Friday, August 31, 2018

Should I Sue?


According to the ads on late-night television, a car accident could be your path to riches.   See that lawyer and get a big check. Is it really that easy?

This post is not legal advice, and every case is different.  Generally, personal injury attorneys work on contingency fees--they get a portion of the recovery--and they offer free initial consultations during which they evaluate your case and decide whether they want to become involved.  If you are injured in a car accident, it doesn't hurt to see someone.

Still, you may wonder:  "Is it worth it to sue"?  or "How much can I get if I sue?"

Elements that determine the value of a lawsuit

There are three elements that determine the value of a lawsuit:
Liability: Whose fault was the accident?  If the accident was your fault, your health insurance will pay your medical bills, not your automobile insurance (except in a few states).  They don't pay for pain and suffering, lost wages, or losses suffered by other family members because of your injuries. The higher the chance that the accident was the other party (ies)' fault, the higher the value of the lawsuit.
Damages:  What problems did the accident cause you?  Do you have medical bills? Lost wages? Property damage?  Has it affected your ability to fulfill family obligations or to be intimate with your spouse?  Will it keep you from earning a living in the future? Did it cause pain and suffering. Damages are divided into Special Damages which are numbers you can prove with bills (like medical expenses) or  that an economist or other expert can compute (like loss of earning capacity or future medical expenses).   General Damages are things like pain and suffering, inconvenience or aggravation.  Most areas have a range that is considered normal depending on the body part being treated, the length of treatment and the type of treatment.   Around here, $2,000 per month of treatment for sprains and strains is in the range.

Insurance:   While there are a few people who could afford to pay a judgment out-of-pocket, most personal injury judgments or settlements are paid by insurance companies.  Therefore, the size of the policy has a direct effect on the value of your lawsuit. Generally speaking (and there are always exceptions to the rule) people with large insurance policies have lots of money and people with small policies have few assets.  It doesn’t matter if you have $100,000 worth of damages if the policy at issue is only worth $15,000, unless the policy owner happens to have money.

Putting It All Together

When an attorney evaluates a personal injury case, he or she looks at all three elements to determine whether to take a case and how much effort and money to allot to it.  The accident may be the other person’s fault but if the only damages are to your car, it isn’t worth the attorney’s time to take the case. If who is at fault is up for debate, but your injuries are severe and the person who hit you has a big insurance policy, the attorney may be willing to gamble.  Most cases are resolved via settlement.  Both sides look at liability, damages, and available insurance and they negotiate a resolution both attorneys see as reasonable.  Few attorneys really want to try cases. Trials are expensive, time-consuming and unpredictable. They are a last resort when the attorneys have very different ideas of what the case is worth.

What Do I Get?

Not nearly as much as the commercials lead you to believe.  The first person to get paid out of any settlement or judgment is the attorney--funny how that works. Depending on the stage at which the case is settled or judgment paid, and the contract you signed, the attorney can get anywhere from 30% to 50% of the gross proceeds.  Next, the expenses have to be paid. These expenses include medical treatment (often the attorney advances the cost of medical treatment by doctors of his/her choosing, or if a client uses his/her health insurance, the health insurance company may want to be reimbursed).  They also include the costs of litigation including copies, experts, deposition fees or even the attorney’s parking and mileage. In short, the injured party should not expect to walk out of the room with more than about ⅓ of the settlement amount.

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich.*

Friday, August 24, 2018

What to Do Before Disaster Strikes

Right now there are wildfires in the West and a Hurricane is headed for Hawaii.  The end of August and first half of September is prime time for Hurricanes on the Gulf Coast.  Spring floods hit the river valleys, especially in areas that got more snow than usual.  Earthquakes seem to come out of nowhere.  The reality is that any of us could be hit by some disaster (whether individually, or as a community) at just about any time.


Some of us will have at least a little warning of impending problems.  When hurricane warnings go up, you know that you need to pack up valuables and leave town.  While you may be hoping that wildfire doesn't come your way, you know that if it isn't too far away you need to be on guard--the wind can always change.  On the other hand, earthquakes give little warning and your smoke alarm may be the only warning you get of the fire that destroys only your home.

The better prepared we are before a disaster strikes, the more easily we will recover afterwards.

Remote Preparations:

Remote preparations are the steps you take to prepare for disaster before that disaster is even on the radar.  They may be the the only preparations you have time to make for disasters like fires or earthquakes.

Insurance:

I hate paying insurance premiums but I learned after Hurricane Katrina  that money made the recovery quicker and that insurance companies really do enforce the exclusions in their policies.

