MONEY Ask the Expert

Do You Really Need Medigap Insurance If You’re in Good Health?

140603_FF_QA_Obamacare_illo_1
Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: We are in good health and have a Medigap Plan N for 2014. With same expected health in 2015, do we need anything more than Medicare A, B, and D plans? —Norbert & Sue

A: Medigap, a private insurance policy that supplements Medicare, picks up where Medicare leaves off, helping you cover co-payments, coinsurance, and deductibles. Some policies also pay for services Medicare doesn’t touch, like medical care outside the U.S.

This additional insurance is not necessary, but, says Fred Riccardi, client services director at the Medicare Rights Center, “if you can afford to, have a Medigap policy. It provides protection for high out-of-pocket costs, especially if you become ill or need to receive more care as you age.” (If you already have some supplemental retiree health insurance through a former employer or union, you may be able to skip Medigap; you also don’t need a Medigap policy if you chose a Medicare Advantage Plan, or Medicare Part C.)

If you purchase Medigap, you’ll owe a monthly premium on top of what you pay for Medicare Part B. The cost ranges from a median annual premium of $936 for Medigap Plan K coverage to $1,952 for Plan F coverage, according to a survey of insurers by Weiss Ratings. The median cost for your plan N was $1,332 a year.

Even if you didn’t end up needing your Medicap policy this year, however, think twice before you drop it.

If you skip signing up when you’re first eligible, or if you buy a Medigap plan and later drop it, you might not be able to get another policy down the road, or you may have to pay far more for the coverage.

Under federal law, you’re guaranteed the right to buy a Medigap policy during a six-month open enrollment period that begins the month you turn 65 and join Medicare, says Riccardi. (To avoid a gap in coverage, you can apply earlier.) During this time, insurance companies cannot deny you coverage, and they must offer you the best available rates regardless of your health. You can compare the types of Medigap plans at Medicare.gov.

You also have a guaranteed right to buy most Medigap policies within 63 days of losing certain types of health coverage, including private group health insurance and a Medigap policy or Medicare Advantage plan that ends its coverage. You also have this fresh window if you joined a Medicare Advantage plan when you first became eligible for Medicare and dropped out within the first 12 months.

Most states follow the federal rules, but some, such as New York and Connecticut, allow you to buy a policy any time, says Riccardi. Call your State Health Insurance Assistance Program to learn more.

Outside of one of these federally or state-protected windows, you’ll be able to buy a policy only if you find a company willing to sell you one.And they can charge you a higher premium based on your health status, and you may have to wait six months before the policy will cover pre-existing conditions.

TIME Health Care

Obamacare Support Drops to 37%, Survey Says

U.S. President Barack Obama listens to a question at a news conference at the end of the G20 summit in Brisbane
U.S. President Barack Obama listens to a question at a news conference at the end of the G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia on Nov. 16, 2014. Jason Reed—Reuters

Even as 100,000 people spent the weekend signing up for insurance

Americans’ approval of the Affordable Care Act has fallen to a new low, according to a new poll, even as 100,000 people spent the weekend signing up for health insurance under the program.

A Gallup survey conducted Nov. 6-9, in the days after Republicans won control of Congress in the midterm elections, finds only 37% of Americans approve of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, for which the second open-enrollment period began on Nov. 15. Lower approval was noted among independents and non-whites, at 33% and 56%, respectively.

Support for the law has been consistently low since November 2013, around the time the first open-enrollment period began. In January, support reached its previous low of 38%. Gallup notes that “approval of the law has remained low throughout the year even as it has had obvious success in reducing the uninsured rate.”

Many Republicans have called for an all-out repeal of the law, which is unlikely, though Obama could still agree to modify parts of it.

MONEY buying a home

7 Tips For Buying a Vacation Home

Beach house
Astronaut Images—Getty Images

You may be tempted to finally buy that vacation place now that the housing market has healed. Here's what to consider before you start house hunting.

Many Americans contemplating a vacation home abandoned that dream when the housing market collapsed. But now that home values have climbed month after month, with the median price up about 20% since its bottom nearly three years ago, you may once again be toying with the idea of that lakefront, ski or beach getaway place. About 13% of homes purchased last year were intended as vacation homes, up from 11% in 2012, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Yet you shouldn’t let the fact that the market has stabilized drive your buying decisions. Instead follow these seven steps to take to make sure a vacation home is right for you, and won’t turn out to be an expensive headache.

