Texting drivers warned of $346 hike in auto insurance for getting caught

Drivers who text behind the wheel of their car have been warned they could face up to a 45% rise in their auto insurance rates if they are caught. 

According to recent analysis, the best auto insurance providers will increase rates by an average of 23% after a texting ticket – the equivalent of a $346 hike. However, Insurance.com found that premium increases can vary significantly between states. So while drivers picking up a violation in California can expect the steepest increase in their auto insurance premium of 45% – or $776 based on the average premium charged in that state – those who are caught in New York and Louisiana will typically suffer only a 12% rise. 

Auto insurer powers

Perhaps surprisingly, not all drivers busted cellphone-in-hand on the highway will be hit in the pocket. In some states – including Idaho and North Carolina – it is illegal for car insurance companies to raise rates for a texting ticket conviction. And even where auto insurers are free to act, not all will place higher premiums on guilty drivers. 

“If you live in a state that treats a texting ticket as a moving violation, it’s treated by insurance companies like any other minor ticket,” says Michelle Megna, editorial director of Insurance.com. “But there’s a big difference in how individual companies handle tickets. With some, a single ticket might not affect your rates at all. Others might decide you don’t qualify for a good driver discount anymore. And some might actually raise your rates quite a bit.”

What is almost certain to guarantee a rate increase is getting caught more than once, Megna adds. 

States with the highest average auto insurance increase after a texting ticket – Source: Insurance.com
State Average clean record rate Average rate after texting ticket Percent increase Dollar increase
California $1,708 $2,484 45% $776
Ohio $960 $1,290 34% $330
Indiana $1,094 $1,468 34% $374
New Hampshire $1,346 $1,802 34% $456
Rhode Island $2,364 $3,164 34% $800
Massachusetts $1,425 $1,900 33% $476
Maine $1,047 $1,353 29% $306
Alaska $1,254 $1,615 29% $361
Texas $1,767 $2,267 28% $500
Florida $2,382 $3,029 27% $647

Worse consequences of distracted driving

Of course, far more important than the potential hike in auto insurance rates that could be imposed for using a cellphone while driving is the heightened danger distracted drivers present to other motorists and pedestrians. 

Despite laws aimed at combating distracted driving, cellphone use while at the wheel continues to increase. According to a 2019 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety , Virginia drivers were 57% more likely to be using a cellphone while driving compared to 2014. 

As well as a fine and an increase in car insurance premiums, motorists picking up a texting ticket are likely to see points added to their driving record in some states. Accumulate too many points and you could lose your license. More serious still, cause an accident, and at the least you will need to dig out the details of the best roadside assistance plans , and at the worst, jail time could be on the cards. 

“The bottom line is drivers that are being distracted, discourteous or outright dangerous need to recognize this behavior and change or they are likely to end up in an accident or receiving a ticket,” says Penny Gusner, senior consumer analyst for Insurance.com. “Either of those will adversely affect your car insurance rates for the next three to five years, so a long time for you to pay for your actions as a driver.”

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Change your door locks every five years, according to security experts

Home security is normally high on the agenda for most people, after all keeping our families and our possessions safe is pretty important.

Now, security experts at Mul-T-Lock have revealed that you should replace your locks when you move into a home and then again every five years after that.

The home locking security company, Mul-T-Lock reported that ‘73% of domestic burglaries occur through a door’, stressing the importance of making sure your home is as secure as possible. 

Door locks are just one of the ways you can keep your home safe too, take a look at the best home security systems , where the best ones offer wireless security cameras , alarms, professional support, and in-app features so that you can monitor your home’s security when you’re not there. 

When do burglaries occur the most? 

Research from Safe At Last , revealed that ‘homes without a security system are 300% more likely to be broken into’, yet only ‘17% of US homes actually have a security system’. 

While it’s more common for burglaries to occur during the daytime, it’s not unheard of for burglaries to occur when you’re at home. However, with lockdown easing across the U.S, Mul-T-Lock is stressing the importance of making your home secure, especially if you’re going to be heading out more. 

To keep your home and possessions as secure as possible, take a look at our round up of the best smart lock s or the best home safes .  

