Sunday, August 17, 2008

Managing Your Credit with Equifax Products

I have experienced a tax lien and judgement on my credit reports in recent years. That all changed when I filed for a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in the summer of 2004. With all that now behind me, I want to make sure that I never fall into that pattern of mishandling my credit. I was also under the false impression that if something did not show up on your credit report it was not an issue.

That is how a joint credit account with my first husband showed up fifteen years later threatening to take my bank account and access to my children's Social Security funds. They had a judgement against me, even though my legal name was not state, plus they did not try to contact me for years, I still felt the only recourse I had was to file for Bankruptcy.

The tax lien was a result of a dispute over unemployment funds through the State of New Jersey. After having a child I was called back to work at a temporary agency. This occurred during snow blizzards where I could not get there due to travel conditions and no childcare. The end result was they fought the unemployment and wanted it paid back. I was moving to California and could not stick around to fight this out.

These two issues that ultimately led to my filing a bankruptcy can happen to anyone, no matter what class you are. To help me prepare for my bankruptcy I utilized a book by Nolo Press. Now I keep track of my FICO score with software by Suze Orman. I regularly check my bank statement online plus my credit card statements and balances. But is that enough? Luckily I had the opportunity to try out the Credit Watch Gold 3-in-1 membership with Equifax.

This monitoring system through Equifax has several components to it. The three sections of this site are manage your credit, protect your identity and prepare for a purchase. When you purchase the Credit Watch Gold 3-in1 product you are given unlimited access to your Equifax credit report for the one-year membership.

There is a security feature when you first arrive at the site to make your selections. The four steps are registration, verify your identity, order summary and then member center. The verification process asks two questions only you would know. I was not expecting this to state made up information and was caught off guard and quite upset at the prospect of my credit report having a mortgage on it from February 2006. I am a renter and was anxious to read my report. Then I realized these two questions were bogus to prevent someone else from accessing my data. A bit unnerving – one question was to select which mortgage company with the second the amount of the monthly payments. I selected none both times.

Even though I used a promo code when making this purchase there is an option to include your credit card if you want to continue with the service once the free trial has expired. They will charge $1.00 for verification purposes on said card. I did not check that box. During the enrollment process there is a privacy opt-out notice for non-affiliated third parties.

You will also need to give your Social Security number, date of birth and phone number along with address and email address. There is a secret question to choose from when creating your user name and password.

The actual cost of this Equifax Credit Watch Gold with 3-in-1 monitoring is $12.95 per month.

Your recently ordered reports are available at an archive in the member center of their site, www.equifax.com. To get a revised report you need to order another one. With each order you receive a confirmation number. When you file a dispute you will need the actual confirmation number to start the process. It is advised after going through the steps online to contact them at a toll-free number. While waiting on hold I was hearing recordings on how to go to www.investigate.equifax.com for more information.

Once you have registered at the site and made your purchase you sign in using your created username and password. The options are numerous at the site and at times overwhelming in making your choice or determining which step to take next. You can save your credit card for future purchases by checking a box.

There is a newsletter to sign up and read the archives, a family program, a rewards program and credit education program that is located at www.mycrediteducation.com. There are options like score power, credit rankings, wireless alerts, a toolbar and a rate tracker. I tested out the rate tracker. I had to insert my FICO score and choose what I was interested in. I checked an auto loan, which produced a few options for me with lending companies and the rates. This was very accurate as I had received an offer in the mail earlier in the week from Capitol One Auto Finance, and this was listed as the lowest rate. I will be attempting to download the toolbar and see how it can help me manage my finances.

The alert preferences can be set for card activity, balance changes and percentage increases. I have not explored this in much depth yet as I go online almost daily to view my credit card accounts.

I was not pleased with having to make a phone call after following the steps online to file a dispute. Once on the phone with the information center I gave my confirmation number and then had to verify with more information – date of birth, SSI#, complete name and address. When asked for your complete name I believe that means your middle, yet the service personnel stated that was not necessary, as it was not listed on the report. So what exactly is a complete name?

I was asked what my dispute was and at the end told it wold be 21-30 days for paperwork to arrive in the mail. I was given another confirmation number. These are always nine digits. I need to keep them all organized as I found it confusing to have so many of these.