1. Choose the Location Carefully

This may sound obvious, but before you start shopping you need to be able to specify why exactly you want this second home. The answer should shape where you look. For example, 87% of vacation home purchasers in 2013 planned to use the property primarily to getaway with their families, according to the NAR. Thus the typical home purchased was an average 180 miles from the buyers’ primary residence.

If the main purpose is for you and your loved ones to gather together and enjoy the house as a family, you’ll need it to be in an area that is easily accessible for everyone, and that offers plenty of activities for different age groups. While you may think jumping on a flight to Florida isn’t a big deal, elderly grandparents or parents of small children may disagree.

Buyers who plan to rent the home to others- as 25% of purchasers do- may want to choose a location with numerous seasons of rental demand, so you aren’t limited to income only, say, three months of the year (likely when you want to use the home too). When you’re viewing the home as an investment property you’ll also care more about projected growth rates of the communities you’re considering, as well as the health of the local economy.

Related: 6 Amenities to Ensure Repeat Business in Your Vacation Rental

2. Rent Before You Purchase

Before you lock yourself in, rent a place (more than once is best) in the area you’re considering to be certain you’ll actually enjoy it. Stay for at least two weeks to make sure you don’t grow bored on extended stays.

Try to visit in different seasons to understand weather and crowd patterns. For example, you may realize that you hate needing to book a dinner reservation well in advance during the summer busy season, when you’re there to relax.

Or if you plan to eventually move to the home full-time, as one-third of buyers do, you may decide a house outside of town is actually too lonely and inconvenient. Only 32% of vacation homes purchased last year were in a small town or rural locale.

You’ll also learn what part of town you prefer. For example, in Orlando vacation homes are spread out throughout the city, but you may prefer the shops and restaurants in Kissimmee over Davenport.

3. Buy Under Your Budget

Don’t fall into the trap of purchasing a property that is a stretch to afford. Buying a house with too high of monthly carrying costs causes stress, and most people go on vacation to getaway from troubles. It also means that if you eventually decide you want to hire someone to manage the place, or care for the yard, there won’t be any wiggle room in your budget to afford it.

Keep in mind that you can always upgrade to a bigger house down the road.

4. Be Realistic About How Often You’ll Use It

My wife and I have three kids. When they were young we bought a vacation home near our house. We used it all the time. As the kids got older, though, we visited the house less and less. Weekend sports games, friends sleeping over, and church and school activities left too little time to get there.

Be realistic when you make assumptions about how often you’ll actually be able to use the place. You may be better off working out a rental agreement with an owner in the area to use his or her place two or three times a year- and forget about the place when you’re not there.

5. Understand the Tax Implications

Don’t assume you know what the tax consequences of owning that property will be, based on your experience with your primary residence. Second homes can be more complicated.

If you are going to rent out the property, you will need to pay income taxes on the rental income you receive. Your property taxes may also run higher than what you pay now, either because the tax rate in the vacation area is higher than where you live, or because its a second home and not a primary residence. For example, the taxes on second homes in Florida are usually much higher than for primary residences.

A qualified real estate agent should be able to provide details about taxes in the area, and possibly even tips on ways to save, such as buying just outside the city limits.

6. Make a Conservative Estimate of Rental Income

Most buyers tend to be overly optimistic about how often they’ll rent out the place. Talk to a local vacation rental agency about how many weeks of the year you can realistically expect demand. For example, even in a winter and summer destination such as Lake Tahoe you can’t expect to fill the place every month of the year.

You also need a realistic estimate of how much expenses will eat into that income. Presume repairs will cost about 1.5% of the value of the house. So for a $100,000 place budget for at least $1500 a year in repairs. Each year the tab might be higher or lower than the estimate, but this rule of thumb will give you some flexibility from year to year.

Similarly, find out ahead of time what your home insurance tab will run, since second homes are often in hurricane or flood areas and thus pricey to insure, and also may cost more simply because they are empty more often.

7. Don’t Get Caught Up in the Moment

If a friend, family member or another investor brings you an opportunity to buy a vacation home, or to acquire land with aspirations of building a grand home, don’t let yourself be easily persuaded. The proposal can sound romantic but quickly turn into a horror story. Sometimes people have alternative motives. Other times they haven’t actually done their homework to uncover that the so-called deal isn’t really a good one.

