A Guide To How To Appeal Your Property Taxes

Fair to say, if you are living anywhere in the country, you are probably paying more property taxes than you should. The National Taxpayers Union, in fact, estimates that approximately 60% of all US properties are currently overassessed.

What makes this particularly shocking is that, since 2003, prices of median homes have declined dramatically. We would therefore expect tax assessments to be adjusted so as to reflect such declines in market values – though this has generally not been the case. Therefore property taxes for many homeowners unfairly continue to increase despite a continued decrease in local home values.

Due to a considerable shortfall in budgets, many municipalities are, in essence, heaping extra taxes on homeowners – many of whom are exercising their constitutional right for an appeal. Though appealing property tax assessments can be difficult and time consuming – and not always successful – being well-prepared for the fight can significantly increase your chances of success.

Assess your assessment

It is important to understand how your property is assessed. Ask a local realtor to help you compare your property with similar properties which sold recently to determine its market value. Multiply that value with the assessment ratio that has been established for your town. If the market value of your property is, say, $100,000 and its assessment ratio is 80%, this means the tax levied on that property is $80,000. Some rural areas and high class neighborhoods use another method of assessment by estimating the house replacement cost by adjusting factors such as the land value.

Property Record Card

Check for errors in your assessment next. To do so, you will need to obtain the worksheet of your property from your local assessor’s office. This work sheet is also known as property record card and contains information of your property such as number of rooms, dimensions, number of bathrooms, and so on. Check whether all the information about your property provided in the worksheet is correct or not. If you discover any incorrect or missing information submit this information immediately to the local assessor along with a blue print of your property. In this way you will could receive an immediate reduction and become exempt from a formal appeal.

Comparable Sales

Compare the assessed value of your property with other similar properties in that area. Look at the property’s worksheet to compare other factors like square footage, age, bedrooms, bathrooms, and so on. In this way you may be in a stronger position to appeal if your property’s assessed value is determined to be higher than at least five other properties. Make a list of comparable properties along with their other details like square footage, construction material grades, same neighborhood, and so on. This list should be produced when demanded by the assessor. The record of your neighborhood’s properties is available at the website of your local assessor.

In case you find only three assessed properties at lower and three at a higher value don’t lose hope because in this case you might be entitled to a reduction representing the difference between comparable properties and your property. Your house may be the only property with lousy grading which prevents you from having a garden or a less than desired view of your city’s water tower.

Fight back

Different localities have different rules and your assessment should be capable of explaining how your appeal works. For this you can provide evidence to the assessor including a list of comparable properties, repair estimates, blueprints, and photographs for review. In this way you can obtain a good settlement in an informal way and the assessor may continue completing his rolls and get a fair reduction for you. On the other hand if some settlement is not agreed upon, continue paying your taxes so as to avoid any future penalties on your property. Don’t worry because if the county is satisfied with your appeal, you will get a reduction or check on all future bills thereafter.

Before submitting your appeal form and other related documents, ensure whether or not they comply with all the requirements stated by the county. Keep one copy of all the documents and information submitted by you for your files In a few months you will probably receive a reply and if you think that the reduction you’ve got is not fair, you can follow the next step. The next step is to submit your case in front of an independent local appealing body. This will be more advantageous because you can personally explain your case. You can use photographs, blueprints, etc to prove that your appeal is correct. Also submit a copy of all the assessed document highlighting important points to every board member.

If your case at local level fails, you can take it to state, and even the judicial, level. Bear in mind, however, that judicial hearing will court fees, lawyer’s fees, and other expenses that could negate any savings you might realize from winning an appeal.

Where to search for the right help

It is better to employ an expert assistance which will not only save time but provide proper guidance also. In this way your appeal will become stronger. One more option is to submit your address and case to an online service company. Such companies – for a moderate fee – will highlight comparable homes in your area along with their assessment information and their sale price. If they consider your case strong enough they will send you a report which you can file with your local appeals board. If the appeals board rejects your appeal your money is then refunded.

Should you decide instead on hiring a professional appraiser, confirm that the board to which you are appealing your case permits such a professional or not. Certified appraisers can be found through the Appraisal Institute or the National Association of Independent Fee Appraisers. Most charge anywhere between $250 and $500. Hire a person who is not only experienced in the field but also is familiar with local neighborhoods in your area.

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Advantages of Bus Travel

Bus is the most popular transport nowadays. Many people choose bus as the best transport for them because of the many advantages they find in it. Others never get on a bus, thinking only of the disadvantages, which are truly a lot. Here I will tell you the reasons why it is better to choose travelling by bus rather than travelling with your car for example.

The good standpoints for travelling by bus

Many people choose bus transport because it is cheap. This is the main reason why when you get on a bus you will see mainly students and old people. The tickets for long destinations are much cheaper than the flight tickets. You can also by a card for every month and travel at reduced fare. This is also a good advantage to choose bus transport, because it saves you money that you can spend on your next vacation.

Another good advantage of bus transport when going on short travels is that bad weather won’t be a problem for the bus driver. If you are planning to go to the nearest village with your bicycle and it starts raining or snowing, you will get wet for sure. If you choose the bus, you can save yourself this uncomfortable situation and it also can save you money because it won’t get you sick. Also if you choose to take a flight and the weather surprises you and a storm comes out, you may be waiting for hours because of delayed flights.

