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FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER TOM GALLAGHER'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 3, Number 51, December 18, 2006

The holiday season is upon us, and many Floridians are lighting candles, wrapping gifts, trimming trees, and writing cards to friends and relatives.  This time of year is a special time when we share in the love of our families and friends by singing songs, sharing our blessings and enjoying home-cooked meals. 

As we gather to celebrate the holidays this year, I encourage you to think of Floridians who may not be as fortunate as you and lend them a helping hand.  Whether that is by donating new toys for the Toys for Tots program, participating in a gift and clothing drive, donating food for a holiday meal or all of the above, please pass on the meaning of the holidays by reaching out to those who are in need and add joy to their lives for these holidays and throughout the year.

May this holiday season be an especially joyous time for family and friends, but most importantly, let it be a time of continued giving.

Happy Holidays!

 -- Tom Gallagher


FREE JUVENILE FIRESETTER WORKSHOP DRAWS NEARLY 60 FLORIDA FIRE SAFETY AGENCIES

Representatives from nearly 60 fire safety agencies from 35 Florida counties gathered for a free one-day Juvenile Firesetter Skills Building Workshop provided by the State Fire Marshal, Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations, along with the National Association of State Fire Marshals and Fireproof Children, an educational group.

“The children of Florida are our most precious asset,” said State Fire Marshal Tom Gallagher. “We are committed to doing everything we can to protect them from the dangers of fire, and providing training and resources to our fire safety personnel is an important part of that mission.”

The workshop, being held at the Florida State Fire College located at 11655 NW Gainesville Road in Ocala, is designed as a basic/entry level discussion to enhance and refresh the skills of experienced personnel and individuals who are not familiar with Juvenile Firesetter Programs. The workshop includes lectures, videos, role-playing and participant interaction with a focus on:

• Building a foundation of knowledge regarding children and fire
• Reviewing the components of a structured interview from start to finish
• Reviewing communication skills and interview strategies
• Developing additional skills for handling difficult interview situations
• Learning how to present age-appropriate fire education to children and their families
• Networking with fire service, law enforcement and community organizations to provide prevention and intervention services to children and their families

Last year, the State Fire Marshal’s office investigated 129 Florida fires that were started by juveniles ranging in age from 5 to 18 years, and those investigations led to 99 juvenile arrests.


CFO-ELECT ALEX SINK ANNOUNCES CHIEF OF STAFF, DIRECTOR OF ADMINISTRATION

Chief Financial Officer-elect Alex Sink announced Jim Cassady as chief of staff for her administration and Elizabeth “Diana” Flagg as director of the Division of Administration.

“I’m pleased to welcome talented professionals such as Jim and Diana to my administration,” said Sink. “Their financial qualifications and leadership skills will be an asset to the Department of Financial Services and the people of Florida.”

“It is an honor to serve the people of Florida under the leadership of a dedicated financial leader,” said Cassady. “I look forward to working with Alex Sink to ensure fiscal accountability in government and safeguard Floridians’ tax dollars.”

Jim Cassady, Chief of Staff - Mr. Cassady is a recognized business leader from South Florida and has a 33-year banking career that culminated in his service as the Broward County President of Bank of America. Mr. Cassady is also a former chair of both the Board of Directors and Board of Governors of the Ft. Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce. He is a member of Leadership Florida and was awarded the Tree of Life Award from the Jewish National Fund in 2001. He is a Vietnam veteran, served in the United States Army Infantry and was awarded the Bronze Star in June 1970. Mr. Cassady is a graduate of Presbyterian College in South Carolina and Rutgers Graduate School of Banking.

Elizabeth “Diana” Flagg, Director of Administration - Ms. Flagg has more than twenty-six years of public service and is currently the assistant division director of the Division of Accounting and Auditing. Over her career, she has displayed vast leadership in the financial and accounting arenas, including her service as the bureau chief of State Payrolls and financial administrator within the Division of Accounting and Auditing. She is a graduate of Florida State University. As the director of the Division of Administration, Ms. Flagg will be responsible for providing administrative services to the Department of Financial Services and supervising the Bureau of Human Resource Management, Bureau of General Services and Bureau of Financial and Support Services.

Last week, CFO-elect Sink appointed Leslie “Les” Hallman to serve as the new director of the State Fire Marshal’s office.


CREDIT SCORING
A Consumer's Credit Score May Affect Auto and Homeowners Insurance Premiums

Insurance companies may look at your credit history when you apply for new auto or homeowners insurance, or if your current policy is up for renewal. Here is some valuable information that may help you understand how insurance companies use your credit history.