Related: How to Market Your Vacation Rental to Ensure Maximum Bookings

So slow down, take your time — and do your research. Move forward only after you have thoroughly run the numbers yourself. An opportunity that turns sour will eat up your money- as well as your precious vacation days.

 

More from BiggerPockets:

10 Things Only Personal Finance Nerds Would Understand

5 Tenant Characteristics Its Wise to Discriminate Against

5 Ways to Reduce Booking Cancellations On Your Vacation Home

 

Another version of this article originally appeared on BiggerPockets, the real estate investing social network. © 2014 BiggerPockets Inc.

MONEY retirement income

The Creepy Truth About Life Settlements

Actress Betty White presents the late producer Bob Stewart with a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award during the 40th annual Daytime Emmy Awards in Beverly Hills, California June 16, 2013.
Actress Betty White has pitched life settlements to seniors. Danny Moloshok—Reuters

A new novel revolves around a murderous life settlements investor. That's fiction. But these products have very real risks for buyers and sellers.

Selling your life insurance policy is right up there with taking out a reverse mortgage when it comes to retirement income sources that most people would be better off not tapping. But folks do it anyway, while paying little attention to the costs and, as a new novel points out, the risks of a policy landing in the wrong hands.

Selling a life policy for a relatively large sum—known as a life settlement—has gotten easier over the last decade. Hedge funds, private equity funds, insurers and pension funds dominate the market, which totals around $35 billion, up from $2 billion in 2002. Individuals are investing in them too, through securities that represent a fraction of a bundle of life settlements, sometimes called death bonds.

How Life Settlements Work

Those most likely to be offered a life settlement, formerly known as a viatical, are individuals with a universal life insurance policy they no longer need or can’t afford—or who simply don’t want to pay the premiums. A term life policy that converts to a universal policy may also have value. Policyholders sell their insurance for more than they’d get by surrendering the policy to their insurer. If you have a death benefit of $1 million, you might have $100,000 cash surrender value but manage to get $250,000 from a third-party investor. The investor assumes future premium payments and collects $1 million at your death.

Not a bad deal, assuming you’re comfortable with the fact that someone out there has a financial interest in your demise. You get a bigger payout for a policy you were going to give up anyway. Life policies with total face value in the tens of billions of dollars lapse every year, according to industry estimates. Many of those policies have value in the secondary market.

As part of their ad campaign, the life settlement industry has enlisted actress Betty White, who pitches these deals for “savvy senior citizens needing cash.” Heck, she’s more persuasive than Fred Thompson is about reverse mortgages. But don’t be easily swayed. Aging celebrities from Henry Winkler to Sally Field are pitching all sorts of elder products these days in what amounts to an encore career—not a genuine endorsement.

The Privacy Risk

Okay, so what are the downsides to life settlements? For policyholders seeking to raise money, the creepiest risk by far is that you sell your policy to Tony Soprano, who understands that the quicker you die, the greater his rate of return. This is the extreme case explored in a new novel by Ben Lieberman, The Carnage Account. The lead character is a Wall Street high roller who buys up life settlements and dispatches the people with the biggest policies. “Very few products on Wall Street have been immune to exploitation,” says Lieberman, noting the wave of subprime mortgages that blew up in the financial crisis. “The abuse can now hurt more than your property. Instead of losing your house you can lose your life.”

Of course, Lieberman is a novelist with an active imagination. Life settlements have been around since the AIDS crisis, and there has never been a known case of murder for quick payoff, says Darwin Bayston, CEO and president of the Life Insurance Settlement Association. There have been only three formal complaints of any kind about life settlements to national regulators in the last three years, he says.

Yet Lieberman, who has a long Wall Street background, finds the entry of cutthroat hedge fund managers more than a little unsettling. Policies with insurers or held by pension funds remain largely anonymous inside huge portfolios. Institutions base their settlement offers on average life expectancies, knowing some policies will pay early and some will pay late.

But in smaller and more actively managed pools investors may pick and choose life policies that promise a quicker payoff, based on things like depression and mental illness, or clues from medical staff as to the most “valuable” policies. Life settlement investors are also targeting an estimated $40 billion of death benefits that policyholders might sell to fund long-term care needs, spinning it as socially conscious investing. How else will these seniors pay for end-of-life care? “Instead of credit risk or prepayment risk we now evaluate longevity risk,” Lieberman says. “This began as a way to help terminally ill patients. Now it incorporates perfectly healthy people and presents a way to bet against human life.”