However, this won’t happen if you choose bus travel. In modern buses, you will have an air conditioner, toilet, the bus-hostess will offer you drinks and snacks to make your trip more enjoyable, and there are also at least two TV sets in new travel buses. So you can enjoy your trip watching a movie and having a snack without worrying when will be the next stop for the toilet. Also if you are travelling on a bus for more hours or even days, you can always make new friends there. So, the new social contacts are the other advantage of the bus. And if you have to choose between a plane or bus, remember that you will see much more if you are travelling with a bus. The bus also stops at many places during the travel and in that time, you can have a coffee or a cigarette if you are a smoker. In the plane this could not be done.

Another good advantage of buses is that they reduce the traffic jams in the rush hour in big cities. Imagine that everyone uses cars. The traffic jams will be a lot bigger than they are now. In some countries like India, a bus can gather more than 150 passengers. Imagine that all these people were using their cars instead of bus transport the cities will be crowded.

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Property Tax – Pros and Cons

Property tax can be the fairest and at the same time the not so fair tax collected by municipalities.

Two of the determining factors of how it can affect what an individual will pay for this type of tax are where you live and a person’s economic condition.

Even though we all can appreciate the good points of owning a home vs. renting, when it comes to property tax, renting is by far the better option. States will collect property tax on the following:

Any additions to the property such as improvements to the land

Land itself

Any structures that are not permanent to the property

The assessment is commonly made by an exclusive county tax collector in each state. An individual’s property and land will be appraised of its value and subsequently mailed as a tax payment notice. This usually is paid through a homeowner’s escrow amount stated on their mortgage.

Many times this can negatively affect a property or land owner as the taxes in a specific state can sometimes double or triple in amount and leave the homeowner unable to afford to pay their taxes, forcing them to sell their property or land.

People on a fixed income such as Senior citizens who have retired, can be greatly affected by the increase of property tax. The value of their homes increase, but at the same time they find themselves unable to pay their taxes because of their reduced income. Unfortunately, property tax doesn’t allow much wiggle room in the event of acts of nature or personal tragedy.

Although 2.3 seems to be the average percentage for property tax, it varies greatly from state to state, making it seem highly unfair for certain states such as New Hampshire, as it is a high 4.9 percent.

It also seem unfair when states like Alabama pay 1.3 percent and yet just a little distance away in neighboring Georgia would be required to pay 2.6 percent, then even more in Florida at a rate of 3.1 percent.

So who determines how the money generated from this income is spent or in some cases wasted? The state legislatures will determine this along with the decision to increase or decrease property tax and how frequent it is collected.

Even though property tax can absolutely help states with income,the amount of property tax to be paid can be a determining factor in one’s decision where to reside to achieve the American Dream of land or home ownership.

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Insurance Law – An Indian Perspective

INTRODUCTION

"Insurance should be bought to protect you against a calamity that would otherwise be financially devastating."

In simple terms, insurance allows someone who suffers a loss or accident to be compensated for the effects of their misfortune. It lets you protect yourself against everyday risks to your health, home and financial situation.

Insurance in India started without any regulation in the Nineteenth Century. It was a typical story of a colonial epoch: few British insurance companies dominating the market serving mostly large urban centers. After the independence, it took a theatrical turn. Insurance was nationalized. First, the life insurance companies were nationalized in 1956, and then the general insurance business was nationalized in 1972. It was only in 1999 that the private insurance companies had been allowed back into the business of insurance with a maximum of 26% of foreign holding .

"The insurance industry is awful and can be quite intimidating." Insurance is being sold for almost anything and everything you can imagine.

Concepts of insurance have been extended beyond the coverage of tangible asset. Now the risk of losses due to sudden changes in currency exchange rates, political disturbance, negligence and liability for the damages can also be covered.

But if a person thoughtfully invests in insurance for his property prior to any unexpected contingency then he will be suitably compensated for his loss as soon as the amount of damage is ascertained.

The entry of the State Bank of India with its proposal of bank assurance brings a new dynamics in the game. The collective experience of the other countries in Asia has already deregulated their markets and has allowed foreign companies to participate. If the experience of the other countries is any guide, the dominance of the Life Insurance Corporation and the General Insurance Corporation is not going to disappear any time soon.
The aim of all insurance is to compensate the owner against loss arising from a variety of risks, which he anticipates, to his life, property and business. Insurance is primarily of two types: life insurance and general insurance. General insurance means Fire, Marine and Miscellaneous insurance which includes insurance against burglary or theft, fidelity guarantee, insurance for employer's liability, and insurance of motor vehicles, livestock and crops.

LIFE INSURANCE IN INDIA

"Life insurance is the heartfelt love letter ever written.

It calms down the crying of a hungry baby at night. It relieves the heart of a bereaved widow.

It is the comforting whisper in the dark silent hours of the night. "

Life insurance made its debut in India well over 100 years ago. Its salient features are not as widely understood in our country as they bought to be. There is no statistical definition of life insurance, but it has been defined as a contract of insurance wheree the insured agreements to pay certain sums called premiums, at specified time, and in consideration thereof the insurer agreed to pay certain sums of money on certain condition Sand in specified way upon happening of a particular event contingent upon the duration of human life.

Life insurance is superior to other forms of savings!

"There is no death. Life Insurance exalts life and defeats death.

It is the premium we pay for the freedom of living after death. "

Savings through life insurance guarantee full protection against risk of death of the saver. In life insurance, on death, the full sum secured is payable (with bonuses wherever applicable) whereas in other savings schemes, only the amount saved (with interest) is payable.

The essential features of life insurance are a) it is a contract relating to human life, which b) provides for payment of lump-sum amount, and c) the amount is paid after the expiration of certain period or on the death of the secured . The very purpose and object of the assured in taking policies from life insurance companies is to safeguard the interest of his dependents viz., Wife and children as the case may be, in the even of premature death of the secured as a result of the happening In any contingency. A life insurance policy is also generally accepted as security for even a commercial loan.

