Winter vacation

Home insurance myths you need to know about

March 9, 2017

By Sheryl Smolkin

If you’ve have ever had a fire or theft, you know how important home insurance is. But you may have had a shock when you learned that the policy did not cover the full replacement cost of your home or that you would not be reimbursed for the antique car stored in your garage when the house went up in smoke.  That’s why it’s important to clear up some home insurance misunderstandings, so you are fully aware of what your policy does and does not cover.

Insureye has compiled a comprehensive list of home insurance myths.  Here are 10 of my favourites:

1. You must have home insurance. Unlike auto insurance, home insurance has not been made mandatory by the government. however, if you own the property and have a mortgage on it, often, your bank or lender will require that you hold an active home insurance policy and name them on that policy. If you do not own the property but are renting it, your landlord may require insurance coverage.
2. If I have a home insurance policy, I am protected against sewer backup. Sewer backup damage occurs when the sanitary and storm sewer systems cannot handle high volumes of water, which causes water to back up into your home through toilets and drains.

As is the case with freshwater flood protection, most providers offer some sort of OPTIONAL sewer backup protection, but just a few providers include it in their standard default home insurance policies.

3. If I am away on vacation, my house is covered. If you simply leave for vacation without taking precautions, you are not always covered. Thus, if you go away during the “usual heating season” then you usually need to either:

  • Shut off the home’s water supply and empty all pipes;
  • Take steps to ensure the home’s heating is maintained.

If you don’t take one of these two precautions, then you may not be protected against water damage resulting from frozen pipes that burst.
Check with your provider to determine what length of vacation requires you to take extra precautions, such as somebody visiting your place on a regular basis in your absence. Different policies may require different frequency of those visits, but in general it is every 3-7 days.

4. If I have valuables, they are covered. A standard home insurance policy covers your personal property and most valuables up to the selected limit of insurance. It’s important to note that sub-limits often apply to specialty property, like jewellery or furs. For these items, you have the option of adding coverage to your policy. Often, you will need to provide proof of value (e.g. an appraisal or a receipt).
5. Home insurance covers the market value of my house. Home insurance does not cover market value, only the rebuilding or replacement value of your house. If your house burns down, the purpose of home insurance is to cover the costs required to re-build the house as it was before the loss. Rebuilding value is typically lower than market value because it does not include the value of the land.

An insurance policy can often include costs to clean up the debris, such as after a fire.

6. Home insurance automatically covers upgrades to the home or condo. Home insurance will not automatically cover your kitchen, washroom or other upgrades. Typically, you must advise your insurance provider of these upgrades when they happen. You need to find out how your policy treats upgrades and, eventually, add them to the policy.
7. It is fine to overstate the value of the damage. Overstating the value of damage is a dangerous thing to do. That’s because your insurance provider will conduct their own assessment/ investigation to check your claim. If they determine that you were overstating your claim, your entire claim can be denied and your policy can be cancelled. You risk ruining your credibility and your ability to get home insurance elsewhere.
5. Condominium corporations provide insurance that covers my condo. Condominium corporation insurance will cover the overall building structure, its exterior finishes, roof, windows and common areas like elevators and hallways. It does not cover the contents of your condo, its upgrades and 3rd party liability should you cause damage to other condo units (e.g. flooding).
9. If my dog bites and injures someone, my home insurance will not protect me. I need a special insurance policy. As long as you properly answered any questions relating to your pets in the application and investigation process, then your policy will cover costs associated with your dog biting and injuring a third party.
10. My belongings, left in a storage locker that I rent, are protected by my home insurance. Not necessarily. Most insurance providers specifically exclude personal property left in a rented storage locker (unless that locker is in the basement of the apartment building that you live in).


Thrifty ways to romance your valentine

February 7, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkin


St. Valentine’s Day began as a liturgical celebration of one or more early Christian saints named Valentinus. However, the celebration of Saint Valentine did not have any romantic connotations until Chaucer’s poetry about “Valentines” in the 14th century.

Today Valentine’s Day is a huge marketing opportunity for florists, jewellers and the candy industry. As soon as the Christmas decorations come down, malls are decorated with hearts and flowers.

It’s actually rather nice to have something to celebrate when spring is till several months away in most of the country. But if you want to give your loved one roses, chocolates or dinner out at the local hot spot, you may have to pay premium prices in mid-February.

When I was researching romantic, inexpensive Valentine’s Day gifts, I found Sheryl Kurland’s list of 50 Valentine’s Day Gifts for Your Sweetheart (without looking cheap). I’m not much of a “do-it-yourself” person so many of her ideas exceed the time and skills I possess. But here is an edited list of the 10 suggestions I like best:

  1. Make a framed group of photos (or photo collage) of memorable occasions you have celebrated together, in chronological order.
  2. Burn a CD with meaningful music like the first dance at your wedding, songs from musical you saw on your honeymoon and the lullabies that were the only thing that put your baby to sleep.
  3. Leave a love note on your partner’s pillow along with a chocolate truffle or two and a single rose.
  4. Create an in-home spa day for your mate. Put together a basket filled with inexpensive candles, bubble bath, rose petals, facial mask and scrub. Hand her towels warmed in the drier when she is done.
  5. Make a marvellous dinner for two. A home-made steak or lobster dinner is much less expensive than a pricey restaurant meal. And you can never go wrong with traditional cherry cheesecake for desert.
  6. Give your lover Valentine’s Day IOU coupons: I will make dinner. I will do the laundry. I will walk the dog for a week.
  7. Write new “updated” wedding vows, both serious and humorous and share them with each other over a glass of wine in a candlelit room.
  8. Make homemade chocolate-covered strawberries: 1) Melt a package of chocolate chips in a double boiler and add a small amount of oil; 2) Remove from heat and quickly dip the strawberries into the chocolate; 3) Place on wax paper and refrigerate for several hours until chocolate is firm.
  9. Get the kids involved. Help them make cards or print them off the internet. Make a special breakfast including pancakes, waffles or even buttery croissants from the local bakery.
  10. If you don’t have a special sweetheart, focus on bringing a smile or laughter to everyone you come in contact with on Valentine’s Day.