One former life settlements investor told me he has seen third-party portfolios of life policies fully disclosing the names of the insured parties, which is the basis for the success of Lieberman’s fictional Carnage Account. In his novel, a murderous hedge fund manager gets this information and speeds up the whole process. Again, that’s fiction. But even Bayston concedes that a determined life settlements investor could get the identities of the insured people whose long lives are bad for investment returns.

The Financial Risks

Now, let’s look at the non-fiction risks with life settlements. For sellers, they are considerable, and include giving up your policy too cheaply and paying dearly for the transaction, and possibly becoming ineligible to buy another policy. Always check the cash surrender value first. Do not be swayed by brokers putting on a hard sale. They stand to collect commissions of up to 30% of the settlement. If you are determined to quit paying premiums, rather than sell the policy consider letting the cash value fund future premiums until the cash is exhausted. That’s a much better deal for heirs if you pass away in the interim. You can sell the policy when the cash value has been depleted—and get more for it then.

For buyers, settlements are complex and illiquid, and they may not pay out for many years. Given these hidden risks, they generally do not make sense for individual investors. Wall Street, meanwhile, benefits from their huge fees and expected long-run annual returns of 12% or more. Perhaps more important, settlements offer returns with no correlation to the financial market, which can be attractive to sophisticated investors and institutions, such as pension funds.

The life settlements industry has leveled off since the financial crisis, in large part because policies are taking longer to pay, thanks to increasing longevity. That drives down returns. Underscoring this risk to investors: the Society of Actuaries recently published revised mortality rates showing that a 65-year-old can now expect to live two years longer than someone that age just 14 years ago. But investors have been edging back into the market the last couple years, drawn by more realistic return assumptions and an anticipated flood of life policies held by boomers who will need cash to pay for assisted living.

Only in a novel do life settlements investors manage longevity risk with a hit man. But there are good reasons to be careful nonetheless.

MONEY homeowners insurance

Why You Soon May Have to Pick Up More Home Repair Costs

measuring tape with money
Bart Sadowski—Getty Images

Insurers are moving from flat deductibles to higher ones based on the value of your home. Here's what you need to know about this change.

Two years after Superstorm Sandy, State Farm agent Jen Dunn is busy explaining new insurance math to her customers in upstate New York. Instead of the dollar-amount deductibles they have been used to for years, she is now writing their policies based on percentages.

For many, it means turning the typical $500 deductible into 1% of the insured value—for a $250,000 house, that means a gasp-producing $2,500.

“My clients who have been offered this initially say, ‘I don’t like this,'” Dunn says. But then she explains that the higher amount is usually offset by a lower annual premium. If they go years without a claim, they can save in the meantime.

Jason Corbett, 39, who lives in central Georgia, is using a 1% deductible. Because Corbett’s rural home is valued at slightly less than $200,000, it was a better deal than a flat $1,000 deductible. The difference between the two deductibles was only a couple of hundred dollars. However, he saved money by lowering his premium, so over time the difference in his out-of-pocket costs will be negligible.

If he had a $300,000 home and the deductible was double what he pays now, “that would be a different decision,” says Corbett, who writes a personal finance blog.

State Farm, the largest U.S. property and casualty insurance company by market share, says a “significant” number of its policies now have percentage deductibles. Other carriers, like Allstate Corp, USAA, and Nationwide, also offer the option to consumers in certain states, but the prevalence is not yet tracked nationwide. The practice is near-universal in Texas at this point, according to that state’s insurance office.

With a percentage deductible policy, things are a little different than the old-fashioned flat rate. Here are seven things you need to know:

1. Do not be afraid of high deductibles

You might be used to $500, but a higher deductible could actually be better for you.

“It’s a very smart move to buy high deductibles if you can afford it,” advises J. Robert Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America.

The main reason? Every claim you make against your homeowners insurance can raise your rates. One claim pushes it up an average of 9% and two claims will raise it by 20%, according to a recent study by insuranceQuotes.com. So you want to pay out of pocket for small claims anyway.

2. The 1% deductible is not a percentage of your loss

The new terminology makes people think of health insurance, but homeowner claims do not work that way, says Jim Gavin, director of insurance information services for the Independent Insurance Agents of Texas trade group.