The numbers are as follows:

Disputes – 1-866-471-1991
To get a copy of your report – 1800-685-1111
To get your score mailed or faxed to you – 1-800-437-4619

The price range for products consist of:

3-in-1 report for Equifax - $19.95, add credit rankings for another 8.95
Score power - $15.50, with credit rankings total is $26.85
Score watch – 7.95 per month (3 month min)
Credit watch silver - $4.95 per month – listed as best deal

There are gift options available with each purchase and product.
The customer care is available twenty-four hours a day. There are discounts on other products and add-ons. Then there is the $2,500 Identity Fraud Expense Coverage with $250 deductible (certain limitations and exclusions apply) at no additional charge to you

Pros – lots of choices and membership options

Cons – many phone numbers and confirmation numbers to keep track of, site is overwhelming

My experience was that I ordered the Equifax report, received the confirmation number and email. Went back to the member center after signing in to read this report. This section of the site is nicely organized where you can choose which portion of the report you want to read and then print.

Next I ordered the 3-in-1 report from all reporting agencies. This can be done once for the membership period. This is also in archive for your products ordered and is unlike the option where you can order daily the Equifax report. These do not update, you need to order them continually to get the revised editions.

Here is where I noticed the discrepancy with my Equifax report. The 3-in-1 has Equifax in pink, Experian is blue with TransUnion in green shade. This is a side by side chart showing pages of your data. I noticed that Gateway was listed as being open and just reported in September of 2006 for Equifax. This was part of my Bankruptcy and noted as such in the other two reports.

It looks like I have to wait for the information in the mail on this dispute, although the site does have information on tracking your disputes. After utilizing http://www.equifax.com for a few weeks now I feel this site has a lot to offer consumer. It will help manage your finances, prepare you for major purchases by learning the FICO score, checking rates and being alerted to activity on their accounts through the monitoring system and the identity theft coverage. This helps to make sure your insurance payment was received on time and not reported to the credit bureaus. More insurance companies are now checking into your credit report before issuing you a policy.

I would probably start with the Silver watch and the score watch. The silver watch has weekly monitoring through wireless and email alerts with one report. Equifax Score Watch

Lower Your Auto Insurance Premium In One Easy Step

When you first shop around for automobile insurance you may obtain quotes from several companies before making your decision. One of the questions listed on the application is to estimate the mileage you drive annually.

My policies have been for six-month periods for several years now, but I am not sure if it is this way in other regions. In May 2004 is when I started with Allstate Insurance Company for my current vehicle I bought on eBay Motors that same month. Over the years I have started my policies for my automobiles with Allstate and sometimes change to another company if I find a better price.

Since I now have multiple policies with Allstate I am receiving more discounts and have not looked elsewhere to compare prices. Every year I go to Jiffy Lube and get the vehicle serviced.

This time I noticed the mileage listed for the previous two visits on my receipt and realized I have not yet driven ten thousand miles since purchasing the Minivan. It was under 95,000 when I made the purchase. The current mileage for a 1993 Ford Aerostar is under 104,000 miles.

While following up with the Life Insurance Policy during a telephone call with my Allstate Agent I inquired about mileage for the upcoming renewal on my auto policy. I informed the Agent of the mileage reported over this two-year period that was reflected on the receipt from Jiffy Lube. He told me to bring it into his office or mail a copy.

I mailed a copy on 4-21-06 and received today on 4-29-06 a new Renewal Policy Declarations that highlights the new premium for a six-month period at $298.87. The previous premium was $345. This is a savings of $46.31 by lowering my annual estimated mileage from 12,000 - 12,999 to 8,000 - 8,999.

My premium reflects a discount of $134.82 - the good driver discount, distinguished driver, renewal and multiple policy. Since more money is being spent on gas, almost at $3.50 here in Los Angeles, this is a nice reward for driving less.

I just went through the auto quote process at Allstate in hopes of finding the breakdown of the mileage for policies. It states that documentation is needed for annual mileage below 12,000 miles and you are not retired. The acceptable documents are smog checks, tax records, vehicle registration or auto repair receipts that indicate the mileage.

I highly suggest other auto policy holders check out their actual mileage by looking through their garage and service repair receipts, their current mileage and what is listed on their actual policy. Many are driving less, resorting to using mass transit or carpooling. Before your policy renews look through these documents and see if there can be an adjustment to your mileage estimates.

Auto Insurance Premiums are also calculated according to your zipcode.

