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It’s time for the seasonal flu vaccine!

This year, it’s more important than ever that you get your flu vaccine early for seasonal influenza. With Covid-19 still active and a potential resurgence over the fall and winter, you need all the protection you can get. While the seasonal flu vaccine will not protect you from Covid-19, it will help ensure that hospitals and healthcare providers don’t get overwhelmed by a double whammy, or what some are calling a “twindemic.”

But making it a priority to get a flu vaccine isn’t simply to help preserve precious health care resources for others, it’s also good for protection you. Remember, the seasonal flu can be a killer, claiming thousands of lives each year. Also, health experts think that it is possible to contract seasonal influenza and Covid-19 at the same time, so you want to prevent your own personal “twindemic.” While a vaccine is not an ironclad guarantee that you won’t still get a seasonal bug, flu vaccines have been shown to reduce the risk of flu illness, hospitalization, and death. In other words, if you do get a flu, the vaccine will make your illness less severe, and make it less likely you’ll end up in the hospital. This is particularly important for high-risk people and people with underlying health conditions.

This year, health officials recommend getting your vaccines early, ideally in September or October before the flu season starts. But if you miss this time frame, should you still get vaccinated? Health officials say yes, up through January.

Here’s who the CDC recommends get vaccinated:

  • Everyone above the age of 6 months
  • Those who are at a high risk, such as adults over 65 years old and people with underlying medical conditions (cancer, heart disease, asthma – see more)
  • Pregnant women
  • Caretakers exposed to vulnerable groups
  • Healthcare workers and essential workers

Be aware that there are different vaccines recommended for different populations. There are special vaccines for young children, and higher dosage vaccines for adults 65 years old and older. This year, there is one vaccine for seniors that has been updated to protect against four strains of influenza, rather than three as in previous years.
Learn more about which vaccine is most appropriate for you at the CDC.

Where to get flu shots

In the past, many people got flu shots at work, but with the prevalence of remote work during the pandemic, most people will be on their own this year. There are many  places to get a shot, such as pharmacies, clinics and doctors’ offices – and some communities may even set up drive-through flu vaccine sites. Use the Vaccine Finder to find places near you based on the type of vaccine you need. Remember to check if  the facility is walk-in or by appointment and be sure to review any required Covid-19 health procedures and costs. If you have private insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid, you’ll probably only need to cover a copay, but if you don’t have insurance, shop around because prices can vary.

Here’s more info and more flu resources:

 

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Labor Day: Safe BBQs and backyard entertaining

As we head into Labor Day and approach the waning weeks of summer, most of us are eager to spend as much time outside as we can. The Mayo Clinic offers a guide to safe outdoor activities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Labor Day is traditionally a time for last minute vacations, road trips, and barbecues. But with coronavirus still a factor, most are opting for quieter events closer to home. If you are planning a small backyard get-together or BBQ, here are a few guides on how to do that safely. We’ve also summarized some tips for both hosts and guest that were suggested by various guides and health experts

Here are a few helpful guides:

Safety tips for backyard gatherings

  • Know your local guidelines about gathering sizes, but all experts agree: smaller is safer – and likely more comfortable for your guests.
  • Check in with invited guests in advance about any concerns they have. Let them know “the rules’ so they feel comfortable and will respect your wishes. For example, rules about social distancing, what they should bring (their own beverages) or shouldn’t bring (shared food dishes, unannounced guests) and any bathroom rules, such as flushing with seat down.
  • Respect boundaries if people decline an invitation. Don’t take things personally.
  • Skip the hugs and handshakes on welcoming guests.
  • Maintain social distancing – measure the space on your deck or your yard in advance to see how many seats can be accommodated 6 feet apart and base guest numbers on that.
  • Keep it outside. Have a plan to postpone if the weather turns bad and keep an eye on the weather.
  • Wear masks when not eating.
  • Wash hands frequently, bring / supply hand sanitizer.
  • BYO beverage, or provide them in individual cans or bottles.
  • Avoid shared plates, utensils, seasonings or condiments – things that people handle repeatedly.
  • Use disposable plates, utensils, napkins and place at each seat.
  • Avoid shared food dishes and plates. Provide individual servings.
  • Clean and disinfect high-touch areas like doorknobs and bathrooms before, during and after the party.
  • In bathrooms, provide paper towels, hand soap on the sink, disinfecting wipes.

