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7 months ago · by · 0 comments

Protect Your Home from Snowmelt

As winter ends and temperatures begin to rise, the accumulating water from melting snow and ice leaves your home susceptible to damage. Protect your home ahead of time to minimize your risk.

Use these four tips to help reduce your home’s risk of snowmelt damage:

  1. Clear snow from your home’s foundation. Shovel snow away from your home, including stairwells, window wells, downspouts and doors to help prevent water from seeping in through cracks.
  2. Maintain your roof and gutters. Any heavy snow that has accumulated on your roof should be cleared away to avoid water damage. Keep your gutters clear of debris to avoid ice dams—melted snow that refreezes at night, causing gutter clogs.
  3. Ensure proper drainage. Make sure your downspout drains away from your home, and keep any street storm sewer drains clear of snow to prevent buildup and freezing.
  4. Check your sump pump. Test to see that your sump pump is in good working order in case your home experiences flooding. If you notice any small leaks, take care of them before they become a bigger hazard.

Take extra precautions to keep your family safe from potential fireplace damage. If you burn fires often, consider installing new smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in your home.

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7 months ago · by · 0 comments

Fireplace Safety Tips

The U.S. Fire Administration states that 75 percent of confined home heating fires occur in the chimney and flue of your fireplace. Performing simple safety measures and maintenance on your fireplace will ensure your family and home stay safe.

Here are some fireplace safety tips to consider:

  1. Keep it clear. Clear out any debris from the fireplace and keep all flammable items like furniture, blankets and papers a safe distance away at all times.
  2. Inspect the chimney. Have a certified chimney specialist inspect and clean your chimney annually to reduce the risk of fire and carbon monoxide buildup.
  3. Start the fire safely. Never burn charcoal or use lighter fluids to light the fire in your home, as they can cause deadly fumes and the potential for explosion.
  4. Don’t overload the fire. Overloading—putting in more wood, paper and other ignitable materials than necessary—can overheat the walls or roof of your home.
  5. Keep children away from the fireplace. Give warning about the dangers of fire to deter curiosity, and consider installing a gate around the fireplace to prevent kids from getting too close.
  6. Put it out. Before leaving your home for the night or going to sleep, ensure the fire is completely out first.

Take extra precautions to keep your family safe from potential fireplace damage. If you burn fires often, consider installing new smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in your home.

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7 months ago · by · 0 comments

IRS Announces Employee Benefit Plan Limits for 2019

Many employee benefits are subject to annual dollar limits that are periodically increased for inflation. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently announced cost-of-living adjustments to the annual dollar limits for various welfare and retirement plan limits for 2019. Although some of the limits will remain the same, many of the limits will increase for 2019.
The annual limits for the following commonly offered employee benefits will increase for 2019:

  • High deductible health plans (HDHPs) and health savings accounts (HSAs);  
  •  Health flexible spending accounts (FSAs);
  • Transportation fringe benefit plans; and
  • 401(k) plans.

Employers should update their benefit plan designs for the new limits and make sure that their plan administration will be consistent with the new limits in 2019. Employers may also want to communicate the new benefit plan limits to employees.

HSA and HDHP Limits

HSA Contribution Limit
Limit 2018 2019 Change
Self-only HDHP coverage $3,450 $3,500 Up $50
Family HDHP coverage $6,900 $7,000 Up $100
Catch-up contributions* $1,000 $1,000 No change

*Not adjusted for inflation

HDHP Limits
Limit 2018 2019 Change
Minimum deductible Self-only coverage $1,350 $1,350 No change
Family coverage $2,700 $2,700 No change
Maximum out-of-pocket Self-only coverage $6,650 $6,750 Up $100
Family coverage $13,300 $13,500 Up $200

FSA Benefits

FSA Limits
Limit 2018 2019 Change
Health FSA (limit on employees’ pre-tax contributions) $2,650 $2,700 Up $50
Dependent care FSA (tax exclusion)* $5,000 ($2,500 if married and filing taxes separately) $5,000 ($2,500 if married and filing taxes separately) No change

*Not adjusted for inflation

Transportation Fringe Benefits

Transportation Benefits
Limit (monthly limits) 2018 2019 Change
Transit pass and vanpooling (combined) $260 $265 Up $5
Parking $260 $265 Up $5

