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What everyone should know about insurance

When it comes to insurance, it’s vital for consumers to be equipped with the tools to make informed choices. As executive director of the Insurance Information Network of California (IINC), Candysse Miller helps assemble the toolbox. candysse_miller recently spoke with Miller about the issues facing insurance consumers – and how to cope with them.

What is your organization’s mission?

IINC is the public communications arm of the insurance industry here in California. It’s our job to let the public know what insurance is, how it works and give them the tools to make smart decisions for themselves. Insurance is not something people tend to want to take a lot of time to understand, but there are things they absolutely need to understand. There’s no better time to understand it than upfront —before you buy your homeowner’s policy or your auto policy.

Would you say the biggest issues facing your state from an insurance perspective would be wildfires and earthquakes?

I think they’re at the forefront of people’s minds, but here’s the thing about California. Obviously, disasters pop into mind when you think of this state because it’s so high-profile when it happens. We’ve had some of the nation’s largest natural catastrophes happen in California —from the Oakland Hills fire to the 2003 wildfires and, of course, the catastrophic earthquakes. But that’s not the entire picture for California. We are the nation’s leader in terms of trends when it comes to insurance —for better or worse. When something happens in California, it’s not a guarantee it’s going to happen everywhere else, but we will guarantee that everywhere else is going to be watching.

What’s an example of this?

The example that comes to mind inevitably is earthquake insurance, because you’ve got less than 12 percent of homeowners in California carrying earthquake insurance. I never consider it my job to tell someone to go buy insurance. If it’s an optional coverage, that’s your decision to make. But it’s my job to give people the tools to make a solid assessment and ask whether they can afford not to have it.

If you live in an earthquake-prone region and have a lot of equity in your home or own it outright then you should, at the very least, be considering earthquake insurance as an option or figure out a Plan B. Make sure you have funds you can turn to if the unthinkable happens. Have you considered the what-ifs? We try to give people the options for the what-ifs, and one of those options should obviously be to take a look at earthquake insurance.

What are some common mistakes you see consumers making when it comes to insurance?

I would think that would be the No. 1 issue for a consumer is not giving insurance its due consideration. I always think the first of the year is the time to do it. It’s when you change the batteries in your smoke detector. Take a look at your policy when you do your taxes. It’s a smart time to do these things, because it’s all personal finance.

When it comes to wildfires, one of the big issues is making an inventory of what you have. What advice would you give consumers when it comes to making an inventory of their possessions?

My advice is: There’s no excuse. The first time you do it, it appears a little daunting because there is a lot of work involved. But ultimately, it’s really pretty easy. If you’ve never done it before, here are a couple pieces of advice: First, go to This is the Insurance Information Institute’s free software for doing a home inventory. Two, when you do that first inventory, go room by room. Handle it through bite-size pieces. You don’t have to do the entire thing in one shot.

Have you ever been personally affected by this?

In 2003, there were a number of wildfires. One of them was in San Bernardino County, very close to where I live. In fact, it was so close I could see flames from my home. My home backed up to the evacuation center at the time. I looked around the house and realized I had talked the talk, but I hadn’t walked the walk. I did not have a home inventory. So I took the video camera and went through my entire house, my closets, the garage. I shot video of my entire home and put that video on front seat of car for the next three weeks while handling media during the wildfires.

That was a real wake-up call for me. Now, not only do I have an inventory, but I update it every year.

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