What’s the deal with pet insurance?

If you have a pet in your life, then you know how much joy and laughter pets can bring to our day to day. It’s not surprising that many people want to ensure that their pets live the longest and healthiest lives possible. To help achieve that goal, more Americans are starting to purchase pet insurance policies. The idea is that these policies will help cover potentially expensive veterinary costs, like if a pet has an accident and is seriously injured.  

There are many companies that provide pet insurance policies and the policies they offer can be different in a variety of ways. But the policies can be confusing and leave many consumers wondering if pet insurance worth the cost. And if it is worth the cost, how do you pick the policy and company that is right for you and your pet? So, today I want to help answer some of those questions.

Image by Helena for rawpixel.com

First, is pet insurance worth the cost?

Like many things in life, the answer is that it depends. If you have an older pet, a pet that has been ill previously, or certain breeds of pet you might find that insurance is not as worth the cost. This is mainly because of the way premiums are calculated and the coverage limits. A premium is the amount you pay (usually monthly) to be covered by the insurance policy. Premiums can vary based on many factors, so let’s consider age as an example. Since pets typically need more care as they age, older pets tend to have higher veterinary costs. To account for the increase in costs, insurance companies usually increase the premium as the pet gets older. So, if you have an older pet you might end up paying significantly more for insurance.

Coverage limits refer to situations where the insurance will not pay or has a limit to the amount they will pay. Often pet insurance will not cover breed specific conditions or pre-existing conditions. Remember, pet insurance uses similar terms to human health insurance but it is set up differently. For human health insurance, insurance companies cannot deny you coverage or charge you more just because of your pre-existing conditions. But pet insurance is actually a type of property insurance, so it does consider these factors. If you have a breed of dog that commonly has certain types of cancer or joint issues, pet insurance may not cover these conditions. Similarly, if you have a pet that has a history of a certain illness, it may be considered a pre-existing condition and anything related to it may not be covered.

The key here is to make sure you are looking at cost estimates and coverage that are specific to your pet, and not just generic estimates. These estimates can change depending on your pet and your situation. Shop around and get estimates from several companies before you decide!

When you shop around, you’ll want to compare more than just cost. You can contact companies to ask for a quote, but you’ll want to make sure that quote includes information about what the plan in the quote would cover. Some questions you can ask about the plan include:

  • What type of coverage is provided? The options are usually Accident Only or Accident and Illness, although you may also be able to add Wellness coverage for an additional cost.
  • Are there waiting periods? The plan might require you to wait a certain amount of time before it will cover any costs.
  • Are there any pre-existing conditions or other exempt conditions that this plan would not cover?
  • How does reimbursement work?

Don’t feel bad about asking questions! You want to make sure you understand exactly how the plan will work and what it will cover before you sign up. Keep in mind that you could also create a savings account that is specifically for pet expenses. Moving a set amount of money there every month can help you build an account you can use to cover unexpected expenses. Regardless of whether or not you decide to get pet insurance, planning for future pet costs is a great thing to include in your budget and financial planning!

Go Green for National Public Gardens Week

Spending time in nature has been proven to provide mental and emotional health benefits, and according to the American Psychological Association, can also improve cognitive abilities. But you don’t have to live in close proximity to hiking or walking trails to spend time enjoying the natural beauty surrounding us; instead, try visiting a local public garden.

At The Whipps Garden Cemetery In Ellicott City Maryland, April 2019” by France1978 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

This week we’re celebrating National Public Gardens Week, observed annually beginning the Friday before Mother’s Day. Public gardens have provided green space for urban areas and town spaces for ages, although the official recognition of the week, established by the American Public Gardens Association, didn’t occur till 2009.

Public gardens include botanic gardens, arboreta, zoos, universities, and museums, and encourage visitors. There are a number of public gardens in Maryland and the Md Department of Tourism provides a list of 15 in the state that people can visit. 

If you’re interested in more than just visiting a garden and you’re thinking about creating your own, check out the University of Maryland Extension Home and Garden Information Center for help getting started!

Spring into Financial Literacy

April is financial literacy month, but what exactly is financial literacy, and what does it mean for us?  Everyone has different levels of experience with financial products, terms, and organizations. We also have different levels of confidence with using them. University of Maryland Extension has a team of personal finance educators offering educational workshops and trainings across the state. Learn more about our programs on our website. 

