Friday, March 30, 2007

New Graduates and Focusing on Finances, Part Four

Numbers seven and eight!

Focus #7: Make sure you're covered.
You may not have thought much about health insurance as a student, but ignoring insurance now could be a pricey mistake. If you decide to go uninsured, you could wind up with expensive medical bills, not to mention poor health. You've got to make sure that you're covered in case of an emergency. At this stage in your life, you're likely pretty healthy, in decent shape, and unlikely to need regular prescriptions, but you've got to have insurance to cover the emergency situations. You're probably no longer able to be pulled along with your parents' insurance, so you need to find your own.

You likely have several options. First, your employer may provide insurance (at a reduced cost) to you. This is probably going to be your least expensive alternative, but many companies won't provide you with insurance until you've been employed for three or six months. Buying your own health insurance is an option, but it's expensive. The average annual cost for a traditional insurance plan is around $4,000,

I also recently learned that college grads are eligible for COBRA when they're no longer considered a dependent. College students who are on their parents’ health plans can sign up remain covered for up to 36 months after graduation. But, you must notify your parent’s insurer that you would like a COBRA extension within 60 days of graduation.

A COBRA extension certainly does have costs, though. You may be required to pay the entire premium for coverage up to 102 percent of the plan’s costs. In other words, you will be responsible for 100 percent of what your parents paid, plus what their employer paid along a 2 percent fee. Ouch.

Finally, you can get some short-term health insurance for relatively low cost. This type of policy is designed for folks without pre-existing medical conditions, and only offer coverage for 12 months. But, they're typically bought in one-month increments, which makes it easy to drop when you get an employer-sponsored insurance plan. One big drawback is that short-term insurance does not typically cover routine preventative care, like physical exams.

Your insurance coverages don't stop at just health insurance. Consider renter's insurance to protect your sweet autographed guitar and other valuables you've already acquired. It's relatively cheap protection, even if you don't have a lot of stuff. You definitely need to be covered in case of fire, theft, or other event.

Focus #8: Take inventory.
If your apartment or house burned down or was robbed tomorrow while you're at work, would you be able to remember exactly what was in it, down to the value of any jewelry or what kind of appliances you had? Me neither. That's why an up-to-date home inventory is something you should spend an afternoon putting together. This list of items will help you get any insurance claims settled faster (with better accuracy), verify your losses for your income tax return, and help you assess how much insurance you need to carry.

Putting it together is simple, especially if you're just setting up a household. Make a list of your possessions, describing each item and estimating its value. Also try to include where you bought it, and its make and model if at all possible. A spreadsheet is the perfect tool. At a bare minimum, include your big ticket items. If you've got the time and ability snap some photographs of your stuff, too. Scanned receipts would also be smart.

Then, store a copy of your inventory someplace safe, AWAY from your home. A relative's house or a safe deposit box is a good choice. MLB and I burn a copy of the photos and our list to a CD and keep a copy in our safe, and I keep a copy locked up in my desk at work. This way, if our home is ever damaged, our inventory isn't.

The final two tomorrow!


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