January 1, 2010

Get your insurance policies and finances in shape for the new year

Thinking ahead to 2010 can mean big goals for many Missourians, whether it's getting in shape, taking up a new hobby or spending more time with the family. But the Missouri Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions and Professional Registration (DIFP) is encouraging consumers to take a quick look at their finances and insurance policies as the new year begins.

While today's economy presents challenges for many Missouri families, it also presents opportunities in the form of lower interest rates and more competition among insurance companies and lenders. The DIFP makes these recommendations for consumers as the calendar turns:

  • Shop around for car and homeowners insurance. These markets are competitive in Missouri, and consumers should get premium quotes from competing companies every three years or so.
  • Ask about discounts on your homeowners and auto insurance policies. Insurers offer discounts for everything from age to claims history to number of smoke detectors to alumni memberships to the type of job you have.
  • Insure your home, not your land. Land is normally excluded in homeowners policies so make sure your insurance coverage level is based on the cost of rebuilding your home, rather than the price you paid for the home and land.
  • Revisit your deductibles. If they are currently $250, raising them to $500 or $1,000 should cause a noticeable drop in your premiums.
  • Make home improvements: Upgrading your electrical, plumbing and heating systems improves safety and reliability of your home, and it may reduce your premiums. Also, you can get federal tax credits for some energy-saving improvements.
  • Check to make sure all of your health care providers participate in your insurance plan. Also, make sure you understand your insurance coverage for any anticipated medical procedures.
  • Take an inventory of your possessions at home. This gives you a complete and quick list of items in case of theft, fire or other damage. A home inventory checklist is available on the department's Web site.
  • If you've had your life insurance policy for several years, talk with your agent or financial adviser to make sure your coverage levels are still appropriate - not too high or too low.
  • Review your bank and credit card statements for any automatic withdrawals. It's easy to authorize monthly bank withdrawals, then forget about them. Make sure you're not paying for services or products you no longer need or want.
  • Consider refinancing your mortgage, or car and other loans. Interest rates are low right now, and you might be able to save considerable money on monthly payments, shorten the length of your loan terms, or both.
  • If a certified public accountant (CPA) will be preparing your 2009 income taxes, check with the State Board of Accountancy to ensure he or she is licensed to practice in Missouri. Contact the state board at 573-751-0012 or pr.mo.gov.

"Reviewing all these areas of your financial life is always a good idea every few years, but it's even more important in today's challenging economy," said DIFP Director John M. Huff. "These suggestions could help put more money in your pockets for 2010."

Consumers with questions or complaints about insurance issues can contact the DIFP's Insurance Consumer Hotline at 1-800-726-7390 or visit insurance.mo.gov.

About the Missouri Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions & Professional Registration

The Missouri Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions and Professional Registration (DIFP) is responsible for consumer protection through the regulation of financial industries and professionals. The department's seven divisions work to enforce state regulations both efficiently and effectively while encouraging a competitive environment for industries and professions to ensure consumers have access to quality products.