Archive for the ‘Consumer Advocacy’ Category

Review, Retool & Renew

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

 

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. –Charles Dickens

 

Was 2011 the best of times or the worst of times? The answer to that depends upon whether your glass was half full or half empty.

 

Review

 

Don’t let frustration cloud the path of renewal. There’s nothing worse than basking in what you didn’t accomplish – look to what worked first.

 

Take out a sheet of paper and draw a big “T” across and down the page. Write WORKING on the left side  and list the things you have in place you’re happy with. Consider whether you want to build further on any of these and make a note to do so.

 

Retool

 

Now write NEEDS WORK on the right side of the paper and list any financial concerns/objectives you’d like to address/reach in the coming year. What simple steps can be taken to start working on these?

 

Savings and cash flow are priority objectives for most people. Here are some easy things to do to rev up for the New Year:

 

Kitty Jar – Throw $5 bucks into a jar each week. A year from now you’ll have an extra $250 to pay bills, invest, or splurge with.

 

Automated Savings Account – Consider opening an automated savings account. Most banks have programs where you can designate a certain amount of money to be automatically transferred from your checking account each month into a savings account.

 

“Keep the Change” accounts are also an easy way to save automatically through your debit card transactions. Every time you buy something, the change is rounded up to the next dollar with the difference automatically deposited into the separate account. An additional amount of money may be required for auto transfer each month too, usually a $25 minimum. If you use your debit card in lieu of cash or check, an account like this can easily add up to far more than you might think over the course of a year.

 

Invested Savings – Mutual fund accounts can be opened for as little as $25 per month and set up on an automated basis. Naturally, this type of account carries no guarantee for positive results but if investing is a goal you have yet to reach, small accounts like these may be the best thing to do to get started.

 

Boost Cash Flow – There are numerous things you can do to increase cash flow: pay down/off revolving debt with the highest billed interest rates first, shop wiser, bag your lunch, etc. Now is also definitely the time to revisit the U.S. tax code. Taking advantage of every exemption, credit and deduction available to you can save hundreds to thousands in taxes. Ear mark your refund (ahead of time) for something on your list this year.

 

Embrace Economic Trends – Economies void of high interest rates of return provide affordable opportunities. Make low interest rates work for you! If you haven’t refinanced you home, do so. Financed items are cheaper now.

 

Renew

 

Work both sides of your “T” sheet and take simple steps to welcome in the New Year, clarity and resilience are on your side.

 

What was and what wasn’t becomes what can and what will in one quick tick tock. It’s really magical when you think about it.

 

We wish you a very Healthy & Prosperous New Year!

 

Kurt Rusch  CLU, ChFC

 

 

Truth in (Insurance) Advertising

Monday, December 19th, 2011

 

A client, who has their auto, homeowners and umbrella policies through my agency, asked if I still her had her auto insurance because of something she’d received in the mail. I couldn’t imagine what could possibly make her think her coverage had magically migrated to another company and quickly assured her I was still the “agent of record” on her account. Then she produced some paperwork which appeared to be quite contradictory of the fact.

 

If It Looks Real It Must Be Real

 

It became apparent upon examination that she had received a randomly generated quote prepared with a mixture of true and false personal data. The quote was unique in format because it was presented like an actual “dec” sheet – similar to the declaration page(s) you get when you receive auto insurance policies. At first glance, the documentation looked official, which explains why my client thought twice about it and why it raised a big red flag with me.

 

My client’s mailing address, marital status and the first 4 characters of her driver’s license were also included and listed correctly. Her birth date was made up, she was listed as retired, which isn’t true, and there were only zeroes listed for her social security number – definitely a relief there! However, the make/model/year of her car and the VIN number matched up exactly.

 

I asked if she had been shopping the market online or had talked to anyone about lower rates. She assured me “absolutely not” because she never does things like that and she “closes those little boxes that always pop up”. Though I was glad to hear she wasn’t displeased with my service, I became more concerned about the methods used by the solicitous company.

 

Deceptive Advertising

 

Discounts were applied for low mileage, anti-theft, defensive driver, good driver, multi-policy, miles one way to work and senior citizen (not applicable in this particular case, as previously noted). Naturally, the semi-annual premium listed was in the low-ball range.

 

Line items such as “new acct” and “new app” in the billing section of the piece made it clear this was neither binding nor legit documentation to the trained eye. But presented in the fashion it was, it appeared like coverage was already in place. This also spurns the likelihood for people to send in payment under the assumption changes had been made to their existing contract – or at the very least to call the company that sent the quote.

 

Marketing is a necessity for any business, but this type of approach violates the parameters for “truth in advertising” as described by the U.S. Small Business Administration. Further investigation with the Illinois Department of Insurance confirmed my suspicions: the use of unauthorized personal information (such as the VIN#) is a privacy violation.

 

Lesson Learned

 

The haphazard nature in which facts were presented (and misrepresented) for this quoted premium illustrates there is very little chance that actual rates would come out anywhere near those mailed. Combined with the fact that unauthorized use of personal information was used to generate the mailing, it is alarming.

 

Those that sell lists for marketing purposes such as these glean information in ways we have yet to  imagine nor can keep absolute track of in the digital world. This situation serves as a valid reminder how crucial it is to keep a very close eye on the things we receive by postal and digital mail.

 

If you receive a similar type of questionable coverage letter for any type of insurance, complaints can be filed online through the IDOI. No one wants to do business with those that harvest personal information to obtain business underhandedly.

 

Kurt Rusch  CLU, ChFC