Choosing The Right Deductible

A deductible is the amount of money a policyholder must pay out-of-pocket toward damages or a loss before their insurance company will pay for a claim. You do not actually pay your deductible to your insurance company like you would a premium or bill. If you file a claim and it is covered, the deductible is subtracted from the amount claimed. For example, say you have a $500 deductible and you file a claim for $10,000. Your insurance company would pay you $9,500 for that claim.

There are generally two types of deductibles: a dollar-amount and a percentage based. The difference between them is how your deductible is calculated, and there are a couple of nuances depending on how much your home is valued at. Once calculated, the amount a homeowner pays if they file a claim is fixed for the length of that policy.

Your home insurance deductible should be as high as you can reasonably afford because the higher your deductible, the lower the cost of your premium. Raising your deductible can reduce the cost of your homeowners insurance premium as much as 20%, but that does not mean you should raise your deductible as high as possible.

When choosing a deductible, what you’re really doing is balancing the short-term cost you can afford (your deductible) and the long-term cost of a policy (your premiums). The more you can afford in the short-term, the more you’ll save in the long-term because your premiums will be lower. Insurance companies design the products this way to encourage homeowners to assume more of their own risk and to reduce administrative costs for small claims. For example, the premiums would be higher for a policy that has a $500 deductible versus a $1,000 deductible because the policyholder elected to assume greater financial risk. They would have to pay $1,000 toward a claim instead of $500 if they had to file one.

There are other reasons it makes sense to raise your deductible. Every insurance company is different but typically if you file a claim for any amount, the cost of your premium will increase because you’ve essentially become a riskier and costlier homeowner to insure. And the more claims you file, the higher your premium will be. For that reason, there are circumstances in which even if you have a low deductible, it might not be in your best financial interest to file a claim.

For example, say you have a $500 home insurance deductible. If wind destroys a small part of your roof and causes $1,000 in damages, you probably shouldn’t file a claim if you can afford to pay for the damages out-of-pocket. Yes, you could have your insurance company cover the $500 after your deductible but the cost of your premium might increase. That increase might be small or large, depending on the amount claimed and especially the number of claims you’ve made. If you file multiple claims, the cost of your premiums could go up as much as 25% or more and you never know what what the future holds. After the small wind damage, hail could destroy your roof entirely and a tornado could damage your home a month later. All of a sudden you haven’t made it through the spring of one calendar year and you’ve already filed three claims. So if you’re in a financial position to consider paying for small damages or losses out-of-pocket, then you should increase your deductible and lower your monthly premiums. If you remain claim-free for usually three years, companies can lower your premium rate.

Keep in mind that many insurance companies offer a one-time discount to customers who have never filed a home insurance claim. The discount might lower the cost of a standard policy anywhere from 5 to 20% depending on the company. If you file a claim and negate that discount, the cost of your premium will increase.

You should also keep in mind your emergency or available funds with an eye toward paying your deductible. While raising it can drop your rates, it should not do so at the cost of financial stress. Everyone should have a liquid emergency fund in the event of unpredictable circumstances. A homeowners insurance deductible might be one of those so consider what you you have saved for an emergency when choosing your deductible. At the same time, it’s not a good idea for your deductible to entirely wipe out the savings you’ve set aside for an emergency. You might need additional emergency funds at the time you have to file a homeowners insurance claim. For example, say a fire or tornado destroys half of your home and it is uninhabitable. Most homeowners policies also offer additional living expense coverage to take care of hotels bills, restaurant meals and other expenses. But what if you reach your limits for those expenses or need money for another emergency? If your deductible consumes your entire emergency savings, you might not have the money to cover those expenses.

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Is Ice Damage Covered?

In many parts of the country, winter is accompanied by snow and ice. And ice can cause a lot of headaches for homeowners. According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), one in every 55 insured homes has a claim related to water damage or freezing every year. Typical homeowners insurance policies include protection against ice-related damage, but there are some important things to keep in mind.

Hail

Hail can do serious damage to roofs and windows. Most homeowners insurance policies include dwelling coverage, which may help protect your home against specific perils, including hail and other ice-related losses. If hail damages a building on your property that’s not your home, such as a shed or unattached garage, it may be covered by other structures coverage, which is a component of some homeowners insurance policies. It’s important to keep in mind that insurance provides protection up to the limits indicated in a policy and that other policy restrictions or limitations may apply. Your insurance agent can provide you with information to help you choose levels of protection to fit your needs.