Time for an Insurance Checkup

Consumers have a variety of insurance policies in effect. Some may be through the employer where the end of the year could be the time specified for making changes to existing plans, updating coverage and signing up for new plans. The group benefits would most likely be health, vision, dental, life, LTC, worker’s compensation, ADD and Disability. The payments for these are taken from your paycheck.

The other insurance policies would be through your insurance agent for the homeowners, condo owners or renters policy and automobile policies. You may also have additional coverage for stand-alone coverage such as earthquake or flood insurance.

Look for your most recent member handbook to your Insurance Company. Make note of any changes within the network, compare co-pays for each option for your health benefits. It might be time to change Doctors or the provider group is no longer in the network. Doctor fees rise as well and need to be taken into account when changing Physicians, as well as the location to your home and work. It might be beneficial to choose a Doctor that has Saturday hours or one that works within two Hospitals for more options.

Also look into how your network handles referrals for continuing health needs such as seeing a Specialist for Asthma or therapy needs for children and adults. Prescription plans can be the determining factor for choosing a particular HMO or PPO through your employer plans.

It is important to take the paperwork home and go over it as a family to make sure every member's needs are taken into account. Will your child need braces, anyone wear eyeglasses, have a speech delay or require specific medications that might not be covered without a Physician's visit for each refill.

Emergency services, plus ambulance costs and mileage to the nearest Hospital need to be taken into consideration. With some plans the consumer needs to pay a set rate after so many ambulance visits or emergency calls to the house for the same issues.

With family planning you need to check out the Hospitals and see the rooms and find out if Certified Nurse Midwives are the ones who deliver babies, especially if you want an OB/GYN Specialist.

Urgent care, hospice care, counseling services, mental health, newborn care and lab services are all areas to look into before deciding on a plan. Visit a few pharmacies near work on your lunch hour to see what the wait time is and take the time to get to know your chosen Pharmacist.

At this time you might also consider adding more coverage to existing vision and/or dental plans or change providers. At your annual insurance checkup you have the option of increasing your deductible on any of your plans. For your personal needs this might be worthwhile after perusing through the pay-out options within the basic, enhanced or premiere options.

It is also imperative that you take your age into account when making additions or revisions to current insurance plans. This might not be the time to lower health insurance coverage. Remember also that there could be a retirement plan, savings or 401K plan, tuition assistance plan, as well as an employee assistance plan, flexible spending accounts and legal service plans.

For me at age 46 I have almost $50 taken out of my paycheck to cover an Accident and Disability expense policy and a Cancer Protector Policy. Both are through Allstate-at-Work and my home health care workers union. I have decided to increase the benefits to the next tier as I am at the basic level for each of these.

Since I would not be able to handle the increased deduction from my paycheck I plan on waiting for my income tax return next year and then making the request for increased coverage and paying at the annual rate, which would increase my take home pay. Also each year around that time my rent goes up about fifty dollars, so I would be at the same current amount. Those who receive SSI will receive a 3.3 percent increase come January 2007.

Life Insurance Calculators

Supplemental Insurance Plans

Besides the basic health insurance coverage, life insurance policy, auto and home owner's insurance options there are supplemental plans to cover families and individuals. These policies cover the gap left by the basic plans already in place.

These would be for cancer and serious illnesses and may include transportation costs, living expenses and child care needs. They also reimburse for second opinions, hospital confinement, lump sum payments upon diagnosis, loss of limbs, out-of-pocket hospital expenses, anesthesiologist services, diagnostic testing, cash benefits, radiation, chemotherapy, air ambulance, emergency room, xrays, preventative screenings, blood, plasma, prosthesis, private duty nursing services, inpatient drugs and hospice care.

The policies are known as cancer, critical illness benefit, accidental death & dismemberment (AD&D), long term disability (LTD) and Long term care (LTC), income protection plans and supplemental life policies.

AD&D plans cover on and off the job and could include disability as a result of an accident. These plans have several options/riders that usually can be upgraded as your family life increases or your needs down shift. These plans cover individuals and families for injuries, burns, dislocations and accidents to the insured and dependents.

These plans may also include coverage while driving, flying or on a train. If there is a death as a result of an accident there is a different payout to the designated beneficiary. Most plans are portable, meaning you can take the coverage with you when you change jobs. These plans are guaranteed renewable with payout directly to the insured.

