Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Aaaaagh!!!!! Insurance!!

Given a choice between visiting a dentist and buying insurance, most people would opt for the dentist. At least, you can get novocaine for the worst moments.

But if you’re serious about building wealth, it's important to protect yourself from risk. We’re not talking about investment risk. You know that stocks, real estate and other assets can decrease, as well as increase, in value. We’re talking about personal risks, and risks to your property.

What happens to your finances if you’re seriously injured and can’t work for months? What if a guest slips and falls in your home? What if you or your spouse dies, and leaves you to raise the kids alone? What happens if the next Katrina heads your way and turns your house into a pile of kindling? These are all examples of situations that could drain away your savings. How do you protect yourself?

1. Get health insurance. The most common reason people declare bankruptcy isn’t reckless spending. It’s unmanageable medical expenses. If you’re uninsured, do your best to get coverage. Be willing to sacrifice a lot of lifestyle in order to be protected. If you’re uninsured and have a health crisis, you won’t have a lifestyle. If you have trouble finding coverage, contact your state health authorities. Some states have programs to assist residents to get coverage.

Also, take care of your health. Avoiding a health problem is better than treating one, even if you have to eat some fruits and vegetables.

2. Get disability insurance. According to the Social Security Administration, something like 8.6 million workers and their dependents received Social Security disability payments in 2006 ( This figure doesn’t include people who received private disability payments, but no Social Security. Disability is a fairly common problem. Look for a policy that defines disability as your inability to work in your field or profession (and, indeed, your specialty within your field or profession). A policy that defines disability as your inability to do any kind of work (flipping burgers, anyone?) doesn’t provide much protection.

3. Get homeowners insurance. Make sure the policy limit is high enough to cover the current cost of reconstructing your home. Also have plenty of liability coverage, in case a guest slips and falls on your property--$300K is not too much. And think about whether you should get optional flood coverage--you don't need a Katrina to have a flooding problem (a sewer backup is all it takes).

4. Bulk up your auto policy. Make sure you have plenty of liability coverage--$1 million is rational in these litigious times. And don’t overlook the property damage coverage. Some luxury cars today cost over $100,000. Having $100,000 of property damage coverage isn’t a bad idea.

4. Consider life insurance. If you have dependents, life insurance may be a good idea. There’s no fixed rule of thumb for how much you need. Add up your other financial resources (savings, Social Security survivors’ benefits, any employer’s benefits for survivors, and your spouse’s income if he or she would work even if something happened to you), and then figure out how much insurance you’d need to get the little ones through college. Increase the amount if you want your spouse to stay home and take care of the kids.

5. Consider an umbrella policy. An umbrella policy provides additional liability protection, above and beyond your auto and homeowners’ policies. You can buy millions of dollars of coverage. It’s a good idea if your net worth is six or seven figures.

6. Consider a long term care insurance policy. This type of insurance covers nursing home expenses and other long term care costs (including some care at home). Medicare doesn’t cover most of these expenses. Medicaid does, but you need to spend down your savings to qualify for Medicaid. Long term care insurance is a way of protecting your savings. It could make sense if you have a six or seven figure net worth. Look for a policy with level premiums and an inflation adjustment in the amount of coverage. This stuff is expensive if you wait until your 60s (we’re talking thousands a year). If it seems to make sense for you, buy as early in your life as you can because it's much cheaper if you start when you're younger.

Okay, enough already about insurance. Here’s the story for your inner artist if you’re thinking of a career change.

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