Adoption Assistance Benefits

Adoption Benefits
Limit 2018 2019 Change
Tax exclusion (employer-provided assistance) $13,840 $14,080 Up $240

Qualified Small Employer HRA (QSEHRA)

QSEHRA
Limit 2018 2019 Change
Payments and Reimbursements Employee-only coverage $5,050 $5,150 Up $100
Family coverage $10,250 $10,450 Up $200

401(k) Contributions

401(k) Contributions
Limit 2018 2019 Change
Employee elective deferrals $18,500 $19,000 Up $500
Catch-up contributions $6,000 $6,000 No change

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7 months ago · by · 0 comments

HEALTH FSA LIMIT WILL INCREASE FOR 2019

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) imposes a dollar limit on employees’ salary reduction contributions to health flexible spending accounts (FSAs) offered under cafeteria plans. This dollar limit is indexed for cost-of-living adjustments and may be increased each year.

On Nov. 15, 2018, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released Revenue Procedure 2018-57 (Rev. Proc. 18-57), which increased the FSA dollar limit on employee salary reduction contributions to $2,700 for taxable years beginning in 2019. It also includes annual inflation numbers for 2019 for a number of other tax provisions.

Employers should ensure that their health FSA will not allow employees to make pre-tax contributions in excess of $2,700 for 2019, and they should communicate the 2019 limit to their employees as part of the open enrollment process.

An employer may continue to impose its own health FSA limit, as long as it does not exceed the ACA’s maximum limit for the plan year. This means that an employer may continue to use the 2018 maximum limit for its 2019 plan year.

 The ACA initially set the health FSA contribution limit at $2,500. For years after 2013, the dollar limit is indexed for cost-of-living adjustments.

  • 2014: For taxable years beginning in 2014, the dollar limit on employee salary reduction contributions to health FSAs remained unchanged at $2,500.
  • 2015: For taxable years beginning in 2015, the dollar limit on employee salary reduction contributions to health FSAs increased by $50, for a total of $2,550.
  • 2016: For taxable years beginning in 2015, the dollar limit on employee salary reduction contributions to health FSAs remained unchanged at $2,550.
  • 2017: For taxable years beginning in 2017, the dollar limit on employee salary reduction contributions to health FSAs increased by $50, for a total of $2,600.
  • 2018: For taxable years beginning in 2018, the dollar limit on employee salary reduction contributions to health FSAs increased by $50, for a total of $2,650.
  • 2019: For taxable years beginning in 2019, Rev. Proc. 18-57 further increased the dollar limit on employee salary reduction contributions to health FSAs by an additional $50, to $2,700.

The health FSA limit will potentially be increased further for cost-of-living adjustments in later years.

Employer Limits

An employer may continue to impose its own dollar limit on employees’ salary reduction contributions to health FSAs, as long as the employer’s limit does not exceed the ACA’s maximum limit in effect for the plan year. For example, an employer may decide to continue limiting employee health FSA contributions for the 2019 plan year to $2,500.

Per Employee Limit

The health FSA limit applies on an employee-by-employee basis. Each employee may only elect up to $2,700 in salary reductions in 2019, regardless of whether he or she also has family members who benefit from the funds in that FSA. However, each family member who is eligible to participate in his or her own health FSA will have a separate limit. For example, a husband and wife who have their own health FSAs can both make salary reductions of up to $2,700 per year, subject to any lower employer limits.

If an employee participates in multiple cafeteria plans that are maintained by employers under common control, the employee’s total health FSA salary reduction contributions under all of the cafeteria plans are limited to $2,700. However, if an individual has health FSAs through two or more unrelated employers, he or she can make salary reductions of up to $2,700 under each employer’s health FSA.

Salary Reduction Contributions

The ACA imposes the $2,700 limit on health FSA salary reduction contributions. Non-elective employer contributions to health FSAs (for example, matching contributions or flex credits) generally do not count toward the ACA’s dollar limit. However, if employees are allowed to elect to receive the employer contributions in cash or as a taxable benefit, then the contributions will be treated as salary reductions and will count toward the ACA’s dollar limit.

In addition, the limit does not impact contributions under other employer-provided coverage. For example, employee salary reduction contributions to an FSA for dependent care assistance or adoption care assistance are not affected by the health FSA limit. The limit also does not apply to salary reduction contributions to a cafeteria plan that are used to pay for an employee’s share of health coverage premiums, to contributions to a health savings account (HSA) or to amounts made available by an employer under a health reimbursement arrangement (HRA).

