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Friday, November 20, 2009

Teens and safe cars

Do you have a teen or a grandchild that is just getting a driver's license? It's an exciting time — a rite-of-passage for teens — but enough to make you frantic. Yes, the first years teenagers drive can be very risky. In fact, teen drivers have the highest death rates of any age group. In 2008, more than 4,000 teenagers (ages 13-19) died in motor vehicle crashes, and many more were left severely and permanently injured by crashes.* However, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Insurance Information Institute say there is something worried family members can do to help protect their teens — choose a safe vehicle.

Avoid vehicles that encourage reckless driving. Speeding and reckless driving often go hand in hand with teen drivers. So avoid sports cars and other vehicles with high performance features such as turbochargers as they are likely to encourage speeding. Stick with the understated "Sunday sedan."
Don't let your teen drive an unstable vehicle. Ever see a young driver make an abrupt steering maneuver when fooling around or over-correcting for an error? Those are the moves that can cause a rollover, especially in some sport utility vehicles that have a higher center of gravity. A more stable car typically might only skid or spin out.
Pick a vehicle that offers good crash protection. Structural design, size and weight, and restraint systems, including front and side air bags, all play a part in how well a vehicle protects its occupants in a crash. For more information on crashworthiness, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rates vehicles based on performance in high-speed front and side crash tests. Visit for more information.
Avoid older vehicles. Newer cars are better designed for crash protection than cars of six to ten years ago. Visit the U.S. Department of Transportation at or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety at before you make a buying decision.

Just say Y.E.S.
If you are getting ready to hand over the keys of a brand-new or nearly new car to a teen driver and you're concerned about safety, you're not alone. So is Farmers. That's why we developed the Y.E.S. (You're Essential to Safety®) Program. This program may help to improve your teen's driving, and in many states young drivers who complete the Y.E.S. program receive a discount on their auto insurance. Also, some vehicles are more costly to insure than others, so call me before you buy. I can give you more information about safety and discounts.

Who should consider a will?

In a word — everyone. Regardless of age, regardless of wealth — we all should consider preparing a will. It could help you to control who receives your property, who will be the guardian of your children and who will manage your estate upon your death.

Wills are typically simple to create and we all have good intentions, but many die without a will — I see it happen all too often. People who die intestate — without a will — default to the one-size-fits-all will provided by the state. Our state's distribution formula may not be appropriate for your family's situation, but your survivors will have no choice in the matter. You can avoid that and protect your loved ones with an appropriate will — then your property will be distributed according to your wishes.

A guardian for your minor children
In many states, when you die, your will is the only means of stating who you want to act as legal guardian for your minor children. The court has final approval, but courts usually will approve your choice of guardian unless there are compelling reasons not to. The greatest peace of mind that parents of minor children can have is to know for sure who will care for their children if something happens to them.

If you don't have a will, consider preparing one sooner rather than later. (I suggest that you consult an attorney to discuss your individual circumstances and options.) And, if you have a will, update it every time there is a major change in your life — such as the birth of a child, adoption, marriage or divorce — or changes in the lives of those mentioned in your will. Make sure that your hard-earned assets are distributed in accordance with your wishes. And make sure you know who will take care of your minor children if you can't. Share this with a friend or loved one so they, too, can understand the importance of being prepared. Please contact your attorney, accountant or tax advisor for legal or tax questions.

Are you dreaming of a 'green' Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa?

