Do You Need Identity Theft Insurance? And What Is It Anyway?

With the serious nature of identity theft, many people are turning to identity theft insurance as a method of protecting themselves from the ramifications resulting from this crime. But what exactly is identity theft insurance? Do I really need it and how much will it cost me?

Identity theft insurance coverage varies in coverage, deductible and costs, just like many other forms of insurance. In most cases identity theft insurance will cover lost wages due to time taken off work to correct or repair damages due to identity theft. However, this coverage often carries a limit, in the approximate amount of $2,000.00. The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse estimates that victims spend on the average the equivalent of 22 work days trying to correct the damage from identity theft.

Identity theft insurance usually also provided benefits coverage for: attorney fees (which may or may not be necessary); notarization of documents, mailing, postage, supplies, copy costs, and phone bill charges which you may incur in an effort to correct the damage done to your credit and financial reputation.

Critics of identity theft insurance claim that it is ìnot worth the money,î (Consumer Reports magazine, as reported on MSNBC.com) or that it does not provide enough benefits. The concerns include: identity theft insurance does not provide reimbursement for money that is stolen or for identity theft expenses that occurred because of who the ìthiefî was. Most commonly a family member is the culprit in the case of identity theft and in that instance most insurance does not pay benefits. A word of caution by The National Association of Insurance Commissioners is that insurance ìcannot protect you from becoming a victim of identity theft and does not cover direct monetary losses incurred as a result of identity theft.î Although, an unfair criticism, some conclude that the purchase of identity theft insurance may create a false sense of security, thus consumers may not be as careful with their credit and financial information.

The cost of identity theft insurance cost varies on both the coverage and how you obtain your insurance. Identity theft insurance can range from free to approximately $200.00 a year depending on how you have purchased it. There are three main ways to obtain identity theft insurance:

– As a provision in your homeowners or rental property insurance
– As a service of your credit card company, bank or lender
– By purchasing it as an individualóìstand aloneî policy

The first step in obtaining identity theft insurance is to contact your banks, credit cards, lenders and insurance providers. Determine what coverage you have, how much it will costs to add additional coverage or to add identity theft to an existing policy and get details of the existing provision if it exist. You may need to purchase it as a ìriderí or extra to your existing policy much like purchasing flood or earthquake insurance ñ but not as expensive.

In some cases credit lender; such as the credit card company, mortgage or other loan provider, provide identity theft insurance. This coverage may be free or it may require a yearly service fee through the lender. For example, American Express provides some form of identity theft insurance to its card holders free of charge; MasterCard offers it through the specific banking partners and VISA may do a combination of both options. One word of caution, make sure that the identity theft insurance covers all your existing credit, not just the one card associated with the coverage. If it only covers one card, that what happens to the remainder of your credit?

One other option is to purchase your own ìstand aloneî policy through most of the major insurance providers such as Nationwide, State Farm, and/or Farmers Group. If you are not using a ìmajorî player in the insurance field be sure that the company you are purchasing from is reputable. Sometimes these are the most dangers purchases of all as they may be an effort to gain your credit information for the sole purpose of identity theft. If your insurance provider bills this coverage monthly, be sure to multiply the monthly cost by 12 to determine the yearly costs. Most importantly make sure to keep your coverage current.

Another consideration when utilizing identity theft insurance is the level of deductible. Generally the range from $100 to $250, but some may be as high as $1,000. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that the average victim spends less than $1,500 to recover from identity theft so it important to do the math and determine if your insurance premium plus deductible is a good value as well as provides the right level of protection for you and your family.

Nothing can protect you completely. It is important to follow all the basic rules for protecting your credit, identity, and financial information like: keeping your personal and credit information in a safe place, not releasing the information to others and shredding all documents. But it is also good to know that you can also have for free or purchase additional assistance in the form of coverage and monetary support during one of the most difficult financial times in your life.

Finding out about damages to your identity and credit is just the beginning. After that begins the time consuming and often frustrating process of repairing the damage and correcting the mistakes. Identity theft insurance may be your choice to help you through this expensive and frustrating task. Make sure you know what options and coverage are available to you.

Auto Repair Insurance: Extended Warranties ó Myths And Facts

How much insurance does one need? You have the big four: home, health, life, and car insurance. Then thereís a second category, which starts getting a little hazy with credit card insurance, purchase protection plans, fraud insurance and more. Extended warranties, also called extended service contracts, or extended service policies fall into the mist of this second category.

Extended warranties are supposed to pay (in full or in part) for specified repairs for a specific period of time after the expiration of the factory warranty. They can be a great value. They can also be a significant waste of money. It gets quite foggy in the details. What exactly is covered? How long? How much? Are there hidden charges?