Let’s discuss some different financial health measures and how we can use them to evaluate our own personal finance situation. 

Financial literacy is personal finance knowledge. It is what we know about topics including saving, investing and debt, and insurance, along with related concepts such as interest rates and creating budgets. Financial literacy also measures our ability to make informed decisions about financial products like investment accounts, loans, health and life insurance, and more.

The idea of financial literacy education assumes that if individuals have more financial knowledge, they will manage their financial resources better and have a stronger sense of financial well-being. How is your financial literacy? You can take some self-tests and find out.

Photo by Miquel Parera on Unsplash.

Financial confidence. Financial confidence is a different measure than financial literacy. The problem with financial literacy measures is that we can have knowledge about something, but still feel uncomfortable using that knowledge to grow or protect our money. As the term implies, financial confidence describes how comfortable an individual feels about managing their finances. For example, we can know how about savings accounts and the importance of emergency savings. We could know how to compare interest rate yields. However, if someone fears going into a bank or is not comfortable talking with a bank representative about opening an account, the knowledge, or financial literacy, is not helping them achieve their goals.   

Financial empowerment is a frequently used term. Financial empowerment combines the concepts of financial literacy and financial confidence. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, financial empowerment means you’re both informed and skilled. The sense of empowerment builds confidence, helping you effectively use your financial knowledge, skills, and resources to reach your goals. Try this financial empowerment assessment tool.   

Financial wellbeing is another important personal finance measure. Financial well-being determines how much your financial situation and money choices provide you with security and freedom of choice. It is a measure of how you feel about your money situation and your sense of control over your finances, regardless of how much money you have. There is a widely used financial wellbeing self-test which you can take at https://www.consumerfinance.gov/consumer-tools/financial-well-being/. You can read more about financial wellbeing and the self-assessment here.

How do you feel about the results of these assessments? Do you want to know more about financial products, or are you with an organization that helps people manage their resources? University of Maryland Extension has educators, programs, and resources to help.  Connect with us to partner together on our journey.

Financial Spring Cleaning

With Spring finally here, many people are thinking about Spring Cleaning. For many, it is a time to tidy and organize around us so that we can focus on all the new things that Spring brings. That could involve cleaning out your closet, organizing your shed, or anything else that makes you feel ready for the coming season. This spring, consider doing some Financial Spring Cleaning! It is a great way to make sure that you and your money are ready for the year ahead. Here are some Financial Spring Cleaning suggestions: 

1. Check your credit report. 

Checking your credit report is a quick and easy way to protect your identity and review your financial picture. If you go to https://www.annualcreditreport.com, you can request a copy of your credit report from each of the 3 credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and Transunion). Once you have it, you want to review it to make sure all the information shown on the report is accurate! The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a great tool that walks you through the process for checking the accuracy of your credit report, you can find it here: https://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/documents/cfpb_your-money-your-goals_review-credit-report_tool.pdf

2. Have your tax paperwork ready to go. 

Remember that the deadline to file taxes is April 15! To be ready, gather all the documents you need and put them in a safe place. You don’t want to wait too long to get started on your taxes. Many of us hope to receive a refund, but if you do end up owing taxes you want to make sure you have the time you need to figure out a plan to pay that bill. You should also keep in mind that appointments with a professional can fill up quickly and even filing online with tax software can take longer than expected. But if you are ready well in advance, you can file your taxes on time and move on with your spring!

3. Review your spending habits. 

It’s always important to know where our money is going. One way to be more in touch with your spending habits is to look at bank records or credit card statements for January and February. You could go over them generally to see where you are spending money. You could also put expenses into specific categories and add them up to see how much you are spending each month on bills, groceries, going out to eat, or other categories. This is important because we often underestimate our spending and it can make budgeting very challenging! If you review your spending regularly, then you should have a much clearer idea of your spending habits. 

