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Many people don’t think about disaster preparedness. Are you ready for the worst?

8/8/2018 (Permalink)


Author: Jay MacDonald

An active Atlantic hurricane season serves as an urgent reminder that every U.S. household needs a home inventory, an emergency preparedness kit and an evacuation plan.

If your family’s disaster planning falls short, you’d better get busy. A calamity won’t wait for you to get ready.

Do you have an emergency kit? Many don’t

According to a recent U.S. Census Bureau American Housing Survey, just 51.5% of U.S. households have prepared an emergency kit. Participation was highest at 70% in hurricane-prone Miami and Tampa, Florida, while Austin, Texas Chicago, Minneapolis and Boston have low rates of kit-equipped homes.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, recommends that households have enough water and nonperishable food to last at least 3 days, plus other supplies, such as first aid and a flashlight with extra batteries. But FEMA’s own surveys indicate that the percentage of Americans with disaster kits has gone down since peaking at 57% in 2009.

In a 2014 FEMA survey, about a quarter of respondents said preparing for emergencies is too expensive, and about a quarter said they didn’t know how to get ready.

Room for improvement in readiness

There’s good news and bad in our current record on emergency preparedness, according to Himanshu Grover, co-director of the Institute for Hazards Mitigation Research and Planning at the University of Washington.

“A 50% average is actually good because if you look at where these people are who are planning, they are usually in areas that are historically already at risk,” he says. “But at the same time, it’s also disturbing because it means that the areas that have not seen disasters but may be at risk are likely to face more losses than we would anticipate.”

While disaster preparedness varies by region, all homeowners should review their insurance coverage annually, says Lynne McChristian, the Florida representative for the Insurance Information Institute trade association.

“Knowing that your home insurance renews every year should serve as a reminder to look at your policy every year,” she advises.

Think flood insurance, special deductibles

While standard home insurance policies provide coverage for hurricanes, wind, theft, fire, lightning and other mayhem, they also typically exclude damage from floods and earthquakes.

McChristian says just because your home mortgage company may not require you to carry flood insurance doesn’t mean you don’t need it.

“That’s the biggest mistake — people don’t get flood insurance unless someone makes them get it,” she says. “What they’re overlooking is that about 20% of all National Flood Insurance Program claims are submitted by homeowners who live in low- to moderate-risk zones. That’s a high percentage.”

Homeowners in 19 states and the District of Columbia also should take an annual glance at their home insurance hurricane deductibles.

After Hurricane Andrew in 1992, home insurers introduced a separate hurricane deductible in order to keep home premiums in check. But unlike the set dollar amount of your home deductible, hurricane deductibles — and similar windstorm deductibles — are based on a portion of your home’s assessed value, usually between 1%-5%.

Take advantage of available resources

McChristian urges restraint when it comes to choosing your hurricane/wind deductible.

“My rule is, never take a deductible that is higher than what you can afford,” she says. “If you do and you get hit by a storm, you may not have that money set aside to repair your home.”

She urges homeowners to download and complete the Insurance Information Institute’s free home inventory app at

“It costs you nothing but a little time and helps tremendously after a natural disaster,” she notes.

Unfortunately, all of the emergency checklists and home preparedness videos on the Internet will do little good if homeowners ignore them.

That’s where the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, or FLASH, comes in. Led by president and CEO Leslie Chapman-Henderson, this Tallahassee, Florida-based nonprofit operates as a public awareness firm, of sorts, to make disaster preparedness a normal part of our everyday lives.

Emphasis on resilience

“We are trying to popularize the idea that you can survive, you can afford what’s necessary to survive and you can recover quickly,” she explains. “It’s not luck when you and your home survive; it’s because you did things purposefully ahead of time.”

The FLASH website features videos that break down preparedness projects by time commitment: one hour, one day or one weekend.

It’s all part of the evolution of home preparedness away from the negative, lawyerly sounding “storm mitigation” toward a more upbeat, holistic emphasis on “resilience.”

“The appeal of resilience is, we like the idea of being resourceful and able to overcome and bounce back. Everybody can find something to relate to in it,” says Grover, of the University of Washington. “The resilience of a community will return benefits in terms of sustainability and quality of life beyond just hazard mitigation. It’s not just a set of actions; it’s a forward-looking strategy for life.”

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Is your workplace prepared in the event of a fire?

7/30/2018 (Permalink)


Author: Jerry Nicklow

What would you say is the biggest cause of workplace fires? It's not equipment failure. It's not electrical faults. It's not storms or natural disasters. It's people and carelessness.

Every year, in more than 70,000 workplace fires across North America, an average 200 people die, thousands are injured and many firms are either put out of business or severely disrupted.