Rather, the out-of-pocket deductible you have to pay before the company will cover any claims is based on a percentage of the insured value of your home—which is not the market value or the appraised value, but the cost of replacing your home should it burn to the ground and need to be rebuilt.

For example: If a kitchen fire damaged your $250,000 home with a 1% deductible, and it cost $5,000 to repair the damage, you would receive a check from the insurance company for $2,500 after paying the other half yourself.

3. Your out-of-pocket costs will regularly increase

Your $500 deductible stays flat forever, but a percentage deductible will go up incrementally over time as the insured value of your home rises.

Some homeowners may not even notice this, like Will Harvey, 34, of Tyler, Texas, who is five years into a 1% policy on his home. “If it went up, it wasn’t enough for me to remember it,” he says.

4. You will still have other deductibles on top of the basic rate

Many homeowners have add-on clauses like a 5% hurricane deductible that is common in coastal areas, or 2% for wind and hail damage. Many states require separate coverage for earthquakes and floods.

Those all still apply on top of the basic coverage for fire and theft, says Amy Danise, editorial director of Insure.com. So if you have any damage that is caused by a specified risk, you will have to pay out of pocket first for that.

5. Your might be able to pay down your percentile

If 1% is too much for you, you may have the option to accept a higher premium to lower out-of-pocket costs—going from 1% to half a percent or some other fraction. The value to you depends on how much your house is worth and how much you can afford to pay out of your savings if something goes wrong, says State Farm’s Dunn.

6. You can still shop around

Even in Texas, where almost every company offers a deductible of at least 1%, or sometimes up to 1.5% or 2%, some carriers still do things the traditional way. Texas insurance agent Criss Sudduth says the customers who might benefit more from a flat-fee policy are those whose premiums do not actually go down despite the percentage policy—either because the weather risks are too high or because their personal credit is bad.

7. You should still figure out your dollar amount

After years of hearing complaints from consumers who are confused, the Texas legislature passed a bill recently requiring carriers to explain what the percentage deductible translates into, in dollars.

In other states, if your carrier does not do this, you should find out the information yourself and write it on your declarations page, says Deeia Beck, public counsel and executive director of the Texas Office of Public Insurance Counsel.

MONEY Insurance

Why Even a Fair Insurance Claim Will Send Customers Packing

The insurance claims process is so painful and outdated that about half of customers who confront it bolt no matter what.

The financial services industry has been among the slowest to embrace the mobile and other technologies that many consumers crave. Within the industry, insurers probably have been slowest—and their old-fashioned ways are stirring a high level of churn.

Insurance customers are generally pleased with their provider. Only 14% of those who submitted a claim in the past two years are unhappy with how it was handled, according to a report from Accenture. As you might expect, a high rate of those—83%—plan to switch providers. But even among the vast majority who filed a claim and were satisfied, 41% say they are likely to switch insurers in the next 12 months, the report found.

Why would satisfied customers switch? In general, their claims experience, while satisfactory, left them feeling it should have been better. “The bar has been raised and insurers now need to handle claims in a way that not only satisfies policyholders but also differentiates them from other insurers,” says Michael Costonis, global head of claims services at Accenture, a research and consulting firm.

Technology exists that would greatly streamline the claims process, he says. Consumers understand that, and when they file a claim and confront the old way of doing things they resolve to look for something better. For example, Costonis says, in the case of an auto accident, sensors could summon assistance automatically, notify a garage, and get a tow truck on the scene—all without a phone call. Your car could be fixed and delivered to your door, and if any money was due to you it might be put in your account without the tedious paperwork.

Customers expect quick claims and fair pricing. But they also want transparency and this is where technology can make a big difference. “More and more, especially with younger customers, this takes the form of providing anywhere, anytime access online or through mobile apps,” Costonis says. In the study, 44% said they would switch providers to be able to use digital channels to monitor the claims process.

Broader use of technology could help in other ways too. Three in four customers are willing to share more personal information in order to get better rates, the study found. Insurers could easily gather information about the condition of cars and customer driving habits. They could also gather information collected by smoke, carbon monoxide, humidity, and motion detectors. Such data could help them help their customers manage risks and wind up filing fewer claims—and that is the Holy Grail because customers hate the process and insurers lose a high percentage of those who file a claim no matter what.