See our prior post: BBQ Basics: Take the time to review grilling safety tips

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Precious cargo: How to buy, install, and register child car safety seats

Car crashes are the leading cause of death for US children aged 3 to 14, yet many of those deaths may be preventable with the proper use of car safety seats. A 2017 study by the CDC published in The Journal of Pediatrics showed that 20% of children who were in a car crash where someone died were not buckled in properly or were not wearing a seat belt at all, as were 43% of children who died themselves.

Buying a child safety or booster seat for your car shouldn’t be a quick or easy purchase if you want to ensure your child’s safety. Do you know the various types of seats and which is appropriate when? Are you choosing the right seat for your child and your vehicle? Is the seat properly installed and is your child properly secured? Do you know when to change/upgrade the seat as your child grows? The Mayo Clinic lists 9 common mistakes parents make when installing and using car seats.

First, know your state law. The Governors Highway Safety Association says that all states and territories require child safety seats for infants and children fitting specific criteria, but requirements vary based on age, weight and height. Often, this happens in three stages: infants use rear-facing infant seats; toddlers use forward-facing child safety seats; and older children use booster seats. They offer an overview of state laws.

For help in buying and installing the right seat, we offer several dependable sources you can turn to for research:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Foundation has a great car seat and booster seat guide with various tools to guide you through every stage. A few of the handy tools they offer include:

Safe Kids Worldwide offers the ultimate Car Seat Guide , which offers practical tips to keep kids safe in cars from buying, installing, ensuring a safe fit, and when you should change the seat as your child ages. If you need help installing your car seat or would like a checkup to ensure that it is installed properly, Safe Kids coalitions have car seat checkup events and inspection stations around the country. If there isn’t an event near you, you can search for a certified child passenger safety technician (CPST) who can help you.

Consumer Reports also offers excellent Child Car Seat Ratings and Buying Guide, including the video below.

Wirecutter (from the New York Times) also offers consumer shopping guides to find the Best Infant Car Seat and the Best Booster Car Seats. 

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

The A to Z of insurance terminology

Every industry has their own jargon and set of acronyms used by insiders. Sometimes they are technical terms or language that people use to describe a precise process, a part, or a concept; sometimes, they are slang that develops among colleagues in an organization or an industry over time. But industry-specific terminology can be confusing, misunderstood, or even off-putting to outsiders. Think about the last time you tried to communicate with a car mechanic, a computer tech, or some other specialist  and you couldn’t understand what they were telling you. It can be frustrating!

Insurance is no different. It’s a profession that has a lot of industry-specific terminology related to financial products and a variety of acronyms. Here are a few prior blog posts about some insurance  terms that are frequently used and that customers often question:

But there are many other terms that are likely unfamiliar to a buyer – particularly when you get into commercial insurance. For example, what’s a BOP? An actuary? A captive? Underwriting? Reinsurance? Premium? Loss Ratio?  We could go on, but instead we point you to some good insurance authorities that maintain various glossaries.

  • The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) has a handy Glossary of Insurance Terms that are commonly used in the insurance business. The glossary was developed by staff in NAIC’s Research and Actuarial Department based on various insurance references. These definitions represent a common or general use of the term.
  • AM Best’s Consumer Center offers a Glossary of Insurance Terms.
  • International Risk Management Institute, Inc. (IRMI) maintains an in-depth Glossary of Insurance and Risk Management Terms, along with a huge list of acronyms
  • California’s insurance department maintains a Glossary of Insurance Terms and it also includes a list of Insurance Terms Used in the Area of Sureties and Bonds and Insurance Terms Used in the Area of Residential Title Insurance.
  • New York’s Department of Financial Services offers a Glossary Of Life Insurance Terms.