Now is a good time to review and remind employees of safety rules. A few simple steps will help identify and reduce risks. Things like:

  1. Assessing your buildings for risks -- I'd make that a visual inspection tour
  2. Reducing clutter and keeping escape routes clear
  3. Storing flammable chemicals under lock and key
  4. Locating heat-producing equipment, even coffee-makers, away from flammable material
  5. Checking building security to prevent possible arson fires
  6. Enforcing no-smoking or designated area rules
  7. Checking fire extinguisher service and replacement dates
  8. Ensuring employees know how to operate extinguishers
  9. Enforcing rules for the use of spark - and fire-producing equipment
  10. Conducting permitted, controlled burning/fires a safe distance from buildings
  11. Checking operation of fire and smoke alarms

It's even more important that employees know what to do if fire does break out.  Even if it's not mandatory, you should have a written emergency action plan that includes details of evacuation routes, location of assembly points, procedures for raising the alarm and, if appropriate, a written list of individuals and their responsibilities.

As much as everyone loathes them, evacuations should be practiced at least once a year. It's a good idea to alert employees of an intention to have a practice drill but not to tell them exactly when it will happen.

Here are a couple of documents you may find useful in drawing up or reviewing your plans: and

And if you'd like to know more about Fire Safety Week or get other information about fire safety, visit the National Fire Protection Association, a US-based global organization, at

Finally, please make sure you have adequate insurance in place, not just against property damage and liability arising from fires but also coverage to protect you against income losses arising from business disruption.

Contact us at 973-383-2024 if you have a service need or click here to visit our website to learn more about SERVPRO of Northern Sussex County's System Services. 

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What You Need To Know About Flood Insurance

7/21/2018 (Permalink)



Flood water can and will find its way into furniture, flooring, walls, lighting, electronics, appliances and irreplaceable keepsakes and photos.

All it takes is just an inch of flood water throughout a 2,000-square-foot home, and you’ll be looking at almost $21,000 in damage, according to the National Flood Insurance Program.

When that destruction is multiplied across an entire community, it’s easy to see why floods are so devastating — and why flood insurance is so important.

Home insurance offers little help

Victims of Superstorm Sandy and other disasters of recent years learned too late that their homeowners or renters insurance policies offered no protection against flooding. That’s the most misunderstood aspect of flood coverage, says Loretta Worters, vice president of the Insurance Information Institute, an industry trade group.

The National Flood Insurance Program, or NFIP, is the primary source of flood insurance for homeowners and renters. The program is administered by FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The insurance is so vital, FEMA notes, because flooding is the most common and costly natural disaster in the U.S.

With flooding, unlike other natural hazards, the very first way to protect yourself is to buy insurance, says Leslie Chapman-Henderson, president and CEO of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, or FLASH.

The insurance is so affordable compared with the cost of flood damage that it makes no sense not to have it, she says.

The big questions

Here are answers to 4 key questions about flood insurance. For specifics about your community and home, talk to the agent who handles your homeowners or renters policy.

1. Is flood insurance required?

Unless you own your home free and clear of loans or live in an apartment or condo on an upstairs floor, expect that you’ll have to buy flood coverage.

Lenders will require it if you live in an area considered at high risk for flooding and your mortgage is federally backed, such as by the Federal Housing Administration, or FHA.

In fact, just expect any lender to want it, says Worters.

FEMA says flooding affects all states, and everyone is at risk because even very small streams and creeks can flood. Your insurance agent and lender will know whether your home is in a high-risk zone.

2. Where do you get it?

FEMA allows private insurers to write and administer policies for the National Flood Insurance Program. Your homeowners or renters insurance agent should be able to write flood coverage for you.

Coverage is available in about 20,000 participating communities. Discounts of up to 45% are available in communities where local officials enforce certain requirements that can reduce flood damage.

If your community doesn’t take part in the national program, you’ll likely be able to get flood insurance from private carriers, says Chris Hackett, senior director of personal lines policy at the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

3. How does flood insurance work?

  • Time lag: You can’t procrastinate because coverage isn’t effective until 30 days after a flood insurance policy is issued. So don’t wait until the storm warnings are posted.
  • Coverage limits: Flood coverage for your home itself is capped at $250,000, while the contents can be insured only up to $100,000. You may be able to get flood insurance beyond those limits through specialty carriers, says Worters. The building coverage and contents coverage are purchased separately; your lender may require a certain amount of coverage.
  • What you get: The policy pays either the value of your lost property or the cost of replacing it, up to the coverage limit.
  • Deductibles: The higher the deductible, the lower the premium — similar to home and car insurance. You’ll pick different deductibles for contents and building coverage. Your lender may require a certain deductible amount.
  • What’s covered: Flood policies insure against physical damage to your home or belongings directly caused by flooding. Sometimes, that’s not quite as straightforward as it sounds. For example, if a flood causes a sewer backup that causes damage, it would be covered. If something else causes the backup, it’s not covered.
  • What’s never covered: Flood insurance won’t reimburse you for: temporary living expenses while your home is being repaired; lost cash or stock certificates; a ruined car (which is a matter for your car insurance); damage from moisture or mold that you could have prevented; financial loss from business interruption; and anything on your property beyond the walls of your home — such as plants, decks and hot tubs.