Related: How to make sure you have enough insurance coverage

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 15

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Americans are often oblivious to the role of farming in their lives. To get the smart policies needed to feed our nation and the world, we must reconnect people to agriculture.

By Ian Pigott in the Des Moines Register

2. Even employer-paid health insurance can worsen poverty and increase inequality.

By David Blumenthal in Commonwealth Fund

3. Is “feminist marketing” an oxymoron?

By Chandra Johnson in the Deseret News

4. Helsinki has a plan cities everywhere could try: Combine the sharing economy, transit and mobile technology to eliminate cars.

By Randy Rieland in Smithsonian

5. America’s best bet in Africa is a strong relationship with Nigeria.

By Daniel Donovan in Foreign Policy Blogs

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Walmart

Why Walmart Workers Losing Healthcare Might Not Be Bad

Getty Images

Ironies abound

Talk about irony. In the same week that Walmart announced employees who work less than 30 hours will be losing their health care coverage, the company also announced that it’d be getting deeper into the business of selling insurance, making it easier for customers to price shop for insurance in stores. In some ways, this mirrors Walmart’s overall business model—keep prices down for consumers, but keep wages and benefits for employees low too.

Ironically, under the rules of Obamacare, it’s possible that those part time employees will get a better deal on health care exchanges, thanks to subsidies that help lower income workers buy insurance. It’s all part of the new landscape created by the Affordable Care Act. As Obamacare turns one year old, Joe Nocera and I discussed how it’s changed healthcare, business, and the economy, on WNYC’s Money Talking.

TIME How-To

Choosing the Best Insurance for Your Phone

broken phone
Getty Images

Phone insurance and extended protection plans aren’t cheap, but the investment can save you big down the line should your phone get lost, stolen or damaged.

Take the iPhone 6. While you may be able to get it for $0 down, a replacement will cost you $650 out of pocket and even a small drop can leave you with a cracked display that can cost hundreds to fix.

Fortunately, protection plan options are plentiful, but picking the right one can be complicated. Extended warranty plans only cover repairs when there’s a mechanical failure, not loss, theft or accidental damage. Other plans will cover accidental and mechanical failures but not loss or theft. And, different types of coverage come at varying price points.

So which is the right plan for you? If you, or your child, is forgetful or accident prone, a full coverage plan may be best. Or, you may have enough coverage from your credit card company or home owner’s insurance. Check out the following plans to see what’s right for you.

Retailers

Many large electronics retailers offer phone insurance. Best Buy, for example, will insure an iPhone 5S or 6 for two years for the lump sum of $199.98 or for $9.99 a month. That covers malfunctions as well as accidental damage to the phone, but not loss or theft. There’s a $149.99 deductible for claims that are not covered under the manufacturer’s warranty and you have to buy the Geek Squad protection with the product online or within 15 days of buying your phone in-store. There’s a limit of three claim submissions.

SquareTrade

For two years of coverage for mechanical and electrical failures as well as accidental damage—but not loss or theft—SquareTrade offers a warranty for the iPhone 5S or 6 for $99 for two years or $5 per month. That’s a better deal compared with Best Buy, even though they nail you with a $75 deductible for every smartphone claim.

You can buy a SquareTrade warranty on a retail item within 30 days of buying it or if the phone is currently insured by AT&T, Verizon, Sprint or T-Mobile. For one you bought on eBay, coverage starts after the existing manufacturer’s warranty expires or on the 46th day after purchase, if there is no warranty.

Worth Ave. Group

An insurance policy from Worth Ave. Group covers a cell phone for accidental damage such as drops and spills as well as theft, fire, flood, natural disasters and lightning strikes. For an iPhone 5S (16GB model with $649 coverage), you’ll spend $130 for two years with a $50 deductible (iPhone 6 pricing isn’t available yet). For smartphones other than iPhones, a phone costing $649 will run $138 for two years with a $50 deductible. Loss and malfunction are not covered. You can buy insurance from Worth Ave. Group anytime, even on older devices.

Carriers

For $7 per month, AT&T offers coverage for loss, theft and out-of-warranty malfunction of your phone. When making a claim, you’ll need to pay a $50-$199 deductible (iPhones have a $199 deductible). You can make two claims per year for a total of $1,500.

