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What Can An Independant Insurance Agent Do For Me?

by Kevin Gullbrants on 10/06/16

An independent agent can do important things for you:

  • Agents have at their disposal the ability to quickly check prices and coverages with dozens - if not hundreds - of different insurance companies.  Since rates vary widely an independent agent can very likely get you a better deal than you can get for yourself. They can even get you insurance from a 'direct writer' like you could get for yourself.
  • Independent agents are a one-stop-shop for all of your insurance needs. An agent typically doesn't sell just auto insurance. They also sell homeowners, renters, health and life insurance, business insurance etc. Use them - at no cost to yourself - to handle all of your insurance in one place.
  • Insurance is a complicated subject.  Its an agent's business to understand it, and communicate it to you so you understand it as well.  In almost all cases an ordinary consumer will benefit from having someone who deals with this subject for a living advise them on a 50+ page contract.  If there are any hidden surprises, a licensed agent is the one equipped to know where they are.  Even if you understand insurance thoroughly you can get tripped up:  The industry is regulated on a state-by-state basis.  Move from one state to another and you'll find that the coverages may look the same at first glance, but on closer examination things work a bit differently (very differently, in some states).
  • Coverages don't just vary from state to state ... they vary from company to company within the same state.  Many companies use what are known as 'manuscript' policy forms (form = contract in insurance jargon).  These forms don't necessarily use industry-standard wording and may contain altered provisions that materially affect you in some way... some unknown way if you don't have an expert advisor who is already familiar with a particular policy's quirks.

The above is the good news with regard to what an agent can do for you.  What about the bad news?  Even the bad news has some good news inside of it for the consumer:   If an agent makes a mistake (such as selling you an insurance policy that is supposed to meet your needs but doesn't), that agent may well be liable to you for malpractice; something known in the industry as Errors & Omissions.  Your insurance agent has an Errors & Omissions insurance policy, just like a surgeon has a malpractice insurance policy.  Your lawyer can file suit against the agent - and their malpractice insurance - to recover damages you suffer as a result of a failure to act properly in your interests.  Its no fun to think about for the agent or the consumer, but as unpleasant as it is for all concerned, this is a layer of protection that a consumer enjoys when working with an agent.

Which brings us to another problem that you create when you go direct.  You have no licensed, regulated insured agent acting on your behalf.  You are now taking full responsibility for your coverage decisions, and for any mistakes you may make.  No more safety net.

Don't get us wrong... There is nothing wrong with direct-writer insurance companies.  However, if you deal with an agent, there are certain services and protections you are going to get that a direct-writer insurance company simply cannot provide.

What is the difference between replacement cost and actual cash value?

by Kevin Gullbrants on 05/05/16

Replacement cost is a method for valuing the reimbursement of property on an insurance policy.

The most important concept to understand in regards to replacement cost is “new for old, like kind and quality.” The insurance company is going to give you the amount of money (up to your policy limit) that it takes for the materials and labor to replace your home. In most cases, this is the preferred property valuation method.

Actual Cash Value is a method for valuing property after an insurance loss.

What many people do not realize about actual cash value is that depreciation is taken out of the payment from the insurance company. If you have a kitchen fire and the cabinets in your kitchen are twenty years old. The company is going to pay you for twenty year cabinets. Not what it will cost to replace those cabinets today.

Most property owners prefer to insure their property at replacement cost instead of actual cash value.

Should I package my home and auto insurance with the same insurance carrier?

by Kevin Gullbrants on 05/05/16

Absolutely YES! If you can package your home and auto together with the same insurance carrier you should do it.

There are two reasons for this…

The first reason is simple, you get a discount on both your Home and Auto Insurance, if they are packaged with the same carrier. Some discounts could be as high as 30%.

The second reason is it would make it easier to determine who will pay: A perfect example would be, if you had an accident in your garage. The two companies could argue about the loss and who would be paying. It helps keep your insurance simple.

TAXPAYERS: Beware of IRS Impersonators! Don't become a victim this filing season... learn more.

by Kevin Gullbrants on 03/09/16

Don’t be Fooled, Phone Scams Continue to Be Serious Threat Nationwide

IR-2015-62, March 31, 2015

WASHINGTON — As April 1st approaches, the IRS warns taxpayers not to be fooled by the tricks scammers use to take advantage of those they target. Scammers use fake names, provide bogus IRS badge numbers and alter caller ID numbers to make it look like the IRS is calling.

With the final two weeks of the filing season about to begin and millions preparing their returns, taxpayers should be alert.

"This is no April Fool's joke. Everyone should be on the lookout for threatening calls from people faking IRS phone numbers and demands for immediate payment," IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said. "These are scams. I urge taxpayers to stay vigilant and remain aware of the constantly changing tactics used by these criminals.”

As the filing season nears its end, there has been a surge of phone scams where scam artists threaten police arrest, deportation, license revocation and other threats.

They often leave “urgent” callback requests and sometimes prey on the most vulnerable people, such as the elderly, newly arrived immigrants and those whose first language is not English. Scammers have been known to impersonate agents from IRS Criminal Investigation as well.

