Monthly Archives: February 2018

California Homeowners At Risk of Losing Home and Fire Insurance Policies

After a year of horrific wildfires across the West Coast, homeowners are now at risk of losing their insurance — both homeowners and fire — due to natural disaster risks.

According to CBS Sacramento, though the California drought is currently over, there are still plenty of negative effects impacting homeowners across the state.

California estimates that there are more than 100 million dead trees due to the drought, which makes them extremely susceptible to wildfires. State officials say they have noticed an increase in residents who received non-renewal notices from their insurance companies.

“If I don’t get homeowners insurance, unfortunately, it will eventually push me into foreclosure,” said Greg Staab, a retired volunteer firefighter.

Typically, most insurance policies require that the insurers provide advance notice of non-renewal with the notice requirements ranking from 10 to 75 days depending on various circumstances and non-renewal jurisdictions.

“The whole situation with the drought and the larger fires we have been seeing across the Sierra, that is a clear and present concern for insurance companies,” added John McEldowney, a program manager with the Placer County Office of Emergency Services.

Luckily, a proposed bill could protect California homeowners from losing their homeowners and fire insurance policies.

According to ABC 7, State Senator Bill Dodd proposed a bill that would require insurance companies to renew a one-year policy at least twice after a home located in a disaster zone has been destroyed.

Additionally, State Senator Ricardo Lara proposed another bill that would prevent insurance companies from dropping o not renewing homeowners whose properties escaped damage from a fire or other disaster.

Insurance officials representing California homeowners stated that it’s currently reviewing the proposed legislation, but is skeptical about the reform.

“So far, we have seen no evidence other than anecdotal evidence that there is a problem getting insurance in the entire state of California, including those areas that have recently suffered disasters,” added Mark Sektnan, from the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

Wedding Market Unlikely To Be Saved By An Improving Economy

The size of the millennial generation and a recovering economy may not be enough to save the wedding market. According to Forbes, the millennial generation’s choice to marry later in life may not be the true cause of the wedding market’s failure to recover from the recession. Rather, the reason may be because of millennials’ inability to afford weddings at all.

A recent study conducted by online diamond jewelry retailer James Allen suggests that wedding ceremonies and celebrations are considered unaffordable luxuries by many millennials. In 2016, the average cost of a wedding was estimated to be $35,000 compared to the average student loan debt of $17,126.

Increases in prices have also made the average wedding far more expensive than in previous years. For instance, in the past 10 years the average price of an engagement ring increased from $5,100 to $7,900. The cost of the proposal has also gone up from $271 to $452.

And that’s just the engagement. Couples also have to worry about paying for the venue, the wedding dress, and the wedding party. Flowers alone make up a total of 7% to 8% of an average wedding budget.

Because weddings have become so expensive, many millennials have been increasing the amount of entertainment at their weddings in order to make them more customary. However, the rate of marriage itself is still on the decline.

According to the CDC/NCHS National Vital Statistics, there were as many as 8.2 marriages per 1,000 people in 2000. Yet in 2016, there were only 6.9 per 1,000 people.

Many in the wedding market have said the cause for the decline was due to millennials delaying marriage until later in life. The average age of an engaged man is 29.5 while the average age of an engaged woman is 27.4 years.

However, if the true cause for the decline in weddings is because of economic reasons then does this mean the wedding market could benefit from a growing economy? According to Forbes, the answer is no.

A recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center shows that Americans between the ages of 18 to 29 largely believe that marriage isn’t a strong priority. In fact, many young couples are choosing to live and raise children together rather than marrying.

By choosing to live together rather than formally combining incomes, these couples are receiving the socioeconomic benefits of marriage without paying for the luxury celebration. Additionally, many young Americans see living together as a financially safer alternative to marriage.

According to the CDC, there are as many as 3.2 divorces per 1,000 people. That’s as many as 876,000 divorces a year, which means, at 900,000, there are nearly as many annual divorces as there are elevators in the United States.

While a study conducted by TD Ameritrade finds that married U.S. couples are more financially secure than those who are single. However, single Americans may become more financially secure as well simply by choosing to live with a roommate.

In any case, an improved economy may not be likely to improve the wedding market. As long as younger generations continue to see marriage as not just a luxury but also a low priority, the wedding market may need to prepare to hold on to the ledge.

Uber Testing Bike-Sharing Service in San Francisco

While Uber is known for their car services, the company is beginning to offer rides on a new mode of transportation. San Francisco residents will have the opportunity to reserve pedal-assist electric bicycles through the Uber app.