Health insurance is a bit of a different matter. with its own distinct language. Here are some resources:

Of course, if you are buying an insurance policy and you find the terminology difficult to understand, there’s an alternative to doing your own online research – you can call your local insurance agent to talk things over. That’s where local agents excel. They can interpret the unfamiliar jargon or talk to you about the pros and cons of various options and decision points. See our prior post that talks about the value, expertise and advocacy services that agents provide 24/7: The value of working with a local, independent insurance agent.

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Do traffic tickets jack up your car insurance rates? You bet they do!

Nobody wants to pay more than they must for auto insurance, but  when bad or risky driving leads to tickets, it can add big bucks to the amount you pay for insurance over several years. Danielle Ling has a story in PropertyCasualty360 about which moving violations raise your car insurance rates the most. Note that these are averages – in some states and with some insurers, costs can be much higher. And these are just the costliest violations. Ling says that even lesser offenses like speeding in a school zone can increase annual rates by more than $300.

Here are some of the costliest violations and the average annual increase

  • Hit & Run – $1,212
  • Racing – $1131
  • DUI – $1100
  • Refusing a breathalyzer – $1080
  • Driving with a suspended license – $1044
  • Reckless driving – $1,038

We’ve written about DUI violations in more detail – a highly dangerous behavior that can be very expensive:

Most states require you to report your DUI to your insurer. A DUI is considered a major violation, like reckless driving or hit-and-run. You will be required to get what’s called an SR-22, a form filed on your behalf by your insurance company which constitutes proof that you are carrying the required amount of liability insurance. It’s also a red flag that you are a high-risk driver. (In Virginia and Florida, the required form is called an FR-44.) There will be a filing fee, usually between $20-$50. Not all insurance companies will file an SR-22. Some insurance companies will not insure high risk drivers, so if yours does not file, you will likely need a new policy with a company that will file the form.

 

Depending on the state in which you live, you will be required to carry SR-22 insurance for three to five years.

After filing an SR-22, brace yourself: your insurance rates are going up. A recent study showed that on average insurance rates increased by more than 56% – a $1000 yearly rate would become $1560 after a first DUI offense.

 

In addition to requiring an SR-22, you may also be required to install (at your expense) an ignition interlock device. The cost to install these devices varies by jurisdiction, but is usually around $175-$300. These devices are basically breathalyzers attached to your vehicle’s starter. They won’t let the car start if they detect alcohol on your breath (the base limit of alcohol allowed varies between jurisdictions, but is almost always “none”). Also, at random times while the vehicle is in motion, the system will require another puff into the analyzer. This “rolling retest” is designed to prevent non-drivers from providing a breath sample and to prevent consumption of alcohol behind the wheel.

See more at our post: DUI Laws, Insurance Rates, and Interlock Devices

Good drivers may be eligible for discounts

It’s important to know that while risky and dangerous driving costs money on your insurance and may even risk suspension or termination of your driving privileges, safe driving can save you money.

Some states and some insurers offer discounts for safe driving or for driver training. In fact, there are a variety of discounts available for other reasons, too, although they vary by state and by insurer. We’ve rounded up many of the most common discounts – see our post Don’t leave money on the table : Talk to your agent about auto insurance discounts.

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Scam alert: Covid-19 related fraud is proliferating

In early April, we noted that there has never been a crisis or emergency that criminals won’t try to exploit and we posted a roundup of fraud schemes: Be on your guard for coronavirus scammers, skimmers & phishers! It’s time to update that list. Criminals are only getting smarter and more sophisticated about capitalizing on our coronavirus fears and the way we’ve adjusted our lives. Here are reports on some of the newer scams that authorities are seeing, along with tips on how to avoid being victimized.