Your financial institution offers supplemental insurance coverage. Sometimes these are at no cost for low end coverage. An example would be for two years now I have been part of a Group Accidental Death policy through Union Bank of California. For account holders there is a no cost plan for $1,000 of coverage with the option to purchase more coverage through your checking account on a monthly basis. I get these options often through my Union, Bank and Credit Card Company. You can even purchase supplemental life insurance through your Bank.

My Union utilizes Allstate at Work for the AD&D and Cancer Insurance policies. I recently received mine in the mail and have the payments deducted from my paycheck once a month. I have heard on the news that Walmart will be marketing insurance to their customers. Soon we will be buying insurance at the super market and swiping debit cards to pay our premiums.

At least twice a year families and individuals should go over their insurance policies and determine whether they need more or less coverage. This depends on their age and dependents age and needs. Children that are graduating high school need to learn and plan for their future by obtaining quotes and finding out the age they can stay under the parent's plan or obtaining affordable insurance as a college student through the College. Riders might be added on to the automobile and life insurance policies.

Cafeteria Plans are also known as 125 plans and are through employers where employees can pay for their health insurance and other benefits on a pre-tax basis.

Cafeteria Plan Third Party Administrators

Colonial Lilfe Accident Insurance

Disability Insurance Companies

Roadside Assistance with Automobile Club of Southern California

In April of 2006 I signed up with Automobile Club of Southern California (AAA) since I had heard their roadside assistance plan was better than the current plan I had with Allstate Motor Plan.

When I called for a tow truck while a member of the Allstate Motor Club I was told by the driver it would cost me $100 since I needed a flatbed truck due to my Minivan being front wheel drive. He also informed me that my Allstate Motor Club did not cover the flatbed service.

I had both plans in place until the end of May when the Allstate Motor Club expired. I had pre-paid in March almost $100 for an upgrade in my plan thinking this would get me more services.

In March my minivan overheated when we arrived at a therapy appointment. Another parent gave us a ride home and I went there the next day to drive it home. The receptionist had mentioned to me that she had Automobile Club of Southern California and had been towed a few times with the flatbed and never had to pay for it.

So when I got the invitation in the mail I jumped at the chance to be a member of the Auto Club. When I purchased my minivan from the seller through ebay he took me to an Auto Club office for me to pay the taxes and do the registration. This was a service offered to him as a member. This seemed like a good incentive to become a member.

Earlier in the year we had a power outage, which resulted in our staying at a Motel 8 not far away so my kids could get to school the next day and we were comfortable with a microwave and refrigerator. Upon checkin I was asked if I was a member of the Auto Club. They did not have any type of discount for members of Allstate Motor Club.

These two additional benefits of membership with the Auto Club helped me make my decision in choosing them over Allstate Motor Club. It just so happened that my minivan overheated again at the same therapy clinic in May of 2006. I called the toll-free number through the Auto Club and was given estimated time of arrival for a tow truck and I mentioned I would need a flatbed.

I was informed that I would have to pay for mileage after seven miles, at a rate of $9.00 per mile. That seemed reasonable to me, even though it is usually 14 miles from home to clinic. We ended up waiting 1.5 hours for the truck to arrive and it had enough room for my kids and I in a small back seat of the flatbed.

The payment is due to the tow truck driver as you arrive at your destination. I got a new water pump and all was fine with the minivan at the start of the summer. One day after dropping off my children at their daycamp I could not start the minivan in the parking lot. I figured it was the battery and contacted the Auto Club for someone to assist in getting my vehicle started.

A small truck came and he informed me that it was the starter and my car would not turn over and start on its own. They tried a few things to get it to start by moving it and going underneath, but it was useless. It was determined I would need a tow home, which meant another call for a flatbed truck to get me home.

This meant my kids would have to leave once the flatbed arrived as this location was about 14 miles from home. The truck arrived but it had only one other seat for a passenger. There was no way I could get my kids and I home with the vehicle. One of the teachers at the camp said they would take my kids home that Friday afternoon.

The tow truck driver asked me which way I wanted to get home to save on the mileage. As someone who does not drive freeways I really did not know which route would be best. The driver showed me a shortcut that shaved five miles off my drive to take kids to camp in the morning. We had been going to camp for a few years and I had never known about this shortcut.