Roof Collapse

During the coldest months of the year, ice forming on your roof can cause serious problems. Roof collapse can happen when a roof can’t bear the weight of ice and snow. You may find that insurance may help cover the cost of replacing or repairing a damaged roof that is damaged by a collapse. If your house is uninhabitable after a roof collapse, homeowners insurance may also help cover living expenses, such as hotel bills, while your home is being repaired. Coverage limits and terms will apply, so be sure to check your policy to learn what it covers. Of course, no one wants to deal with a roof collapse. You may be able to prevent a situation like this by taking some preventative measures, such as cleaning gutters or clearing the roof of ice and snow as necessary. Consider hiring a professional if you’re concerned about safety or causing damage to the roof.

Ice Dams

Ice dams may result when ice forms on the edge of a roof and stops melting water from running off. When water gets backed up against the ice dam, it may leak through the roof and cause water damage. Dwelling coverage may help protect your home if an ice dam causes a loss. Personal property coverage provides coverage for named perils only and does not generally provide protection for ice dam situations.

You may find that homeowners insurance doesn’t cover ice dam removal, but resulting water damage to the dwelling is typically covered. And again, even if a loss is covered, policy terms and limits will apply. Check your policy to learn about what protections you have in place and talk with your agent to help determine whether you may benefit from additional coverage. Keep in mind that some routine maintenance may help you avoid this kind of damage. The III advises watching gutters for ice dams and keeping gutters clean so water can flow freely.

Frozen and Burst Pipes

Homeowners insurance may help cover damage to homes from burst, leaking or frozen pipes. However, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners warns that frozen pipes may not be covered if a proper temperature wasn’t maintained inside the house. Check your policy limits and terms to see how much coverage you have for burst pipes.

Injuries on Ice

Ice on the ground can be dangerous and sometimes hard to see. What happens if a visitor falls on ice on your property, suffers an injury and sues you? Liability coverage typically comes with homeowners insurance. This type of coverage may help protect you if you’re found legally responsible after a visitor is injured on your property. For example, liability coverage may help cover a person’s medical bills or lost wages if they’re injured. It may also help cover your legal costs.

Like other types of coverage, liability coverage has limits and conditions, and legal claims can be very expensive. If you’re concerned you may not have enough liability coverage, talk to your insurance agent about a personal umbrella policy, which can offer additional protection. As you prepare for another chilly winter, your local insurance agent can help you understand the specifics of your policy and provide you with information to help you make any necessary changes. You may not be able to escape the cold, but you can pass the months with the peace of mind that comes with knowing you have protections in place, just in case.

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After a Claim

After a claim has been filed, and if you filed the claim yourself, your work is not finished. You have to be diligent when filing a claim in a water loss, or any loss for that matter, because you want to be sure you’re getting what you deserve.  Here’s a short list of things to do after a claim has been filed:

Reviewing the Claim Process

After you’ve reported the claim, the following steps will take place:

  • The loss report is assigned a claim number and assigned to a claims handler.
  • A property adjuster will contact you to confirm the facts of the loss. This may include an inspection of the damaged property. The adjuster will then determine if coverage applies, and, if so, evaluate the damages.
  • After the claim is initiated, the adjuster or claims handler will check on the progress of the claim and make every effort to efficiently complete the process. Some claims can be settled quickly. Others—especially those involving severe damages—may take longer.

Keeping Track of the Details

To help stay organized and involved, you may want to maintain a file regarding your homeowners insurance claim/loss that includes the following:

  • Customer’s name as it appears on the policy
  • Policy number
  • Claim number
  • Claim handler or adjuster’s name, mailing address, phone number and title
  • Estimates, correspondence and notes of phone conversations regarding the claims settlement

Keep this file with you. Wherever you talk to your homeowners insurance claims handler or adjuster—at home or at work—your documentation will help ensure the claim is processed in a timely, accurate manner.

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What is a Mold Rider?

