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Tips On Negotiating a Denied Homeowners Insurance Claim

Especially in the wake of the storms that recently hit the southeastern U.S., or an other occurrence or accident, you might have the unfortunate experience of filing a homeowners insurance claim. Normally the procedure follows a few steps: Your insurance company sends a representative to take a look at the damage, a monetary damage estimate is made and repairs are made. Or at least that’s the normal progression of events.

If things didn’t go as well as you hoped and your claim was denied, don’t fear being stuck with the total cost of these repairs. Insurance expert and author of the

Equifax Personal Finance Blog, Linda Rey, offers some tips on what to do next in her recent post, “How to Resolve a Claim Dispute with Your Insurance Provider.”

As any other business would, insurance companies have to cut their losses. Your insurance company’s underwriters have the responsibility of reviewing claims to make sure that they are legitimate and fall under what your policy covers. Therefore, Rey says the first step you should take is thoroughly reviewing your insurance policy. Have you paid even your most recent bills? Could you have taken actions that negated the policy without your knowing? Make sure you are familiar with your policy’s specifics and limits.

Rey also says that documentation is key! Every time you communicate with the insurance company, make sure to write down the date, time and name of the person who assisted you. It is also a good idea to record the number to the person’s direct phone line. Don’t forget to jot down notes about the conversation and how it turns out.

More importantly, make sure to hang onto all receipts, letters, charts, estimates, witness statements, police reports, medical records and other papers related to the claim. You may need physical proof to validate your argument at some point. This is made much easier if you have all the necessary materials together and handy.

In closing, Rey reminds readers to keep their cool. After all, you catch more flies with honey! A little sweetness might do wonders in helping you land a better insurance settlement.

You can find Rey’s post at the Equifax Personal Finance Blog. If you have any tips or experience in negotiating homeowners insurance claim, please let us know.

Yikes! Fewer Americans Dreaming of Home Ownership?

homeownership in AmericaBaseball, apple pie and homeownership have long been seen as the cornerstones of America. But could the American Dream of homeownership be another casualty of the housing crisis? According to the

Equifax Personal Finance Blog it is. Apparently the number of Americans who believe owning a home is a safe investment has fallen, which could impact the demand for housing during a recovery.

The statistics are in a post called, “

Housing Market Predictions: Where Did the Recovery Go?”  by Steve Cook of Real Estate Economy Watch. Cook discusses the idea of a double-dip in the housing market, illustrated by a 9.6 percent fall in February home sales from January levels and further declines in home prices. In fact, he says that the Federal Housing Finance Agency reported that January 2011 home prices were at their lowest level since May of 2004 and 16.5 percent lower than their highest level in April 2007.

With those figures in mind, it’s easy to understand why many Americans no longer see a home investment as a wise one. Cook predicts the number of uninspired Americans – when it comes to the buying-a-home portion of the American Dream – will make a big difference when recovery comes around.

The numbers look like this: In 2003, 83 percent of those surveyed by Fannie Mae believed that buying a home was a safe investment. In January 2010, the number had fallen to 70 percent. In 2011, only 64 percent – almost 20 percent fewer than 2003 levels – find home ownership to be a safe place to spend their money. If Americans invest according to these views, the numbers mean that the recovery will have to take place in an environment where there is substantially less demand for home ownership. For this reason, Cook predicts “an entirely different real estate economy than the one we remember” once the recovery happens.

Cook’s article contains additional statistics and predictions, including that recovery will take place according to specific markets (not regionally) and that the foreclosure era will eventually end (though he doesn’t know when). To find what factors he considers important to recovery in those markets, visit the

Equifax Personal Finance Blog.  Then let us know if you’re seeing what Cook has observed. Do you think the number of people dreaming of owning Atlanta real estate has fallen?

Buying Luxury Real Estate with Lottery Winnings? Wait Just a Minute!

luxury real estateIf you’re perusing Luxury Real Estate Forum because you’ve just won the lottery (or you’ve just bought a ticket and know it’s THE one), you may want to slow down. The luxury homes will still be here after you’ve paid your taxes!

The

Equifax Personal Finance Blog recently posted a story about the taxes Americans pay after the lucky day when their numbers are finally drawn.

“Winner! Winner! Winner!: Tax Implications of Winning Lotteries and Game Show Prizes” not only gives directions for filing your claim, but also gives advice for hanging on to some of your newly acquired money.