Here are some of the common scams that the Department of Justice warns about:

  • Antibody testing fraud scheme
  • Unsolicited healthcare fraud schemes
  • Cryptocurrency fraud schemes including blackmail attempts, work from home scams, paying for non-existent treatments or equipment, or investment scams.
  • Calls and e-mails from imposters claiming to be IRS and Treasury employees
  • Robocall scams selling PPE, face masks, or other medical devices
  • “Free” COVID-19 tests if you supply Medicare information
  • Fake charities seeking donations or your bank / credit card info.
  • Imposter calls promising CARES Act stimulus payments or demanding refunds for a supposed over payment
  • Fake websites and apps claiming to be associated with CARES Act programs.

FBI Says Increased Use of Mobile Banking Apps Could Lead to Exploitation
Studies of US financial data indicate a 50% surge in mobile banking since the beginning of 2020. Additionally, studies show that 36% of Americans plan to use mobile tools to conduct banking activities, and 20% plan to visit branch locations less often. The FBI warns the public to be aware of fake banking apps and to be cautious about downloading apps on mobile devices that might contain banking-related malware. The FBI recommends only obtaining smartphone apps from trusted sources like official app stores or directly from bank websites. They also advise using Two-Factor Authentication and using strong passwords and good security.

FBI Sees Rise in Online Shopping Scam
The FBI reports an increasing number of people are ordering goods online from fraudulent vendors and the goods are never relieved. Victims are being directed to fraudulent websites from ads on social media platforms and popular online search engines that offer lower than usual pricing on such items as gym equipment, small appliances, tools and furniture. Many of the websites used content and contact information copied from legitimate sites and posed as US companies. Here are some fraud indicators. Instead of .com, the fraudulent websites used the Internet site domain extensions of .club and .top. Most of the site URLs (addresses) were purchased in the last 6-months.

The FBI offers these tips to avoid being victimized

  • Do your homework on the retailer to ensure it is legitimate.
  • Check the Whois Public Internet Directory for the retailer’s domain registration information.
  • Conduct a business inquiry of the online retailer at the Better Business Bureau.
  • Check other websites regarding the company for reviews and complaints.
  • Check the contact details of the website on the “Contact Us” page, specifically the address, email, and phone number, to confirm whether the retailer is legitimate.
  • Be wary of online retailers offering goods at significantly discounted prices.
  • Be wary of online retailers who use a free email service instead of a company email address.
  • Don’t judge a company by their website; flashy websites can be set up and taken down quickly.

Monitoring and reporting fraud schemes

Check out the FBI Coronavirus website periodically for updated fraud scheme reports. If you think you are a victim of a scam or attempted fraud involving COVID-19, you can report it without leaving your home by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or submit the NCDF Web Complaint Form.

Related post:

 

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Driving safety tips for expectant mothers

During pregnancy, expectant mothers often have questions about the best way to stay safe while driving. Common questions include whether seat belts are safe, how to best position the steering wheel, and if airbags are safe or if they should be disabled. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to the rescue – they answer these and other questions in a downloadable quick guide: If You’re Pregnant: Seat Belt Recommendations for Drivers and Passengers

We’ve excerpted a few of the NHTSA graphics and compiled bullet points below.

Seatbelts

  • Always wear a lap and shoulder belt when driving. It’s also important to wear seat belts if you are a passenger. AAA says that seat belts reduce traffic fatalities of front-seat passengers by 45%.
  • Put the belt below – not across – your belly. It should be snug across your hips and pelvic bones. Seat belt straps should never go directly across your stomach.
  • Don’t put the shoulder belt under your arm or behind your back – not only does wearing the shoulder belt help restrain you and prevent injuries in a collision, wearing it incorrectly could cause injuries in a collision.
  • Tighten belts to remove any slack. They should lie flat and fit snugly.

infographi showing the right way for pregnant women to wear a car seat belt. (Tips text in article)

Airbags

  • Airbags are designed to work with seat belts, not replace them.
  • Don’t disable airbags. Air bags reduce the risk of injury for expectant mothers and don’t increase the risk of injury for unborn babies.

