination of raising your collision/comprehensive deductibles, dropping only collision coverage, or changing up any of the various options to lower your overall premium.

A common situation might be that a couple owns two cars but only really needs one for a while. Reader Beth shared that she chose to drop the (more expensive) coverage on her newer car while keeping the existing coverage on the older car, thus saving more than 50% on her total bill:

Our family lives in Texas, and we own two cars. Right now because of COVID-19, my husband and I are both working from home and hardly leaving our house, so we do not need both cars. I called our insurance company and temporarily dropped coverage on our newer, more expensive car, which is saving us more than half our 6-month premium. Once the COVID-19 restrictions ease up, we’ll add the second car back on.

[…] We took our newer car off completely and left our older car with the same level of coverage it had beforehand. Allstate said they would happily add the newer car back on whenever we’re ready, and they will simply prorate the amount for however much is left of our 6-month policy.

We are only driving the older car (we drive a couple of times a week right now), and the newer car stays in the garage. Allstate even emailed us a little sign to print off to tape on the steering wheel to remind us to call and reinstate coverage.

I agree with her other advice that the best thing to do is to call your insurance company and explore your options. Mine has always been happy to help me compare a variety of options along with the resulting price changes. If asking about pausing or suspending coverage, you want to make sure it is treated differently than “canceling” coverage, as gaps in coverage can make you look riskier and hike up your future premiums.

As an aside, if you are not going to move your car for a long time, you should looks up tips to prep it for long-term storage. Otherwise, I’d worry that the damage might exceed the insurance savings. Ideally, you would start it up every couple of weeks and drive it for a while on a private driveway.

Note that if your car is under a loan or lease agreement, you may have agreed to maintain a minimum level of coverage that includes both collision and comprehensive coverage. Has anyone else had success in doing this? Or tried and run into problems?

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Do Not Buy List: Healthcare Sharing Ministry As Health Insurance Alternative

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I am creating a “Do Not Buy” list as part of my estate planning to help my family avoid potentially dangerous financial products. These things are not illegal “scams”, but may have hidden risks where it is better to simply avoid them. In addition to equity-indexed universal life Insurance, I am also including health-care sharing ministries (HCSM). The bigger names in this group include Samaritan, Medi-Share, Christian Healthcare Ministries, Trinity/Aliera, and Liberty.

I’ve been reading about these off and on, and they are often mentioned as a cost-saving option for the self-employed and/or those in early retirement. Read this NY Times article It Looks Like Health Insurance, but It’s Not, this Seattle Times article Washington state orders ‘sham’ health-care sharing ministries to halt, and this Consumer Reports article to get some background.

I can definitely see the appeal of the lower monthly costs and the positive feelings from being part of a cooperative community. I can accept that many (but not all) require a strong religious affiliation. I might overlook the fact that they usually don’t cover and basic preventative care like screening exams (mammograms, colonoscopies), flu shots, and other vaccines. However, I cannot accept the following:

  • HCSMs are not health insurance. This also means they are not overseen by state insurance agencies. There no government oversight, nobody to appeal to and have them say “hey that’s not right, you can’t do that”.
  • HCSMs provide no guarantee of payment. Legally, they are just a charity. The ministry looks at each claim and has sole discretion as to whether they want to provide payment.
  • HCSMs do not have to accept or cover pre-existing conditions.
  • HCSMs do not have to cover prescriptions drugs. Read their rules very carefully.
  • HCSMs can cap lifetime payments at relatively low amounts like $250,000. Read their rules very carefully. ACA-compliant health insurance plans have no lifetime limits.

The problem is that by design, yes, MOST people will be satisfied by these programs. MOST people get their bills paid. MOST people can thus leave a positive review. MOST people won’t have an extreme event that requires $500,000 of medical care over time. However, that is not the point of insurance! Insurance is there to protect you from bankruptcy due to a catastrophic event out of your control. Insurance is based on strict contracts, and you should notice that all forms of real insurance (life, health, auto, homeowners, etc) are tightly regulated. What happens if they run into some sort of financial difficulty, perhaps in a recession or from a rogue employee or executive?

Think of the importance of only putting your cash in an FDIC-insured bank or NCUA-insured credit union. The vast, vast majority of the time, banks don’t fail. I’ve never had a bank fail on me. I don’t know anyone who has had money in a truly failed bank where the FDIC had to step in. But I still know that having the proper checks and backstops is important. Sometimes things are great for long time… until they aren’t.

Also, don’t forget that if a healthcare sharing ministry rejects a child’s claims and the family is bankrupt and desperate, they’ll likely end up falling back on taxpayer-funded Medicaid to cover their healthcare needs. Is this how we want the system to work?

My recommendation is to steer clear of all healthcare sharing ministries. I do not doubt that most have good intentions and happy customers, but things can happen that may even be out of their control. HCSMs are charities, not insurance. They can fail as much as any business. Yes, real insurance costs more, but at least you have a clear contract with defined rules and legal options as a backup. If you are my loved one and are reading this, please protect yourself fully and make sure you are buying true health insurance.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and may receive a commission from card issuers. Some or all of the card offers that appear on this site are from advertisers and may impact how and where card products appear on the site. MyMoneyBlog.com does not include all card companies or all available card offers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.