Homeowners' policies and standard renter's insurance do not pay for flood damages.  While mortgage companies require homes in flood zones to purchase flood insurance, many other people say that they do not need flood insurance--and they don't, until there is a flood.  My brother's girlfriend lived in a second floor apartment.  She did not "need" flood insurance until the waves of Katrina caused the building to collapse, and her belongings to wash out to sea.  If you are a homeowner, contact your insurance agent about a flood insurance policy.  The are issued by the federal government and cost the same no matter the sales agent.  Consider the cost, consider the risk and if you live anywhere near water, consider buying flood insurance.

Make sure you know what your homeowner's policy covers and consider supplementary coverage, particularly if you don't have money for substantial out-of-pocket expenses.  On the Mississippi coast now, standard homeowner's policies do not cover wind damage.  I wonder whether wildfire or earthquakes are covered in California?  If you live there, make sure you know.

Make sure you know something about the insurance laws in your state.  While dry as dust your state's department of insurance website may have valuable information for you.  Talk to your agent and confirm your conversation via email--and keep the email.  You need to know under what conditions the insurance company can cancel your policy, and under what conditions it cannot.  Insurance won't pay for hurricane damage if there is a hurricane in the Gulf when you take out the policy, so along the Gulf Coast, don't plan on switching policies during hurricane season.

In Louisiana, once you have had the policy for three years, your insurance company cannot cancel you except for non-payment, unless it quits writing insurance in the state.  If you have had it for less than three years, there are all sorts of reasons they can cancel, including wanting to lessen their exposure in the area.  Also state insurance departments may have approve before rates on old policies are raised, but not regarding new policies.  After Katrina, many people whose policies were less than three years old found themselves cancelled and forced to buy homeowners' insurance from the state insurer of last resort.

All of that being said, remember that the purpose of insurance is to protect you from things you cannot afford, not to pay routine bills.  Raising deductibles can lower premiums to allow you to purchase coverage over other perils.  On the other hand, you may want to bet on the government coming to your aid in the case of a mass disaster, particularly one that could not be reasonably predicted.  Earthquake coverage is far more needed in California than in Louisiana and flood insurance is probably overkill in the desert far from the nearest stream.

Photos and Inventories:

Go through your house and your belongings now.  Photograph as much as you can and upload those photos to the cloud.  Use Dropbox, Amazon, Snapfish, Google Pictures...it doesn't really matter.  Get them somewhere you can find them and somewhere that isn't dependent on your local computer.  If you have to make a claim, particularly for a total or almost total loss, you'll be glad you have them.  Scan receipts for major purchase and put them in the same place.  If they are in your filing cabinet, they won't do you any good in a disaster.

If you have family photos scanning at least some of them will protect them from being permanently lost as well.  Also scan important papers--again this may be the only copy you have left and even if it isn't official, having the copy makes it easier to get a new official copy.  Also, make sure the cloud has a list of your credit card numbers, bank account numbers, and copies of your insurance policies (all under secure passwords of course--and yes I know that nothing is absolute and if you are more comfortable spreading the information over several platforms, go for it.

Have a Plan:

Even if you don't want to decide to go to a certain place ahead of time, talk to your spouse and/or family and decide under what circumstances you will evacuate.  Do you stay until the last minute or are you the first out of town?  Does someone have to stay behind because of a job?

Have a packing list, and if there is something portable that it would break your heart to lose, make sure it is on the list.  I know people who now keep their family treasures in Rubbermaid totes which makes it easy to pick up the tote and throw it in the car.

Lesser treasures are also in totes which will hopefully be waterproof and survive a certain amount of water.

Know what you will do with your pets.

You may have to pick up and leave quickly; having a plan lets you get the most done in the least time.

It Is Time to Leave

Whether you are evacuating voluntarily,  have been told to leave, or were forced out be fire, flood or building collapse, implement as much of your plan as you can; remembering that people are far more important than property, even sentimental property.  Get to a place of safety knowing that you will get through this.

If you have time, do something with the food in your refrigerator and freezer.  If you can't take it with you, either throw it away (outside) or put it all in garbage bags and tie them shut before returning them to the refrigerator or freezer.  Put a couple of ice cubes in a visible spot in both the freezer on top of the refrigerator and in your big freezer if you have one.  If you get back and the ice cubes are ok, then you know the food stayed cold and it is safe to remove from the garbage bags.  If it melted, and you decide to throw away the food, it is easy enough to haul the bags out.  If you've been gone and the power has been off for a couple of weeks, at least the stink goes out in one or two trips.

Now It Is Over--Or So You Had Hoped.


Hopefully, you can go home, put your stuff away, fix some minor damage and go on with your life.  If not, here are the next steps:

People are more important than stuff.

I know you want to get back, I know you want to check on your house.  PLEASE wait until it is safe.  If you don't you put yourself and potential rescuers in danger.

Call your insurance company.