By the time we got to my house we had gone only three miles past the limit, which cost me only $27 when I was expecting close to $45. The only problem was that I would need to contact the Auto Club in a few days to tow my vehicle over to Pep Boys, when I received my paycheck.

A week later I called to have my vehicle towed from the street parking over to Pep Boys, which was within the seven mile limits. I figured we would take a taxi and follow the truck over to Pep Boys. The guy who showed up told me that it was not necessary for me to go over with the vehicle. I called ahead letting them know my Minivan was arriving soon and that he had the keys, etc. for the vehicle.

This saved me and my children several hours of sitting in the waiting room at Pep Boys. I was pleased with the service from those two tow truck operators who really went beyond the service aspect of their towing. This was a better experience than the one time I used Allstate Motor Club to fix a flat tire.

Then in early September as I parked my vehicle at the parking lot to go to the gym the side door where passengers gets into came off its roller and almost tipped onto the pavement. I called to get someone to come and assist with getting this back onto the car so I could drive safely.

I was informed that they do not perform auto services, but that someone would look at it. The guy had a mallot and a brick that he used to put this door back on and he made sure it was secure enough that it would not happen again. This would mean I would not have to go elsewhere in a day or two to get it fixed. Now a month later this is still working fine. This was covered under the minor mechanical first aid and listed in my letter as start vehicle.

It turned out that the last call was my fourth, which is all you can get for a calendar year as part of your membership. The letter listed the dates of service, order numbers, service requested and the value. Each was listed at $52.00. The total of these services was $208.00

The letter indicated that I can still call for service and receive it before my membership is due to start again in April of 2007, but I will be responsible for the payment. The current charge for a service call is $52.00. My payment for a year was less than that amount and I got four calls as part of my benefit.

I have curtailed my driving to long distances as I do not have the funds and do not want to risk anything happening. The good news is that there is a bill for any services, so you do not have to shell out that $52.00 when in a jam with your vehicle.

I do have all my Insurance policies through Allstate and they have discounts for multiple policies. Therefore, I am not in a position to change insurance carriers, but will be using Auto Club for my registration, roadside assistance and travel discounts.

I will most likely upgrade to the Premier service, which covers one tow up to 200 miles with the three remaining at 100 driving miles. Thus far I am very pleased with the service I have received through the Automobile Club of Southern California.

The Auto Club toll-free number is 1-866-899-2272

Questions for Life Insurance Applicants

These questions might be different depending on which Insurance Company you are requesting a Life Insurance Policy from.

Zipcode, date of birth, height, weight, gender, hazardous occupation in last two years.

This could be high risk professional sports, underground mining, high-rise construction work or explosive handling. If your job places you into dangerous situations the Insurance Companies will consider you a higher risk with your life expectancy lower.

Hazardous activities in last three years – mountain climbing, sky diving, racing, para-sailing, ultra light flying, scuba diving. Racing is auto, motorcycle or boats. These high risk recreational activities increase the risk of accidental death, with the premiums higher.

If you have flown an aircraft in the last three years – as either a pilot, co-pilot or crew member.

Are you an active member of the military or military reserve
? Is it as a commissioned officer or non-commissioned officer. If you are in the military you may get your insurance premiums deducted from your paycheck and qualify for a discount. If you are a test pilot your insurance premiums could be higher due to the risk of the job.

Moving violations in the last three years – if you have had three or more and convicted of Driving under the influence or had your license suspended for other reasons – chances are your premiums will be higher.

If you have been convicted of Driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated in the last ten years – here you have the option of yes within the last 5 years and yes in the last 6-10 years.

Yes or no to more than one conviction of DUI/DWI or reckless driving.

Have you lived outside of North America in the last three years? Medical records and underwriting information is easier to Obtain for those living in North America where the Insurance Companies are also located.

Yes or no on planning to travel extensively to developing countries or areas of political instability? Crime and disease are within developing countries and life threatening situations can arise in areas of political instability This will raise your insurance premiums.


Conditions you have been treated for


Kidney/liver disease
Ulcerative colitis
Kidney stones (last 2 yrs)
Gastric/Peptic Ulcers
Mental Illness
Stroke
Neurogenic Bladder
Bowel Incontinence
Rheumatoid Arthritis
Diabetes Mellitus
Asthma
Emphysema (chronic bronchitis)
Epilepsy (seizure disorder)
Coronary Artery Disease
Vascular Disease
Depression
Cancer
Multiple Sclerosis
Alzheimer’s Disease
Alcohol /Drug Use
Melanoma
Hypertension


What is your blood pressure - Systolic (Top) level,
Diastolic (Bottom) level - you can check "I don’t know" and then you might get a higher premium when checked.

