We're only three days in to the era of Get Rich Slowly 3.0, and already GRS readers are providing inspiration for articles. On Sunday's "I'm back" post, for instance, Amy wrote the following:
As I type this I'm camped out on my brothers sofa, having evacuated my home during the fires in Santa Rosa. I'd love an article in the future about insurance, preparing and recovering from disasters. Thankfully my house is still standing right now, but much of our neighborhood is gone. My home no doubt has smoke damage...
There are tons of people with similar questions after the recent hurricanes. And every day, families suffer individual tragedies when their homes burn down or nearby rivers flood. How do you handle insurance when disaster strikes?
What to Do When Filing an Insurance Claim
As it happens, last year I bookmarked a question on Reddit from a family that lost everything in a fire. One of the replies was from somebody who had inside info on how to get all you deserve when filing an insurance claim.
I used to be the guy who worked for insurance companies, and determined the value of every little thing in your house. The guy who would go head-to-head with those fire-truck-chasing professional loss adjusters. I may be able to help you not get screwed when filing your claim.
Our goal was to use the information you provided, and give the lowest damn value we can possibly justify for your item.
For instance, if all you say was "toaster" -- we would come up with a [cheap] $4.88 toaster from Walmart, meant to toast one side of one piece of bread at a time. And we would do that for every thing you have ever owned.
His advice? Don't lie on your claim -- that's illegal and could lead to bigger problems -- but insist on being compensated with "like kind and quality" items. (He provides some specific examples in his post.) The more specific you can be, the better. If you know exact models, then name exact models. If you don't know the models but know an item had specific features, then be sure to request a replacement with those specific features.
When filing your claim, he says to list everything you can think of, even the mundane stuff. If you're writing up the shower in your bathroom, for instance, you might include:
- The shower curtain.
- The shower curtain liner.
- The shower curtain rings.
- The soap dispenser.
- The sponge loofah.
- The loofah holder.
- The shower caddy.
- All of the stuff in the shower caddy.
- And so on...
"I could probably keep thinking, and bring it up to about $400 for the contents of my shower," the commenter writes. "Most people writing claims for a total loss wouldn't even bother with the shower (it's just some used soap and sponges) -- and those people would be losing out on $400."
For more expensive stuff, you'll need documentation. You can't just say you had a $2000 TV and expect the insurance company to provide you a new one. For the big-ticket items, you need to provide some sort of paper trail, preferably with receipts. If you don't have a paper trail, try to provide a photograph. (Maybe your expensive TV is in the background of your family's Christmas gathering from last year, for instance.)
If you need to file an insurance claim, I highly recommend reading this entire Reddit comment. It's full of good information.
The U.S. government has an entire website called Ready.gov, which is devoted to disaster preparedness and response. If you live in a high-risk area, you ought to take some time to browse through the advice and put some of it into practice. And if, like Amy, you've been hit by a catastrophic event recently, check out the recovering from disaster section.
Do you have FSA funds left in your Flexible Spending Arrangement? If you overestimated your medical expenses for 2016, you might lose that money under the use-it-or-lose-it rule. That means you have to spend all your FSA money by Dec. 31 unless your plan allows you to carry over a small amount into the next year.
The maximum you could have put toward a flexible spending arrangement is $2,550 for 2016, the same amount as 2015. The FSA maximum amount for 2017 is expected to rise $50 to $2,600.
Have you started shopping yet? No, I'm not talking about shopping for the holidays; I'm talking about something more important — your health insurance.
It's that time of year when many employers have their open-enrollment period and the federal and state health insurance marketplaces are open for business. Open enrollment is your annual opportunity to review and make changes to your health insurance plan so you end up with the best plan for your needs. Continue reading...
When the oral surgeon recommended that our daughter have her wisdom teeth removed, we thought we knew what to expect both medically and financially. Morgan's two sisters underwent this procedure in the past, and we adopted a brave “Let's get this over with!” attitude as we scheduled her operation.