NON-LIFE INSURANCE

"Every asset has a value and the business of general insurance is related to the protection of economic value of assets."

Non-life insurance means insurance other than life insurance such as fire, marine, accident, medical, motor vehicle and household insurance. Assets would have been created through the efforts of owner, which can be in the form of building, vehicles, machinery and other tangible properties. Since tangible property has a physical shape and consistency, it is subject to many risks ranging from fire, allied perils to theft and robbery.
Few of the General Insurance policies are:

Property Insurance: The home is most valued possession. The policy is designed to cover the various risks under a single policy. It provides protection for property and interest of the insured and family.

Health Insurance: It provides cover, which takes care of medical expenses following hospitalization from sudden illness or accident.
Personal Accident Insurance: This insurance policy provides compensation for loss of life or injury (partial or permanent) caused by an accident. This includes reimbursements of cost of treatment and the use of hospital facilities for the treatment.

Travel Insurance: The policy covers the insured against various eventualities while traveling abroad. It covers the insured against personal accident, medical expenses and repatriation, loss of checked baggage, passport etc.

Liability Insurance: This policy indemnifies the Directors or Officers or other professionals against loss arising from claims made against them by reason of any wrongful act in their Official capacity.

Motor Insurance: Motor Vehicles Act states that every motor vehicle plying on the road has to be insured, with at least Liability only policy. There are two types of policy one covering the act of liability, while other covers insurers all liability and damage caused to one's vehicles.

JOURNEY FROM AN INFANT TO ADOLESCENCE!

Historical Perspective

The history of life insurance in India dates back to 1818 when it was conceived as a means to provide for English Widows. Interestingly in those days a higher premium was charged for Indian lives than the non-Indian lives as Indian lives were considered more risky for coverage.

The Bombay Mutual Life Insurance Society started its business in 1870. It was the first company to charge same premium for both Indian and non-Indian lives. The Oriental Assurance Company was established in 1880. The General insurance business in India, on the other hand, can trace its roots to the Triton (Tital) Insurance Company Limited, the first general insurance company established in the year 1850 in Calcutta by the British . Till the end of nineteenth century insurance business was almost entirely in the hands of overseas companies.

Insurance regulation form began in India with the passing of the Life Insurance Companies Act of 1912 and the Provident Fund Act of 1912. Several frauds during 20's and 30's desecrated insurance business in India. By 1938 there were 176 insurance companies. The first comprehensive legislation was introduced with the Insurance Act of 1938 that provided strict State Control over insurance business. The insurance business grows at a faster pace after independence. Indian companies strengthened their hold on this business but despite the growth that was witnessed, insurance remained an urban phenomenon.

The Government of India in 1956, brought together over 240 private life insurers and provincial societies under one nationalized monopoly corporation and Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) was born. Nationalization was justified on the grounds that it would create much needed funds for rapid industrialization. This was in conformity with the Government's chosen path of State lead planning and development.

The (non-life) insurance business continued to prosper with the private sector till 1972. Their operations were restricted to organized trade and industry in large cities. The general insurance industry was nationalized in 1972. With this, nearly 107 insurers were amalgamated and grouped into four companies – National Insurance Company, New India Assurance Company, Oriental Insurance Company and United India Insurance Company. These were subsidiaries of the General Insurance Company (GIC).

The life insurance industry was nationalized under the Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) Act of India. In some ways, the LIC has become very flourishing. Regardless of being a monopoly, it has some 60-70 million policyholders. Given that the Indian middle-class is around 250-300 million, the LIC has managed to capture some 30 odd percent of it. Around 48% of the customers of the LIC are from rural and semi-urban areas. This probably would not have happened to the charter of the LIC not specifically set out the goal of serving the rural areas. A high saving rate in India is one of the exogenous factors that have helped the LIC to grow rapidly in recent years. Despite the saving rate being high in India (compared with other countries with a similar level of development), Indians display high degree of risk aversion. Thus, nearly half of the investments are in physical assets (like property and gold). Around twenty three percent are in (low yielding but safe) bank deposits. In addition, some 1.3 percent of the GDP are in life insurance related savings vehicles. This figure has doubled between 1985 and 1995.

A World perspective – Life Insurance in India

In many countries, insurance has been a form of savings. In many developed countries, a significant fraction of domestic saving is in the form of donation insurance plans. This is not surprising. The prominence of some developing countries is more surprising. For example, South Africa features at the number two spot. India is nestled between Chile and Italy. This is even more surprising given the levels of economic development in Chile and Italy. Thus, we can conclude that there is an insurance culture in India since a low per capita income. This promises well for future growth. Specifically, when the income level improvements, insurance (especially life) is likely to grow rapidly.

INSURANCE SECTOR REFORM:

Committee Reports: One Known, One Anonymous!

Although Indian markets were privatized and opened up to foreign companies in a number of sectors in 1991, insurance remained out of bounds on both counts. The government wanted to proceed with caution. With pressure from the opposition, the government (at the time, governed by the Congress Party) decided to set up a committee headed by Mr. RN Malhotra (the then Governor of the Reserve Bank of India).

Malhotra Committee

Liberalization of the Indian insurance market was filed in a report released in 1994 by the Malhotra Committee, indicating that the market should be opened to private-sector competition, and eventually, foreign private-sector competition. It also investigated the level of satisfaction of the customers of the LIC. Inquisitively, the level of customer satisfaction appeared to be high.