Grace Period/Carry-over Feature

A cafeteria plan may include a grace period of up to two months and 15 days immediately following the end of a plan year. If a plan includes a grace period, an employee may use amounts remaining from the previous plan year, including any amounts remaining in a health FSA, to pay for expenses incurred for certain qualified benefits during the grace period. If a health FSA is subject to a grace period, unused salary reduction contributions that are carried over into the grace period do not count against the $2,700 limit applicable to the following plan year.

Also, if a health FSA does not include a grace period, it may allow participants to carry over up to $500 of unused funds into the next plan year. This is an exception to the “use-it-or-lose-it” rule that generally prohibits any contributions or benefits under a health FSA from being used in a following plan year or period of coverage. A health FSA carryover does not affect the limit on salary reduction contributions. This means the plan may allow the individual to elect up to $2,700 in salary reductions in addition to the $500 that may be carried over.

Plan Amendments

Plan documents that specify the health FSA dollar limit must be amended if the higher limit will be used in 2019.

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8 months ago · by · 0 comments

The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA)

The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) is the first comprehensive data privacy law in the United States. Beginning Jan. 1, 2020, the CCPA generally grants consumers the right to:

  • Know what personal information is being collected and sold or disclosed about them, and to whom it is sold or disclosed;
  • Say no to the sale of their personal information; and
  • Equal service and price, even if they exercise their privacy rights.

The CCPA applies to most companies that do business with California residents.

The CCPA has major implications for a large number of businesses across the United States. Employers in all states that collect personal information from consumers should determine whether they are subject to the law and, if so, prepare for compliance in 2020. This could mean significant changes to internal systems and processes regarding the collection, sale and disclosure of consumer information.

The CCPA grants California residents a general right to privacy and control over their personal information in consumer transactions. Specifically, the law grants consumers in California the following rights:

  • The right to know what personal information is being collected about them;
  • The right to know whether their personal information is being sold or disclosed, and to whom;
  • The right to say no to the sale of their personal information (or, for individuals under age 16, a requirement that the consumer affirmatively consents to the sale of their personal information, known as “the right to opt-in”);
  • The right to access their personal information; and
  • The right to equal service and price, even if they exercise their privacy rights.

The California Attorney General will generally enforce the CCPA, and may impose civil fines of up to $7,500 per violation for intentional violations (fines will be less for non-intentional violations). In addition, the CCPA allows California residents to file a lawsuit against a company for any data breaches resulting from the company’s failure to implement reasonable security practices and procedures.

However, companies generally have 30 days from the date the business receives notice of an alleged violation to remedy it, if possible. If a violation is remedied within the 30-day period, fines will not apply.

Affected Entities

The CCPA applies to all businesses that do business in California, collect personal information of California residents, and determine the purposes and means of processing that information, and that also satisfy one or more of the following thresholds:

  • Have annual gross revenues in excess of $25,000,000 (as adjusted annually);
  • Annually buy, receive for commercial purposes, sell or share for commercial purposes the personal information of 50,000 or more California residents, households or devices; or
  • Derive 50 percent or more of their annual revenues from selling personal information of California residents.

This coverage extends to any entity that controls or is controlled by a business that meets the criteria above.

Definition of Personal Information

Under the CCPA, “personal information” means information that identifies, relates to, describes, is capable of being associated with or could reasonably be linked (directly or indirectly) with a particular consumer or household.

Personal information includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • A real name, alias, postal address, unique personal identifier, IP address, email address, account name, Social Security number, driver’s license or state identification card number, passport number or other similar identifiers;
  • An individual’s signature, physical characteristics or description, telephone number, insurance policy number, education, employment, employment history, bank account number, credit or debit card number, or any other financial, medical, or health insurance information;
  • Commercial information (including records of personal property, products or services purchased, obtained, or considered, or other purchasing or consuming histories or tendencies);
  • Biometric information;
  • Internet or other electronic network activity information, including, but not limited to, browsing history, search history and information regarding a consumer’s interaction with an internet website, application or advertisement;
  • Geolocation data;
  • Audio, electronic, visual, thermal, olfactory, or similar information;
  • Professional or employment-related information;
  • Education information;
  • Inferences drawn from any personal information to create a profile about a consumer reflecting his or her preferences, characteristics, psychological trends, predispositions, behavior, attitudes, intelligence, abilities and aptitudes.