Do NOT Buy List: Equity Indexed Universal Life Insurance

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Financial noise is everywhere. I try to be selective and only write about a limited amount of unique, profitable, and actionable information. If I see a bad product, I usually just ignore it and move on. Angry rants are not my thing.

However, I do worry that if something happens to me, my surviving loved ones may not know what to avoid. Therefore, I am adding a DO NOT BUY list as part of my estate planning documents. Simply avoiding the worst things is often a better (and easier) strategy than searching for the absolute best thing.

This WSJ article (paywall?) profiles one of the items on my DNB list: It’s the Hottest Thing in Life Insurance. Are Buyers Aware of the Risks?. I was unaware that indexed universal life (IUL) had grown so much in popularity, now making up 25% of new individual life insurance policies as measured by premium:

A universal life insurance policy combines a death benefit with the ability to build up a policy cash value. An indexed universal life policy is a universal life policy that increases the cash value at a rate tied to the performance of an index, often the S&P 500.

Briefly, here are reasons why I avoid Indexed Universal life insurance products:

  • High fees. In fact, probably multiple layers of fees. They might sound simple, but are actually amazingly complex. Per the WSJ – “We joke that it takes an actuary, an attorney and sometimes an engineer to understand the calculations,” said Billie Resnick, co-author of an American Bar Association book on life insurance.
  • No guaranteed return. You are unlikely to get near the long-term S&P 500 returns. Most IULs have floors which protect you from losses in down years, but return caps which cuts off your return on big up years. Stock market returns are lumpy, but with more big up years than big down years. Historically, protecting against the downside does not help enough to offset missing out on the upside. In addition, they almost always exclude dividends, which means you are guaranteed to miss a significant part of total return. So even if you did magically track the S&P 500 perfectly, you’d still be behind by ~2% due to losing the dividend. You’ll get a smoother ride, but at what cost?
  • Life insurance is better when it is simple and transparent. Ideally, the payout should be a guaranteed amount in exchange (i.e. $1 million cash) for a clearly defined event (i.e. death). When something is simple and transparent, you can easily comparison shop and let market competition create a fair price. IUL policies are again highly complex and nearly impossible to compare side-by-side. Maybe one day this will change, but for now it’s buyer beware.
  • More fine print: Insurers can change the rules after purchase?! Per the WSJ: “Insurers generally retain the contractual right to change these percentages, subject to regulator-approved limits. They also typically can raise the cost of the death benefit, per contractual provisions.” What? Even the floors and cap percentages are subject to change and not guaranteed?
  • In my experience, the loudest supporters of this product tend to be the people who sell them. Why are some things pressured upon you initially as the best thing since sliced bread, but immediately after purchase they become nearly impossible to sell again? The second you buy it, it has lost a huge part of its value. Reminds me of timeshares. Look out for big surrender charges for 10+ years because they have to recover the big upfront commission paid to the salesperson.

I can see how the idea of “stock market-linked returns with less risk” can be attractive, and I would be intrigued if there became some sort of commodity product where multiple companies sold essentially the same thing and competed to drive down prices. However, the current way of selling IULs is too vague and hard to understand for the average customer.

I’m a relatively conservative investor myself, but UILs have all sorts of risks. Side-by-comparisons are hard, so you risk buying a bad version of the product. There is no fixed return, like a fixed annuity. If the stock market tanks, you still risk getting a lousy return. There is a risk the issuer will change the growth rules on you. As with all insurance, the issuer could become insolvent somewhere in there. I prefer my term life insurance policy, as it gives my family a guaranteed fixed payout at a low fixed price after comparing prices side-by-side with several issuers that all offered the exact same product.

My recommendation is simply to steer clear of them all. If you are my loved one and are reading this, my advice is not to buy an indexed universal life policy. Definitely don’t use my hard-earned money to buy one!

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and may receive a commission from card issuers. Some or all of the card offers that appear on this site are from advertisers and may impact how and where card products appear on the site. MyMoneyBlog.com does not include all card companies or all available card offers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.


Open Enrollment Checklist: HSA, HCFSA, DCFSA, Disability Insurance, Life Insurance

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maxben

We just finished our open enrollment paperwork, and like many other workers we faced a long and confusing list of instructions. They tried to distract me from the increased health insurance premiums by adding a bunch of optional “perks” like universal life insurance and paid identity theft protection. Christine Benz has a thoughtful Checklist for Open Enrollment Season. Here are my own thoughts as I went through the options:

Health Savings Accounts (HSA). Doesn’t “triple tax-free” sound good? HSA contributions are tax-deductible (pre-tax money), they grow tax-free once there, and your withdrawals are tax-free when spent on qualified healthcare expenses. However, you have to be enrolled in a qualified high-deductible health plan (HDHP) to be eligible, which means your higher out-of-pocket costs might not offset the cheaper premium plus upfront tax savings. Depending on your estimated healthcare costs, tax rate, and how much your employer pays, you may be better off with a traditional HMO or PPO plan. A bit of math will be needed.