Here are five things the scammers often do but the IRS will not do.

The IRS will not:

  • Call to demand immediate payment, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
  • Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
  • Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
  • Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money, here’s what you should do:

  • If you know you owe taxes or think you might owe, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. The IRS workers can help you with a payment issue.
  • If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to believe that you do, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1-800-366-4484 or report it online at the IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting Page.
  • If you’ve been targeted by this scam, also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their FTC Complaint Assistant at If the complaint involves someone impersonating the IRS, include the words “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.

Remember, too, the IRS does not use email, text messages or any social media to discuss your personal tax issue involving bills or refunds. For more information on reporting tax scams, go to and type “scam” in the search box.

Additional information about tax scams is available on IRS social media sites, including YouTube and Tumblr, where people can search “scam” to find the related posts.

How To Negotiate the Purchase of an Automobile

by Kevin Gullbrants on 03/09/16

How to negotiate a new car's price

Terms to be familiar with when shopping for a car

The most effective way to negotiate a new car’s price is to find out what others in your market have paid for the same vehicle. You can gather information from a variety of sources and put it together yourself, starting with the dealer’s cost and bargaining up from there. To figure out the true dealer cost on your own, you have to piece together the various elements of the auto-pricing puzzle.

Alternatively, you can use the Cars Best Deals Plus service, which does all the legwork for you. Whichever way you go, here are the terms with which you should be familiar when shopping for a car:

Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP). This is the price that the automaker publishes for any given model and trim line. Because it’s “suggested,” dealers are free to sell a vehicle for a figure that’s higher or lower than the MSRP. The “base price,” excluding any options, destination charge, or other fee, is the initial figure you’ll find in pricing guides, most car reviews, and on pricing websites. The “total MSRP,” commonly called the “sticker price” because it’s the bottom-line figure on a car’s window sticker, is the base price plus any options, option-package discounts, and destination charge. Unless a model is in very high demand, you can generally buy a vehicle for less than the sticker price.

Dealer-invoice price. The “invoice price” is the figure printed on the dealer’s invoice from the manufacturer. Once difficult to find, invoice prices are now commonly available online and in printed pricing guides, such as Consumer Reports’ Ratings & Pricing Guides. In fact, dealer-invoice prices have become so ubiquitous that they are even listed on some automaker websites. In addition, at many dealerships, salespeople will show you the invoice for the car you’re interested in, often as a way to let you know how “little markup” there is.

The dealer-invoice price, however, is not necessarily what the dealer really paid for the car because there are often behind-the-scenes payments, such as unadvertised dealer sales incentives and holdbacks (or manufacturer refunds) that give the dealer extra profit. What you see on the invoice is only part of the pricing puzzle. You’ll need a few more pieces to form the complete picture.

Dealer sales incentives. These are unadvertised payments that the manufacturer offers a dealer for selling certain models. The dealer can pass along the incentive to the buyer in the form of a price reduction, or keep it as added profit. These payments are usually used to push sales of slow-selling or overstocked models. These types of incentive programs can come and go quickly depending on supply and demand, and some can be regional, depending on local market conditions.

Holdbacks. You can think of a holdback as a refund for the dealer that he or she gets after the vehicle has been sold. Depending on the automaker, a typical holdback is about 2 or 3 percent of either the MSRP or the invoice price. For example, if a vehicle has an MSRP of about $25,000, a dealer’s holdback might be as much as $800. Holdbacks are a way of reimbursing dealers for the financing costs of keeping vehicles in inventory. Because the dealer will receive the entire holdback amount, the sooner the vehicle sells—thereby reducing the finance costs—the more hold-back that can be kept as profit.

Dealers usually won’t bargain away their holdback, but knowing about it gives you perspective on their profit margin. So when the salesperson claims that the dealership isn’t making any money on a car, you’ll know whether it’s just a line or not. CR’s New Car Price Reports include a vehicle’s holdback amount, information that’s hard to find elsewhere. To make the negotiation simpler, every price report includes the CR Bottom Line Price, which subtracts any incentives, rebates, and the holdback from your region’s dealer-invoice price and adds in regional marketing costs, to give you a good starting point for your negotiations.

Rebate. This is a direct-to-the-buyer payment from the manufacturer to encourage you to purchase a particular vehicle. Many buyers use it as part of the down payment to reduce the amount that needs to be financed. Rebates are widely promoted in advertising but they can be national or regional, and they don’t last forever. It pays to check out the details.

Market adjustment. If there is exceptional or thousands of dollars over the manufacturer’s sticker price. You’ll typically find these on a highly anticipated model that’s been recently introduced or one that has a long waiting list of buyers. You can try to negotiate this figure but if the vehicle is selling well, the dealer won’t have much incentive to work with you. If you have to be the first on your block with a hot new model, this could be the premium you pay. But if you can be patient and wait awhile to buy—sometimes only a few months—these dealer adjustments will usually disappear.