The Ins and Outs of Flood Insurance
“I’m not in a flood zone, so I don’t need flood insurance.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that. Each time my reply is: “Well, that’s not exactly true.”
Most of the country is in some kind of a flood zone, a designation that indicates the area’s risk of flooding – some are just more severe than others. So, what does that mean for you as a homeowner? It means you are at risk of flooding, even if it hasn’t happened in your area in recent memory. And, it also means that you may want to consider buying flood insurance.
Here are five important things to know about a policy for flood coverage:
- It’s a separate policy. The typical homeowners insurance policy does not offer any coverage for flooding. None. But, you can likely purchase a separate flood policy through the National Flood Insurance Program. A few carriers in Florida also offer private flood insurance as an alternative. Your independent agent can help you find coverage in your area.
- Different flood zones have different flood insurance costs. The zone in which you reside will help determine your flood insurance costs, along with other factors. And, yes, the more severe the flood zone, the higher your insurance rates may be.
- Your lender may require it. If you purchase a house in one of the more severe flood zones, your lender will likely require you to carry flood insurance as a condition of your loan. If you purchase the home with cash or pay off your mortgage, it will be up to you whether or not you carry the coverage. Just be sure to discuss any major insurance changes with an independent agent first.
- Flood insurance is not just for coastal areas. Take, for example, the flooding just this year in West Virginia, Texas and Tennessee. It all goes to show that even if you don’t live near the coast, a flood could still devastate your area – and your home.
- What your policy covers will depend on the policy itself. Most people who buy flood insurance want dwelling and contents coverage. Be sure you understand what you’re buying and how much coverage you’ll have. An independent agent can help.
Keep in mind that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) periodically updates its flood zone maps. Even if you have flood insurance now, you may want to check whether it is still insuring you at the level you want. If you don’t have flood insurance and you think you could benefit from it, be sure to contact an independent insurance agent. Because flooding isn’t just a Florida thing.
Securing Your Important Documents and Treasures
Fall is about to arrive, so it is time for a little fall cleaning. While your cleaning out the closets and organizing the junk drawer, don't forget to revisit the important documents and other items you have in your home safe and/or safe-deposit box at the bank.
What documents do you need to keep? What can your shred? Are your valuable items properly secured?
Wait, what’s that? You don’t have a home safe? Or a safe-deposit box? Well, let’s look at why you may want to get one – or both – and what to keep inside.
Oftentimes these are well suited for safeguarding important documents and valuable things you access somewhat regularly, such as jewelry or watches. Keep in mind that while residential safes help protect against fire and theft, they often aren’t as robust as commercial models. For the best protection in a home safe, select a model that is heavy enough that a burglar couldn’t make off with it, and consider bolting it to the floor. Here are some of the things you may want to keep inside:
- Insurance policies and your agent’s contact information.
- Passports, original birth certificates and Social Security cards.
- Photocopies of passports, credit cards and driver’s licenses, in case they are ever lost or stolen from your purse or wallet.
- Tax documents and tax returns, from the past six to seven years.
- A list of your family’s medical information and contacts, including doctors, pharmacies and medications.
- Investment and banking documents, including billing contact information, as well as emergency cash.
- Heirloom and other valuable jewelry and watches.
- Wills and other important legal documents, including wills that list you as the executor.
- Computer backup disks or drives, or other small electronics you don’t use regularly.
- Safe-deposit box keys.
Speaking of safe-deposit boxes, are they an old-fashioned notion or something that’s worth your while? To answer that question, U.S. News & World Report recommends gathering everything you might want to store in a safe-deposit box and then determining whether you feel secure enough storing it all at home.
If not, a safe-deposit box may be a better, more secure option. A bank is more heavily guarded than your home, after all – against theft, fire and other disasters.
If you do decide on a safe-deposit box, here’s what you might want to keep in it:
- Originals of key documents, such as property deeds, car titles, etc.
- Valuable collections or family keepsakes that you don’t access very often.
- Pictures or videos from your home inventory to use for insurance purposes.
If not, store these items in your home safe. And, here’s what NOT to put in a safe-deposit box:
- Anything you may need to access quickly, such as passports, powers of attorney documents, etc.
- Cash. Not only will your money not earn interest in a safe-deposit box, it won’t be protected by FDIC insurance, either.
Remember, putting something in your home safe or a safe-deposit box is more secure than stashing it in your sock drawer, but it doesn’t guarantee anything, either. So, think about having document backups, as well as insurance for your valuable items.
After all, if something is valuable enough to lock up, isn’t it valuable enough to insure, too? Talk to your independent agent about your personal property coverage and about scheduling any high-value items, especially expensive jewelry and collectibles, separately.