The article’s author, tax expert Eva Rosenberg, says that the Federal government will tax winnings at your highest tax rate of 28 to 35 percent. Many states don’t tax winnings, but you’ll need to check. The highest state tax rate on lottery winnings is found in New Jersey, where residents pay 10.8 percent of their winnings. If you win the prize in a state other than your own state of residence, you could end up paying taxes in both states…or your state may give you a credit for the taxes paid elsewhere. You’ll have to check.

But lotteries aren’t the only places Americans are winning these days. There are the sweepstakes that have been around for decades, then there are newer places to win. You could win on game shows or reality television. There’s the money you could win by submitting a funny video to the right place, or the prizes you could receive just for sitting in the studio audience on the right day at the right talk show.

Even the prizes that aren’t monetary will be taxed. You’ll pay taxes based on the fair market value of the item you win. You’ll owe the state where you win the prize, your own state and Uncle Sam.

Now that you have a better idea of how much of your lottery winnings you may get to spend, get back to looking at that luxury real estate. Or, if you have more questions about handling your newfound wealth appropriately, visit the

Equifax Personal Finance Blog, where you’ll find information on all sorts of money management isssues.

Luxury Home Owners May Be Looking at More Taxes, So Use an FSA to Cut Them

homr mortgageLooking ahead to income taxes for 2011, many people who own luxury homes may be in danger of losing the Bush-era tax cuts they now enjoy. As the lame duck Congress considers extending or ending those cuts, it seems the most likely group to lose out is the “wealthy” Americans – couples making $250,000 or more a year.

Whether you fall into this category or not – and whether those tax cuts end up being extended or not – it’s wise to look at ways you can keep extra money for yourself and away from Uncle Sam. Many companies are now undergoing open enrollment for their benefits, and this may give you just the chance you need to keep more of your money.

In the

Equifax Personal Finance blog tax expert Eva Rosenberg talks about using the open enrollment period to set up a flexible spending account (FSA). Her article, “

Open-Enrollment and FSAs: A Bonanza of Tax Advantages,” explains that you can avoid paying federal or state income taxes and FICA/Medicare taxes on money you will spend for certain expenses. Income taxes range from 15 to 35 percent of income, and FICA/Medicare taxes are 7.65 percent, for a total of anywhere from about 22 to about 42 percent savings on the dollars you set aside.

To participate in your company’s FSA, think ahead about the amount of money you expect to spend on childcare expenses and medical expenses. If you’re planning to adopt a child in 2011, think about the expenses you’ll incur there as well. The total amount you estimate will be divided by 12 and set aside from your paycheck each month. The money will come out before taxes are assessed, meaning you get paid that money tax-free. When you spend money, you submit a receipt to the account administrator, and you’re repaid (even if you haven’t yet paid all the funds into the account).

Be conservative in your estimates, though. You will not get back any money you don’t spend during the year. The

Equifax Personal Finance blog lists more tips and pitfalls, so read it carefully before you sign up for an FSA. If you have any questions, you can post them there for Rosenberg to answer.

Your Homeowners Insurance Agent is More Than a Pretty Face

homeowners insuranceInsurance agents are famous for smiling down at potential clients from billboards all over town. But insurance expert and

Equifax Personal Finance Blog contributor Linda Rey wouldn’t consider the number of billboard sightings you encounter as a good way to choose the agent to write your homeowners insurance policy. She says you need to search for good service as diligently as you looked for the right location when you chose your new  home.

As a first step in finding insurance for your home, you may want to ask your friends and coworkers who they use and what their experiences are. Then you may want to think about the type of insurance agent you want – one you can reach only online or by phone or one you can meet in person. Either way you go, you’ll want assurance they can be there for you if disaster strikes, helping you through the claims process.

You may also want to look for an agent who carries many types of insurance so you can bundle your auto, home, life and/or other policies and receive discounts. Rey says an important part of an agent’s role is to review your policies with you regularly to ensure that you are adequately insured, at the right price, even as your needs change.

Once you’ve identified several potential agents, go back to Rey’s Equifax article, “

How to Choose the Best Insurance Agent.”  She gives links to several websites that will help you narrow down your choice based on their credentials, licensing and service records. For example, she says you can check for complaints on insurance agents or carriers at your state insurance department. You can look for customer service rankings at J.D. Power.

These links and more are posted on the

Equifax Personal Finance Blog, along with Rey’s other expert advice on choosing your agent and managing your overall insurance needs. It’s worth taking a few moments to check out before you just go with the “easiest” insurance option. What’s easy now may prove to be more difficult and more expensive in the end.