Marie Kondo’s training program means you can tidy homes for a living

Marie Kondo became the queen of all things organized when her Netflix show, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, caused an organization revolution. Sharing advice on how to fold clothing to save space, clear out your closet and how to get rid of things you no longer want or need, Marie Kondo has since released books as well as announcing she is returning to Netflix with a new show – this time tidying up whole towns instead of one home.

Now, the tidying guru is offering people the chance to become an official KonMari Consultant, with a new series of virtual and in-person consultation course, where participants will leave as a certified KonMari Method Consultant. 

What are KonMari Consultants?

Founded by Marie Kondo herself, the KonMari Method follows the concept that if you declutter, tidy and organize your home once, you won’t have to do it again. The method also implies that you should get rid of items in your home that don’t ‘spark joy’, thank them, and then let them go. 

While it’s always handy to have the right equipment for a good clean, including the likes of the best steam mops and for tougher fabrics, the best carpet cleaners , the KonMari Consultancy training takes it to a whole new level. 

Costing over $2,000 for the course, it’s not cheap either! Participants are expected to read Marie Kondo’s books, tidy their own home and take photos of it, and finally, they will need to take a short quiz before they can attend the course to become a KonMari Consultant. 

Once attending the course, there are also certification levels depending on the number of houses the participant has tidied, along with the total hours they’ve spent tidying. 

If that all sounds a little bit like too much work, catch up with Marie Kondo’s Netflix series on one of the best TV streaming services instead.

12 million low-income Americans at risk of missing out on their coronavirus stimulus payment

About 12 million Americans risk missing out on the stimulus payments provided through the recent CARES Act because they don’t normally file taxes or receive federal government benefits. 

While some 159 million checks have already been delivered by the government, analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) has identified a group of predominantly low-income people who are eligible to receive the payments but are in danger of never receiving the money they are due. With household debt already rising across the U.S ., the fear is that those who are being hardest hit by the pandemic will be the ones to miss out. 

Who could miss out? 

The group identified as vulnerable by the CBPP includes very low-income families with children, people who have been disconnected from work opportunities for a long period, and many low-income adults not raising children in their home. 

Up to nine million of those in question – or roughly three in four – already receive financial assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps) or Medicaid. The report also said that this group of non-filers are “disproportionately people of color because they are likelier to have lower incomes due to historical racism and ongoing bias and discrimination.” Of the nine million, 27% are Black, while another 19% are Latino. 

The other three million eligible people who are likely to miss out don’t normally file tax returns, but also do not receive state or federal benefits.

What has been delivered so far?

Under the coronavirus stimulus scheme, payments of up to $1,200 are being made to eligible individuals , with joint-filers receiving up to $2,400. An additional $500 per qualifying child is also paid to families.  

As of June 4, the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had delivered 120 million electronic payments directly to individuals’ bank accounts, a further 35 million via a paper check in the mail, and some 3.7 million by prepaid debit card holding their payment.

These payments have been made to those who have filed taxes for either 2018 or 2019 or receive certain federally administered benefits, such as Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Railroad Retirement, or Veterans Affairs pension or disability benefits. 

However, the automatic payment method misses about 12 million people because they aren’t required to file federal income tax returns due to their low incomes and they do not participate in one of the specified, federally administered programs.

How will awareness be raised?  

In order to make sure the 12 million identified undertake the steps required, the CBPP has called for “an aggressive outreach program” at state and local levels to raise awareness of the scheme among eligible individuals. 

Community organizations such as community action agencies, faith-based organizations, and religious institutions are highlighted as key avenues for helping to relay the necessary information, along with organizations providing critical services such as food banks and health care.

“The health and human services agencies that administer SNAP and Medicaid are uniquely positioned to reach, using established communication channels, the subgroup of nine million people who participate in those two programs,” said the report. “Governors and state agencies can also do much to reach the other three million eligible people, who generally do not receive state or federal benefits. Public education efforts and partnerships with key stakeholder groups, such as service providers for people experiencing homelessness, will be critical to connecting people to the $1,200 payments.”