In order to maximize the HSA’s long-term advantages, you will also want to treat the HSA as an investment account. This means you’ll you need to cover the higher annual out-of-pocket costs yourself and still have money left over to fund the HSA.

Healthcare Flexible Spendings Accounts (HC FSA). I’ve said it before, but these can be a bureaucratic mess. The benefit is “use-it-or-lose it”, but for me it has been “use-it-and-lose-my-mind”. Third-party benefits administrators have given me several bad experiences with submitting my receipts and ensuring they are approved. If it takes me an hour to submit/check/argue/re-submit/check a $50 medical expense, then in my opinion the tax savings of $10 was not worth it at all. But if I don’t follow through, I lose the entire $50. Asymmetric risk in a bad way.

There are also some finer details if you want to have both an HSA and an FSA (look up limited-purpose or post-deductible FSAs).

Dependent Care Flexible Spendings Accounts (DC FSA). These are better. You can have both an HC FSA and a DC FSA as they cover separate things. If you have eligible childcare costs (or adult dependent care), it is quite possible you reach the $5,000 annual maximum. I usually wait until I’ve already paid out $5,000 in preschool tuition, and then I just submit a single receipt for a potential $1,000 tax savings (assuming 20% tax rate on $5,000). Now that’s a good per-hour rate.

Employer-sponsored disability insurance. The best thing about group disability insurance through your employer is that it’s easier to qualify and the cost may be subsidized by your employer. However, if you switch or lose your jobs, you might lose your group disability insurance at the same time. This won’t happen with your own portable plan. Specialized workers can purchase riders that will pay out as long as you can no longer perform your specific occupation (as opposed to any lower-paying job). However, it’s so easy to put this off that getting some employer-sponsored disability insurance can be a good first step.

Life insurance. A common offering is a year of your salary in life insurance. Beyond that, you should always compare with an individual term life insurance plan. That way, if you have a special medical condition that makes your private premium somehow crazy expensive, then you can always fall back on the group plan. For most healthy folks, finding your own portable term life policy will be cheaper and it won’t go away if you lose your job. If you get a 20-year level term policy, your premium also stays fixed for those 20 years. No surprise increases.

Other benefits. The menu seems to expand every year. 401k investment advice. Commuter benefits. Student loan repayment assistance programs. Accidental death and dismemberment (ADD) insurance. Critical illness insurance. Long-term care insurance. Identity theft insurance If it’s free, I’ll take it but in general I decline the ones that require a premium.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and may receive a commission from card issuers. Some or all of the card offers that appear on this site are from advertisers and may impact how and where card products appear on the site. MyMoneyBlog.com does not include all card companies or all available card offers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.


Yes, Health Insurance Costs Impacted My Early Retirement (FIRE) Plans

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health

When the topic of early retirement comes up, a common question is “Are you concerned about health insurance?” I could be a cheerleader and say “nah no big deal”, but to be honest it has impacted my early retirement plans. Not only are the costs high today, but imagine how much higher they will get in the future if current trends continue.

The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) released the results of their annual Employer Health Benefits Survey, and the cost of family health coverage in the U.S. now tops $20,000 a year. This is more than a 50% jump from just 10 years ago:

Here’s another chart (same data set) from this Bloomberg article that goes farther back.

If you are single or a couple without kids, here’s a state-by-state map breakdown of the average monthly premium for the lowest Silver plan (per person):

The premium prices listed above don’t include deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses, which are rising as well and add up to another $2,000 per year on average:

Deductibles are rising even faster than premiums, meaning that patients are on the hook for more of their medical costs upfront. For a single person, the average deductible in 2019 was $1,396, up from $533 in 2009. A typical household with employer health coverage spends about $800 a year in out-of-pocket costs, not counting premiums, according to research from the Commonwealth Fund. At the high end of the range, those costs can top $5,000 a year.

Obviously, budgeting another $15,000 to $20,000+ in healthcare costs is going to be a huge factor to consider. Here are the ways that I have seen folks deal with this cost.

  1. Use an Affordable Care Act (ACA) plan and get a subsidy if your income (MAGI) is low enough to qualify. KFF has a very handy ACA subsidy calculator that will help you estimate this. If you live in California, The Finance Buff has some helpful information on the California Health Insurance subsidy. The annoying part is you never know if the rules will change on you down the road.
  2. Plan ahead with a job that offers health insurance benefits after you retire and before Medicare kicks in. You’ll probably have to hunker down with the same employer for a number of years.
  3. Save enough money (or create enough income) to pay for health insurance premiums.
  4. Find a part-time job that you both enjoy and offers health benefits. Employers know that health insurance is expensive, but you can negotiate benefits as part of your total compensation.
  5. Run a part-time side business that earns enough profit to cover health insurance costs. Look for potential group discounts or tax breaks that are available as a business instead of a consumer.
  6. If it works for your situation, try a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) and fund a Health Savings Account (HSA) due to the tax advantages.
  7. Join a direct primary care arrangement or health care sharing ministry that is exempt from ACA.
  8. Extend your current employer coverage for up to 18 months through COBRA (check cost).
  9. Move to a foreign country with reasonable and transparent cash pricing.
  10. Some people have bought short-term health insurance plans, but these are not ACA-compliant “full insurance”. Beware the limitations. Read the horror stories first.
  11. Here’s a person who gave up a promotion and quit her job to qualify for Medicaid.