Whether you’re just getting started in life or retiring and looking to downsize, a condominium is a great way to go.
You don’t have to worry about the yard, yet it’s your own property so you can paint the walls chartreuse and install grow lights for your man-eating plants if it makes you happy.
Because there’s a unit owner, but the common areas and larger building itself are under the control of the association, there are some unique insurance issues you need to be aware of.
Puerto Rico developed the first condominiums in 1948 with the passage of the Horizontal Property Act. Before that time, all owners in a condominium were obligated under each individual mortgage in the complex.
If one owner defaulted on his loan, then the mortgagee could foreclose on the entire condominium complex. Under horizontal property laws, individual ownership is split into horizontal planes that limit the unit owner’s interest to the inside of the unit. (Previously, ownership was seen as all the space from the center of the earth to somewhere in the air.)
This makes condominium ownership desirable, but confusing: If the insured owns only the unit, what about the hallways, outer walls, roof, foundation, plumbing, pipes and electrical? What about common areas? This is where condominiums get complex.
Most homeowners purchase a standard homeowners' insurance policy and rarely take the time to read it after they receive it from their agent.
They may skim it to determine what kind of coverage exists if their contents are lost or stolen, or if their hot water heater leaks, but most don’t give it a thorough review.
The Insurance Information Institute says that homeowners' insurance provides coverage for the structure and contents (personal belongings), and additional living expenses if the home is unlivable because of a covered disaster like a fire, as well as liability protection against lawsuits, damage or injury family members or pets may cause to others.
As a homeowner, you probably think you have a pretty good idea of everything that your insurance policy covers. You might be (pleasantly) surprised to find that the policy actually covers more than just the run-of-the-mill accidents.
Click here to see some examples of other coverages that may be available under your policy. Granted, every policy is different, so make sure to read your policy or talk with your insurance agent to verify what coverage actually exists.
The side of the road can be a lonely – and dangerous – place. Vehicles are zipping by at top speed, and you’re just sitting there with a flat tire, an empty gas tank or worse.
Roadside assistance coverage via your auto insurance policy may help get you going again. Just be sure to understand what your plan covers, and what it doesn’t, before you find yourself frustrated and stranded on the side of the road.
Here are five important things to know about roadside assistance to help you better understand the coverage:
- It’s a policy add-on: Your auto insurance likely doesn’t include roadside assistance coverage unless you added it to your policy for an extra but oftentimes nominal charge. It’s such a commonplace option nowadays that many independent agents recommend it, and many customers ask about it. However, it’s still possible to come away with a new car insurance policy that does not include roadside assistance. Sometimes it just gets overlooked, so be sure to check your policy and add the coverage, if you like.
- What you get depends on whom you get it from: Different carriers or auto clubs will offer different coverages with their roadside assistance plans. Oftentimes you’ll have assistance for:
- Fuel delivery.
- Battery jumpstart or boost.
- Flat tires.
- Mechanical breakdowns, including towing, if needed.
- Towing restrictions may apply: Your roadside assistance plan likely puts a cap on how far – and maybe even how often – you’ll be towed before incurring additional fees. If you break down in a remote area and require a lengthy tow, you may have to chip in for some of the cost. Check your policy for details.
- It’s not just for cars: All shapes and sizes of vehicles are typically eligible for roadside assistance plans. But, did you know that RVs, classic cars, motorcycles and even boats typically are, too? With classic car coverage, check whether your roadside assistance plan offers flatbed towing. For boats, coverage is typically available for your trailer and towing vehicle. Plus, your carrier may offer on-water assistance for such things as fuel delivery, towing and more for your watercraft. If so, this would be a separate option to add to your boat insurance policy.
- Supersize it: Standard roadside assistance oftentimes includes the coverages discussed above. But, what if you break down and have to spend a night or longer in a hotel while your car undergoes repairs? All of a sudden you have unexpected lodging expenses to cover, not to mention the cost of food and other necessities while you’re delayed. Standard roadside assistance likely won’t help you with these expenses, but an emergency assistance package or trip interruption coverage in addition to your roadside assistance plan may. Ask your independent agent about this enhanced coverage if you feel it’s right for you, whether for your car, RV, motorcycle or something else.
No one wants to end up on the side of the road – what a pain. But, as you’re sitting there wondering what to do next, it’s a relief knowing you added roadside assistance to your car insurance policy. Just grab your phone and dial your roadside assistance number, and help is on the way.
Stay Safe While Waiting for Roadside Assistance
If you experience any type of car trouble, turn on your hazard lights at once and do your best to pull all the way off the road and onto the shoulder, safely out of traffic’s way. Do this before calling for roadside assistance. Your vehicle emergency kit may help keep you comfortable and safe while you wait for help to arrive.