Steering wheel

  • Keep at least 10-12 inches of distance between you and the steering wheel.
  • As your belly grows, you may need to adjust the seat to sit as far back as you can while still reaching the pedals.
  • If the car has a tilt steering wheel, angle it toward your breastbone, not your head or your belly.
  • Avoid letting your belly touch the steering wheel.

AAA has a good related reference article: Car Safety Tips for Expecting and New Parents. In addition to tips for expectant mothers, they offer info for new parents on topics of shopping for a car seat, types of car seats, car seat installation, and registering your car seat to be notified of any recalls.

 

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

How do you protect your credit rating during the pandemic?

Worried about if the pandemic is affecting your credit? Here’s good news to help you monitor your credit status: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, the three major credit rating bureaus, are now offering free weekly online reports through April 2021. Normally, you are entitled to one report per year for free, so this is a great tool and it’s important that you take advantage of it.

The three nationwide credit reporting companies have joined forces to make it easy for you to request your reports through a central website annualcreditreport.com.  Beware of pretenders that will try to charge you – this is  the only authorized way to get free credit reports.

Why it’s important to monitor your credit reports

Your credit report is a historical record of your credit activity and loan paying history. Lenders use this information when you look to open a credit card, borrow money to buy a house or a car, or take a loan for other purposes. Credit reports may affect your mortgage rates, credit card approvals, apartment requests, or even your job application. In some states, they can be a factor in your insurance premium. Reviewing your credit report helps you ensure that its accurate and may help you spot signs of identity theft early.

It’s particularly important that you review your reports now if the pandemic has caused any disruption in your finances or if you took advantage of any financial aid through the CARES Act, which allowed postponement of some federally backed mortgages and federal student loans through September 30. Your credit should not be affected by this, but Consumer Reports says that some people are experiencing problems. See: How to Protect Your Credit Score During the Coronavirus Pandemic

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an official US government website, also offers helpful information on protecting your credit during the coronavirus pandemic. They also maintain an excellent library of resources, and tools to help you protect your finances during the coronavirus pandemic.

Each of the major credit bureaus also offer advice, tools and resources on protecting your credit through the pandemic:

 

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

How financially prepared are you if a weather disaster strikes?

Last year was the fifth year in a row that 10 or more weather and climate disasters in the US logged at least $1 billion of associated losses. If you think 2020 threw everything it had at us and will now ease off, think again. While we all have our hands full with navigating the new realities of life under Covid19, nature is relentless and doesn’t slow down. Most Americans agree. According to a recent survey by American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), 61% or respondents said they were likely to be personally affected by a natural disaster in the next three to five years. Almost one in five said that prospect was highly likely. (see ThinkAdvisor: Few Americans financially prepared for a natural disaster: survey.)

Despite that, “… only 15% of respondents said they had created a disaster plan to protect their finances. Worse, 27% had not taken any steps at all to prepare for a natural disaster.” That’s rather daunting. Think about the problems and logistics in a hurricane, massive wildfire, or flood evacuation in the middle of a pandemic: public emergency resources are already strained. Plus, social distancing measures important to disease prevention will make things like finding emergency shelter and supplies even more challenging than normal at a time when many are suffering financial strain and economic strain from job loss.

AICPA has suggestions for financial emergency prep steps in their report on the survey:

Banking Without the Bank — If your bank branch is closed due to the pandemic, you may need some new options for accessing cash, depositing funds, and checking your account activity. Now is a good time to investigate alternative locations where you can use your ATM card to obtain cash without additional fees, and perhaps mobile banking which can allow most banking activities including check deposits and transfers between accounts.

Insurance Coverage — If you haven’t recently reviewed your coverage with your insurance agent, you’ll want to be sure your homeowner’s or renters insurance is up to date for changes in value, valuable items you’ve added like jewelry or watches, and special risks you may face like flooding. As a first step, be sure you know how to contact your agent, who may be working remotely or with a reduced staff under current conditions.