Right now, we are covered by employer-sponsored health insurance, but for us it is a negotiated part of the total compensation. You can’t expect an employer to keep your same benefits package when you work less than full-time, but you can agree to take less salary in exchange for health insurance. At other times, we have bought health insurance directly. The most recent cost was around $1,600 a month for our family, very close to that $20,000 number. Even if we could qualify for a partial ACA subsidy, we would still be looking at around $10,000 a year in healthcare costs.

The difference with healthcare costs is that once you qualify for Medicare, your costs should hopefully be much less than that $20,000 a year price tag. According to BI, the national average cost for Medigap Plan F is $1,712 annually, or just under $150 a month.

So the amount you have to save to retire early depends on how many years you have until age 65. For us, that’s 25 years so that’s a big number and I don’t see how that doesn’t extend the time you need to be ready for retirement. Health insurance was definitely a factor in us going the more gradual semi-retired route.

Now imagine the overall impact that healthcare costs have on businesses, both big and small. Services and products cost more to make when every employee costs more to insure. I was able to take risks as an entrepreneur because my spouse had health insurance that covered both of us. If I had to keep my family covered with health insurance, I might still be working at MegaCorp. As Warren Buffett has said, “medical costs are the tapeworm of American economic competitiveness”. In the coming years, I wonder how both the healthcare and student loan situations will change, because the current trajectories are unsustainable.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and may receive a commission from card issuers. Some or all of the card offers that appear on this site are from advertisers and may impact how and where card products appear on the site. MyMoneyBlog.com does not include all card companies or all available card offers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.


The Other Side: Reasons Why You Might Not Want To Retire at 40

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Previously, I wrote about how you might consider retiring earlier if you have adequate flexibility to decrease your spending temporarily and/or earning additional money. If you have early good luck with market returns, you will gain many more years of freedom.

Now I’d like to present the other side of that argument. If you retire in your 40s or 50s, there are hopefully many years of fun times ahead of you. However, there is also a higher chance for events that significantly increase your expenses and decrease your ability to earn more money.

Let’s say you and your spouse/life partner are both 40 years old and have saved up $2 million and are pretty confident that you can live off of $60,000 to $80,000 per year. That’s may seem like a lot of money. However, here are some things that can throw a wrench into your plans.

Yourself

  • You may become disabled and become unable to work. Your daily healthcare expenses may also rise significantly.
  • Your spouse may have a health event or pass away prematurely, which will affect your household finances.
  • You may be the subject of a liability lawsuit.
  • There may be an expensive accident – Home fire, theft, fraud.

Many of these situations can be offset by proper insurance. Disability, life, homeowners, long-term car, and/or umbrella liability insurance.

Your spouse (Divorce)

A divorce can be devastating, both emotionally and financially. There are many articles about increasing divorce rates amongst those aged 40+ and 50+. Even if you split your assets equally into two parts, a couple can usually live more efficiently than two individual households. In addition, you may no longer be eligible for the full spousal portion of a pension, healthcare package, and/or Social Security.

Parents, Elderly Relatives and/or Siblings

  • You may have a perfect financial situation, but your parents (or other close family members) may not.
  • You can’t control your parents (or siblings) and their decisions. They may develop dementia, fall for fraud, have substance abuse issues, or simply be bad with money.
  • Some people may be able to easily separate themselves from the responsibility of taking care of their relatives, but many will find it very difficult. Every person’s sense of familial duty is different.
  • Fulfilling what you believe is your responsibility may require great deals of time, energy, and money.
  • Your parents’ ongoing health issues may permanently change your life for decades. See NYT: At 75, Taking Care of Mom, 99: ‘We Did Not Think She Would Live This Long’

Children

  • If you are in your 40s, your kid status is not set in stone. If you don’t have kids, you still might have some. If you already have some, you might have more. Even if you don’t want kids now, you might change your mind. I know of many friends who had at least one kid well into their 40s.
  • Even though kids don’t necessarily need everything they seem to get these days, kids do require significant time, energy, and money.
  • Your child may have special needs. Imagine a multiple of that time, energy, and money.
  • Your child’s special needs may permanently change your life. It may not stop after 18 years.
  • Your child’s special needs may not become apparent until they are 5 months old, 5 years old, or 15 years old.

I may be wrong, but my impression is that early retirees are more likely to be childless than the general population. Perhaps knowing that you have less people to be responsible for makes it easier to take the retirement leap. I strongly believe that you should only have kids if you want to have kids, not because your parents or society wants you to have them. I can’t imagine how I would get through a single day with my kids if I didn’t want to be a parent.

