What you can do
Don't wait for Washington. Try these tactics to lower your insurance bill now.
Challenge your flood zone. If your community participates in the federal flood insurance program, buy the coverage. As Oklahoma insurance commissioner Kim Holland says, "It floods anywhere it rains." In fact, a third of claims paid out by the national flood insurance program last year were in what were deemed low-risk areas.
But if you have flood insurance already, there's a chance you're paying too much in premiums. Flood maps are redrawn frequently, often putting homes that were in high-risk flood areas, where the premium can cost as much as $2,766 annually, into low- and moderate-risk areas, which have premiums between $119 and $1,385.
Your insurance agent could have missed this. To check your status, go to floodsmart.gov and insert your address - you'll see how much you should be paying.
If FEMA's site says your home is a high risk but you think it's not, you can file a petition to amend the flood maps. FEMA might rightfully judge that a wide area is at risk of a flood, but if your property has superior drainage or your home is built on high ground, FEMA can be persuaded to take your home out of the zone.
You'll have to pay a small filing fee and also spend a few hundred dollars to hire a surveyor to analyze your home's risk, but your premium could be cut in half if FEMA relents. To learn more about the process, go to the Homeowners/Renters page on FEMA's Web site.
Get a CLUE. Insurers keep a record of every burst pipe, broken window and cracked ceiling that is put in a claim (or sometimes even inquired about) on a home. They share the information with one another in databases, the largest of which is the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (CLUE).
If your home has a history of water damage or you've made several claims recently, any insurer could find out and might charge you extra. But as with credit reports, mistakes can creep into CLUE reports, unnecessarily driving rates up.
Luckily, the same act that makes free credit reports available to you every year also lets you get a free CLUE report. You can access yours at choicetrust.com. If you believe that your report contains errors, go to consumerdisclosure.com, a related Web site.
Don't over- (or under-) insure. Your policy should cover 100% of what it would cost to rebuild your home - not the home's value, which would include the land underneath it. That's why a $750,000 beach cottage on prime real estate might be insured for only $200,000.
Your insurance agent probably has a calculator that will give you a rough estimate, but if your home has historic detailing or unique materials, you might want to hire a builder to come to your home and give an estimate (given the state of the housing market, he's probably not doing anything anyway).
Also, ask if your insurer offers "guaranteed replacement" coverage, which protects you from runaway construction costs that can happen in the wake of a destructive hurricane.
Take a risk. Moving from a $500 deductible to a $1,000 deductible can save you about 20% on your premium. Your emergency fund should take care of small losses, so take the highest deductible that it can cover (leave room for a non-home-related emergency, since those happen too).
As an added bonus, having a higher deductible will also keep you from making frequent claims, which is one of the main factors behind rate hikes and dropped policies.
Don't be loyal. Some insurers give long-time customers up to a 10% discount, but that can pale in comparison with the savings from switching insurers.
At least once every two years, get a quote from another insurer (or more, if they are available) to see if your company still gives you the best deal, advises Mario Morales of MetLife Auto & Home. You can also get quotes from InsWeb.com or Insure.com.
If you've been forced to take a policy from the state-sponsored insurer, check even more often. In the past few years, some high-premium states like Florida and Texas have offered financial incentives to private insurers to get them to write more coastal policies, and some are doing it.
Keep good credit. Just as credit-card companies look at your credit score to determine your interest rate, insurance companies keep an insurance score (not publicly available) to estimate your likelihood of filing a claim.
Turns out, a lot of the stuff that keeps your credit score high also helps your insurance score. Pay bills on time, limit the number of credit cards you hold, and don't finance several major purchases at once to keep your score attractive.
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