4. How much will coverage cost?

Your flood policy premium will be determined by your home’s design, age, location, contents and the amount of coverage you decide to buy.

The average annual flood insurance premium cost about $700 in 2014, according to the most current data on the website of the National Flood Insurance Program.

However, reforms enacted by Congress in recent years allow for annual premium increases of up to 18%, to help pull the program out of a deep debt caused by payouts resulting from Sandy in 2012 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Your agent will be able to give you an exact cost. For a general idea, you can plug your street address into the flood risk profile on the National Flood Insurance Program’s website.

So the site tells you, for example, that the average flood insurance premium for addresses in moderate- to low-risk areas in Florida is $372, while a high-risk property in Louisiana would cost $688 to insure.

Contact us at 973-383-2024 if you have a service need or click here to visit our website to learn more about SERVPRO of Northern Sussex County's System Services. 

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Documents You Need When Disaster Strikes

7/12/2018 (Permalink)



Adelaide says when floods swept through her neighborhood in the wee hours one morning, the first thing she thought of was to go and rouse an elderly neighbor. The last thing on her mind was the financial records she left back in her own house.

“I was thinking family and I was thinking friends and I was thinking safety,” Adelaide says.

Uprooted from their home for days, she and her husband needed a couple of months “before we got to a place where we were thinking about paperwork again,” she says.

By that point, they were late on their mortgage payment. The financial institution was unforgiving, and the couple’s credit score took a hit.

They went through money woes that are common when lives are abruptly turned upside down because of a disaster. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Financial advisers say people who identify and prepare key documents long before calamity strikes can avoid unnecessary damage to their personal finances in the aftermath of a fire, flood, hurricane or other disaster.

Gather up these papers

All homeowners and renters should have a list of “must haves” and “like to haves” — items they will need, or want, after a disaster, says Mitchell Freedman, founder of MFAC Financial Advisors in Westlake Village, California, and an editor of “Disaster Recovery: A Guide to Financial Issues.”

Key documents to take with you include:

  • Mortgage documents or rental agreements.
  • Homeowners, renters and automobile insurance policies.
  • Financial statements and account numbers.
  • Copies of prescriptions for medications.
  • Tax records.

Freedman also suggests having a small stash of cash at hand. If the electricity is out, credit cards won’t work for purchases.

Donna Childs, a former insurance executive, was living within sight of the World Trade Center in New York when the twin towers collapsed in 2001. Hers was the only residential neighborhood evacuated, and she was kept out of her home for a couple of months.

Because of her business background, Childs already had all her personal and business documents scanned and stored online when she had to flee with just an overnight bag.

At a time like that, “you shouldn’t be thinking about documents, you should be thinking about safety,” says Childs, who later wrote the book “Prepare for the Worst, Plan for the Best: Disaster Preparedness and Recovery for Small Businesses.”

Neither Freedman nor Childs recommends using bank safety-deposit boxes to store key documents. They suggest that a bank could be destroyed or inaccessible after a disaster.

Instead, Freedman uses a portable hard drive with his computer so he can grab it and go.

“It’s one of the best insurance policies you’ll ever have,” he says.

Childs prefers using online cloud storage and sharing the password with a trusted family member or friend who can access the account in case of an emergency.

Some banks now offer virtual safe deposit boxes online, to protect documents, photos and videos.

Have proof of valuables, too

In addition to having access to key documents, it’s important to have proof of your valuables when filing insurance claims.

Michael McRaith, the former Illinois insurance director and now head of the Federal Insurance Office, says go room by room through your home, writing down the contents and making special note of things like antiques, jewelry and collectibles.

He recommends keeping one copy of the inventory at home and a second at another location, such as with a relative, at the office or in a safety-deposit box. The list should be updated periodically, with receipts kept for big-ticket items.

Having photographs or videos of your possessions is crucial, Freedman says. Without that evidence, “it’s difficult to know how many shirts you had, how many pair of pantyhose a woman had.”

If you need to file a claim after a disaster, the inventory, receipts, photos or videos can help verify the existence and value of your belongings, McRaith says.

If you have no home or renters insurance or are underinsured, you might claim your losses on your state and federal tax returns. Having documentation of your possessions helps provide necessary proof, Freedman says.

But the key is advance preparation. If you’ve made an inventory, “there’s lots of peace of mind,” Childs says. “That’s really priceless.”

Contact us at 973-383-2024 if you have a service need or click here to visit our website to learn more about SERVPRO of Northern Sussex County's System Services. 

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SERVPRO Emergency Ready Profile - It Works!