For $8-$11 per month, Sprint offers full coverage–loss, theft, accidental damage and mechanical or electrical breakdown. You’ll also pay a deductible of $50-$200 (see the full list of fees and deductibles) for each claim. You can make two claims per year for a total of $1,500. New York residents can also purchase just insurance (loss, theft and accidental damage) for $5-$9 per month (iPhones would be $9 per month).

T-Mobile offers a few options for those looking for coverage. For $8 per month, you can get full coverage–loss, theft, accidental damage and mechanical or electrical breakdown–or you can choose to pay for an extended warranty for $5 per month or just insurance for $6 per month. A non-refundable deductible of $20 to $175 (iPhones have a $175 deductible), depending on your device, is applied for each claim. You can make two claims each year with a limit of $1,500 for each loss.

Verizon tacks $10 for the iPhone and $8 for other smartphones to cover loss, theft, accidental damage and electrical or mechanical failure after the manufacturer’s warranty expires. There’s a deductible of $99 for non-iPhone models and $99-$199, depending on which model iPhone you have. You can make two claims per year for a total of $1,500.

Major Credit Cards

There are two ways that credit cards can provide coverage for your phone. First, many major credit cards extended the manufacturer’s warranty by a year or longer, though it varies depending on the card. Check out Credit.com’s tutorial on the subject. Many also cover loss from theft or damage within the first 90 days after purchase.

You can also get theft and damage coverage from select cards if you use them pay for your cell phone service, including Wells Fargo and First Citizens Bank. MagnifyMoney.com has a list of more than 25 banks and credit unions offering the feature.

Homeowners/Renters Insurance

For larger purchases, such as premium smartphones, some insurance companies will let you attach a rider to your homeowners or renters insurance, which will specifically cover that purchase. Smartphones are usually covered in general by homeowners and renters insurance under the same conditions of your general insurance policy. You’ll want to check with your provider to find out your options. You’ll also want to find out how filing claims for your smartphone, if you don’t have a rider, may impact the fees you pay for your overall homeowners or renters insurance and whether repeat claims could lead your insurance company to drop your coverage.

Pricing by Provider for an iPhone 5S

Best Buy Carriers Worth Ave. Group SquareTrade Major Credit Cards Homeowners Insurance AppleCare
Loss (first 90 days) Varies
Theft (first 90 days) Varies
Damage Varies
Mechanical / Electrical Defect
When you can purchase Within 15 days of purchase Varies Anytime Within 30 days of purchase or if the phone is currently insured by AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon Automatic at time of purchase Within 60 days of purchase
Deductible $150 $200 $50 $75 $0 Varies $79
Cost for 2 years
$200 (lump sum) or $240 (paid monthly) $168-$264 $130 $99 (lump sum) or ($120 paid monthly) $0 Varies, but starts around $40 $99
Pricing by Carrier for an iPhone 5S

AT&T Sprint T-Mobile Verizon
Deductible $199 $0 (for first 2 claims if it can be repaired in-store), $200 $175 $199.00
Cost for 2 years
$168 (full coverage) $264 (full coverage) $120 (extended warranty only), $144 (insurance only), $192 (full coverage) $240 (full coverage)
Claims & coverage
2 claims per year, total $1,500 2 claims per year, total $1,500 2 claims per year, total $1,500 per claim 2 claims per year, total $1,500

All pricing and plan data as of 9/15/2014

This article was written by Suzanne Kantra and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Health Care

Survey: Number of Americans Without Health Insurance Falls

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Federal survey found an 8% decline in uninsured Americans over the year to April 2014

The number of uninsured Americans dropped in the wake of the Affordable Care Act, according to the first government survey conducted since the law’s major insurance expansion programs went into effect.

In the National Health Interview Survey, a widely respected measure of the rate of insurance nationwide, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention interviewed 27,000 people in the first quarter of 2014, and found that the number of Americans without health coverage had fallen by 8% since the same period in 2013. That was a decline of 3.8 million, resulting in a new total of 41 million uninsured.

Before the health law was implemented, many predicted it would bring new health coverage to millions more than that, but the CDC survey did not capture the surge of insurance sign ups in the final days of the first ACA open enrollment period, experts said.

Larry Levitt, a director at the Program for the Study of Health Reform and Private Insurance at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told the New York Times, “Regardless of what you think of the [Affordable Care Act], there should be no doubt at this point that the law is increasing the number of people insured.” He added that this survey’s findings “dramatically understate the effect” of the law.

 

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