In 1993, Malhotra Committee – chaired by former Finance Secretary and RBI Governor RN Malhotra – was formed to evaluate the Indian insurance industry and recommend its future course. The Malhotra committee was set up with the aim of complementing the reforms initiated in the financial sector. The reforms were aimed at creating a more efficient and competitive financial system suitable for the needs of the economy keeping in mind the structural changes currently occurring and recognizing that insurance is an important part of the overall financial system where it was necessary to address the need for Similar reforms. In 1994, the committee submitted the report and some of the key recommendations included:

O Structure

Government bet in the insurance Companies to be bought down to 50%. Government should take over the holdings of GIC and its affiliates so that these affiliates can act as independent corporations. All the insurance companies should be given greater freedom to operate.
Competition

Private Companies with a minimum paid up capital of Rs.1 billion should be allowed to enter the sector. No Company should deal in both Life and General Insurance through a single entity. Foreign companies may be allowed to enter the industry in collaboration with the domestic companies. Postal Life Insurance should be allowed to operate in the rural market. Only one State Level Life Insurance Company should be allowed to operate in each state.

O Regulatory Body

The Insurance Act should be changed. An Insurance Regulatory body should be set up. Controller of Insurance – a part of the Finance Ministry- should be made Independent.

O Investments

Compulsory Investments of LIC Life Fund in government securities to be reduced from 75% to 50%. GIC and its affiliates are not to hold more than 5% in any company (there current holdings to be brought down to this level over a period of time).

O Customer Service

LIC should pay interest on delays in payments beyond 30 days. Insurance companies must be encouraged to set up unit linked pension plans. Computerization of operations and updating of technology to be carried out in the insurance industry. The committee emphasized that in order to improve the customer services and increase the coverage of insurance policies, industry should be opened up to competition. But at the same time, the committee felt the need to exercise caution as any failure on the part of new competitors could ruin the public confidence in the industry. Here, it was decided to allow competition in a limited way by stipulating the minimum capital requirement of Rs.100 crores.

The committee felt the need to provide greater automation to insurance companies in order to improve their performance and enable them to act as independent companies with economic motives. For this purpose, it had proposed setting up an independent regulatory body – The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority.

Reforms in the Insurance sector were initiated with the passage of the IRDA Bill in Parliament in December 1999. The IRDA since its incorporation as a statutory body in April 2000 has meticulously stuck to its schedule of framing regulations and registering the private sector insurance companies.

Since being set up as an independent statutory body the IRDA has put in a framework of globally compatible regulations. The other decision taken at the same time to provide the supporting systems to the insurance sector and in particular the life insurance companies was the launch of the IRDA online service for issue and renewal of licenses to agents. The approval of enterprises for attending training to agents has also ensured that the insurance companies would have a trained workforce of insurance agents in place to sell their products.

The Government of India liberalized the insurance sector in March 2000 with the passage of the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) Bill, lifting all entry restrictions for private players and allowing foreign players to enter the market with some limits on direct foreign ownership. Under the current guidelines, there is a 26 percent equity lid for foreign partners in an insurance company. There is a proposal to increase this limit to 49 percent.

The opening up of the sector is likely to lead to greater spread and deepening of insurance in India and this may also include restructuring and revitalizing of the public sector companies. In the private sector 12 life insurance and 8 general insurance companies have been registered. A host of private insurance companies operating in both life and non-life segments have started selling their insurance policies since 2001

Mukherjee Committee

Immediately after the publication of the Malhotra Committee Report, a new committee, Mukherjee Committee was set up to make concrete plans for the requirements of the newly formed insurance companies. Recommendations of the Mukherjee Committee were never disclosed to the public. But, from the information that filtered out it became clear that the committee recommended the inclusion of certain ratios in insurance company balance sheets to ensure transparency in accounting. But the Finance Minister owed to it and it was argued by him, probably on the advice of some of the potential competitors, that it could affect the prospects of a developing insurance company.

LAW COMMISSION OF INDIA ON REVISION OF THE INSURANCE ACT 1938 – 190th Law Commission Report

The Law Commission on 16th June 2003 released a Consultation Paper on the Revision of the Insurance Act, 1938. The previous exercise to amend the Insurance Act, 1938 was amended in 1999 at the time of enactment of the Insurance Regulatory Development Authority Act, 1999 IRDA Act).

The Commission undertook the present exercise in the context of the changed policy that has permitted private insurance companies both in the life and non-life sectors. A need has been felt to toughen the regulatory mechanism even while streamlining the existing legislation with a view to removing portions that have become superfluous as a consequence of the recent changes.

Among the major areas of changes, the Consultation paper suggested the following:

A. Merging of the provisions of the IRDA Act with the Insurance Act to avoid multiplicity of legislations;

B. Delegation of redundant and transitory provisions in the Insurance Act, 1938;

C. Amendments reflect the modified policy of permitting private insurance companies and strengthening the regulatory mechanism;

D. Providing for stringent norms regarding maintenance of 'solvency margin' and investments by both public sector and private sector insurance companies;

E. Providing for a full-fledged grievance redressal mechanism that includes:

O The constitution of Grievance Redressal Authorizations (GRAs) comprising one judicial and two technical members to deal with complaints / claims of policyholders against insurers (the GRAs are expected to replace the present system of insurer appointed Ombudsman);

O Appointment of adjudicating officers by the IRDA to determine and levy penalies on defaulting insurers, insurance intermediaries and insurance agents;

O Providing for an appeal against the decisions of the IRDA, GRAs and adjudicating officers to an Insurance Appellate Tribunal (IAT) concluding a judge (sitting or retired) of the Supreme Court / Chief Justice of a High Court as presiding officer and two other members Having sufficient experience in insurance matters;

O Providing for a statutory appeal to the Supreme Court against the decisions of the IAT.