It may be my own personal situation coloring my view, but the 30s, 40s, and 50s feels like the “sandwich decades” where you are most likely to be responsible for both parents and children. Retiring very early may permanently impair your ability to earn any more money, which in turn may be a source of future regret. You can (and should) insure against certain things, but not everything.

My take. Retirement timing is a form of regret minimization. You want to minimize the regret of “I should have retired earlier and had more freedom time”, but also minimize the regret of “I wish I made more money so my limited freedom time is more enjoyable”. It’s hard to find that happy medium where you give yourself enough financial wiggle room while keeping an eye on your mortality.

I started down the path of “semi-retirement” in 2012 with the birth of our first child. “Semi-retirement” is a rather generous take on our reworking of the traditional one full-time working spouse and one full-time parent arrangement so that we were both 50/50. Since then, we have both had the urge to try to live solely off our investments, but we are also keenly aware of the large number of people that we are responsible for caring for. In the end, we’re still both working part-time as that seems to be the solution with most optionality for now.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and may receive a commission from card issuers. Some or all of the card offers that appear on this site are from advertisers and may impact how and where card products appear on the site. MyMoneyBlog.com does not include all card companies or all available card offers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.


Safe Deposit Boxes: A Perfect Place to Store Copies Of Important Documents

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The NY Times recently published an article stating Safe Deposit Boxes Aren’t Safe. I was a little disappointed in the article because it was a bit sensational, but I suppose the takeaway is important for folks that made other assumptions. A more accurate headline would be “Safe Deposit Box Contents Aren’t Insured”.

No federal laws require banks to compensate customers for lost property from a safe deposit box. Usually, you have agreed in the rental contract that that maximum liability is on the order of $1,000. Unfortunately, there have been rare cases where folks have lost the contents of your safe deposit box. Natural disasters like fire, flood, or even a movie-style bank robbery have occurred. The NYT article told the story of a man who stored $10 million of rare watches in a safe deposit box and lost them when the bank mistakenly emptied it because it thought the owner stopped paying the rental fees.

If you think about it, why would a bank agree to charge you maybe $100 a year in rental fees, but be responsible for $10 million of property? What if it was $100 million? That doesn’t sound like a good business model. How do they know what you put in there? You could put in a silver Casio and say it was a Patek Philippe. This is the domain of insurance and personal articles policies. Your homeowner’s policy may offer limited coverage on safe deposit box contents, but you can bet they won’t cover $10 million without asking a lot more questions.

Despite this lack of insurance, having access to a small box inside a bank’s vault for $30 a year can still be a great deal. Why not just store copies of valuable documents and photos? The odds of losing the contents are still quite low. Although they have little monetary value on the open market, these items are still quite valuable to me:

  • Copies of identity documents (birth certificates, marriage licenses, Social Security cards, passports)
  • Copies of real estate deeds and auto titles
  • Copies of paper savings bonds
  • Copies of mortgage and other loan documents
  • Copies of insurance policies
  • Copies of your home inventory (paper and digital)
  • Additional digital scans of above?
  • Copies of personal photos on flash drive

The idea is that the important contents of my house are consumed in a fire, I can still rebuild my life. Sometimes things get lost, and most recovery procedures work much more smoothly with a copy of the original. I like having physical documents because flash drives can fail as well.

Some people might argue to keep the original in the safe deposit box and the copies at home. That is certainly debatable. You might even keep some originals in one and the rest in the other. However, I would first make sure you have copies of all important documents in two different, secure locations.

Bottom line. The stuff in your safe deposit box isn’t insured against loss by your bank. If something has a high market value, make sure you insure it independently. Safe deposit box can still be useful for keeping copies of important documents.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and may receive a commission from card issuers. Some or all of the card offers that appear on this site are from advertisers and may impact how and where card products appear on the site. MyMoneyBlog.com does not include all card companies or all available card offers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

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My Money Blog Portfolio Asset Allocation Update, June 2019 (Q2)

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Here’s my portfolio update for the second quarter of 2019. Most of my dividends arrive on a quarterly basis, and this helps me determine where to reinvest them. These are my real-world holdings, including 401k/403b/IRAs, taxable brokerage accounts, and savings bonds but excluding our house, cash reserves, and a few side investments. The goal of this portfolio is to create sustainable income that keeps up with inflation to cover our household expenses for the next (hopefully) 40+ years.

Actual Asset Allocation and Holdings

I use both Personal Capital and a custom Google Spreadsheet to track my investment holdings. The Personal Capital financial tracking app (free, my review) automatically logs into my accounts, adds up my balances, tracks my performance, and calculates my asset allocation. I still use my manual Google Spreadsheet (free, instructions) because it helps me calculate how much I need in each asset class to rebalance back towards my target asset allocation.