What to do if you haven’t received a stimulus payment

If you are among the estimated 35 million people yet to receive the stimulus payment , it might be that your check is already in the mail . 

However, there will also be many others – as just highlighted – who will need to check in with the IRS to ensure they receive the payment they are due. 

In most cases, filing a 2019 tax return will ensure the stimulus check finds its way to you. The deadline for filing taxes is now just a month away , but shouldn’t pose a problem, particularly if you use the best tax software to help get everything in order.  

For those who don’t usually file taxes, you will need to sign up to use the non-filer tool at IRS.gov before October 15 to make sure the service has all the details it needs to make your payment. 

Are you worried about your debt? The best debt consolidation companies might be able to help you get your finances back on track. 

85% of Americans have changed their food habits due to coronavirus, survey finds

85% of Americans have experienced changes to their habits around preparing and eating food, according to a new survey from the International Food Information Council (IFIC). Half of those surveyed also expressed safety concerns around eating food which hasn’t been prepared in their own home. 

The survey, which took place in early April, involved Americans aged 18 to 80. It revealed that it’s disproportionately younger Americans who are likely to have changed their diet throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, whether healthy or unhealthy. 41% of over 35s, and the same percentage of parents with children under 18, are turning to snacks to get through lockdown measures. This is mostly due to hunger, but 25% deem snacking a lockdown treat. 

Unsurprisingly, the largest change among Americans during the coronavirus pandemic has been an increase in cooking at home. 57% of Americans have increased spending on groceries while in quarantine, according to a recent survey from Ameritrade . Snacking and washing fresh produce also increased significantly, according to the survey. To be sure you’re doing this safely, check out our guide to sanitizing your food .

“More than a third of Americans also say that they actively avoid foods and beverages as a result of their concerns about the food safety issues” according to the IFIC, with 20% feeling very concerned when eating food prepared outside of the home such as takeout. 

COVID-19 has led to an increase in pre-made meals

Another change is the nearly 20% increase in eating pre-made meals from home. SunBasket CEO Don Barnett recently described eating at home the “new normal”, predicting a sustained growth in the rise of the best meal kit delivery services beyond lockdown. However, it may just be the 92% increase in sales of frozen pizza which is responsible for the rise in pre-made meals. 

Grocery shopping has also changed, although less dramatically than other areas of food behaviour. According to the IFIC, “the amount of in-person shopping is down, especially among those in poorer health. Meanwhile, online grocery shopping has increased.” However, “the changes have not been entirely drastic – the biggest shift for in-person shopping is that fewer Americans are making multiple trips a week”. This may be because slots from the best grocery delivery services have been hard to come by in recent months, which has forced many to shop in person when they may have preferred to shop online.

Fitness trackers are increasing awareness 

The IFIC found that only one in five Americans use a mobile health monitoring device or apps such as the best fitness trackers or smartwatches , but among those who do this has led to healthy changes. 

95% of those who use devices to monitor their health have reported an increased awareness of their general health and fitness, with 66% saying this has led to healthy changes. 

Household debt rises as financial impact of coronavirus begins to emerge

The amount of debt held by Americans increased by almost 4% in the first quarter of the year, as evidence over how the coronavirus pandemic has affected household finances begins to emerge. 

According to the latest Federal Reserve data , households across the U.S. fell 3.9% deeper into the red in the three months to the end of March. However, with the survey only covering the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak, the fear is that the situation will end up a lot worse for many Americans, pushing rising numbers towards the services of the best debt consolidation companies . 

Around 44 million U.S. jobless claims have been made over the last 12 weeks, meaning more than one in four American workers have lost their job since the end of the first quarter, a period not covered by the Federal Reserve research. Broadly in line with the unemployment figures, a new survey by Bankrate.com reports that just over a quarter (26%) of Americans think their personal finances have suffered since COVID-19 struck. 

However, given the scale of the economic turmoil that has prevailed, this figure is lower than might have been expected. Indeed, more than half (53%) felt their financial circumstances were about the same as before the pandemic, while 12% actually said their finances had improved. 