LIFE & NON-LIFE INSURANCE – Development and Growth!

The year 2006 turned out to be a momentous year for the insurance sector as regulator the Insurance Regulatory Development Authority Act, laid the foundation for free pricing general insurance from 2007, while many companies announced plans to attack into the sector.

Both domestic and foreign players robustly pursued their long-pending demand for increasing the FDI limit from 26 per cent to 49 per cent and towards the fag end of the year, the Government sent the Comprehensive Insurance Bill to Group of Ministers for consideration amid strong reservation From Left parties. The Bill is likely to be taken up in the Budget session of Parliament.

The infiltration rates of health and other non-life insurances in India are well below the international level. These facts indicate immunity growth potential of the insurance sector. The hike in FDI limit to 49 per cent was proposed by the Government last year. This has not been operationalized as legislative changes are required for such hike. Since opening up of the insurance sector in 1999, foreign investments of Rs. 8.7 billion have tipped into the Indian market and 21 private companies have been granted licenses.

The involvement of the private insurers in various industry segments has increased on account of both their capturing a part of the business which was earlier underwritten by the public sector insurers and also creating additional business boulevards. To this effect, the public sector insurers have been unable to draw upon their inherent strengths to capture additional premium. Of the growth in premium in 2004-05, 66.27 per cent has been captured by the private insurers despite having 20 per cent market share.

The life insurance industry recorded a premium income of Rs.82854.80 crore during the financial year 2004-05 as against Rs.66653.75 crore in the previous financial year, recording a growth of 24.31 per cent. The contribution of first year premium, single premium and renewal premium to the total premium was Rs.15881.33 crore (19.16 per cent); Rs.10336.30 crore (12.47 per cent); And Rs.56637.16 crore (68.36 per cent), respectively. In the year 2000-01, when the industry was opened up to the private players, the life insurance premium was Rs.34,898.48 crore which constituted of Rs. 6996.95 crore of first year premium, Rs. 25191.07 crore of renewal premium and Rs. 2740.45 crore of single premium. Post opening up, single premium had declined from Rs.9, 194.07 crore in the year 2001-02 to Rs.5674.14 crore in 2002-03 with the withdrawal of the guaranteed return policies. Although it went up marginally in 2003-04 to Rs.5936.50 crore (4.62 per cent growth) 2004-05, however, witnessed a significant shift with the single premium income rising to Rs. 10336.30 crore showing 74.11 per cent growth over 2003-04.

The size of life insurance market increased on the strength of growth in the economy and concomitant increase in per capita income. This resulted in a favorable growth in total premium both for LIC (18.25 per cent) and to the new insurers (147.65 per cent) in 2004-05. The higher growth for the new insurers is to be viewed in the context of a low base in 2003- 04. However, the new insurers have improved their market share from 4.68 in 2003-04 to 9.33 in 2004-05.

The segment wise break up of fire, marine and miscellaneous segments in case of the public sector insurers was Rs.2411.38 crore, Rs.982.99 crore and Rs.10578.59 crore, ie, a growth of (-) 1.43 per cent, 1.81 per cent And 6.58 per cent. The public sector insurers reported growth in Motor and Health segments (9 and 24 per cent). These segments accounted for 45 and 10 per cent of the business underwritten by the public sector insurers. Fire and "Others" accounted for 17.26 and 11 per cent of the premium underwritten. Aviation, Liability, "Others" and Fire recorded negative growth of 29, 21, 3.58 and 1.43 per cent. In no other country that opened at the same time as India have foreign companies been able to grab a 22 per cent market share in the life segment and about 20 per cent in the general insurance segment. The share of foreign insurers in other competitive Asian markets is not more than 5 to 10 per cent.

The life insurance sector grew new premium at a rate not seen before while the general insurance sector grew at a faster rate. Two new players entered into life insurance – Shriram Life and Bharti Axa Life – taking the total number of life players to 16. There was one new entrant to the non-life sector in the form of a standard health insurance company – Star Health and Allied Insurance, taking the non-life players to 14.

A large number of companies, mostly nationalized banks (about 14) such as Bank of India and Punjab National Bank, have announced plans to enter the insurance sector and some of them have also formed joint ventures.

The proposed change in FDI cap is part of the comprehensive amendments to insurance laws – The Insurance Act of 1999, LIC Act, 1956 and IRDA Act, 1999. After the proposed amendments in the insurance laws LIC would be able to maintain reserves while insurance companies Would be able to raise resources other than equity.

About 14 banks are in queue to enter insurance sector and the year 2006 saw several joint venture announcements while others scout partners. Bank of India has teamed up with Union Bank and Japanese insurance major Dai-ichi Mutual Life while PNB tied up with Vijaya Bank and Principal for foraying into life insurance. Allaabad Bank, Karnataka Bank, Indian Overseas Bank, Dabur Investment Corporation and Sompo Japan Insurance Inc have tied up for forming a non-life insurance company while Bank of Maharashtra has tied up with Shriram Group and South Africa's Sanlam group for non-life insurance venture .

CONCLUSION

It seems cynical that the LIC and the GIC will wither and die within the next decade or two. The IRDA has taken "at a snail's pace" approach. It has been very cautious in granting licenses. It has set up fairly strict standards for all aspects of the insurance business (with the probable exception of the disclosure requirements). The regulators always walk a fine line. Too many regulations kill the motivation of the newcomers; Too relaxed regulations may admit failure and fraud that led to nationalization in the first place. India is not unique among the developing countries where the insurance business has been opened up to foreign competitors.