4. Consider creating a chart or visual for an important part of your financial life.

If you want to take reviewing your habits a step further, then consider creating a way to visualize some part of your financial life. One example is creating a bill calendar. You can use a generic calendar (as in one that is not for a specific month) to show the dates your major bills are due. That way you have a quick way to know which bills need to be paid on what dates. Another option is to create a picture of your debt. This could be a chart that shows student loans, car loans, credit cards, or other debts and their overall balance. It can be especially useful if you are working on paying down your debt!

5. Create financial goals. 

Finally, prepare for the season ahead by creating financial goals! Having a clear picture in your mind of what you want to do with your money can help you make financial decisions in the future. For example, it might help to carry a written reminder of your financial goals. If you are getting ready to make a purchase, seeing that written reminder could encourage you not to make the purchase and keep saving or to more deeply consider whether the purchase is necessary. The reminder is helpful because it changes your way of thinking. It helps you keep in mind that you are saying no to purchasing something right now so that, in the future, you are able to achieve an important financial goal! 

Wishing all of you a happy Spring!

Living Well

March is Living Well Month! The National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (NEAFCS) encourages families to live well through raising kids, eating right, and spending smart.

Physically, mentally, socially, and emotionally strong families provide strength for future
generations and Extension initiatives enable Maryland residents to build the knowledge and skill to lead full and productive lives.

The University of Maryland Extension Family & Consumer Sciences team provides comprehensive education for individuals in a variety of areas including nutrition, physical activity, mental health, chronic disease prevention and management, personal finance, and so much more.

Celebrate healthy living and the great work FCS professionals do to educate individuals, families, and communities in Maryland, and across the country, by engaging in one of the Living Well Month activities!

Follow the recommendations of the NEAFCS, or come up with some of your own goals to start Living Well!

Savings Goals for the New Year

Each January we get a powerful fresh start in the form of a new year. That clean slate for the year ahead encourages us to set goals, try new things, and improve our habits for the year ahead. Often fitness and health goals get all the attention. Our friends are on social media sharing their new eating plan or marathon training schedule. Health goals are important, but financial goals can be just as important for overall wellness! As we head into 2023, why not try out some savings goals and shift some focus to your financial health?

Changing our behavior is always a challenge. In many ways, our brains aren’t wired to give up the things we want now for something we might be able to have in the future. And as our goals get bigger and further in the future, this gets more and more difficult. We might really want to pay off our car loan or student loan, but those things can take small amounts of money over many years. Spending that money on things we enjoy now would definitely be more fun and using that money to pay down debt can feel pretty anticlimactic.

One strategy for improving our motivation is to create a vision board. Ideally, this vision board would focus on a specific large financial goal. It would include pictures that show:

  • How it would feel to achieve the goal
  • What you would be able to do when you achieve the goal
  • The kinds of characteristics you will have when you achieve the goal

Looking at the vision board reminds us that the goal is important, possible, and that achieving it will change our lives for the better! It helps us visualize that when we say no to something right now, it is because we want to be able to say yes to something else in the future. I made one recently and hung it where I would see it each morning. It was focused on a dream I have always had to travel. After 5 years of saving, my husband and I took the trip I had always dreamed of last summer! I’m looking forward to making a new one for this year because the previous one was such a great source of motivation.

I tried to find my old vision board and include a picture here, but we moved recently and I can’t find it! So instead, here is a picture of my husband and I in Venice, Italy after saving for 5 years to make this trip!

The vision board is an excellent tool for motivation, but it needs to be paired with strategies you can actually use to save the money. One option is to start small because it gives you the chance to create a new habit without having to stick with any really major changes. For example, my bank allows me to use rounding up to increase my savings. With rounding up, each of my purchases is rounded up to the nearest dollar and the rounded-up amount is placed in my savings account. For example, if I bought dinner and it was 19.20 then my bank would round that charge up to 20.00. Of that, 19.20 would go to the restaurant and 0.80 would go into my savings account. The amounts are small, but they add up over time!

If you’re looking to save in larger amounts, it might be good to look into your bank’s options on savings accounts. At my bank, it doesn’t cost me anything to open an additional savings account and I can do it from right within their app. Once I have the account, I can add a label to it. I usually label my accounts with what I want to do with the money in the account. An example would be an account labeled “Emergency Fund” where I save for emergencies, or “Summer Vacation” where I save to take a trip with my family over the summer. Some banks even let you set a goal for your account and give you a status bar showing how much progress you have made toward your savings goal.