Here are my YTD performance and current asset allocation visually, per the “Holdings” and “Allocation” tabs of my Personal Capital account, respectively:

Stock Holdings
Vanguard Total Stock Market Fund (VTI, VTSAX)
Vanguard Total International Stock Market Fund (VXUS, VTIAX)
WisdomTree SmallCap Dividend ETF (DES)
Vanguard Small Value ETF (VBR)
Vanguard Emerging Markets ETF (VWO)
Vanguard REIT Index Fund (VNQ, VGSLX)

Bond Holdings
Vanguard Limited-Term Tax-Exempt Fund (VMLTX, VMLUX)
Vanguard Intermediate-Term Tax-Exempt Fund (VWITX, VWIUX)
Vanguard Intermediate-Term Treasury Fund (VFITX, VFIUX)
Vanguard Inflation-Protected Securities Fund (VIPSX, VAIPX)
Fidelity Inflation-Protected Bond Index Fund (FIPDX)
iShares Barclays TIPS Bond ETF (TIP)
Individual TIPS securities
U.S. Savings Bonds (Series I)

Target Asset Allocation. Our overall goal is to include asset classes that will provide long-term returns above inflation, distribute income via dividends and interest, and finally offer some historical tendencies to balance each other out. I make a small bet that US Small Value and Emerging Markets will have higher future long-term returns (along with some higher volatility) than the more large and broad indexes, although I could be wrong. I don’t hold commodities, gold, or bitcoin as they don’t provide any income and I don’t believe they’ll outpace inflation significantly.

I believe that it is important to imagine an asset class doing poorly for a long time, with bad news constantly surrounding it, and only hold the ones where you still think you can maintain faith based on a solid foundation of knowledge and experience.

Stocks Breakdown

  • 38% US Total Market
  • 7% US Small-Cap Value
  • 38% International Total Market
  • 7% Emerging Markets
  • 10% US Real Estate (REIT)

Bonds Breakdown

  • 50% High-quality, Intermediate-Term Bonds
  • 50% US Treasury Inflation-Protected Bonds

I have settled into a long-term target ratio of 67% stocks and 33% bonds (2:1 ratio) within our investment strategy of buy, hold, and occasionally rebalance. I will use the dividends and interest to rebalance whenever possible in order to avoid taxable gains. (I’m fine with it drifting a bit either way.) With a self-managed, simple portfolio of low-cost funds, we minimize management fees, commissions, and taxes.

Holdings commentary. On the stocks side, everything has had a nice bounce back up since the drop in late 2018. I know that US stocks have beaten international stocks for a while, but I remain satisfied with my mix, knowing that I will own whatever successful businesses come out of the US, China, or wherever in the future.

On the bond side, my primary objective is to hold high-quality bonds with a short-to-intermediate duration of under 5 years or so. This means US Treasuries, TIPS, or investment-grade municipal bonds. I don’t want to worry about my bonds “blowing up”. I then tweak the specific breakdown based on my tax-deferred space available, the tax-effective rates of muni bonds, and the real interest rates of TIPS. Right now, it is roughly 1/3rd Treasuries, 1/3 Muni bonds, and 1/3rd TIPS.

Performance commentary and benchmarks. According to Personal Capital, my portfolio went up 9.9% so far in 2019. I see that during the same period the S&P 500 has gone up over 15%, Foreign Developed stocks up nearly 11%, and the US Aggregate bond index was up nearly 5%.

An alternative benchmark for my portfolio is 50% Vanguard LifeStrategy Growth Fund and 50% Vanguard LifeStrategy Moderate Growth Fund – one is 60/40 and the other is 80/20 so it also works out to 70% stocks and 30% bonds. That benchmark would have a total return of +10.97% for 2019 YTD.

I’ll share about more about the income in a separate post.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and may receive a commission from card issuers. Some or all of the card offers that appear on this site are from advertisers and may impact how and where card products appear on the site. MyMoneyBlog.com does not include all card companies or all available card offers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.


The Personal Finance Index Card: Book Version Differences

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After rediscovering the young adult versions of fitting personal finance advice on an index card, I decided to go back and read the book The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated by Helaine Olen and Harold Pollack. (I was able to find it via library eBook.)

I noticed that the book version of the “index card” was slightly different. The original card had 9 items, but two of them were merged away into each other (401k/IRAs) and (Pay Attention to Fees/Buy Index Funds). I bolded the new additions below. (You can see all chapters on the Amazon page.)

  1. Strive to Save 10 to 20 Percent of Your Income
  2. Pay Your Credit Card Balance in Full Every Month
  3. Max Out Your 401(k) and Other Tax-Advantaged Savings Accounts
  4. Never Buy or Sell Individual Stocks
  5. Buy Inexpensive, Well-Diversified Indexed Mutual Funds and ETFs
  6. Make Your Financial Advisor Commit To a Fiduciary Standard
  7. Buy a Home When You Are Financially Ready
  8. Insurance – Make Sure You’re Protected
  9. Do What You Can To Support the Social Safety Net
  10. Remember The Index Card

Here again is the original:

Here are my notes on the newly-addressed topics of home-buying and insurance.