The insurance business is at a critical stage in India. Over the next couple of decades we are likely to witness high growth in the insurance sector for two reasons namely; Financial deregulation always speeds up the development of the insurance sector and growth in per capita GDP also helps the insurance business to grow.

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Geode Crystals & Astral Travel

Astral travel can be enhanced by working with crystals and their vibrational field levels during your session. But where do you start and how to help? There are many different suggestions for this, as well as different ones will resonate within different people and their energy fields.

A good place to start is by working with the crystals you enjoy the most. If you are not sure where to start, go with your intuition and follow your gut instincts as they will not steer you wrong.

A wonderful way to work with them in astral travel and meditation sessions are in geode form. The best ones I have come across that have the highest energy vibrational level are clear quartz, amethyst, citrine and calcite. It is best to work with just one type of crystal within the geode, but you can combine them in your circles if you wish. The energy field will be a combination of the different types and will have them make a weaving type of pattern within the energy field. This is a very unique type of field to work within, but may not always be the best, as opposed to a single type of stronger vibrational field you would receive with just one type of geode.

During your astral travel session, surround yourself with as many geodes as possible, in a circle, or alternating the type of crystal found within. The more the better, and even if they are small, the geodes still put out a lot of vibrational fields for you to work within!

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The Advantages and Disadvantages of Travelling Alone

One of the main purposes of travel is to gain experiences that allow us to grow and develop as individuals and it is important that people travel the way that bests suits them at a particular time. For example, I like to go on adventure holidays and this invariably includes a small group and expert guide, and I frequently participate in writing retreats around the world with like-minded people. However for me, the real joy of travelling has always been to take off on my own and just ‘see’ what comes along the way. Of course this can sometimes be fraught with frustrations, difficulties and even dangers.

Advantages of travelling alone

  • Freedom
    Most people who travel alone generally cite freedom as the great motivating factor: freedom to please themselves, go where and when they want, change their plans on a whim when they hear about something that is a ‘must’ to see, and to accept spontaneous invitations by locals.
  • No compromises
    This is associated with the previous point. Even if travelling with one other person, be it friend, colleague, lover or spouse, there will always be some compromises required. Not everyone has the same interests or the same energy levels, some people need to be emotionally supported all the time, others are apathetic, some have different attitudes to time. With solo travel, there is no peer pressure over finances, the unspoken need to divide up restaurant bills equally, or guilt trips when you want to go off on your own for a while.
  • Meeting people
    Travelling solo does not mean that you will always be alone. In fact, it allows you to meet more people because other tourists and locals find an individual traveller more approachable than those in a tightly-knit group. Also, people in groups have very little need to reach out to others for communication. I have met more people, had more interesting conversations and invitations and made more long-term friends while eating alone in foreign restaurants or sitting alone at bars. But then I am gregarious. Travelling alone allows you to choose the people you wish to spend time with rather than having to face the day-after-day annoyances of the inevitable clowns and whingers found in any large group.
  • Discoveries
    There is a real sense of discovery involved in travelling on your own, and that includes self-discovery. You don’t have to rely on an often ill-informed guide to lead you around on a leash, and there’s the surprise and thrill when you find something you weren’t expecting, like the time I became lost and ended up in a small Bavarian village with a monastery that contained a library with tens of thousands of Medieval manuscripts. Travelling alone allows you to discover more about yourself as you overcome simple challenges such as missing a bus or boat and realizing there is no other for a day or a week. Then there is the sense of achievement when solving much more challenging problems like finding yourself lost in a strange town at midnight or running out of money on a holiday weekend with no ATM in sight and the banks closed.

Disadvantages of travelling alone

  • The single supplement
    For those who like to stay in decent hotels, there is the unfair single supplement that can add thousands to the cost of your trip.
  • Lack of help
    There is no one to watch your luggage while you go to the restrooms at airports or train stations, no one to help with persistent touts, no one to be there for you if you get sick or if you are being stalked or harassed by a determined male in the street.
  • Photos
    There are times when I would like to have had more taken of myself in certain places, but there again, there are always people willing to snap one or two for you.

I know there will be times in the future when I will travel as part of a group out of choice because I want to visit areas where it is just not possible or sensible for a woman alone, or because I wish to be with family or like-minded people. However, due to my particular personality traits, my preference is to travel alone. I guess it really doesn’t matter how people travel, but that they travel.

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BCIN? Difference Between Designer, Architect and Engineer According to the Ontario Building Code

As I meet with new clients and friends every day, I commonly hear the same questions “What is a BCIN?” “When is a BCIN required?” etc. Here is some clarification to the public on some important issues about choosing a company to provide you with plans. Please note that this information applies only in the Province of Ontario.

What is a BCIN?

A BCIN stands for ‘Building Code Identification Number’. This number is assigned by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs & Housing, to successful applicants who have completed the requirements outlined in Division C Section 3.2 of the Ontario Building Code. There are two distinct types of BCIN number, individuals & firms. Individuals are people who have completed the exams and have received a BCIN from the MAH; however, they do NOT carry any insurance. As a result this limits the types of projects that the person can do. Firm BCIN’s on the other hand MUST carry valid liability insurance, and depending on the amount of designs fees that a firm charges in a year will dictate the required amount of insurance coverage they must have. Insurance is expensive but it is there to protect you so avoid working with companies who do not have it. For most people, a home is your single largest asset; do you really want to get plans from someone without insurance?

How do I know if I am choosing a registered company?