7/3/2018 (Permalink)

The SERVPRO Emergency Ready Profile has been adopted by many of our clients, and in some cases, has shortened the response time of our services, saving our clients downtime and secondary damage costs.

It's simple and easy to implement, securely placing critical business information in a cloud location available to our client and SERVPRO.  Information that is available when access to your business is not.

When you consider you business continuity plan, consider implementing the SERVPRO ERP.

The SERVPRO Emergency READY Profile 

The SERVPRO Emergency READY Profile is a startup approach that provides the critical information needed to begin mitigation and recovery services. It is designed to serve as a quick reference of important building and contact information.  By working with SERVPRO’s Emergency READY Profile, your business can receive the benefit of over 40 years of experience in reducing the impact of any natural or man-made disaster. SERVPRO is a leader in water and fire damage response and can help you quickly get your property back in working order.

The SERVPRO Emergency READY Profile Advantage:

  • A no cost assessment of your facility. – This means there is no need to allocate funds, giving you a great value at no cost.  
  • A concise Profile Document that contains only the critical information needed in the event of   an emergency. – It will only take a little time to complete and will not take you away from current projects.   But it will save a lot of time if ever needed.  
  • A guide to help you get back into your building following a disaster. – This can help minimize the amount of time your business is inactive by having an immediate plan of action.  
  • Establishes SERVPRO of Northern Sussex County as your disaster mitigation and restoration provider. – You have a provider that is recognized as an industry leader and is close by. 
  • Identification of the line of command for authorizing work to begin. – This saves time so we can begin the work of mitigating the damage which can save you time and money.  
  • Provides facility details such as shut-off valve locations, priority areas and priority contact information. – Having a quick reference of what to do, how to do it and who to call provides solutions in advance of an emergency so that during the emergency you are “Ready for whatever happens.” 

The Best Way to Reduce Business Interruption Following a Disaster is to Plan For it NOW.

As many as 50% of businesses close down following a disaster, according to the latest research. Of the businesses that survive, the overwhelming majority of them had a preparedness plan in place.  Pre-planning can serve as an insurance policy aimed at peace of mind. And knowing you are “Ready for whatever happens” speaks trust to your clients and employees that in the event your business is affected by a disaster, they don’t necessarily have to be.

By developing a SERVPRO Emergency READY Profile for your business, you help to minimize business interruption by having an immediate plan of action. Knowing what to do, who to call and what to expect in advance is helpful in receiving timely mitigation and can help minimize the effects water and fire damage can have on your business.

Are You Ready?

Preparation is a key component for making it through any size disaster, whether it’s a small water leak, a large fire or an area flood. The best time for planning for such events is not when the event happens, but well before it happens. No one ever plans on a disaster, but you can plan for it. Now is the time to ask yourself, are you ready for whatever happens?

Call Today to Get Started!

Contact us at 973-383-2024 if you have a service need or click here to visit our website to learn more about SERVPRO of Northern Sussex County's System Services. 

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Hurricane Season: Check Your Home’s Defenses

6/24/2018 (Permalink)



Government forecasters have predicted a busy Atlantic hurricane season in 2018. If you live on or near the East Coast, don’t put off making sure your home is ready. When a powerful storm is bearing down, it may be too late to protect your property.

Don’t let your guard down this hurricane season. Consider opening a home equity line of credit (HELOC)or taking out a personal loan to make improvements, because there’s much you can do now so you won’t get caught making last-minute — and probably inadequate — moves to strengthen your home’s defenses against hurricanes.

Start with shutters and your roof

“If you buy shutters or other coverings with product approvals and use licensed contractors who pull building permits, you’re on your way to protecting your home,” says engineer Jose Mitrani, associate professor emeritus in the school of construction at Florida International University in Miami.

“And be sure that inspections are done of the work,” says Mitrani, who served on building code task forces after Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 storm that tore through South Florida in 1992.

Roof cover damage is the biggest reason for hurricane insurance claims that are not related to storm surges, says the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, or IBHS, in Tampa, Florida.

A cascade of trouble can happen when a roof is roughed up by a hurricane: Water gets in through gaps in the roof decking, which soaks the attic insulation, which collapses the ceiling, which damages your furniture and other belongings when wet wallboard and insulation fall on them.

And that’s if your roof mostly stays intact. If your roof lacks truss tie-downs known as hurricane straps or its gable ends are unbraced or improperly braced, you stand a greater chance of losing part of or the entire roof over your head.

That’s why the IBHS and the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, or FLASH, suggest you take these roof precautions now before hurricane season revs up.

  • Nail or caulk loose roof tiles or shingles.
  • On a metal roof, check for rust and loose anchoring.
  • Install hurricane straps. (Consider hiring a licensed contractor to do this.)
  • Brace gable ends. (Ditto on hiring a professional.)
  • Install a backup water barrier under the roof cover if necessary.