Managing your finances in uncertain times

Much of this apparent resilience can be credited to federal government and financial providers who have acted decisively to try and help consumers. The rollout of the coronavirus stimulus check will have helped allay some of the immediate financial pain, as will the assistance that has been offered by credit card issuers . Mortgage lenders have also been affording leeway to homeowners struggling to meet their monthly payments.  

However, obviously, consumers have had to quickly adapt too, with many altering spending habits in response to new financial constraints and making cutbacks wherever they can. Credit card borrowing has plummeted at the same time, as households look to avoid taking on more debt if they can, while the personal savings rate has soared , and emergency funds are being reinforced. 

“Even with the economy in recession, most Americans indicate that their personal finances haven’t been adversely affected since the pandemic began,” says Mark Hamrick, Bankrate senior economic analyst. “Even so, the high degree of prevailing uncertainty dictates the need to focus on saving for an emergency while paying down debt.”

Inevitably, debt will remain the major problem for many, and coping with this burden is vital. In terms of mortgages, interest rates are either at or near record lows, paving the way to save thousands of dollars in monthly payments if you can secure a new deal with one of the best refinance mortgage companies . 

For those with high-cost credit card debt, a balance transfer card is one option to try and better manage credit card debt . However, for some, the option offered by debt consolidation companies to bring together debts into what will hopefully be one lower and more manageable payment will be the best course of action to take. 

HBO Go is about to be HBO Gone, as HBO Max takes center stage

Regular users of HBO Go, the streaming app for HBO pay-TV subscribers, will have to wave goodbye to the service, which is being shut down on July 31. HBO Go’s retirement comes off the back of the recent launch of HBO Max , a new standalone TV streaming service that offers over 10,000 hours of premium content including HBO content alongside shows and movies from Warner Bros, New Line, Cartoon Network and more. HBO Max is designed to blend together HBO’s two existing services, HBO Go and HBO Now.

HBO Now is a streaming service for users who want HBO content without signing up for cable, while HBO Go is a streaming service that comes with your cable subscription, letting you watch your content online. HBO Max will cover both of these eventualities, so there’s no need for HBO Go to stick around.

There’s just one problem though – HBO Max isn’t available on all the devices that HBO Go was, most notably Roku and Amazon Fire TV. This means that if you’re subscribed to HBO and rely on those devices to watch your streaming content, then you’re out of luck for the time being. 

A HBO spokesperson stated that, “While we don’t yet have a distribution deal with Amazon or Roku, we remain committed to making HBO Max available on every platform possible to as many viewers as possible.” It’s almost certain that HBO Max will make its way to Roku and Amazon devices, but how long those negotiations will last is anyone’s guess.

Weirdly, HBO Now isn’t being killed off in the same way, but instead the app itself will be rebranded as just HBO. Considering the fact that HBO Now costs the same as HBO Max, but offers less content, we’re assuming that HBO Now will also be shuffled off stage in the near future as users are transferred over to HBO Max.

So what are your options if you’re a HBO subscriber who uses Roku or Fire TV to stream your content? For now you’re going to have to watch HBO using cable or satellite connection. “The large majority of HBO Go usage occurs on platforms with whom we have HBO Max deals currently in place,” according to a HBO spokesperson, though this will provide little comfort for those who will now be cut off from their premium streaming content.

What is HBO Max? 

HBO Max is a standalone TV and movie streaming service streaming service from HBO which has a huge library of content. This includes “all of HBO”, so you can expect to see smash hits like Game of Thrones and Westworld on there, along with the latest blockbuster movies like Joker and Ad Astra. There’s also a ton of other TV series on there including Friends, Rick & Morty, and The Big Bang Theory.

There will also be a host of HBO Max Originals. These are shows that will only be available on the service including kids content like Looney Tunes Cartoons and The Not-Too-Late Show with Elmo, alongside adult content like Legendary and Love Life.

HBO Max costs $14.99 per month as a standalone service, but you get access for free if you’re a HBO or HBO Now subscriber, provided your provider is supported. The full list of supported providers can be found on the HBO Max website . It’s basically everyone except Roku and Amazon though, so if you’re not with them then chances are you’re good.

While it doesn’t work on Roku or Amazon Fire TV devices yet, you can download HBO Max on just about everything else including most of the best TVs , smartphones ,  and tablets . You can also get the app on your PS4 or Xbox One .