The Ministry of Municipal Affairs & Housing maintains a database of all registered BCIN holders. The registry is available through a system called QUARTS. Once on the Public Registry, this system allows you to search by the individual’s name, the company’s name or the BCIN #. Once you have found a business or individual, it will bring you to a page with details on the company. It lists the mailing address of the business & contact details. At the bottom it should also show the Registration as ‘Registered Designer’ and the Status as ‘Current’. If it shows up as ‘lapsed or expired’ then this means that they either do not have valid insurance for that year, or that they are late in filing their paperwork.

Do I need an architect or engineer for my project?

Probably not! There have been massive changes to the system in the last few years, opening the doorway for a new title; designers. Architects & Engineers are NOT required for any project less than 600m² (6,458 sq.ft.) and less than 4 storeys. For most residential and small commercial projects, you do NOT need an architect or an engineer. However, and this is important, if the project involves severe structural modifications, an engineer may be requested by the municipality to review the plans. On this note, there is a BCIN exam which will supersede this requirement! If your design company is a registered company in the Category of ‘Building Structural’ then they can complete the plans.

When do I need a BCIN ‘stamp’ for my project?

Depending on the type of project you may or may not need a BCIN number on your drawings. You do not need a BCIN number if the project relates to the construction of a house that is owned by the person who produces the drawings or if it relates to a farm building less than 3 storeys. There are a few other instances, but these are probably the two most important. Often I hear homeowners ask for just the drawings to submit for permit (no stamp). This is allowed, but as the homeowner you must be knowledgeable of the drawings (after all, you are claiming that you have produced them). It is okay to admit to the municipality that you hired someone to draw them for you, but at the end of the day you will be responsible to ensure that the drawings meet code. If the city has approved your building permit based on the drawings and you proceed to build your project to the drawings only to later find out that there is a problem, you will be on the hook to make any necessary adjustments to pass inspection. Most companies will charge from $200 to $2000 for the use of their BCIN number on the drawings. This may seem expensive but it is the security blanket that will keep you safe and ensure that your drawings meet code! I also personally apply for the permits and handle all the paperwork on my client’s behalf when I charge this fee; which most people prefer as nobody likes to stand in line for half a day to submit paperwork to the City.

I hope that this will help to clarify any questions you may have had regarding the requirements of having someone produce building permits for your project. I look forward to working with you, and if you have any questions then please don’t hesitate to ask!

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Books Set in Australia – Five Novels to Read Before You Travel

A trip to Australia is one that offers endless variety – you could spend your time partying in Sydney, you could make an adventurous journey to the Outback, or you could wallow in the many wineries on offer in several Australian states. Australia is a big country and unless you have months to spend there, you are going to have to make some decisions on how best to spend you time. To help you do that, here are some books set in Australia – five novels depicting different aspects of Australian life and history.

'The Secret River' by Kate Grenville

A story of Australia's beginnings, William Thornbill and his wife Sal are sent from London to the fledgling colony of New South Wales in the early 1800's. After some time in Sydney (very different from the Sydney of today!) They decide to try their luck on some land Will has set his eye on along the Hawkesbury River. The challenges they face from their environment, the local Aborigines and fellow settlers reminds us of how harsh the country was for those who decided to make it their home. There are some magnificent descriptions of the landscape as seen by an outsider, and the books gives a 'warts and all' look at the impact of settlement on Australia's indigenous peoples.

'A Town Like Alice' by Neville Shute

While the first part of this novel is set in the Malayan jungle during WWII, what follows is a story that brings you to rugged, country Australia. If you want to know what life was like in a small outback town (more of a hamlet really) in the 1940's and 50's then this novel gives you a good idea. You are subject to the harshness of the landscape and the incredible distinctions involved, as Englishwoman Jean Paget travels to the heart of Australia to find a man she met whilst captured by the Japanese in Malaya. The language and attitudes, particularly in relation to Australia's Aborigines, are true to their time and should be taken as such. But it gives a good indication of the realities of life in rural Australia, something which is still a strong cultural impact on Australians today.

'Breath' by Tim Winton

From the desert to the sea now in this novel by one of Australia's most respected writers. This novel is set in Australia's south-west corner, at a time when the area was more of a home for the logging industry than for the tourists and vineyards of today. Set mainly in the 70's, this is a coming-of-age story about teenager Bruce as he seeks to overcome the boredom of country life with some high risk activities – like surfing off what can be a dangerous and deadly coastline, and developing a Dark friendship with an older woman. As Bruce begins to grow up, both emotionally and sexually, we are grateful to some of the most poetic and exhilarating descriptions you will ever find of the 'religion' that is surfing. And you too, will feel as if you have explored the rugged and beautiful coastline of this part of the country.

'Bad Debts' by Peter Temple

Peter Temple is one of Australia's leading crime writers, and this novel is our introduction to his hero Jack Irish. – an inner-city Melbourne solicitor with a love of Australian Rules Football, gambling, and part time cabinet-making. This is Melbourne in winter, complete with its rain, pubs and shady underworld. Irish has barely been sober for a number of years after one of his dodgy clients murdered his wife, and now Danny, another former client, needs his help. But when Danny is killed, Irish discovers there are plenty of the city's political elite who would like the past to remain undisturbed, and he is determined to get to the truth. Temple's novels may not give you 'sun and sand', but you will be treated to as much genuine Australian vocabulary and city sub-culture as you can handle.

'Summerland' by Malcolm Knox

And finally to Sydney, and a novel that explores the life of the city's idle rich. Four young Sydneysiders have been friends since they were teenagers, and living around the city's northern beaches they have the world at their feet. They form two couples and spend every Christmas at Palm Beach, a popular holiday location for the affluent. But despite all this, their friendship is based on lies, as Richard finds out when he learns of the long-running affair between his wife and his best friend. If you'd like an insight into a live of the privileged few in Sydney, then this novel will take you there.