The IBHS also suggests you check your attic’s ventilation. Loose eave and gable end vents, soffits and turbines all provide opportunities for water to enter your attic.


Window and door coverings

To a great extent, getting your home hurricane-ready means making sure it’s equipped with the right hurricane-resistant window and door coverings. They run a gamut that includes various types of shutters, panels, screens and sheeting, as well as impact-glass windows and doors.

Plywood is cheap but considered an emergency measure — and it’s little help unless you size and anchor it correctly.

Mitrani says even the smallest windows must be covered because in a major storm, smaller openings are actually subjected to higher wind pressures than larger areas such as the side of your house.

The average window area to be covered (including doors with windows) is about 15 percent of a home’s total square footage, according to the IBHS. A 2,000-square-foot home would need about 300 square feet of shutters. If your shutters cost $20 per square foot, you’ll spend $6,000.

The IBHS notes that some coverings can be installed only by professionals and cost up to $30 per square foot of opening. Do-it-yourself products cost about half as much.

Beware of contractors who try to sell DIY products, warns Leslie Chapman-Henderson, president and CEO of FLASH. “Those are products that are cheap and can’t get product approval,” she says.

Protecting doors and windows

Some coverings are permanent attachments to your home, such as accordion shutters and “clamshell” awnings. Accordion shutters rest folded and highly visible on both sides of your windows, while single-piece clamshell awnings fold down over your windows from above.

Removable hurricane panels sit in tracks at the top and bottom of window and door openings; only the tracks are permanently attached to the building.

If you live in a condo or a development with an active homeowners association, be aware that there may be rules about the type and color of storm shutters allowed. Check before outfitting your doors and windows.

Also, ask your local building department what’s required of coverings in your state or region. Mirtrani says building codes in Florida, for example, require that hurricane products be able to withstand certain levels of impact by wind-borne debris. That means those products have to undergo impact tests to earn approval.

Once your new coverings are installed, take them for a trial run, suggests Tim Reinhold, IBHS chief engineer and senior vice president of research.

“Make sure you have all the parts and everything is sized and fits properly,” he says.

Other property precautions

Before hurricanes start forming, do a spot-check from the attic down. FLASH recommends caulking holes in building exteriors and tightening or replacing loose and missing screws and brackets in windows and doors — including garage doors. Also, be sure to clean out the gutters.

A few final preparation tips:

  • Don’t tape windows. Placing those masking-tape X’s across your panes may feel comforting, but the National Hurricane Center says it’s a waste of valuable time and won’t keep your windows or glass doors from shattering.
  • Plan to evacuate a mobile home. Even if you have a newer manufactured home built to withstand higher wind speeds, Reinhold says there’s too great a chance of damage from flying debris from older neighboring homes to risk staying.
  • Prepare for high-rise pressure changes. If you live in a high-rise building, be aware that potentially damaging wind pressures increase with height.
  • Batten down the patio/yard. Don’t leave anything outside, including furniture, playthings and tools. Trim trees so branches won’t bang against the house, and do it early enough so the trimmings can be hauled off before a hurricane. Otherwise, they could become projectiles in a major storm.
  • Gas up before the storm. Fill up your vehicles and emergency power generator well ahead of time to avoid last-minute lines at the pump.

When fire or water damage strikes, you need professional help to get your property back to preloss condition.  SERVPRO of Northern Sussex County provides 24-hour emergency service and is dedicated to being faster to any size disaster.  Our highly trained technicians can respond immediately to your residential or commercial emergency.??

Contact us at 973-383-2024 if you have a service need or click here to visit our website to learn more about SERVPRO of Northern Sussex County's System Services. 

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7 Places To Find Cash After A Disaster

6/13/2018 (Permalink)



When nature goes wild, it can be disastrous for your finances. According to the National Climatic Data Center, major weather disasters have caused more than $1.2 trillion worth of damage in the U.S. since 1980 — and that doesn’t include Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria or Nate.

If you’re hit with an emergency and need to find cash fast, tap into the emergency reserves in your savings account. Then look to these resources.

1. Family and friends

If you need to find cash fast, ask loved ones first, says Pamela Yellen, author of “Bank On Yourself: The Life-Changing Secret to Growing and Protecting Your Financial Future.”

“Never ever treat (a family loan) casually,” she says. “Put it in writing. Assign a fair interest rate to it. … Treat it like any other business relationship.”


While your family lender doesn’t have to charge the full market interest rate, they have to charge you something for the transaction to be considered a loan and not a gift that could have tax and estate planning implications.

The government publishes a monthly list of applicable federal rates, or AFRs, that provide minimum interest rates on loans made between family and friends.

If your loved ones aren’t in the black right now, peer-to-peer lending sites can connect you with wealthy strangers.