We expected the least painful part of the procedure to be the surgery bill because the girls are covered under both their parent's dental insurance. It was an unpleasant surprise to learn from the oral surgeon's billing manager, “After checking with your insurance, we estimate that your daughter's surgery will cost you about $1,200 out-of-pocket since she has exhausted nearly all of her benefits this year.”
Something was wrong!
In a recent article, I described what COBRA insurance is and my experiences obtaining it. One of the biggest complaints I had about COBRA was the sign-up process. Signing up for COBRA insurance had to be initiated by my employer, and it was a paper process to boot. This meant there was a lag between when I signed up and when I received proof of insurance.
Unfortunately, after wading through the sign-up process, the rest of my experience with COBRA didn't get any easier. A paper bill was mailed to me each month and I was supposed to send in my check. I couldn't find cancellation instructions anywhere on the documentation I received, and it wasn't possible to initiate the cancellation process online either.
Billing Mismatch was Just the Beginning
As I stated in my previous article, I needed COBRA only for the period between April 15 and May 1, when my insurance at my new employer was set to kick in.
Next week marks my two-month anniversary at my new job. Huzzah! In addition to celebrating my new, higher salary, I am also feeling simultaneously challenged and less stressed.
I feel challenged because my new job is in an entirely different industry than my former position. But I'm definitely less stressed because the performance expectations are reasonable and my colleagues are fun and friendly. I may even be celebrating a new coworker soon, since the friend who got me into SEO in the first place (and who was also one of my professional references for my current position) has applied for a job in my department.
Saving can Make a Job Transition Easier
While all of these are good things, one aspect of my job transition that was less than festive was the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) insurance process. Since one of the features of an improved economy is an increased willingness to switch jobs -- or even to leave a current job without having another lined up -- I thought I would share my experience with COBRA.
Jake and Kelly (not their real names) were very dear friends of ours. Well, Kelly is still, but her husband just recently passed away. Because he was healthy and active, it came as a complete shock to us all -- especially to Kelly.
A familiar division of labor had developed in their 40 years of marriage. Jake was the one who took care of everything. He naturally just assumed the role of handyman, car mechanic, and accountant. If it broke, he fixed it; if it needed gas, he filled it; and if it needed to be paid, he made sure the finances would accommodate it.
Circumstances reinforce habits
They both worked since becoming empty nesters, but a few years ago Jake became one of those statistics we talk about a lot in the comments -- he became unemployed and, when the benefits ran out, he ended up dropping off the official unemployment statistics.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, around 108 million Americans go without dental insurance during any given year. And since paying the full weight of dental care is often out of the question for those living on low incomes, many people simply choose to go without or get by with as few cleanings and check-ups as they possibly can.
However, if you do have out-of-pocket funds with which to pay, you already know how quickly cleanings, fillings, and basic dental care can take a bite out of your budget. After all, a typical dental filling can cost anywhere from $100 to $200, a cleaning can cost upwards of $200, braces can cost $5,000 to $6,000, and so on.
Obviously, one of the easiest ways to save on dental care is to have a dental insurance policy for your family. The bad news is, many employers don't offer dental coverage to their employees, even at a cost, and the dental plans commonly sold on the open insurance market can be of questionable value.
Learning to manage your finances isn't something most people would put at the very top of their "most fun thing to do" list, but we all know that we ignore money and budgets at our peril. Having a strong handle on what money is going in and what money is going out is an essential first step. But you don't have to be overwhelmed. By setting aside between five and 30 minutes each day, you can transform your finances dramatically in 30 days. Here's one such plan:
Day 1: Compile all your expenses and income. Bucket them by categories such as Savings (retirement accounts, emergency fund), Mortgage/Rent, Household Expenses (food, utilities, heating oil, etc.), Commuting (tolls, commuter rail cards), Debt Repayment (student loans), Entertainment. It doesn't have to be perfect, just complete. Use a service like Mint, software like Excel or even just good old pen and paper -- whatever you are comfortable with. Yearly budgets are more accurate because you will see irregular expenses like property taxes or gifts.
Related >> Building a budget on variable income