These novels are just a taste of many books set in Australia, but they are well worth reading in the lead-up to your travels or on the plane. Immersing yourself in a novel about the place you are going to will not only give you an insight into the place itself, but it will whet your appetite for your travels ahead, making it far more enjoyable once you get there.

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The Pros and Cons of Discount Travel Clubs

If you love to travel, but can not seam to do it as often as you would like, you should consider looking into a good travel club.

My wife LOVES to travel the world as I am sure many of you do, but it was always so expensive. I am here to tell you, it does not have to be.

This is how travel clubs work.

When you think about it owning a resort property is just like any other business. They need a steady flow of customers to be profitable. Their unique challenge is, they also need a consistent flow of customers preferably evenly spaced through the entire year other many issues start to become problems for them. To many customers all at once is lost business, probably to your competition. Not enough customers means empty rooms and lost business and revenue, which makes staffing as well as many other things VERY difficult.

The challenge is to keep a steady flow of customers, preferably even spaced all year long. But how do they do that?

One way resort owners have discovered to help with this is by affiliating with travel clubs to offer club members unreserved rooms at deep discounts. This helps keep a steady flow of customers all year long, and helps the owner keep a properly staffed business running.

Think about it from their perspective, would you rather have an empty room and NO income, and have a staff to pay with no customers to serve or income being produced? Or, to keep a good quality staff busy, have customers that may only be paying enough to cover your expenses with little or no profit?

It does not take long as a business owner to figure out that "when possible" you sell at full price, when necessary you take a discount and less profit, and when push comes to shove at least cover expenses to avoid taking a loss.

Even taking some loss is acceptable if it helps with staffing issues, inventory, food shelf life, advertising, budgeting, exposure and many other business issues. As long as it is not the norm, obviously.

Now, keep in mind, all travel clubs are NOT created equal.

The owner of the travel club is also doing business. He wants to provide his members with an attractive offer to build membership, but also wants to make money in HIS business, which IS the travel club. If the owner is more concerned about profit, than they are about giving value to their members, that club has a limited future.

The saying that just popped into my head was "It is better to have a little bit of something, than a whole lot of nothing."

The resort owners are constantly negotiating transactions (level of discount) with hundreds of travel club owners.

The owner of a particular travel club may have negotiated with the resort owners the best prices for his club, but if he is trying to make to much profit with his travel club, his members would not be getting the best deals!

It is very hard to negotiate regardless, without something the other party wants. Therefore, the more members you have in your club the easier it is to negotiate great deals. But getting lots of members is no easy task in itself.

The most successful travel club owner has figured out how to build a large following (with minimal cost) so they have the leverage to negotiate great deals other clubs can not, but because of their low overhead they can pass most of the savings along to Their members.

We all know that the BEST form of advertising is, word of mouth. As luck would have it, it is also the least expensive. (Free) So, if you (as a club owner) were to pay your current members (for new memberships) to advertise by word of mouth or however they choose, and generate members for you just by telling potential members about your club and the Huge savings they had received, you would have a growing membership with minimal expenses, therefore, you could pass dramatic savings on to your members which in turn would help generate more members more easily and get better discounts.

As I stated earlier, not all travel clubs are created equal, just as with any other business. You must do your research to find a club that offers a large inventory of locations, at deep discounts to its members, without charging too much for their membership. That travel club will continue to grow in size and value, and provide you with a lifetime of deeply discounted travel for minimal cost so you can travel the world and enjoy what the world has to offer.

Travel clubs can be a great opportunity to save your hard earned money. Just make sure you do your research and find the right one, otherwise you are not going to get the most value possible for your money.

Good luck, and I'll see you on the beaches of the world.

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10 Reasons Why People Travel

When people decide to leave the comforts of their home and venture to other locations there is usually a reason behind it. Whether the cause to travel was a last minute whimsy or had an actual purpose, it makes one think about all of the reasons why people travel. Reflect on the last time you left your location and ventured to another one. Did it have a purpose behind it? Let’s look and see if your motive to travel matched any of the one’s listed below. These are not listed in any particular order.

1. Romance- There are thousands of people who are involved in long distance relationships. At some point though, they need to see each other. For the sake of love, people will travel for hours to spend as much time as they can with the love of their life.

2. Relaxation- All work and no play is not a good thing. People need to get away from the stress of everyday life, and a nice sunny location with a beach might just be what the doctor ordered.

3. Family/ Friends -Many people have family/friends that are located in different parts of the world. They need to visit with them even if it’s for a short period of time.

4. Religion- There are places in the world that hold religious importance for many people. Religious travel is often related to a purpose such as seeing where the last pope was buried, or traveling to the town where Jesus was born.

5. Death- A relative, friend or acquaintance has passed away and travel is required to attend the funeral which is located out of town.

6. Honeymoon- You’re getting married and are going somewhere special to celebrate. This usually occurs right after the wedding, but there are many occasions where people celebrate a honeymoon years later.

7. Education-You’re getting your education somewhere other than where you live or you are going away on an educational school trip.

8. Celebration- Wedding, Anniversary, Birthday, Birth- There’s always something to celebrate and it doesn’t always happen where you live.

9. Medical/Health- Sometimes the treatment you need isn’t available in the city/town where you live. Often the best medical care is costly and requires travel to receive it.

10. Work- Job requirements might mean a fair bit of travel is involved. Even if the travel is within your own country it still has a purpose attached to it.

Overall, traveling can be a wonderful experience or it can be draining, expensive and just plain torture. Nonetheless if you need to go then embrace it for what it is, and try to make the best of it even if it wasn’t planned.

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