2. The feds

In gravely disastrous times, Uncle Sam might also help.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency provides disaster assistance for temporary housing, home repair, disaster-related medical and burial expenses, vehicle damage and cleanup costs, while the U.S. Small Business Administration offers federally subsidized loans for renters, private nonprofit organizations and home and business owners.

To qualify for either, borrowers must live in a federally declared disaster zone and file a claim with their insurance company first.

3. Your life insurance policy

Permanent life insurance policies are excellent emergency resources because they’re accessible, you can borrow against them without having to qualify for a loan, and you can pay a policy loan back on your own schedule.


“You can borrow up to about 90 percent of the cash value of the policy. There are no immediate income tax consequences unless the loan isn’t repaid,” says Roland Jones, a CFP professional with Moneta Group, a financial services firm in Clayton, Missouri.

Though rules vary among insurance providers, many require policyholders to own their policies for a few years before borrowing. You’ll also be charged interest for taking out a policy loan, which will be deducted from the death benefit until you pay the loan back.

Just don’t borrow too much. Should the loan and accumulated interest become greater than the surrender value of the policy, policyholders could find themselves having to pay significant premiums to keep the policy in force.

4. CDs, savings bonds and mutual funds

You can take your money out of a CD, but you’ll probably pay a penalty. It could be just a few months’ interest, but check with your bank first.

Sacrificing some CD earnings is a pittance compared to paying interest rates on a life insurance loan or cash advance.

Savings bonds are another quick cash resource, though you could pay a three-month interest penalty if a bond is redeemed too early, reports the U.S. Treasury. In both cases, you’ll pay income tax on any interest earned.

Of course, you can sell stocks (and realize a capital gain or loss accordingly) as well as mutual funds and annuities. If you take this route, consult a financial adviser about tax issues and penalties.

5. 529 college savings

If you have to borrow from your future to pay present obligations, so be it.

According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, college savers who pull funds out of a 529 planfor non-qualified education expenses will pay income tax and a 10 percent penalty on earnings.

Those investing in plans that offer state tax incentives may have state tax consequences, too.

6. Retirement accounts

Roth IRA holders may withdraw their own contributions — not earnings — without tax or penalty.

Traditional IRA holders may start taking penalty-free distributions on their accounts if they begin taking regular distributions, but specific rules apply. You’ll pay income taxes and a 10 percent penalty on the taxable amount if you’re under age 59½.

Since taking early IRA distributions can severely disrupt your future retirement plans, “You wouldn’t do that unless it was the only option,” says Kirk Shamberger, a partner with CK Financial Resources in Colchester, Vermont.

7. A loan from your 401(k)

With 529 plans and IRAs, the problem is time. Regardless of whether you get around the tax and penalty rules, pulling funds early limits the compound interest you can potentially gain from them in the future.

A 401(k) loan is usually a better option.

The IRS reports that 401(k) holders can borrow up to half of their account balance (a maximum of $50,000) tax-free, but funds must be repaid within five years in most cases.

The catch is that you have to stay with your current employer for the duration.  If you lose your job, you’ll have 30 to 60 days to repay the loan or face penalties.

Before pulling funds from any long-term investment, read the fine print and consult your tax adviser.

When fire or water damage strikes, you need professional help to get your property back to preloss condition.  SERVPRO of Northern Sussex County provides 24-hour emergency service and is dedicated to being faster to any size disaster.  Our highly trained technicians can respond immediately to your residential or commercial emergency.??

Contact us at 973-383-2024 if you have a service need or click here to visit our website to learn more about SERVPRO of Northern Sussex County's System Services. 

Like Us on Facebook or Follow us on Twitter, Google+, or Instagram and follow the tips, tricks and advice we share with our community.

Hurricane Season Starts June 1

6/2/2018 (Permalink)


Peak Season for Hurricanes Starts in Mid-August in New Jersey

Though the national hurricane season normally runs from June 1 through November 30, the peak potential for hurricane and tropical storm activity in New Jersey runs from mid-August through the end of October.

The combination of warm ocean water, humid air, and consistent winds contribute to the formation of “tropical cyclones” – low-pressure systems of circulating winds, clouds and thunderstorms – over the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.

As they gain strength, these cyclones are classified as tropical depressions, tropical storms or hurricanes. The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale rates hurricane strengths, from Category 1 to Category 5. Most of these storms remain over the ocean without affecting the U.S. coastline. When they approach land, tropical storms and hurricanes can be extremely deadly and destructive – even as far north as New Jersey, and even when they do not make landfall here.

The key threats from an approaching tropical storm or hurricane are WIND, STORM SURGE, FLOODING, and the potential for TORNADOES.

Hurricane WINDS can reach 74-95 mph for a Category 1 storm, to above 155 mph for a Category 5 storm.