The holidays are just around the corner — an exciting time for families and especially youngsters. Many of us will shop, decorate our homes and enjoy the festivities. Why not make your celebration "green" this year? It's easy: Here are some ways to enjoy this holiday season while helping cut global warming pollution at the same time:

Do your online and catalog shopping early. Shopping early lets you request ground shipping. Ground is more efficient than overnight, uses less fuel and helps reduce the pollution that causes global warming. It's good for the environment and your pocketbook.
Buy a live, potted tree. After the holidays you can plant it outside or donate it to a local school or park. Or buy a small potted tree that you can keep in its pot and use again next year. If you use a cut tree, go to to find a tree recycler in our area.
Use energy-efficient LED lights. Holiday lights use a lot of energy, especially when left on 24/7. So, when you're ready to decorate, start by replacing your old lights with LED bulbs. They are small, solid lightbulbs which are extremely energy efficient. New LED bulbs are grouped in clusters with diffuser lenses which have broadened the applications for LED use in the home. Then only use the lights when you are going to enjoy them — in the evening. Another green idea: Try solar LEDs — they use no electricity at all.
Look for the Energy Star label when buying electronics or appliances as gifts. They're more energy efficient than conventional models. Also look for an Energy Guide yellow sticker to check the energy use rating. The higher the number, the more energy efficient.
Use less paper and recycle. Send e-cards to friends, reuse last year's wrapping paper and save this year's unused paper. And remember to recycle all those cans, bottles and cardboard boxes.

You don't have to choose between enjoying this time of year and becoming an environmental stick-in-the-mud. As you can see, there are many simple steps that you and your family can take if you are dreaming of a "green" holiday season.

State Farm Owes $310M in Refunds, Texas Regulators Say

November 17, 2009

The Texas Department of Insurance has ordered State Farm Lloyd’s (SFL) to refund a total of $310 million to policyholders after finding that the insurer had overcharged customers beginning in 2003.

It’s a finding that the department had reached once before. State Farm was told in 2003 to cut its rates by 12 percent but the company sued the department and the case has been in limbo since then.

Texas Insurance Commissioner Mike Geeslin issued the current order on Nov. 16, the result of a re-hearing after the case was remanded to TDI by the Third Court of Appeals in 2008.

"I have issued an order that completes what the Legislature started in 2003,” Geeslin said in a statement released by TDI. “As far as any commentary, anything more that I could say would be redundant to what is contained in these pages [of the order]. There is evidence, there is law, and between the two you come up with $310 million."

The refund amount ordered is significantly lower than the nearly $1 billion that the state’s Office of Public Insurance Counsel had previously estimated the company owed to policyholders, according to Associated Press reports.

Geeslin, according to a summary of the order provided by TDI, “found SFL’s rates were excessive and is ordering SFL to pay refunds amounting to 6.2 percent of premium for policyholders insured with SFL from September 2003 to August 2004.”

SFL was also ordered to refund to policyholders an amount equal to 3.4 percent of premium for those insured by the company from September 2004 through July 2008, excluding new policies written from June 1, 2008, through July 31, 2008.

The amount paid to individual policyholders will vary. The total amount of the refund is approximately $257 million, and the interest owed is approximately $53 million, according to TDI.

The company can repay the amount to policyholders via renewal credits for existing policyholders, or by check. State Farm Lloyd’s must begin “applying renewal credits, and pay refunds and interest with in 60 days” of the order date. However, the company also has the right to appeal, in which case the payments would be on hold until final resolution by the courts.

Kevin Davis, a spokesman for State Farm, said the company had not yet decided whether to appeal.

“We are deeply disappointed with this decision as we believe State Farm Lloyds rates are, and always have been, both fair and justified," Davis said. "With this decision, the Commissioner effectively created another Hurricane Ike for State Farm. The financial impact of this order is comparable to the financial strain caused by the third most destructive hurricane to ever make landfall in the U.S.

"This decision not only challenges State Farm financially, it creates an unstable environment for consumers and the insurance industry. It will impact Lloyds in a significant manner. We are examining the potential financial and business consequences.”

Jerry Johns, president of Southwestern Insurance Information Service, an insurer trade group, believes the order sets a bad precedent. “This precedent tells the insurance industry that regulators in Texas are not interested in the financial strength of companies."

Johns commented that “insurers who are considering entering the market in Texas and offer choices for consumers will likely take a step back and reconsider that decision."