There are numerous extended warranty companies and an even wider variety of warranty packages available: silver, gold, platinum, platinum-plus, and a host of other confidence-building words. Whatís the best plan, and are extended service contracts worth the money? Extended warranties, like life insurance policies, are a numbers game. Theyíre a gamble. You pay $2500-$4500 for a 2 year, 100,000-mile protection plan and hope that you get at least that back in warranty repairs. The provider on the other hand, hopes to pay out less than it insured.

There are three major types of plan providers: The manufacturer, the dealership/third party, and third party providers. Each one has its assets and liabilities (discussed ahead).

What exactly is covered in an extended service plan? As mentioned above, whatís covered depends on the package purchased. Some plans only cover the power train: the mechanical components of the engine, transmission, and rear-end. Others cover the power train plus some electrical components. Still others cover electrical, advanced electrical, and computer components. Some only cover whatís listed in the contract. This is called a ìStatedî or ìNamedî contract. This means that if itís not stated, itís not covered. Some cover bumper-to-bumper, similar to a manufacturer warranty, except trim pieces, upholstery, exterior components, cosmetic items, and a number of other exclusions.

Never before has the adage, ìThe devilís in the details,î been so applicable.

Manufacturer Extended Plans:
Extended service plans from the manufacturer are the best in terms of coverage, convenience, and quality. Coverage is similar to the warranty while the vehicle was under its original factory warrantyówith similar exclusions stated above. The billing is direct, meaning you donít have to pay out-of-pocket, except for a deductible, if applicable. Quality is great too, as an extended warranty from the manufacturer will only use factory parts. They also have money, so thereís less risk of bankruptcy.

The down side of manufacturer extended service plans is that they are not cheap. These plans are generally the most expensive, require low mileage standards, and necessitate servicing your vehicle at a dealer for coverage.

Dealership/Third Party Plans:
Extended warranties from a dealership are actually from a third party insurer. These providers are ìgenerallyî reputable, but not always. However, if there is an issue (such as the warranty provider filing chapter 11, which is quite frequent in the extended service contract business), the dealer ìmayî step in to cover any repairs that would have been covered under the defunct plan. Also, claims are easier: billing is direct because the dealership has a working relationship with the provider, and there is usually agreement on price.

Some dealers set up their own ìinternal extended warranty,î which is honored by the selling dealer. This is rare, and should not be confused with a manufacturer warranty. Important: extended warranties are often passed off as ìmanufacturerî warranties. Theyíre not. This is a sales trick. Also be aware that there is a significant mark up, as the dealership is merely acting as the middle man. Lastly, extended warranty companies often go bankrupt without warning.

Third Party Plans:
These plans are called third party plans because they are outside the responsibility of the manufacturer and the service center performing the repairs (unless thereís a working relationship with a repair shop as stated above).

There are hundreds of extended service contract companies. Some have good reputations, some donít. Third party plans are frequently sold by used car dealers. You may also receive an official looking notification in the mail stating that your warranty is expiring, and directing you to call an 800 number ASAP. This is a marketing tactic by an independent warranty provider. Despite the ìofficialî appearance of the postcard or envelope, itís not from the manufacturer. Manufacturers do not send out reminders about warranty expirations.

Given the wide-variety of third party plans there are numerous red flags.

1) Claims: Extended warranty companies will be quick to tell you that filing claims is easy, and that the service center gets paid immediately via a credit card. Thus, thereís no out-of-pocket expense for you. However, the warranty company canít dictate a service centerís policies. Some service centers will only accept payment from the repair customer. Thus the burden is on the repair customer to fill out the forms, contact their warranty company, and await reimbursement via check, which can take 2-8 weeks.

It is the service centerís responsibility to contact the extended warranty company to let them know whatís wrong with the vehicle and to check coverage. This process can take anywhere from 20 minutes to 20 days, sometimes more, depending on the degree of repairs and especially the amount. (See $1000 and Adjusters ahead)

Service centers and extended warranty companies frequently battle over the ìfairî price of repairs. Many repair shops no longer negotiate, and just state the price, leaving the contract holder (i.e., the service customer) responsible for the difference.

2) Rentals: Rental coverage is a great benefit. However, there are fixed rates and time limits. In other words, the warranty company is not going to pay to have you drive a Mercedes-Benz, even if you drive a Benz. Rental allowances range from $25 to $35 per day. Also, rental coverage is based on the number of hours it takes to repair the vehicle, NOT how long your car has been at the shop.

3) $1000 and Adjusters: Repairs that approach $1000, or that require a significant amount of work, will be cause for the warranty company to call in an adjuster to confirm the diagnosis. This will delay the repairs by a minimum of 24-48 hours. It may cost you additional money when an adjuster is involved. You may be charged to have your vehicle pulled back into the shop for inspection, as well as for the time spent with the adjuster.