The STORM SURGE is a dome of ocean water the hurricane pushes ahead of itself. At its peak, a storm surge can be 25 feet high and 50-100 miles wide. The storm surge can devastate coastal communities as it sweeps ashore.

The thunderstorms and torrential rains that accompany a hurricane can create dangerous and deadly floods or flash floods.

Seventy percent of hurricanes making landfall spawn at least one tornado.

Preparing properly for a hurricane begins long before a storm ever hits.

Be ready for hurricane season with these tips from the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management 

NJ Register Ready

If you are a citizen with special needs, call 2-1-1 or visit NJ Register Ready to provide information that will help emergency responders to better plan to serve you in times of emergency.

As with other types of emergencies, you should prepare yourself and your family by creating an Emergency Supply Kit and a Family Disaster Plan. Be sure to educate yourself about the emergencies that typically occur in your locale.

Before a Hurricane

The first line of defense against the effects of a disaster is personal preparedness. During an emergency, the government and other agencies may not be able to meet your needs. It is important for all citizens to make their own emergency plans and prepare for their own care and safety in an emergency.

  • Your Kit includes items that will help you stay self-sufficient for up to three days if needed such as, canned food, bottled water, first-aid kit, battery operated flashlight and radio, blanket, and manual can opener.
  • Your Plan includes evacuation plans, a place to reunite with loved ones, and an out-of-state contact person.

Store important documents and irreplaceable personal objects (such as photographs) where they won't get damaged. If major flooding is a possibility, consider putting them in a storage facility.

Read FEMA's informative press release regarding things that can be done now that will protect your home from damage when a storm hits. Protecting a Home from Storms and Flooding Begins on the Inside

Make plans to secure your property.

  • Permanent storm shutters offer the best protection for windows. A second option is to board up windows with 5/8” marine plywood, cut to fit and ready to install. Tape does not prevent windows from breaking.
  • Install straps or additional clips to securely fasten your roof to the frame structure. This will reduce roof damage.
  • Be sure trees and shrubs around your home are well trimmed.
  • Clear loose and clogged rain gutters and downspouts.
  • Determine how and where to secure your boat if you own one.
  • Consider building a safe room

If a hurricane is likely in your area, you should:

  • Listen to the radio or TV for information.
  • Secure your home, close storm shutters, and secure outdoor objects or bring them indoors.
  • Turn off utilities if instructed to do so. Otherwise, turn the refrigerator thermostat to its coldest setting and keep its doors closed.
  • Turn off propane tanks.· Avoid using the phone, except for serious emergencies.
  • Moor your boat if time permits.
  • Ensure a supply of water for sanitary purposes such as cleaning and flushing toilets. Fill the bathtub and other large containers with water. 

You should evacuate under the following conditions:

  • If you are directed by local authorities to do so. Be sure to follow their instructions.
  • If you live in a mobile home or temporary structure—such shelters are particularly hazardous during hurricanes no matter how well fastened to the ground.
  • If you live in a high-rise building—hurricane winds are stronger at higher elevations.
  • If you live on the coast, on a floodplain, near a river, or on an inland waterway.
  • If you feel you are in danger.

During a Hurricane

If you are unable to evacuate, go to your wind-safe room. If you do not have one, follow these guidelines:

  • Stay indoors during the hurricane and away from windows and glass doors.
  • Close all interior doors—secure and brace external doors.
  • Keep curtains and blinds closed. Do not be fooled if there is a lull; it could be the eye of the storm - winds will pick up again.
  • Take refuge in a small interior room, closet, or hallway on the lowest level.
  • Lie on the floor under a table or another sturdy object.

The Red Cross sets up shelters for people who must evacuate. Find a Red Cross shelter.

Plan for Pet Care If you are evacuated, you need to bring your pets with you but pets are typically not allowed to stay at a shelter. The NJ Department of Agriculture recommends that you ask a dependable friend or relative who lives some distance from the evacuation area if you and your pets can stay with them until the all clear is given. An alternative is to find a pet-friendly motel. 

Learn what you can do to prepare for emergencies and protect your pet.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has done the same on a national level. Learn more.

Statewide Preparedness Efforts is a dynamic, interactive web-based resource providing education, direction, information and tools for people to help themselves and others in a disaster. When there is no active disaster in the state, the website provides information about how to prepare for future disasters, including how you can become certified disaster volunteer. When a disaster strikes, the site will offer guidance on where donations are needed (monetary and material), where people can volunteer and a link to NJ 2-1-1 so that you can find assistance for disaster-related needs.

Contact us at 973-383-2024 if you have a service need or click here to visit our website to learn more about SERVPRO of Northern Sussex County's System Services. 

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Mold vs Rust

5/22/2018 (Permalink)


Can you easily tell the difference between mold vs rust? Many people look at a reddish colored stain and assume its rust, although that’s not always the case. Before you break out your heavy-duty cleaning solutions, it pays to understand what you’re up against: mold, rust, or even another stain. 