Things like this can really help with motivation! It seems simple, but adding these labels can be a powerful way to change the way our brain thinks about money. If I am running short and need to move some money from savings to make a purchase, seeing that label makes me stop and think. Is it really worth it to me to take money from my summer vacation to buy this other thing? Sometimes it’s groceries or an important bill, and the answer is yes. But other times I realize I’d much rather go on vacation than buy whatever it is I’m considering.

These small changes can add up to some major savings over the course of a year. They can help you establish an emergency fund and save for future needs (and wants). Hopefully you try out some savings goals or other financial goals this year! Drop a comment and let us know, do you have a savings goal for 2023? Are there any strategies you use that work for you?

New Year, New Couple Ritual

The New Year has everyone thinking of ways to improve something about their lives. While New Year’s Resolutions are often focused on creating new individual routines, such as regular diet or exercise, couples should remember that enhancing their relationship routines is a great way to improve both health and life satisfaction. So, how might couples take the first step in enhancing their relationship routines?

First, it is important to understand why couple routines and rituals are an important focus. Research shows that couples benefit from establishing and participating in regular activities that add meaning to their relationship. When couples fail to make intentional efforts to spend meaningful time together, they tend to drift toward isolation from one another. This slow drift apart can be hard to detect amidst the noise and distractions of modern, busy family life.  

Below we are sharing some ideas to add in some positive routines or traditions into your couple relationship during 2023. There is no need to try them all at once. Start with a practice that feels attainable to you, given your unique situation. 

Photos from RawPixel.com.

Actions to try out

Daily Routines: 

  • Kiss each other hello and good bye 
  • Spend some uninterrupted time chatting at the start or end of the day
  • Enjoy something relaxing together in the evening (e.g., a leisurely walk, tea, hot chocolate, snuggling under a comfy blanket) 

Weekly Routines:

  • Engage in a hobby together
  • Connect to the world as a couple via time in nature, community groups, or faith groups  
  • Go on a date

Annual Traditions:

  • Decide as a couple how you would like to celebrate important events such as anniversaries, birthdays, holidays

Another great way to kickstart the enhancement of your relationship is to participate in a Couples Retreat hosted by University of Maryland Extension. The retreat is focused on business-owning couples, especially in the agriculture industry. The retreat will cover information like the content in this blog, as well as a variety of other couples enhancement activities. Furthermore, we will provide information on business financial planning and succession/estate planning for business-owning couples. All couples are welcome to attend. Click here to find more information about cost and registration.

This post contributed by UME Faculty Specialist Alex Chan.

Check Your Credit for the New Year

Why do I need to check my credit report?

There are two primary reasons to check your credit report. One is to ensure the accuracy of information and the other to monitor your credit reports to prevent identity theft. 

As a refresher, there are three major credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) that collect information about how you borrow and repay money. I wrote an information paper on Understanding Credit and Credit Reports for more information about credit reports. 

Credit scores can affect your ability to obtain loans. Image from pixabay.com.

The accuracy of information is important as it impacts our ability to obtain new loans and the rate we are charged for those loans. There is only one true source authorized by federal law to get your credit report. It is AnnualCreditReport.com. By federal law, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report once a year from each of the three major credit reports. Some states may have additional expectations, like Maryland which allows for an additional free copy from each of the credit bureaus. 

Ever since the pandemic, credit bureaus have allowed individuals to get a free copy each week, but the ending date for that continues to change. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau developed a nice tool / checklist to assist you in reviewing your credit report. 

The Federal Trade Commission reports 5.7 million cases of fraud and identity theft. Checking your credit report periodically can serve as a form of identity protection. The credit report contains a list of all active accounts reported to the credit bureau. You should make sure every account listed is an account that you opened. 

If you don’t plan on opening a line of credit any time soon, I suggest you freeze your accounts. This prevents someone from accessing the information in your credit report. Experian has good information about freezing your account. Remember you need to freeze the account with each credit bureau. And don’t worry, you can unfreeze or thaw your account at any time.If you become a victim of identity theft, FDC developed a website to guide you through the reporting and recovery process.