What is an insurance credit score?
A credit score is a snapshot of your credit at one point in time. Insurance companies enter information from your credit history and your insurance application into a credit-scoring computer model to calculate a specific insurance credit score. Each factor chosen for the model is assigned a weighted number. Your insurance credit score ranges from 0-999, with a higher number conveying a better score.

What kind of credit information do insurers use?
Each insurer decides what information to use in its credit scoring model. Insurance companies may weigh each factor differently. Some of the more common credit factors used by insurers are:

  • Major negative items – bankruptcy, collections, foreclosures and liens;
  • Past payment history – number and frequency of late payments, and days between due date and payment date;
  • Length of credit history – amount of time a consumer has been in the credit system.
  • Homeownership – whether a consumer owns or rents property.
  • Inquiries for credit – number of times a consumer recently has applied for new accounts, including mortgage loans, utility accounts and credit card accounts.
  • Number of open credit lines – number of major credit cards and department store credit cards.
  • Type of credit in use – major credit cards, store credit cards and finance company loans.
  • Outstanding debt – how much a consumer owes compared to how much credit is available.

Some states have laws that limit what credit information insurers may use and how they use that information. For more information, contact your state insurance department.

How is an insurance credit score used?
If your insurance company relies on credit scoring, it might use your credit score to
underwrite and rate your policy.

  • Underwriting is the process of deciding whether to issue you a new policy or to renew an existing policy.
  • Rating is the process that determines how much you pay for insurance. 

In addition to using credit information, insurance companies will use other, more traditional rating factors to determine the premium you pay for your auto or homeowners insurance policy. Some of these traditional rating factors include:

  • Auto Insurance – driving record, type of car you own, where you live.
  • Homeowners Insurance – where you live, cost to replace your home, claim history.

Is it legal for insurance companies to use my credit information?
Yes. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), a federal law, states that insurance companies may look at your credit information without your permission.

Will having no credit history affect my insurance purchase?
It is possible. Depending on your credit history, an insurance company may not find a meaningful credit history. In that case, some companies will charge you more, while other companies will use the previously mentioned “traditional factors.” If you are young and have yet to establish a credit history, don’t believe in using credit, or recently have become widowed or single and all previous credit was in your spouse’s name, you may not have credit information. In these cases, your insurance purchase may be affected.

How will I know if my credit history has affected my insurance purchase?
The FCRA requires insurance companies to notify consumers if an
adverse action is taken because of their credit information. FCRA defines adverse action to include denying or canceling coverage, increasing premiums, or changing the terms, coverage, or amount of coverage in a way that harms the consumer. If an insurer takes an adverse action due to your credit history it also must notify you of the name of the national credit bureau that supplied the information.

Examples of an adverse action include:

  • Canceling, denying or not renewing coverage;
  • Giving the consumer a limited coverage form;
  • Limiting benefits, such as eligibility for dividends;
  • Issuing coverage other than for what was applied;
  • Not giving the consumer the best rate;
  • Not giving the consumer the best discount;
  • Adding a premium surcharge.

How can I review my credit report?
Monitoring your credit report is important because many decisions now are based on how your finances are managed. It is a good idea to obtain a copy of your credit report once a year and review it for any errors. Consumers now can receive one free copy of their credit report every 12 months from each of the three national credit bureaus. To receive your free credit report, visit www.annualcreditreport.com. Or contact the three credit bureaus directly:

It is important to remember that your credit report is not the same thing as your credit score. To obtain your credit score, you will have to buy it from one of the credit bureaus. However, it may not be the same credit score that the insurer used to make its decision.

How can I improve my credit?
To improve your credit, it is helpful to review your credit report for any false information and outdated items. Create a plan that will improve your credit over time. Ideas to help improve your credit history are:

  • Pay bills on time every month
  • Pay at least the minimum balance due
  • If you can’t make a  payment, contact the creditor
  • Work to reduce the amount you owe, especially on revolving debt such as credit cards
  • Limit the number of new credit accounts

Your insurance agent or company should be able to identify for you up to four factors that impact your insurance credit score the most. It may take up to seven years for an accurate, negative report to be removed from your credit report. You must notify each of the credit bureaus of any errors you find on the report. The credit bureaus do not share information. The Federal Trade Commission has excellent information regarding a consumer’s rights and use of credit. This information can be found at www.ftc.gov or by calling 877-382-4357.

Important points to remember:

  • There is a good chance your current auto and/or homeowners insurance company, or a prospective insurer, will review your credit history.
  • Verify whether your auto and/or homeowners insurance company uses credit scores, and ask how that information impacts your insurance premium.
  • Once a year, obtain and review a copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus.
  • Report any errors to your insurer and each credit bureau.
  • Work toward improving your credit.
     

Consumer Services HelpLine (800) 342-2762

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