Have you ever taken blood pressure medication?

What is your cholesterol level – there is an "I don’t know" option with the mention that premium could be higher once checked.

Tobacco products in the last five years – pipe tobacco, nicotine substitutes, cigars, chewing tobacco, dip, snuff. In the last 12 months, 1-2 years, 3, 4, or 5 years

Has either your siblings or parents had cardiovascular disease before the age of 60?

Has cancer resulted in the death of either parent or siblings before the age of 60?

When I checked yes for asthma I was asked if I was under the care of a Physician and getting treatment.

When checked that I have sought treatment for either mental illness or depression the next screen asked if it had done so in the last two years.

The rate given for the quote when answering yes to a few questions turned out to be $489 per year with rate class of SNT. I also lowered my height and added 20 pounds and said that someone had died before 60.

When doing my regular data with asthma as the only yes for the same amount of 100,000 for 30 year term life the rate was $338 with the rate class P. When just stating that I had mental illness or depression the quote was still at $489.

When just checking that I had hypertension the quote was $338.00

When I checked that I had ulcers and alcohol use I was directed to call an agent. With just ulcers the rate class was at PE and the quote was at $308. I even checked off that I had two moving violations on these quotes.

So it looks like asthma and hypertension get treated the same with the quote amount, while ulcers will have a lower monthly premium. It turned out that if I had not checked off that I have asthma, my actual quote would be $308.

I have yet to figure out what the rate class codes mean.

Paying Insurance Premiums On Time

I have a few insurance policies through Allstate Insurance Company. The due dates are within a few days of each other. Unfortunately this is at a time of the month when my cash flow is limited, thus I have a hard time making these premium payments on time.

Last month I missed the payment for the Renters Insurance, which then led to a generated letter informing me my policy would be deleted if not paid by a certain date. By this time I had to make two payments and was notified that my Earthquake Insurance would be cancelled as well. This is because the Renters Insurance is needed to get the Earthquake Insurance.

With my latest Auto Insurance bill it states that it will be cancelled if not paid within one day of the due date. At the top of the insurance bill it lists the date you should mail payment to allow for mail and processing.

A few months ago I opted to call in my payments and use a check with their automated system. The other options are to use your credit or debit card, but I did not feel comfortable with that option. This is due to a radio program I listened to recently that stated the practice of companies blocking a large portion of your funds for several days, this happening to debit cards. The examples were paying for gas at certain stations. I know that some also charge 40 cents to use your own debit card - so I avoid those stations and try to pay cash for gas.

The steps with the automated system are cumbersome, but I am able to record the check number and amount with reference number on my bill and store it in my insurance file. I have not figured out a way to pay more than one bill through the same phone call, so I must hang up and place another telephone call for each bill that I am paying.

The tape recorded message does mention it could take 24-48 hours to post to your account. I check online at my bank the following day and it is already there. I am saving on postage and a trip to the post office. At this time of year any trip to the post office requires waiting in line inside or to obtain a parking spot. Recent news mentioned another hike of two cents for postage stamps, although I did not catch when this actually starts.

I did not get mail on a recent Saturday and had to call information to get the number to the post office. This led to a general toll-free number for the main postal annex. I had to explain the problem of not receiving mail and wanting confirmation it would arrive that Monday. The clerk gave me the local number where the person on the phone did not believe me when I mentioned we did not get mail on Saturday. He said the delivery people did not come back until 7:30 that night. He finally did confirm that my street did not get mail that Saturday and we would get two deliveries that day, which did occur.

Therefore, I really do not want my insurance payments sent through the mail system at this holiday time. When you choose to make monthly payments of your insurance premiums you also get the added installment fee. My Auto Insurance charges me $3.50 each month. If I had the spare cash to make an annual premium those fees would be waived, saving time and money on doing this once a year.

When I inquired for Life Insurance I was told you cannot make payments on an annual basis, but it could be quarterly. I do plan on paying off my policies when I get my Income Tax Refund. Luckily there is no fee to pay the premiums via the phone system. There is also the option to have payments taken directly out of a checking or savings account. With some companies and types of Insurance you can do this with a credit card as well.