Homeowners insurance covers mold if you purchase the coverage rider. In some states, the coverage is included automatically, and it is important to review this information with your insurance agent to properly verify it is accurate. Many states limit the amount of coverage offered for mold. Typically, an all-perils type policy provides coverage for mold unless it is specifically excluded or limited. You can find this information on the declarations page of your insurance policy. When purchasing a homeowners insurance policy, ask how much coverage the policy provides for mold.

Water Damage

Water damage claims and mold usually go hand in hand. For most insurance claims to be covered, the cause needs to be sudden and accidental. Mold damage from a pipe that has been leaking for years is likely going to be denied by your insurer. In the event of a water leak, it is important to address the problem as soon as possible. Many disaster cleanup companies are available 24/7 and take proactive steps to limit the possibility of mold growth. Additionally, these cleanup companies are usually covered by your insurance.

Mold damage caused by a flood is not covered under your homeowners policy. Flood insurance requires a separate policy issued through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or through a select number of companies that offer private flood insurance. Many consumers look at the final price of their homeowners policy to make a determination on which company to choose. Review all of your coverages, including a rider for mold, to ensure you are properly insured.

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Home Owner Insurance Tips – Part 3

Our final part concludes this look into Insurance Tips when dealing with your property.

6.  Don’t Wait – When buying a policy, make sure to ask about time limits to report a claim, and then abide by them! If you wait too long, you may not be eligible for benefits—especially if waiting has made the problem worse. David Baxter works for a residential and commercial restoration company in Florida, and he remembers a customer with water damage who waited almost a month to do anything about it.

7.  Document Everything – Senen Garcia, a lawyer in Coconut Grove, Fla., represents homeowners against insurance companies that fail to pay out on valid claims. He’s seen many denied claims because people don’t keep good enough records. “Homeowners must document everything that occurs during a loss, do as much as possible to mitigate [the loss]—and document such mitigation,” Garcia says. In addition to saving receipts, contracts and appraisals, document phone calls by writing down who you spoke to and when. And be sure to stow it in a secure place! Don’t want to invest in a safe? Consider keeping digital copies online using a program like Dropbox.

8.  Jewelry – When David Cohen lost his wife’s rings, he was relieved that his homeowner’s policy covered jewelry—but it was only up to a maximum of $3,000. “My wife gave me her rings to hold,” he says. “So I promptly put them in my jacket pocket … and then forgot about the rings when I took the jacket to the cleaners. As you can imagine, they were gone.” Within three weeks, the Cohens received a check from their insurance company, but they were still out a good deal of money because his wife’s engagement ring was worth $6,000 alone. The lesson? When signing up for homeowner’s insurance, note the limits on jewelry. “Most people don’t realize that things like wedding rings aren’t usually covered by the basic limits in their policies,” Derrick says. “You can get an appraisal at your jeweler, and then consider buying a supplemental policy to cover it.”

9.  When To File – A large section of Richard Clayman’s wooden backyard fence came down in a storm. “I didn’t think there was any way my homeowner’s policy would cover it—and my neighbors assured me that it wouldn’t,” he says. But he called his insurance company, just in case. “The agent asked how high (the fence was), what kind of wood it was and how much of it needed replacing. Next thing you know, I get a $700 check in the mail!” Theresa Roma has a similar story: A bad windstorm took roof shingles off her house, and she almost didn’t file a claim because it didn’t feel worthwhile. In the end, she received over $25,000 for a new roof. The obvious mishaps aside (fire, major flood, etc.), it can be beneficial to file a claim when in doubt, but Derrick cautions restraint. “Don’t file a bunch of frivolous claims,” she says. “The claims history for your property is also what determines your rates, so it’s better not to cry wolf, unless you have a real claim.” The repercussion if you file needlessly? A possible uptick in your premium.

10.  Good Maintenance Helps – Insurance companies would rather pay as little as possible to repair damage, so they prize early detection and prevention. Deacon Hayes and his wife paid for a routine checkup on their air conditioner because they live in Arizona and wanted to make sure that the system was ready for summer. “The specialist told us that the unit was on its last legs because of a hail storm,” Hayes recalls. Thanks to his diligence, Hayes’s insurance policy ended up paying for a new $4,000 A/C unit. One very important thing to keep an eye on is your water bill. If you notice an unusual spike or trend upward (and it’s not just because it’s 100 degrees outside, and you’re watering your lawn more), you could have a leak somewhere. Finding the source early could save you from dealing with a bigger headache when a major pipe bursts.