Here is where you have to know your policy.  My homeowner's policy now has a large hurricane deductible and requires me to pay the adjuster.  This means I want to see the house and get an "eyeball" estimate before I call my insurance company.  I don't want to pay an adjuster to look at a couple of broken windows.

On the other hand if you know your house had burned down, get on the phone with your insurance company as soon as possible; you want to give them every chance to do all the investigating they want.

Also, most homeowners policies include "ALE" additional living expenses.  If your home is damaged by a covered peril to the extent that you can't live there, they will pay for your hotel, apartment etc.  ALE usually kicks in if there is a mandatory evacuation.

Allow yourself to mourn but don't focus on the loss.

I know it is easier said than done, but stuff is temporary, we can't take it with us.

Don't be afraid to ask for help, or to accept it.

Americans are wonderful people, and in times of disaster they want to help.  Let friends and family and even strangers help.  If they ask  what they can do, or what you need, tell them.  If you have major losses and you don't think your insurance company is being fair with you, call a lawyer.  They will give you an initial consultation at no cost.  Ask what they think they can do for you and how much it will cost.

While we all pray we never have to face either a natural or man-made disaster, proper planning can keep either from financially devastating you.


*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich.*

Friday, August 10, 2018

Is Webull a Good Robinhood Alternative?

Is Webull a Good Robinhood Alternative
While some people are fond of online broker Robinhood, which charges no sales commissions, other people are looking for an alternative to Robinhood. One contender is Webull, another commission-free stockbroker.  This article will chronicle my experince with Webull and offer you, my readers, a free share of stock.

I first found Robinhood alternative Webull when I was perusing Google Play for more apps for my phone and Webull was listed as a free online broker.  I hit Google to see what folks had to say about it, and found that it was an alternative to Robinhood if you were looking for a free online broker.  I also saw that you got a free share of stock for trying it, so I did.

Getting Started with Webull


I downloaded the app, and installed it on my phone.  Easy enough.  It came up with all sorts of graphs and with lists of American and Canadian stocks. The app uses English/Canadian spelling so I assumed it was from Canada but the website lists a Wall Street address in New York City.

Deposting Money with Webull


After poking around a bit I found out how to link my bank account, and doing so only took a few minutes.  Then it told me about the micro-deposits.  Of course, whatever.  A couple of days later my bank called--I guess not everyone makes a hobby of opening new brokerage accounts and writing about them.  They just wanted to make sure the microdeposits were legit, as I'd had some just last month with M1 Finance.

I then returned to the app, verified that the account was mine, and deposited $100.  Next, I claimed my free share of stock. Amazingly, it wasn't Amazon, or Alphabet or Google, but some $5.00 stock I'd never heard of (AMBEV--a Brazilian beverage distributor).  Still, free is free, and I didn't have to deposit money to get it, I just had to open the account.

Buying Stock with Webull


I had my eye on shares of  Iron Mountain  and so I pushed what I thought were the right buttons to buy it.  I got a message about site maintenance.  Ok, it was midnight Saturday night; if you are going to maintain a site, that's as good a time as any.

Monday morning I tried again and found out that my deposit hadn't made it there (no big surprise).  While Robinhood allows me to deposit money and immediately invest it, Webull wants the deposit to clear the bank first.

Today, Thursday,  my bank website said that the money had left my bank account, so I fired up Webull to see if they had it yet.  I had to dig for a while before I determined that I needed to push "Trade" to see if my money was there yet (nope). The money left my bank account on Tuesday August 7 and as of Friday August 10 at 12:36 p.m., it is not in my Webull account.  My take-away on that is that if I plan to invest via Webull, I either need to keep a cash balance in my account or I need to accept that Webull is not for making moves due to (perhaps temporary) market moves.

Information Available on Webull


I am not a financial expert; I don't know what half the information I read about companies really means.  I've learned more in the last few years and I'm still learning, but as I've said before, investing in individual stocks is a hobby for me.  Statistically speaking most people are likely to do better for a lot less work investing in index funds.  My behavior mirrors that belief because most of my assets are in index mutal funds.  Still, I like to play the stock market and I've accepted that this is a toy that can make money or lose it.

I say all of that because the one area where Webull clearly outshines Robinhood is information.  Here is a screenshot of what you see if you look up Apple:

and if you scroll down a bit you'll see
followed by

If you want numbers, Webull has numbers, numbers and more numbers, along with a variety of graphs--and that's just the "overview".  If you want to know what analysts think:
and there are several more screens of information.  Yes, if you are an information junkie, Webull may be just your thing.

Trading Stocks with Webull


I'll come back and update this article once my money clears the bank and is in my account.  

Is Webull a Good Robinhood Alternative?


It depends.  Both offer free stock trading and that's a good thing.  Robinhood makes it easier to invest money NOW but Webull offers more information.  