4) Tear-down Charges: In many cases, an extended warranty company will require that a particular component be taken apart for inspection to determine if the repair is indeed needed and covered. This puts the service customer in a very awkward position. The customer will have to authorize potentially hundreds of dollars of tear-down expense in the hopes that the repair is covered. If itís not, the customer is out the hundreds in tear-down PLUS the actual repair. This does happen!

Common Myths:

1) “Extended warranties cover maintenance services and brake work.”

No. Extended warranty plans do not cover maintenance or wearable items. Brake pads and rotors are wearable parts. Maintenance such as coolant, brake and transmission flushes, tune-ups, services, oil changes, bulbs, wipers, and more are not covered.

2) “They told me itís bumper-to-bumper, so it covers everything right?”

Wrong. Not even a factory warranty covers everything. When pitching the sale for the extended warranty, one is very often lead to believe that he or she will have nothing to worry about. This is just not true on so many levels. For example, if your bumper falls off itís not covered.

3) “I donít have to pay anything, right?”

Wrong. Despite the claims of 100% coverage, there are many factors involved. The labor rates, labor hours, diagnostic times, parts prices, and machine work are just a few items that often conflict with a service centerís policies. Some extended contracts only pay a maximum of $55 per hour, and only allow one half hour for diagnostic time. This is generally unacceptable to the service center, as labor rates have skyrocketed to over $100 per hour at many dealerships, and average $75 at local shops. Moreover, with the complexity of todayís vehicles, diagnostic time is at a premium. The customer pays the difference.

4) “If I have an expensive problem, I can just purchase an extended service contract.”

Itís unethical, but itís an option many attempt. However, most service contracts have a minimum time requirement before the first claim can be filed: usually three months. Also, many contracts require that your vehicle be inspected by a service center to check for pre-existing conditionsójust like life insurance.

5) “My contract lasts up to 100,000 miles.”

Only if the time limit doesnít run out first. All extended warranty plans have a time limit. For example, a typical contract will state that the vehicle is covered for two years or 100,000 miles, which ever comes first. During the sales pitch, however, the emphasis will be on the 100,000 miles, not the time.

6) “If my car breaks, it gets fixed like new.”
Actually, depending on the contract, an extended warranty company can insist on installing remanufactured or even used parts.

Items commonly not covered by extended warranties:
ï Any component with a pre-existing condition
ï Any component related to a Technical Service Bulletin (TSB)
ï Many components that has been updated by the manufacturer
ï Extra components necessary ìdue to manufacturer updatesî to complete the repair
ï Trim pieces: molding, cup holders, dashboard, console, body parts, glass
ï Many accessories: radios, DVD players, TVs
ï Many expensive electronics: climate control units, navigation assemblies

Service contract positives:
Some service contracts are transferable, and may thus increase the resale value of a vehicle. Many come with trip interruption reimbursement, towing and 24-hour road side. Some plans can also be financed, or have E-Z Pay Plans. Others offer a money-back guarantee.

What should you do?
Youíll get lots of advice about doing the research, comparing plans, and reading the fine print. This is all sound advice. But what about doing the math?

Letís say a plan costs $2500 for 2 years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first. To break even youíll need a minimum of $1250 per year in covered repairs, excluding regular maintenance. Remember covered is the vital word here.

Another way to break it down is to anticipate having to pay $104.17 per month over the next two years in ìcoveredî repairs. Do you want to take that bet?

What could happen?
You could double your money or more in repair work. You could conceivably get a new engine and transmission (or used ones anyway). You could also easily spend $2500 for a service contract, and still have to pay another $2500 for repairs, which for a variety of reasons, were not covered under your plan. Now youíre out $5000.

Alternatively, you could keep the initial $2500. In many ways all an extended warranty does is prepay for repairs. You could stick the money in the bank and collect interest. Then you could withdraw the money for repairs as needed.

Another consideration thatís rarely discussed is the cause of the problems. Many car repairs problems are the result of wear and tear, neglected maintenance, physical damage, or acts of Godósuch as flood damage. None of this is covered. The gamble only covers failed components.

If the vehicle youíre driving does cost $2500 to $4500 in repairs due to outright failed components, is it a vehicle you even want to consider keeping? A vehicle that needs this kind of repair work due to mechanical, electrical, or computer failures may not be worth it. The $2500-$4500 would be better spent on an upgrade to a quality vehicle rather than insuring a lemon.

Thereís no question that auto repair is expensive, and even quality cars break from time to time. But do they breakdown to the tune of $2500-$4500? Thatís a hefty bet on a ìpossibility.î

Terence OíHara from the Washington Post makes an excellent assessment about extended warranties in general. He writes:

Öextended warranties play upon a basic human trait to avoid loss, even if it means sacrificing a possible future gainÖthe gain is all the other things of value that a consumer could buy with the money that was spent on a warranty

Whatís the best plan?
Money in your bank account!