Can you suggest other inexpensive romantic ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day? Send us an email to so*********@sa*********.com. If your idea is posted, your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

14-Feb Retirement savings Pros & cons of available savings vehicles
21-Feb RRSP/SPP deadline How should you invest your retirement savings?
28-Feb Debt reduction How to eliminate debt

Also see:
Great ideas for Valentine’s Day. Creative. Thoughtful. AND CHEAP!!
100+ great Valentine’s Day ideas

10 ways to protect your credit card on vacation

January 31, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkin


Whether you plan to spend spring break on a beach or on the ski slopes, the only thing worse than losing your luggage is discovering your credit card has been lost or stolen. And discovering unauthorized charges on your credit card statement when you get home ranks a close second.

Here are 10 ways to protect your account information and resolve unauthorized card use whether you “staycation” close to home or travel abroad.

  1. Don’t send card information by email or text: If you are booking travel or changing travel arrangements when you are away, remember most email and texts are not secure. All it takes for someone else to charge to your account is your card number, expiry date and security code. Even your name and address can be enough information for identity theft.
  2. Don’t lend your credit card: Do not give even family members your credit card number or the card to use on your behalf. If you are prepared to authorize a family member to use your account on a regular basis, get a separate card with the appropriate credit limit.
  3. Don’t share your PIN: Protect your PIN at all times and don’t write it down on a slip you keep in your wallet. If you can’t remember your PIN, go into your bank and choose a new one before you leave. Don’t use obvious numbers like your birthday or your telephone number.
  4. Call before you leave: Financial institutions issuing credit cards have software that recognizes unusual patterns of behaviour. For that reason, on several occasions my card has been refused when I was travelling outside Canada. Now I always call to tell my credit card company where I am going and how long I will be in each city.
  5. Check your credit limits: Make sure you know when your card expires and the withdrawal/credit limits on your debit/credit cards. I typically pay off my cards completely before leaving on a major trip, particularly if a payment is due in my absence.
  6. Put the card company on speed dial: Make a note of your credit and debit card numbers, as well as issuer phone numbers, and keep them in a safe place in case your card is lost or stolen. Because I had CIBC VISA’s toll free number on speed dial when my card disappeared in a Peking market several years ago, I was able to immediately report the loss and cancel the card.
  7. Carry only what you need: When travelling outside the country, I leave my rewards cards, hospital cards and other miscellaneous wallet contents at home. However, my husband and I usually bring several different credit cards and bank cards as back-up and keep all but one in the hotel room safe. A friend who recently visited Russia had his debit card “eaten” by an ATM. Fortunately his wife had her own debit card and was still able to withdraw the cash they needed for the balance of their trip.
  8. Keep receipts: Review credit card receipts before you sign, and monitor both credit card and bank account statements carefully on your return. On a trip to St. Martin, I tried to withdraw money from a generic ATM machine to pay cash for a pair of earrings. The machine refused my card but spit out a receipt. When I got home I realized my account had been debited, but I never received the funds. It took months for CIBC to trace the transaction, but I did eventually get my money back.
  9. Currency conversion: When using an unfamiliar currency, what looks like a deal, may turn out to be very expensive. Smart phone apps are available that will allow you to do on the spot calculations. VISA also has a currency calculator that can give you an indication of the rate you will pay when using your credit card. But remember, this converter uses a single rate per day with respect to any two currencies and rates apply to the date VISA processes the transaction, which may differ from the actual date of the purchase.
  10. Beware of contactless credit cards: Many newly-issued credit cards and other important documents pose major fraud and privacy concerns because they are designed to be scanned through the air. “Contactless” credit cards have an embedded computer chip called a radio frequency identification, or RFID tag. When waved near a payment terminal in a store or by an unscrupulous individual using a manual unit, the chip supplies the card’s number and expiry date through radio waves, avoiding the need to swipe or insert the card. RFID blocking wallets or passport holders can be ordered online.

And finally, never let the card out of your sight when you make a purchase. In the few minutes that a clerk or gas station attendant has your card it can be swiped through a skimming device. This is less of a problem as more merchants are using portable wireless terminals, but this technology is not universally available in some parts of the world. 

Can you suggest other ways to protect your credit cards on vacation?  Send us an email to so*********@sa*********.com. If your idea is posted, your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you take steps to improve credit card security in 2013.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

7-Feb Valentine’s Day Budget-friendly Valentine’s Day ideas
14-Feb Retirement savings Pros & cons of available savings vehicles
21-Feb RRSP/SPP deadline How should you invest your retirement savings?

Also see:
Five things you should never do with your credit card
Readers respond to credit card security tips.