We’ll have our review of HBO Max up soon, so you’ll be able to evaluate the service and see how it compares to streaming giants like Netflix and Disney Plus . 

How COVID-19 is changing our housing needs, according to an architect

The coronavirus pandemic is making us re-evaluate what we need from our homes, according to architects and real estate brokers. While before lockdown many would choose a home for its proximity to work, schools, and loved ones, remote schooling and working is making many realize that location isn’t everything. 

Writing in The Conversation , Architect Tara Hipwood said “with fewer people now commuting and more people working from home, where people choose to live and how they want their houses to function may change after this prolonged period of lockdown.”

Hipwood predicts that personal space will be one of the main things people seek in homes after lockdown, which is a notable shift from the popularity of open-plan living and large communal spaces. Hipwood explains that open-plan living depends on a “phased” pattern of occupation, whereas lockdown has forced “concurrent” occupation. In other words, while kitchen-diners were designed for family meals and a natural flow between spaces, some may have found their new home desk (the kitchen table) a difficult working environment when sharing with partners or children. These spaces weren’t designed for entire families to be at home all day.

Speaking to FOX Business , LA-based real estate broker Orit Gadish said “home design is now being reimagined in order to integrate the work-study-life balance post-COVID-19.” 

With research revealing a “digital divide” between those who can afford internet and those who have struggled to work from home, lockdown has certainly increased the importance of the best internet providers in homes. Gadish predicts a new trend of ‘Zoom rooms’ – a quiet space designed for video calls and remote meetings. For those who can afford it, that is, there is also set to be newly designed “dedicated work areas for each adult and dedicated study space for each child with powerful Wi-Fi.” 

And if you can’t afford a study space for every member of the family? “Expect to see more built-in bookshelves that can serve a double purpose for storage and a sleek backdrop for conference calls.”

The importance of outdoor space

Only recently, we spoke to a leading horticulturist about the mental health benefits of gardening . Charles Harpur told us “by getting our hands in the soil and cultivating plants, we connect with the natural world and are reminded that we are a part of something much bigger than ourselves.” 

Lockdown has woken many up to the perks of gardening, even in small spaces. Balcony inspiration has been trending and sales of ourdoor furniture have gone through the roof thanks to stay-at-home orders. Hipwood highlights the “renewed interest in self-sufficiency, which may continue long after lockdown. This could lead to gardens being used for growing food”, and may even cause many to consider moving to a home with more outdoor space, with space for children to play and room to fire up the gas grill for summer barbecues. 

If you’ve already got the garden space you need, check out our guide for  5 ways to make your garden summer-ready .

New study suggests simple ways to beat a sedentary lifestyle

Swapping out video games or binge watching your favorite show for an early night can have a great impact on your mental and physical health, according to new research . Opting for a longer night’s sleep over sedentary activities can be beneficial to your stress levels, mood, and even BMI. That’s according to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (AJPM), which has suggested some simple ways to substitute sedentary time for light activity, which can help beat the lockdown blues.

These findings may come as a welcome message for those struggling with mental wellbeing after being at home for many months. Although the study emphasizes that more vigorous physical activity (we’re talking exercise bikes and running on treadmills here) will see higher payoffs in terms of your BMI and physical health, ‘psychological health (mood, stress) benefits may occur from subtler alterations that increase light physical activity or sleep duration in healthy young adults.’

  • Substituting light physical exercise for sedentary time reduced BMI and improved mood across the subsequent year on those surveyed.
  • Psychological health (mood, stress) benefits may occur from subtle alterations, including more sleep.
  • U.S. adults spend 75% of their waking hours and 90% of their leisure time sedentary.

According to the study, “psychological health could be improved by more sleep or greater energy expenditure” – no wonder sleep features in our guide on how to stay healthy and feel happy when working from home .  