Many years ago I had Life Insurance through John Hancock Life Insurance Company and was able to have the premiums deducted monthly from a credit card. Then the card had no credit left and I had to change the deduction to my checking account until I could no longer keep up with the payments and overdrafts so had to cancel the Insurance.

Sometimes a family has to choose between making an insurance payment and putting food on the table. It is really hard when you have no credit line for emergency purposes and have to make the choice on losing the Insurance coverage or not having enough gas in your vehicle.

I have heard that with some Insurance Companies they will waive the installment fee if you utilize their easy pay plans through automatic deduction. I do not feel comfortable with these though because they never take the money out the same day or you may forget about it one month.

There is also the option of making a payment at the agent's office for certain Insurance Companies or at their website. The information on the back of my bill for Auto Insurance mentions that the payment and schedule in Option 2 is based on payment history. If you have received two or more cancellation notices in the past twelve months and were enrolled in their Easy pay Plan, which is through savings or checking account, you will be removed from the plan and need to make payments at agent's office, over the phone or through the mail. It does not indicate whether you can utilize the website for payments. Luckily I never received a cancellation notice on my Auto Insurance policy, and only one on my Renters Insurance and then for the Earthquake policy.

It is now common practice among Insurance Companies to not renew policies of those clients who continually pay their premiums late. They check the credit and payment history before issuing the policy. For some, Insurance Companies even check your credit report and may not offer a policy. I recently learned that having overdue books at the library could hurt your credit history.

Whenever you have the means it would be wise to pay your Insurance premiums annually to avoid the installment fees. I am hoping to do an annual budget once an Income Tax Refund is received to avoid living on a monthly budget that leaves no room for emergencies.

Selecting an Individual Health Plan

Choosing an individual or family health care plan is a decision that needs to be discussed and researched thoroughly. It is not to be taken lightly and several key components need to be established beforehand.

What area do you reside in? There are various companies that cover only certain regions and some that are countrywide. First you need to check what companies cover your zipcode.

Are you interested in an HMO or PPO plan. An HMO is a health maintenance organization while a PPO is a preferred provider organization. With HMOs you see a primary care physician (PCP) that you choose from either a group, (PMG) known as a primary medical group or the IPA, which is the Independent Provider.

PPOs have set fees and are within a provider network where you can change your Doctor at any time. You would choose a Doctor for each Specialty you need a Physician for.

With an HMO you will need a referral to a Specialist. When searching providers it is important to note whether they send speedy referrals or if they go through a system that could take two weeks or longer. You will also need to determine what type of Doctor you want for your Primary Care Physician within an HMO network. It will be helpful to look into where these Doctors send their patients for lab work, x-rays and Mammograms. Is this all within the same medical building, a Hospital nearby or dispersed throughout the city.

The choices range from Internal Medicine, Family Practice, Pediatrics, Obstetrics/Gynecology or General Practice If someone in the household has a skin condition and/or asthma and allergies you need to look for the specialists they would refer you to and note where they are located and what age group they specialize in.

If you are in the child bearing years consider an Ob/Gyn or if the children are older a Family Practice might be more suitable. Check with the plan and see if you can enroll members of the family with different Doctors and still be affiliated with the same Hospital. In this instance one parent might need Internal Medicine, another Ob/Gyn with the children in Pediatrics where they are all with Independent Drs or associated with the same group.

Pre-existing conditions could mean less choices to make or larger monthly fees. Prescription plans are part of the Health Insurance plan, so look into whether they only cover generic drugs and what the co-payment may be and the limits for one year on medication. Try to obtain a preapproved drug list and a list of authorized pharmacies.

Do you have a child or adult that regularly sees a Therapist, like Physical, Occupational or Speech. With an HMO they will need to get a referral to see these professionals and only so many visits will be approved before another referral or renewal is allowed or authorized. Some Doctors or groups may need progress reports to make sure the therapy is benefitting the Insured.

As someone who suffers with eczema and asthma I really do not like having to make an appointment to see my primary care physician to then get a referral to see the Dermatologist. There have been times that the PCP has given me prescriptions for my skin related condition, eczema and they do the asthma products. I have complained in the past when they refused to give me another refill on my asthma spray making me go to their office during holiday breaks with two children on the Autism Spectrum. At these times I choose to buy over the counter remedies for speedier relief and less stress. This is definetly a consideration when choosing an HMO and then the specialty you choose for the Primary Care Physician.