Home-buying. This will always be a hard topic because it mixes in emotion, personal history, peer pressure, and all that fuzzy stuff. If you want to own a home, you need to make sure the purchase won’t blow up your overall financial picture. Nothing really surprising, but still good advice.

  • Get your debt under control first.
  • Save up as close to a 20% down payment as you can.
  • Stick with a 15 or 30 year fixed-rate mortgage.
  • Prioritize what you really want and need in a home. Stay within your budget.
  • Location, location, location.

Insurance. There are low-probability events that can destroy decades of hard work, and that’s why humans invented insurance to spread the risk. Here are their cut-to-the-chase bullet points:

  • Emergency fund – Maintain one!
  • Life insurance – If you’re young(ish), just buy 30-year level term insurance.
  • Property insurance – Raise your deductible as high as you can handle.
  • Health insurance – Always sure you stay in-network.
  • Liability insurance – Coverage for at least twice your net worth.

I’m glad that this book still retained its “quick-and-dirty” nature. No single rule will cover every scenario, but it’s good to have a clear and concise collection of the big points along with just enough explanation that you understand the basic reasoning behind it.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and may receive a commission from card issuers. Some or all of the card offers that appear on this site are from advertisers and may impact how and where card products appear on the site. MyMoneyBlog.com does not include all card companies or all available card offers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.


Infographic: Average Auto Insurance Premiums For All 50 States

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Here’s another interesting 50-state infographic compiled by HowMuch.net about The Real Difference Between Minimum and Full Coverage Car Insurance. It shows the average annual cost of auto insurance for both the minimum level required by law (usually only liability to pay for damage you caused) and full coverage (adds collision and comprehensive to pay for damages to your own vehicle).

I was surprised at how much auto insurance costs vary by state. Minimum coverage easily varies from $500 to $1,000 a year. But what’s up with Michigan? How can every driver afford $2,700 a year for insurance?

I’m rather spoiled as my annual premium for full coverage is $600 a year ($50 a month) for each car, and that includes the higher liability limits required to qualify for umbrella insurance. Of course, I’m now old and boring. But even when I was in my 20s, I don’t remember it costing more than $100 a month.

Many state insurance departments maintain a database of insurance premiums that can help you find the insurer with the lowest prices in your area. See: Big List of Auto Insurance Premium Comparisons for All 50 States.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and may receive a commission from card issuers. Some or all of the card offers that appear on this site are from advertisers and may impact how and where card products appear on the site. MyMoneyBlog.com does not include all card companies or all available card offers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.


Homeowner’s Insurance: How Much Can You Save By Comparison Shopping?

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and may receive a commission from card issuers. Some or all of the card offers that appear on this site are from advertisers and may impact how and where card products appear on the site. MyMoneyBlog.com does not include all card companies or all available card offers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone.

In an ideal world, you would always comparison shop every product or service. But in the real world, that takes time and effort. Is is worth the bother? To estimate the potential benefit of shopping around, Priceonomics analyzed homeowner’s insurance premiums across 12 states (for a similar level of coverage).

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They ranked each state by taking the difference between quotes in the 25th and 75th percentiles.

We found that the difference between the premiums was substantial, and shopping around can lead to dramatic changes in pricing. Of all the states we looked at, Texas had the biggest discrepancy in prices — there was a $2,182 range in insurance prices between a 25th and 75th percentile quote. Even at the low end, in New Hampshire the price ranges between quotes at these percentiles was $363 per year.

The article does a deeper analysis for California and Texas:

It’s night and day between California and Texas. Texas is one of the most expensive states to get home insurance in the country, owing partly to the frequency of catastrophic weather events and partly due to higher insurer expenses. Not only does zip code 78521 in Brownsville have a 25th percentile of premium greater than San Francisco’s 75th percentile, but it’s 75th percentile is more than double that!

Basically, you should shop around everywhere as you could save hundreds per year at a minimum. But you should really shop around in Texas. You know, unless you don’t want to save potentially $2,000 a year.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and may receive a commission from card issuers. Some or all of the card offers that appear on this site are from advertisers and may impact how and where card products appear on the site. MyMoneyBlog.com does not include all card companies or all available card offers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.


Here Are 11 Reasons We Have An Umbrella Liability Insurance Policy

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and may receive a commission from card issuers. Some or all of the card offers that appear on this site are from advertisers and may impact how and where card products appear on the site. MyMoneyBlog.com does not include all card companies or all available card offers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone.

Personal Umbrella Insurance is additional liability insurance, designed to pay out when your existing auto and homeowner’s/renter’s insurance policies are exhausted. For example, you may only have $300,000 in liability coverage on your car insurance. If you are in a car accident and found liable for $1,000,000, you would be on the hook for $700,000 yourself unless you had an adequate umbrella insurance policy. Here is a diagram explaining this from MSN Money:

umbrellahow

In addition, an umbrella policy can also fill in the gaps by providing coverage for other incidents like liability for rental properties or being sued for slander or libel. Imagine working and saving for decades, only to have all of it taken away with one incident.

Real-world examples of $300,000+ liability claims. Every time I read about one of these scenarios, I think of them as a reason to keep paying for my umbrella insurance policy.