In fact, when speaking to Top Ten Reviews and answering some of the more common coronavirus questions , registered healthcare professional Dr Gero Bairdo had this to say about how vital it is to maintain a sleep routine during lockdown (and beyond): “It is important to keep regular hours regardless of whether we are going into work in the morning. Getting enough good quality sleep each night protects and boosts our immunity, and will not be facilitated by staying up bingeing on box sets until the early hours.” What you sleep on also makes a difference, so take a look at our guide to the best mattress online too.

Simple ways to beat a sedentary lifestyle

When it comes to seeing an improvement in physical health we will need to turn to higher-intensity activity, according to the AJPM. We all know that a sedentary lifestyle can lead to poor health and wellbeing, but for many of those in lockdown it’s been an inevitability in recent months. Research has shown that 42% are exercising at home during lockdown, but we’re also spending more time seated than before due to a lack of time spent commuting and doing other activities outside of the house, such as shopping and meeting with friends. 

90% of the average American’s leisure time is spent being sedentary, but there are ways to keep moving without even realizing it, according to the AJPM. One such activity is housework. That’s right, light housework such as disinfecting your door handles or cleaning kitchen counters is a simple way to get your blood pumping and spend some time on your feet. 

According to Medical News Today , adding some movement to your day could be as simple as walking around when you take a phone call, or taking the time to cook something while standing. Although the end result may not be so good for your waistline, swapping out the stand mixer and beating your cake batter by hand is certainly one way to inject some physical activity into your day, which can have an uplifting effect on your general mental wellbeing. 

If you’re struggling with stress and anxiety, we spoke to a psychologist about how to manage anxiety and feel happier , and have also rounded-up the best meditation apps for mental health and better sleep. 

For further mental health resources, we recommend the following: 

  • MIND  
  • Mental Health America  
  • The National Institute of Mental Health  
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness  
  • The Child Mind Institute  
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Mental Health  

PlayStation 5 revealed: The PS5 is finally here and it looks like a huge WiFi router

Sony finally lifted the veil last night with its The Future of Gaming show , revealing its upcoming PS5 and a whole slew of games that will be coming with it when it launches this holiday season. From the lineup of games that we saw, this is sure to be one of the best video game consoles we’ve ever laid our grubby paws on. And congratulations should be given to Sony for taking the bold risk of making the PS5 look like the world’s biggest WiFi router . Seriously, look at it.

“It” isn’t entirely accurate though, as there are actually two PS5 consoles – a standard version and a digital version which doesn’t have a disc drive. We can safely assume that the digital version will be cheaper. The existence of this digital only edition makes a lot of sense as physical media are becoming less relevant in our digital age.

As for the box itself, all jokes aside, it certainly is a striking design and a real divergence from the Xbox Series X, which has gone for the big, boring black box approach (though even that looks a bit like a fridge ). We’re still not sure how we feel about the PS5 design yet, but the torrent of memes have already started endearing us to it.

The PS5 design memes have started strong pic.twitter.com/C7nwEg4W17 June 11, 2020

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On the games front, it was a great showing for Sony with games from both first party studios and its third party partners. On the first party exclusive front we had the announcement of Horizon: Forbidden West, the sequel to PS4 hit Horizon: Zero Dawn. There was also an announcement for Spider Man: Miles Morales which is a standalone expansion to the Insomniac Games’ Spider Man.

Elsewhere we saw reveals for big titles like Resident Evil 8, Hitman 3 and NBA 2K21, along with some charming and beautiful looking indie titles like Stray, which sees you playing as a cat in a futuristic robot inhabited world after the fall of humanity. Any game that lets us play as a cat is a winner in our book, so we’re calling this the game of the show. We’ve linked the full reveal show below so you can watch the whole thing for yourself.

One thing that Sony kept quiet on was pricing. It looks like Microsoft and Sony are locked in a price reveal staring contest, waiting for the other side to blink. Rumors and educated guesses have both Sony’s PS5 and Microsoft’s Xbox Series X in the $500-$600 range, but we won’t know for certain until somebody makes the first move. 

Until then, if you’ve got the need to play games and can’t wait until the holidays, check out our reviews of the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X – these will tide you over until the PS5 and Xbox Series X hit shelves later this year.

We’ll keep you posted on all the latest PS5 news as it comes in. For now we’re going back to Twitter to look for more PS5 memes.