For the plan you are considering you need to check the local Hospitals and what the incurred cost, if any, would be for emergency room care and ambulance service. What is the deductible for hospital stays and are any of the Hospitals considered a teaching Hospital. Check to make sure the plan under consideration does not only provide County Hospitals.

Contact the medical group for a provider directory, check their hours, what are the languages they serve and are they accepting new patients? How long is the process should your child need to see an Ear/Nose Specialist? What is their scheduling like, does the Doctor visit patients in the Hospital before seeing patients, do they overbook, is there a month waiting list for an appointment and how do they handle emergencies?

If you become pregnant will you have a midwife or an MD? Can you choose someone specifically from the group for the delivery? What is the dismissal procedure after having a baby, do you stay 12, 24 or 48 hours after delivery? Do they perform circumcisions as part of the well care or is that an additional charge done in Hospital or as outpatient care?

Take a tour of the Hospital affiliated with your intended Health Care Plan, check the nursery area, children's ward and cafeteria. Inquire into visiting hours and look at the emergency room. Ask if they have any staff that assist with breastfeeding for new Moms.

Another thought is if the parent can stay overnight should a child have to be Hospitalized. This was allowed at both Hospitals my children have been admitted in.

The cost should be something you can handle each month or quarter, depending on which plan you choose for yourself and your family. Call up agents and ask for paperwork to read over. Look through all the paperwork before someone comes into your house to try to sell you a plan. Will you need to have any physical tests taken before signing up for the health plan. How long is the underwriting and review process?

It is important to know the cost associated, what are the Physician options and which Hospitals are contracted. Do online research of the Doctors and Hospitals. Find out if they have been sued for malpractice, check their Credentials.

Insurance can be a Hassle at Times

I suffer with severe eczema - a skin condition that had my face inflammed for a few weeks with redness around my nose and under my eyes. One morning my right eye was swollen almost shut due to the spread of the rash.

It is not easy to go about in public taking care of errands with a face that one day looks like you were attacked, and another day skin peeling. Try putting makeup over the areas to tone down the redness and you have a pitiful looking face.

Depression was setting in with my face not getting any better over the days that turned into weeks. I had one clerk at Rite Aid ask if my autistic son who was having a fit at the moment was the one who had scratched my face. I then had to explain my skin condition and felt even worse than before arriving at the counter to pay for my ointments and lotions.

The problem was that I had changed insurance plans, and have yet to make my first appointment at the new primary care physician's office. I probably will not be doing that any time soon. I reside in Los Angeles and only go to areas I know are safe and that I have been to in the past.

Prior to the change I was on the State of California's Medi-Cal plan with Blue Cross as my chosen HMO. Once I became a home health care worker for my nonverbal autistic son my income took me to the transitional plan until I no longer qualified. I chose the Insurance Plan with the Home Care Worker's Union.

The problem with this Insurance Plan is that they make the initial choice for the Primary Care Physician and then you can change to one you would prefer. The Hospitals affiliated with the Plan are County run, an option I am not thrilled with having always utilized the Adventist Medical Center where my children are also affiliated with through their Pediatrician's office.

The Doctor chosen for me is located near USC, an area I have never driven to and do not feel comfortable doing so. This Insurance is basically used only for the Prescription Plan, although that benefit is not as good as the Medi-Cal program. I cannot even pronounce the name of the Physician and would have to get a referral to see a Dermatologist.

All of this takes time, and when you need relief from an ailment, condition, etc you do not have this luxury to wait for medication. I went to a walk-in urgent care clinic and paid $40 to see a Physician within ten minutes and received a prescription for a Cortisone cream and Prednisone. I even got the name and address of a Dermatologist to consult with.

I had been avoiding going the Prednisone route, a medication I have nicknamed the "nasty pill". Even the side effects state this has mood and personality changes, which I can attest to. The last time I used this medication was the summer of 2003 to prepare for a court battle with my ex. I wanted my face to look decent during that stressful time.

I am now comfortable in my own skin after having been on this medication for three days. My face looks better, a slight redness in a few areas on the face. I can get on with daily living instead of wanting to hide inside my house.

There are times when it is so much easier to bypass the Insurance steps needed to take to see a Physician and go get it done on your own and pay out-of-pocket.