The idea behind the transportation change is that local residents will view the bikes as a cheaper and faster option to having to sit in busy rush hour traffic.

Not only could this be a faster option, but a healthier one as well. In fact, a British Medical Association study found that coronary heart disease was reduced by 50% in people who cycled 20 miles each week. So this bike-sharing program offers more than just one benefit to users.

Uber is partnering with Jump Bikes, a bike-sharing service that introduced 250 motorized bicycles to the San Francisco area in January. The electric bikes make it much easier for users to tackle the area’s steep hills.

“We’re excited about the future of bike sharing in the Uber app, and this is the first step,” said Andrew Salzberg, Uber’s head of transportation policy and research.

Salzberg noted that bikes and other modes of transportation have been a consideration at Uber for some time now, but it was on hold until the company figured out the right way to try it out. With Jump Bikes recently closing a $10 million Series A round, the company thought it would be a good place to start.

Uber has shown many ambitions to extend services beyond ride-hailing. Along with the bike-sharing pilot program, the company is also working on autonomous trucking services and expanding into food delivery with Uber Eats.

Other bike-sharing programs, like Ford GoBikes or Citi Bikes, which have designated pickup and drop-off locations, Jump Bikes bicycles are simply left on the sidewalk and attached to a public bike rack. While this is convenient, but there are concerns with the bikes being left wherever users feel like leaving them.

After choosing the “bike” option in the Uber app, the user will reserve a bike and be charged $2 for 30 minutes and a per-minute fee after the initial 30 minutes have passed.

Drone Technology Drastically Improving Structural Inspections

Under normal circumstances, a homeowner’s roof should be inspected by a professional at least once or twice a year. In the near future, however, it’s going to be a lot easier to book a roof inspection thanks to unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology.

Insurance companies, roofing contractors, and drone companies alike are beginning to provide aerial inspections of roofs for both homeowners and business owners. Not only can drones easily reach areas that are virtually impossible for traditional roofing inspectors to reach, they are much safer options, effectively preventing any rooftop injuries as a result of falling.

“Roofing analysis can be done better,” said Chad Conley, Executive Vice President of Complete Roofing. “After our customers experience our process, they go ‘Wow. I had no idea there’s a company that can do that.’ I don’t know of anything that screams professionalism louder than when a roofing company uses the very best technology in the marketplace to help its customers.”

According to Unmanned Aerial, roofing companies can even triple the number of estimates and claims their teams can complete in a single day — at no risk to an individual employee’s safety — with the use of drone technology.

Using a 3D Flight App, DroneDeploy can reach rooftop measurements of 99.4% relative accuracy within four hours of a roof inspection.

Additionally, drones are great for providing aerial inspections of buildings and structures following disasters, and not just for everyday home inspections. According to UAV Expert News, Soaring Sky, a leader in Commercial Drone Solutions, is working with insurance organizations around the country to improve structural inspections during disaster management situations.

“The aerial imagery allows adjusters more time to analyze and assess damage, while reducing time that is wasted driving to and visiting each site,” said Ryan Cowell, co-founder of Soaring Sky. “Our drones provide a faster inspection process, a safer way for adjusters to do their jobs without having to physically climb on structures, ultimately saving insurance companies time and money.”

Millennials Are Actually Buying Homes Despite Common Stereotype

There are many stereotypes about millennials out there. People say they’re lazy, entitled, and they will never leave their parent’s houses. That is simply not true. Many millennials themselves actually fear that they will never be able to purchase a home.

Back in 2008, the housing market crashed, and everything was a mess. People lost their homes, and many potential homeowners changed their minds due to the risk of defaulting on their mortgage loans. Since then, the market has skyrocketed. Unemployment rates are at an all time low right now, sitting at 4.1%. Rental rates are going through the roof, and now no one wants to rent an apartment anymore. APRs are also getting better, so the interest rates on mortgage loans are much more appealing.

Realtor.com has predicted that of the home buyers in 2017, 61% of them will be under the age of 35. They were not far off the mark. According to the Census Bureau date, in 2016, 34.7% of millennials were homeowners, and that number is only rising. This year, the number of millennials that own homes has risen to 36% so far. The Wall Street Journal notes that this is the highest increase out of any other age group.

How is this happening? The Bloomberg view tells us that more and more millennials are now in the workforce. The often work in urban areas like major cities that have an ever rising rent issue. They don’t want to be living in apartments and rental homes when the possibility of the rent rising to a point where they can’t afford it any more is frighteningly real.