Do you drive a car? In a sever car accident, medical costs alone can exceed $100,000 per person easily. Now imagine if there were 2, 4, or even 6 people in the car. Here is one example from a NY Times article on umbrella policies:

One of Mr. Cox’s clients crashed into the rear of a car on a slick highway. A woman and a child were critically injured. After two years of litigation, his client settled the lawsuit for more than $5 million. The client had $15 million in umbrella coverage. The policy paid for the settlement and all legal costs. “Without the umbrella,” Mr. Cox said, “they would have been completely wiped out.”

Are you ever a parent chaperone? A high school field trip led to a $700,000 verdict for negligence:

Lauren Crossan, of Randolph, N.J., had traveled to Hawaii in 2004 with Susanne Sadler, Sadler’s daughter, and another New Jersey cheerleader to perform in the halftime show of the Hula Bowl. Within hours of her arrival at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort, Crossan was seen drinking alcohol. Her body was found the next day on the hotel grounds.

An arbitrator determined last month that Sadler was partially responsible for Crossan’s death and ordered her to pay $690,000 to Crossan’s parents and her estate.

Do you have a dog? This Reuters article discusses the increasing number of dog-related claims. Here are two examples that didn’t even involve a bite:

State Farm public affairs specialist Heather Paul’s dog ran out through her open gate and scared an elderly neighbor, who fell off the curb and broke her ankle. The lady filed an insurance claim with Paul’s carrier, but the standard liability coverage of $100,000 was not enough for her bone reconstruction. Luckily, Paul had an additional umbrella policy, which kicked in and covered the rest.

A California woman went through a two-year lawsuit after her dog got loose and knocked over a postal worker. The dog did not bite anyone, but the worker claimed damages greater than the homeowner’s policy covered. […] This owner said she had no umbrella policy, and now she cannot get one. Her homeowner’s premium has skyrocketed.

More scenarios:

  • You leave a negative Yelp review about a company and the business sues you for defamation. Look what can happen with a mediocre 3-star Yelp review.
  • A man was asked to cut down a tree from his own yard. He refused, and later a hurricane blew the tree down and injured someone in the neighboring house.
  • Your child gets in a fight at school, and injures another student.
  • You have a pool, and a visitor hurts themselves.
  • A handyman or contractor hurts themselves on your property.

Have the insurance company lawyers be on your side. Forget even getting a large jury verdict against you. If someone simply sues you for a frivolous reason, you’ll have to pay for a lawyer to defend yourself. With an adequate umbrella policy, the money at risk will be the insurance companies instead of your own. That means the big corporate lawyers will be on your side, and your defense costs will be covered as part of the umbrella policy.

The premiums are relatively affordable. It cost us about $250 a year for $1 million in coverage for the both of us, including 2 cars and a house. That’s basically $10 per month per person. However, we did have to raise the liability limits of our auto and homeowner’s policies slightly to $500,000 each. So if you are only carrying the bare minimum required by law, your actual additional costs may be higher. If your net worth is higher, then you’d want to buy higher limits, but it should still be affordable on a relative basis.

It’s often easy to add to your existing policy. It was really simple to get as well; we had an umbrella policy added to our existing policies with just one phone call. We already had our homeowner’s and auto insurance at the same company. We didn’t have to fill out a long application or go through a credit check. If the cost is a shock, consider contacting an independent insurance broker and shopping around. You may find a better deal and get a multi-line discount.

But the low cost also means you may have to look out for your own interests. Something that involves a big commission like universal life insurance is more likely to generate interest from your insurance agent. On the other hand, selling you an umbrella policy results in a tiny commission. When I asked about it initially, all I got was a “yeah, I suppose that might be a good idea…” and they never followed-up. You need to take action on your own behalf.

One less thing to worry about. Peace of mind. Some people believe that you may be a bigger target for lawsuits if someone finds out you have a $1 million umbrella policy. Here’s how I look at it. If I really wanted to premeditate a lawsuit against someone, I’d pick someone who is worth a lot more than $1M. More like $10 million and up. In a big metro area like mine, multi-millionaires are a dime a dozen. Even if I was frivolously sued, again the whole point is that I’m still covered. To me, this argument is like saying you shouldn’t earn more money because someone will sue you for it.

Now, if you have a low or negative net worth, then perhaps there would be less incentive in getting such coverage. I certainly had no idea what umbrella insurance was in college. I would imagine lawyers are less likely to go after a big amount if you are “judgment-proof”. However, consider that your net worth may change quickly in the future, and if you did have an incident it may affect your future insurability.

Bottom line. Umbrella insurance gets to the core of the purpose of insurance. You pay money to share the risk with others and protect you and your family from a catastrophic event that could ruin your lives. In other words, you pay the premiums with the hope that you will never have to make a claim on it.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and may receive a commission from card issuers. Some or all of the card offers that appear on this site are from advertisers and may impact how and where card products appear on the site. MyMoneyBlog.com does not include all card companies or all available card offers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.