“Personal information” does not include publicly available information (information that is lawfully made available from federal, state or local government records). Information is not “publicly available” if that data is used for a purpose that is not compatible with the purpose for which the data is publicly maintained.

De-identified information is exempt from the CCPA if it cannot reasonably identify, relate to, describe, be capable of being associated with or be linked (directly or indirectly) to a particular consumer.

Action Steps for Employers

Due to its expansive coverage and the large number of companies that do business with California consumers, it is likely that the CCPA will have a significant impact on many businesses across the United States. Before the law takes effect in 2020, employers in all states that collect personal information from consumers should determine whether they are subject to the CCPA and, if so, prepare for compliance.

This could mean significant changes to internal systems and processes regarding the collection, sale and disclosure of consumer information. Employers should consider enhancing their cybersecurity strategies prior to 2020, and ensuring that any third party agreements involving consumer data are revised to comply with the CCPA.

While cybersecurity is a growing concern for consumers globally, California’s CCPA is the first comprehensive data privacy law in the United States. As a result, it is likely that other states may implement similar legislation in an effort to protect consumers in their states. Even if a company isn’t affected by the CCPA, it might benefit the employer to review, and potentially revise, its data privacy practices in preparation for any data privacy laws that may be enacted in the future.

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8 months ago · by · 0 comments

How Technology Can Boost Workplace Safety

More than 14 people a day died while doing their jobs in 2016, highlighting the need for safety and procedural enhancements at their workplaces. Employers are starting to embrace new technology, such as the following, in an effort to improve worker safety:

  • Exoskeletons—Workers can wear exoskeletons to transfer weight from repetitive tasks and use less energy when moving objects. The result is a reduced risk of injuries as well as increased strength, dexterity and productivity. 
  • Virtual reality—This technology replicates physical environments and presents training opportunities for employees. It also allows workers to simulate hazardous tasks and identify safety needs. More benefits are expected as technology matures.
  • Wearables—Wearable devices offer real-time monitoring of workers’ vital signs and can alert workers to the presence of environmental dangers. They can also cut health care costs by reducing health risks such as respiratory problems, cancer, dermatitis and hearing damage. An added bonus to employers is that wearables can provide an idea of what may have caused an employee’s injury before filing a workers’ compensation claim.
  • Hand-held mobile devices—Although the use of mobile devices can be a distraction and safety liability, there are useful apps that detect safety hazards, log safety incidents, track OSHA requirements and even determine when the heat index is too high on job sites. The key to improving worker safety with hand-held mobile devices is using them responsibly.
  • Drones—Sending drones into high-hazard areas instead of humans helps safely assess damage and plan emergency response.

Incorporating data science

Aside from new devices, data science has enabled companies to analyze photos from job sites and then scan them for safety hazards, using an algorithm that correlates those images with their accident records.

Although the technology still needs some fine-tuning, companies can use such algorithms to rate project risks. As a result, the technology could prove extremely helpful in detecting elevated threats and then intervening with safety briefings.

TIME TO GET ON THE CLOUD

By using the cloud, companies have been able to completely overhaul the way they interact with each other and with their workers. In a nutshell, the cloud consists of multiple networks of servers that allow apps to be accessed anywhere through the internet instead of confined to a particular computer or network.


Businesses that have projects and crews in multiple locations especially appreciate the benefits of the cloud, since it is efficient and allows for the seamless transfer of information and monitoring of workers’ safety.

SUCCESSFULLY DEPLOYING NEW TECHNOLOGY

New technology can be a waste of money if you don’t deploy it properly. It’s easy to get caught up in the wow factor of technology and lose sight of what you’re hoping it will improve. Without a plan in place for deployment, you may be wasting your investment.
Before seeking out new technology, consider ways to improve your processes. After improving your processes, you can identify gaps that new technology can address. No amount of technology will help if your processes are what need to be fixed.

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Company information

Scurich Insurance Services
Phone: (831) 661-5697
Fax: (831) 661-5741

Physical:
783 Rio Del Mar Blvd., Suite7,
Aptos, Ca 95003-4700

Mailing:
PO Box 1170
Watsonville, CA 95077-1170

Contact details

E-mail address:
Info@ScurichInsurance.com

(831) 661-5697

Available 8:30am - 5:00pm