What’s Normal for Your Home?

If you’re seeing new stains on walls, floors, or countertops, you’ll want to make sure they’re not the result of water infiltration or excess humidity in your home. Try to pinpoint a reason for the stain, based on what room it’s in and the common daily activity. Mold tends to be found in damp, humid areas, while rust forms when metallic surfaces start to corrode. Recognizing the differences between mold and rust helps you determine the best way to take care of an issue before it becomes more pervasive.

What’s that Stain? Mold vs Rust

Areas prone to dampness, such as bathrooms and basements, can easily foster the growth of mold or mildew. If you see a stain that looks like mold or rust in your shower, sink area, or basement, you’ll want to clean them as quickly as possible to avoid permanent damage. However, different cleaning solutions are used to treat different stains. Rust, hard water marks, grease, and mold may all look similar, but if you use the wrong cleaner, you may not be able to fully remove them.

Identifying Rust

Rust is the result of iron, or a metal alloy containing iron, such as steel, corroding. Rust is most often observed as a red, yellow or reddish-brown surface stain. Rust is caused by water or damp air touching the surface or a metal prone to rusting. Some common areas where rust is spotted in the home, according to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI), include the following:

  • Water Pipes
  • Metal Roofs and Chimneys
  • Oil tanks for home with oil heat
  • Electrical Panel Boxes
  • Nails

Preventing Rust

Rust can be prevented by keeping metals out of damp and humid areas. Protective coatings, such as varnish may also be applied to surfaces prone to rusting. Ensuring that metal fixtures in your home are kept dry can also help to prevent rust. Wipe up spills immediately and check your basement after heavy storms to spot signs of flooding as soon as possible.

Removing Rust

Removing rust can be a tough job, but with the right cleaners, you should be successful. For lighter rust stains, some household products, such as baking soda or vinegar might work. Mild abrasives like steel wool pads may also remove surface rust, but they may also leave behind scratch marks. There are also many specialized rust removal products sold that you can try for smaller stains. According to Cleanipedia, one product you should never use on rust is bleach, which could react negatively with the rust and actually worsen it. 

If you do attempt to clean rust, always follow the instructions on any commercial cleaning product. Be sure to don safety gear, including gloves, safety glasses and a face mask. Always work in a well-ventilated area. If you’re not comfortable with the task, find a handyman or painter that is.

Mold Stains

Mold can resemble other stains like rust or mildew in appearance, but there are actually over 300 types of mold. The colors of mold can range from black to brown, white or gray, or even pink, blue or green. Mold also presents in a range of textures from downy to fuzzy. Some mold is powdery and some has a more slimy texture. 

Mold can grow as the result of a single event, such as a broken pipe or indoor water infiltration due to floods or leaks. It’s important to catch the signs of indoor mold growth as early as possible and have them taken care of before they lead to greater damage. Mold can also adversely affect the health of certain susceptible individuals, including those with a suppressed immune system or an allergy to mold. Mold sometimes can leave a stain, but that’s not always the case. A damp, musty odor can also be a sign of mold growth. 

If you notice mold growth in damp areas of your home, you can clean affected surfaces with a specialized mold removal product. Common, everyday household cleaning solutions may not be effective against mold. Typically, mold cannot be totally eradicated from porous surfaces, like shower curtains, drywall or insulation; these items should be disposed of and replaced.

When cleaning mold, you should always wear protective gear, such as a face mask and ensure that you’re working in an adequately ventilated area. You can read more about the protective gear recommended for mold removal. If you suffer from mold allergies or asthma, it is not recommended that you try to clean the mold yourself. SERVPRO of Northern Sussex County can help you determine the best way to remove the mold. Once the mold is removed, it’s a good idea to have the area tested by a professional. If mold has continued to grow in your home, you may have a more pervasive problem that requires additional professional remediation from SERVPRO of Northern Sussex County.

Evaluating Mold Issues

Because so many of the stains we see around the house look similar, it may be difficult to determine what is causing the discoloration and damage. If you notice stains on your walls, countertops, or floors that look like mold or rust, contact SERVPRO of Northern Sussex County and request a free home inspection to help diagnose your problem. 

Contact us at 973-383-2024 if you have a service need or click here to visit our website to learn more about SERVPRO of Northern Sussex County's System Services. 

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New Jersey Rules Regarding Mold in Rental Properties

5/11/2018 (Permalink)



Here's what New Jersey landlords (and tenants) need to know about mold and the law.

Every landlord should take mold seriously. A top environmental hazard, mold thrives in warm, damp places, and often grows quickly in basements, attics, and other parts of buildings with poor ventilation and humidity problems. Although mold is often associated with buildings in wet climates, no rental property is immune from a mold outbreak, as one can occur following an unattended spill, faulty plumbing, or even a misdirected lawn sprinkler.