They are deciding to buy houses. The interest rate of mortgages is at risk of increasing, so millennials are buying houses before that happens. They are also rapidly forming families, and many of them want a house, not an apartment, or raise their family in.

Many millennials have the fear that they will never be financially stable enough to purchase a home, and many of their older counterparts don’t believe that they will either. This is simply not the case. Millennials are the fastest growing participants in the housing market, and they don’t show signs of stopping any time soon.

Millions of Americans Could Soon Lose Health and Dental Care

With rising healthcare costs and plenty of uncertainty within the health insurance industry, millions of Americans are at risk of struggling even more with their dental care.

Currently, at least one in five Americans has one or more untreated cavities, and that number could soon significantly increase and more and more U.S. citizens are unable to afford medical and dental coverage.

According to Business Insider, nationwide funding for community health centers is in jeopardy of shutting down. The Community Health Center Fund (CHCF), which provides 70% of all funding to the community centers across the country, expired at the end of September.

More than 1,300 community health centers that provide both primary care and dental care are currently at risk of losing all their funding.

The CHCF gave approximately $3.6 billion to these centers last year, along with an addition $1.5 billion from annual federal appropriations. The CHCF was a part of the Affordable Care Act’s 2015 bill with a plan to last five years, but was extended another two years in 2015.

I am very worried that Congress will do nothing, that the president will do nothing, and that we will be faced with making — I don’t want to overstate — but catastrophic decisions,” said Marjorie Hill, CEO of Joseph P. Addabbo Family Health Center in New York.

For millions of Americans relying on these community health centers for basic medical and dental assistance, they could soon be at risk of having no medical care available to them at all.

According to ABC 7, there are still ways to seek affordable dental care without these community centers or sufficient insurance coverage.

“A dental savings plan isn’t health insurance but it does connect you to a network of dentists who have agreed to provide discounts on their services,” said Donna Rosato,” money editor for Consumer Reports.

Dental savings plans typically cost about $100 per year for an individual or $250 for an entire family.

New Study Strengthens Link Between Poor Sleep and Alzheimer’s

According to a new study, fragmented sleep patterns could be an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease. These findings could potentially help doctors identify patients at risk of developing the disease.

The research was done at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Researchers found that adults with currently healthy memories who had disrupted sleep cycles also had protein buildups of a substance called amyloid plaque. This protein substance can be an early sign of Alzheimer’s.

While other studies have shown a connection between Alzheimer’s or dementia and poor sleep, this new study further strengthens that correlation. Because damage that causes Alzheimer’s-associated memory loss can begin 15 or 20 years prior to other symptoms of the disease beginning to show, this research is crucial in allowing for early detection.

The study tracked the sleep cycles of 189 cognitive healthy adults around the average age of 66. Along with tracking the sleep cycles, they analyzed their brains for Alzheimer’s-related proteins.

The majority of the participants had fairly normal sleep cycles, with 139 having no signs of amyloid protein buildup. Of those people who did have sleep problems, they could be explained by common causes like sleep apnea, which affects about 18 million Americans.

It is important to note that not all sleep issues contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, some of the 46.5 million surgical procedures performed every year are to address problems such as sleep apnea. These procedures can be effective in alleviating such sleep disorders and can allow for patients to get back to a regular sleep cycle.

However, the 50 participants whose brains showed signs of Alzheimer’s-related proteins all had disrupted sleep cycles.

“It wasn’t that the people in the study were sleep-deprived,” lead study author Dr. Erik Musiek said in a statement. “But their sleep tended to be fragmented. Sleeping for eight hours at night is very different from getting eight hours of sleep in one-hour increments during daytime naps.”

To find further evidence of this link, the researchers also conducted similar studies with mice. Additional studies have found that people who sleep poorly show more signs of Alzheimer’s. So while not all sleep issues lead to Alzheimer’s, this research should motivate individuals to fix poor sleeping habits.

Unfortunately, the research does not prove whether bad sleep causes the Alzheimer’s-related protein buildup or if people whose brains are already changing have sleep issues. It’s completely possible that both of these scenarios are true. But research does show that people who have regular poor sleep could lead to a cycle of not being able to get enough rest the brain needs to stay healthy.

Researchers hope this study will lead to earlier detection of Alzheimer’s. And this research is one of many reasons people should take action if they are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis.

Report Finds ‘Access Code’ Bundles Contributing to Increasing Textbook Costs

College textbooks are generally assigned by the professor of any given course. But despite the growing online market for discounted textbooks, the average cost of textbooks has risen four times faster than the inflation rate over the past decade.

