When the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve, what promises will you make to yourself? Lose weight? Quit smoking? Find a new job?
Experts say you can make some insurance resolutions that will help 2012 get off on the right foot. They might even save you a few bucks -- perhaps addressing a New Year's resolution to save money.
1. Ask for discounts.
Check with your auto or home insurance agent to make sure you’re receiving all of the discounts you’re eligible for. Insurance companies continue to roll out discounts like accident forgiveness and disappearing deductibles.
By running through an annual analysis with your insurance agent, you can save every penny available, says Tara Reynolds, a vice president at MassMutual. For example, you may be eligible for a discount of 1 percent to 10 percent if you install a security system in your home.
2. Assess your life insurance needs.
“There’s a common misconception that you only need to review your life insurance needs when big milestones occur,” Reynolds says.
However, earning a raise, taking on debt or having to care for a family member are among the non-milestone reasons you might need to adjust or add life insurance. Why not take a look at this type of insurance when you're ushering in the new year?
3. Protect your most valuable asset -- yourself.
Disability insurance is one of the most important types of insurance, but Reynolds says it’s also one that’s frequently overlooked. “This type of insurance provides replacement income should you get sick or injured and become unable to work,” Reynolds says.
Todd Katz, executive vice president at MetLife, says a good rule of thumb is to protect 60 percent to 80 percent of your after-tax income with disability insurance. That way, you can cover essential expenses like housing, food, transportation and health care. “You will need to meet your essential living expenses if you should become disabled,” Katz says.
Katz notes that some disability insurance is better than no disability insurance at all. The cost varies drastically -- from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars -- based on such factors as age, gender and amount of coverage.
“If your budget is tight, it still makes sense to buy enough disability insurance to cover the rent or mortgage and keep your family in their home should you become disabled," he says.
4. Prepare a home inventory.
The time to document what you own is now, not once you've suffered a loss, says Ron Reitz, president of San Diego-based Quality Claims Management, a company that provided hazard claim recovery services.
A home inventory should include a description of each household item, along with its age, its replacement cost, where it was purchased and when you acquired it, according to Reitz. Photos of household items are suggested as well.
“I recommend an annual family meeting to compile or update an inventory of all of your possessions," Katz says. "The best time to do this is the beginning of each year -- right after the holidays -- when you may have lots of shiny new toys, electronics, jewelry and other gifts.”
You also might want to videotape your house inside and outside. Go room by room, opening drawers, closets, boxes and other places to reveal your belongings. Make sure you take video of your backyard, front yard, outbuildings, fencing and walls. Experts recommend that you store the video at an off-site location like your office or a safe deposit box, or upload it to an electronic backup system.
5. Spread the word.
Alert your friends and loved ones about what type of insurance coverage you have and where details about your policies are located.
If you need to tap your life, disability or long-term care insurance, “you might not be capable of conveying important details about your insurance if your family needs the policy information,” says Eric Hirsch, a financial adviser at Signature Financial Partners LLC, which has offices in Maryland and Virginia.
You'll also want to share information about your auto and home insurance, in case you’re in injured in a car crash or are the victim of a home fire and need help filing insurance claims.
6. Update your life insurance beneficiaries.
From weddings and births to divorces and deaths, a lot can change in a year.
“Now is a good time to review your (life) insurance beneficiary designations and make sure they reflect any family changes that may have taken place over the last year,” Reynolds says.
7. Create an emergency plan.
If a fire, flood, hurricane or other disaster hits your house, who will take care of your pets or grab the important papers and phone numbers? If you have young children, who will take care of them if you can't? If your family gets separated during a disaster, how will you find each other? If you lose your cellphones, do you know your insurance agent’s number?
Reitz suggests ringing in the new year with a plan that answers these – and similar – questions. Doing so will make it easier to file a disaster claim with your home or auto insurer.
8. Go paperless.
Progressive customers who sign their policies online receive a one-time $50 discount. Elephant auto insurance policyholders who opt for paperless policies save 2 percent on their premiums. Aside from possibly putting some extra money in your pocket, going paperless helps the environment.
9. Read your policy.
It sounds simple, yet few consumers take the time to actually pore over the declaration pages and fine print of their insurance policies. That can lead to confusion and disappointment when you file a claim but it's denied. For instance, standard home insurance policies don't cover maintenance-related claims like repairing a roof or repainting a house, yet many policyholders mistakenly think they do.
“If there’s the slightest aspect you don’t understand, make a note and call your agent on January 2nd,” Reitz says.