Safe Deposit Box — If you have documents in a safe deposit box that you may need after a disaster, you may find that your local bank branch is closed or operating under restrictions. You can check with the bank’s main office to learn how to access the box if local restrictions apply and may continue.

Wills, Powers of Attorney, and Health Care Proxies — If disaster results in incapacity, loss of a loved one, or serious injury, you’ll want to be sure that your legal paperwork is up to date. Your attorney may be working remotely under pandemic- related conditions. If your papers need an update, it pays to get a head start in contacting the professionals you will look to for help and advice.

Employment-Based Programs — Visiting your human resources department to check on items that may help you manage through financial survival in a disaster, like your disability coverage or ability to borrow from a 401(k) or similar retirement plan, is likely not an option if your workplace is closed due to the pandemic. You can take steps now to learn how to get the information you need, and request any needed updates, by phone or online.

AICPA offers more help at the 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy portal – see Disaster Action Plan: 5 Key Steps to Protect Your Family and Finances.

Other emergency prep planning tools:

 

 

 

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Ideas for a safe and fun Fourth of July in New England

Things are looking much more positive and festive in New England for July 4 than they were a month ago for Memorial Day, but Covid19 is still looming so we all still need to be safe and careful. We worked hard to bring our numbers down, but we can see from some other parts of the country, things can spiral downward quickly if we don’t keep our guard up.

But you can still celebrate and enjoy the holiday. We’ve gathered some ideas and guidelines for how to have fun this Fourth of July!

The state of the states

Can you take day trips or weekend trips to adjoining New England states? See Northeast: Coronavirus-Related Restrictions By State for summaries, or we have state travel information below.

Virtual Holiday fun

If you plan to stick close to home, the New York Times offers some fun ways to mark the holiday virtually in Honor America’s Birthday (Safely) in 2020. 

  • They tell you how to enjoy televised NY fireworks, The Boston Pops and DC’s  “A Capital Fourth.”
  • They suggest several patriotic virtual tours such as The Statue of Liberty, Philadelphia’s Independence National Historical Park and other historic sites.
  • They offer a list of patriotic streaming movies, including a live recording of Hamilton on DisneyPlus.

The Washington Post also lists some holiday-related events, among them some real-world events in the capitol region and some televised and online events holiday events, such as July 4 at the National Archives, Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts concerts, and an online ‘We the People’ Concert and Tribute at Washington National Cathedral, along with other virtual concerts.

Walking, Biking, and Hiking New England

Outdoor activities are among the safest things we can do.  Fortunately, here in New England, we have beautiful scenery. Here are some suggestions:

Entertaining at home

Here are a few helpful guides:

We’ve also summarized some tips for both hosts and guest that were suggested by various guides and health experts

  • Check in with invited guests in advance about any concerns they have. Let them know “the rules’ so they feel comfortable and will respect your wishes. For example, rules about social distancing, what they should bring (their own beverages) or shouldn’t bring (shared food dishes, unannounced guests) and any bathroom rules, such as flushing with seat down.
  • Respect boundaries if people decline an invitation. Don’t take things personally.
  • Know your local guidelines about gathering sizes, but all experts agree: smaller is safer – and likely more comfortable for your guests.
  • Maintain social distancing – measure the space on your deck or your yard in advance to see how many seats can be accommodated 6 feet apart and base guest numbers on that.
  • Keep it outside. Have a plan to postpone if the weather turns bad and keep an eye on the weather.
  • Wear masks when not eating.
  • Wash hands frequently, bring / supply hand sanitizer.
  • BYO beverage, or provide them in individual cans or bottles.
  • Avoid shared plates, utensils, seasonings or condiments – things that people handle repeatedly.
  • Use disposable plates, utensils, napkins and place at each seat.
  • Avoid shared food dishes and plates. Provide individual servings.
  • Clean and disinfect high-touch areas like doorknobs and bathrooms before, during and after the party.
  • In bathrooms, provide paper towels, hand soap on the sink, disinfecting wipes.

 

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

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