This continuously increasing cost has caused 65% of college students to choose not to buy required books because they simply couldn’t afford them.

A recent report found that textbooks bundled with “access codes” seem to be the main culprit. The report, published by Student Public Interest Research Groups, looked at the cost of course materials for the 10 largest courses at 40 two-year and four-year nonprofit college institutions. The data showed that students who had required textbook bundles were paying 32% to 68% more than students who could buy used textbooks instead.

Nearly four in 10 college courses bundled their texts with access codes, giving students access to workbooks and tests as well as the textbooks, according to a USPIRG study. It was found that access codes were especially prevalent in introductory courses.

Because of rising costs, students will often not buy the required text but instead, try to find it for free online. However, these online texts can be incorrect and people are less engaged with digital material, which is generally skimmed in 15 seconds.

Unfortunately, the high cost of textbooks is not a new problem. The Advisory Committee for Student Financial Assistance reported in 2006 that textbook prices had risen 186% within eight years. One major problem found is that students typically have no say in selecting course materials. It’s left up to the professors instead and they’re not always worried about what their decision will cost their students.

In 2008, the Higher Education Act reauthorization required publishers to disclose textbook pricing to professors. Additionally, publishers were required to offer all components of a course bundle for sale separately.

To get around this requirement, publishers often choose to offer the components for sale individually, but not necessarily at the right campus bookstore. Because of this, students may not even be aware they can purchase the separate components for less somewhere else.

Senior Director of education policy and innovation at the Association of American Publishers, David Anderson, disputed the findings in the Student Public Interest Research Groups study.

Anderson claimed that the materials accessed in bundle deals often offer a personalized experience that provides valuable information and data to professors. Additionally, he said there are recent publisher initiatives, such as rental options, that are contributing to a reduced cost of course materials, but were not mentioned in the study.

“The industry is moving very aggressively to improve student performance and reduce costs for students,” said Anderson.

Americans Are Spending More Time Indoors, Less Time Consuming Energy

It may be better for the environment to spend more time indoors. According to recent findings published in the journal Joule, Americans are spending a great amount of time indoors and are saving energy in the process.

In the study, lead authors Ashok Sekar from the University of Texas at Austin and Eric Williams from the Rochester Institute of Technology analyzed data from the American Time Use Survey between the years 2003 and 2012. Sekar and Williams found that Americans spent up to eight days more indoors in 2012 compared to 2003 and consumed less energy as a result.

“We had no idea that the energy savings were going to be so enormous,” said Sekar to Popular Science. “It shows the profound influence that technology has had on our lifestyles and how environment good can come out of it.”

The evolution of communication and information technology have transformed the American workplace. With much of today’s work done online and virtual interactions taking precedence over face-to-face communication, many Americans are working from home, in libraries, and coffee shops.

The choice to order food online and stream movies have also reduced the amount of time we spend outdoors. This doesn’t mean Americans are becoming couch potatoes so much as it means we’re using motor vehicles less and using less commercial energy.

Approximately 77% of American cars are in need of repairs, a statistic that points to the surprising amount of pollution motor vehicles give off when unmaintained. By driving less, Americans are producing less air pollution via tailgate emissions and tire particles.

What’s more, approximately 27% of American households use LED lighting. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, LED lighting could reduce U.S. energy consumption by up to 50%. Therefore, the more Americans work at home under LED lights rather than the average CFL, the more energy is being saved.

According to the study, the reduced time spent out and about increased the amount of energy spent in the home by 480 trillion British thermal units, or Btu. However, reduced time spent in commercial buildings and traveling decreased energy consumption by 2,200 trillion Btu. Ergo, while we’re producing more energy indoors than we did in 2003, we’re producing significantly less energy overall.

So what does this mean for the future of the American home?

Sekar and Williams suggest encouraging energy efficiency in the home. “It’s important that consumers also reduce energy consumption at home,” said Sekar. “[For example], getting a home energy audit [or] upgrading their old appliances, recycle the old freezer in the basement, and better insulate their homes.”

As much as 38% of heat is lost through windows and doors in the average American home. By insulating better, using energy efficient appliances that are EnergyStar certified, and increasing the number of LED bulbs used the American home can become that much more energy efficient and reduce energy consumption even more.

“Networked thermostats are a standout example,” said Williams. “We turn off our heating or A/C when going on a trip and turn it on remotely a few hours before we arrive back. IT also gives us tools to reduce energy use, but we need to buy and use them to get the benefits.”