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Home Owner Insurance Tips – Part 2

Continuing where we left off on what insurance policies cover and don’t cover, we focus on shopping around, preventive actions and replacement coverage.  We’ll also use some actual examples of individuals who had differing experiences with their insurance companies and adjusters.

3.  Shopping Around – Before committing to a policy, take the time to research an agent whom you trust—preferably one with good reviews online or via a personal recommendation. It’s certainly something that Ramzy Ayyad, who struggled to receive benefits following a house fire in November 2008, recommends that prospective homeowners do. “I had to deal with a rude adjuster,” he says. After complaining assertively to the adjuster’s boss, Ayyad finally received a check for the damages—but the process was exhausting. By contrast, Terri Corcoran has nothing but glowing reviews for her adjuster. After a snowstorm caused a major leak in Corcoran’s laundry room, an insurance agent came to her home to assess the damage—and promptly determined that the entire room needed to be redone. “They wrote me a check on the spot for what it should cost,” Corcoran says. “I was really impressed by how the company responded!”

Bottom line? Don’t just shop for a policy. Make sure you also select the best agent.

4.  Preventive Actions – It may sound like common sense to have a working smoke detector, but did you know that it might also help you land a lower insurance quote? The same goes for a burglar alarm. You can reduce your premium by about 5% if you install something as a simple as a deadbolt, and up 15-20% for a burglar alarm system. Insurance companies price your premium based on how much risk they foresee, so you can reduce the premium by reducing your liability risk, thanks to some smart preventive measures. For example, if you have a pool, you may be able to reduce the likelihood of a claim—and thus, possibly lower your premium—by installing a fence and a pool cover to minimize the risk of a neighborhood kid wandering onto your property and falling in.

5.  Replacement Coverage – There are two key distinctions that every homeowner should know: “replacement cost” versus “market value.” Replacement cost covers repairing or replacing your entire home. Market value is how much someone would pay to buy your home and accompanying land in its current downtrodden condition. When you’re considering the type of coverage to take out, a policy that’s based on market value is typically less expensive but, as State Farm puts it, “for a cash-strapped homeowner, buying a policy based on market value offers the best chance to recoup at least partial expenses after a loss.” In other words, you won’t recoup as much in the event of a serious disaster. For those who have a good emergency fund in place, Derrick says that there is a way to possibly get more substantial coverage and still pay lower premiums: “You might consider getting a policy that covers more in terms of replacing or rebuilding your property, but with a higher deductible.”

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Home Owner Insurance Tips – Part 1

Insurance requires you to think about bad occurrences … medical problems, car accidents, emergency home repairs. But although it may sound pessimistic to dwell on what could happen, it’s important to protect yourself from some of life’s biggest surprises. When it comes to protecting your home, it’s not just about safeguarding against structural damage or theft—it’s just as much about feeling secure in where you live. If disaster strikes, your focus should be on reclaiming your sense of stability. The last thing you should worry about is money.  Here’s what you should know.

  1.  What It Covers – A typical policy will pay for damage to your property and your possessions in the event of certain storms, fire, theft or vandalism. Like renter’s insurance, it also provides liability coverage if someone gets hurt on your property and decides to sue. Homeowner’s insurance also covers shelter costs, so you don’t have to face crazy hotel bills if you’re temporarily displaced from your house. Homeowner’s insurance can protect belongings outside the home, too. If something is stolen from your car, auto insurance won’t cover it—but your homeowners policy likely will. Most policies will cover your belongings when they are traveling with you. If you have a $1,200 laptop and it gets lost by the airline, call your insurance agent—right after you file the claim with the airline, of course.
  2. What It Doesn’t Cover – A standard policy has exclusions, including earth movements (landslides, earthquakes, sinkholes), power failure, war, nuclear hazard, government action, faulty zoning, bad repair or workmanship, defective maintenance and flooding. Windstorms are typically covered, including tornadoes, although insurance companies exclude tornadoes or hurricanes in some high-risk areas. Water damage is tricky. As a rule of thumb, water from above (rainwater or a burst pipe in an upstairs apartment) is usually covered, but water from below (backed-up sewers or ground flooding) generally isn’t. If your region is prone to floods and earthquakes, you should consider supplemental coverage.

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Check Back for Part 2 & 3