Have you tried a low-fee/no-fee online broker?  What are  your thoughts?



Disease Called Debt

Friday, August 3, 2018

Visiting New York City: Should You Buy an Attraction Pass?

When you start planning a trip to New York City, after a search or two, Google will start showing you ads for attraction passes.  I don't control the AdSense ads on this page but I wouldn't be a bit surprised if one of them is for an attraction pass.  So, should you buy one?  If so, which one?  How should you decide?

Plan Your Ideal Trip

How long to do plan to stay, and if money was no object, what would you during those days?  In order to determine if you should by a New York Pass, a City Pass or Sightseeing Pass, you need to consider what you want to do, and how long it takes to do it.  

If your ideal trip to New York City includes sleeping late, a leisurely lunch, shopping on Fifth Avenue, a Broadway show daily followed by dinner and drinks, you aren't going to get much use from an attraction pass.  On the other hand, if your goal is to see as many of the sights as possible in as short a time as possible, they may be just what you need.

Compare Your Ideal Trip With Your Real Budget and the Attraction Passes

Once you have a rough schedule of what you would like to do, if money permits, look at the attraction pass options and find the one that is right for you.  

We recently took a group of Girl Scouts to New York City.  We knew we wanted to fly in on Wednesday and out on Tuesday, which would give is five full days and two relatively short days.  We wanted to see the Statue of Liberty, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Empire State Building and/or the Top of the Rock, the 911 Museum and the Natural History Museum.  Other big attractions that were interesting were Radio City Music Hall, and NBC Studios.  We also knew there were a lot of free attractions, and of course, we wanted to shop.  So, what should we do?

The New York Pass would allow us to see all those attractions, and more.  Hypothetically, looking at our list, we could do the Empire State Building early one morning, the 911 Museum later that morning, Radio City in the afternoon and the Empire State Building at night.  The next day We could do the Statute of Liberty in the morning and the Metropolitan Museum in the afternoon.  A third day could be the Natural History Museum and NBC Studios.  We would then have two full days and two small days to cover the free attractions, or we could add two more days to the New York Pass and see more.  A three day pass is $199 for anyone over 12.  A five day pass is $242 (there is no four day option).  

The Sightseeing Pass can be purchased by the day or by the number of attractions.  While it does not include the Empire State Building, we could see the rest of our preferred attractions.  A three day pass is $199, four days sell for $229 and five days for $244.00.  If we preferred, we could have chosen to buy by the attraction.  Seven attractions would be $165.00, or, if we wanted to spend $199, we could get twelve attractions.  

The New York Explorer Pass is purchased by the attraction. Their list of 82 attractions included everything on the list but NBC Studios.  A seven attraction pass is $169 for anyone over 12.  

The New York City Pass offers a much smaller list of attractions--but most of the biggies are on there.  For $126 per adult, and $104 for each child under eighteen, you can see:  
  • The Empire State Building
  • American Museum of Natural History
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Top of the Rock Observation Deck   OR   Guggenheim Museum
  • Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island   OR   Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises
  • 9/11 Memorial & Museum   OR   Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum

Be Realistic

Most of these passes offer far more attractions than you can reasonably see in a few days.  They offer boat cruises, art museums galore, tours on foot, and bus tours as well. The thing to realize is that you can't be in two places at one time. 


Look at All the Options

Money was a major concern on our trip, so we chose the City Pass and didn't see Radio City Music Hall or NBC Studios.  However, if those really were on a "must see" list, we could have added Radio City Music Hall for their regular price of $30, and the NBC Studio Tour is $33.00, giving our adults attraction costs of $192 and the girls $167, which is still substantially less than the other passes.  

On the other hand, if you have a bigger "must see" list, or if your list included a substantial number of things not on the lower-price pass, a higher-priced pass might be right for you.  

While all these passes tout how much you save but using them, don't forget to consider other ways to accomplish your goal, especially if you prefer a leisurely paced trip and/or want to do a lot things that are not included on these passes--things like seeing shows or dining out.  New York City also has a lot of fun free things to do; don't forget to leave room in your schedule for some of them.  mans

Also, as noted on my post about free attractions, many of the major attractions offer "pay what you wish" times.  

Enjoy Your Trip

Besides our paid attractions, we saw Grand Central Terminal, Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge Park, The High Line, the Cheslea Market, St. Patrick's, the graveyards of Trinity Episcopal (Alexander Hamilton is buried there) and St. Paul's Chapel.  We walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, visited Federal Hall, and took pictures with the Wall Street Bull and the Mighty Girl.  We explored the New York Public Library and enjoyed lunch in Bryant Park while listening to Broadway songs. Times Square is fun too. 



Disease Called Debt