The typical consumer shops around for insurance when they first need it, such as when they purchase a house or vehicle. After that, preliminary research into various kinds of coverage, pricing, and insurance product packages tends to be more of a passive strategy. When it’s time to pay the premiums or file for a claim they may reconsider the terms of their coverage, but otherwise they just hang on to the same insurance policy year after year without giving it much thought or attention.
As a result, millions of people wind up paying too much for their insurance or they buy policies that don’t provide them with adequate coverage. Only when an accident happens or tragedy strikes do they find out that the insurance they’ve had for all those years was not exactly appropriate or that it was seriously out of date and not in-synch with their current needs and lifestyle.
Let’s look at three key reasons why everyone should monitor their insurance, at least on an annual or twice-per-year basis, in order to avoid unpleasant surprises and unnecessary costs.
#1 Replacement Value vs. Actual Value
First of all, you need to know the relationship between your coverage and the value of what you want to protect. You need to understand whether your policy reimburses Replacement Cost Value (RCV) or Actual Cash Value (ACV) in order to determine that. The following should help:
- RCV provides replacement of lost or damaged goods with comparable items at current market value. ACV, on the other hand, provides compensation based on the depreciated value of those items. In other words, it’s what the item is worth after wear and tear and loss of market value over time has been factored into the equation.
- If you insure your outdoor kitchen when you install it, for example, and five years later you file a claim after it is destroyed by fire, RCV coverage should provide enough money to replace it with a similar one.
- ACV coverage, by contrast, would subtract or depreciate the amount the kitchen has lost in value over the past five years and then give you that significantly smaller amount. Considering the fact that construction materials and labor costs are constantly raising, you may wind up with only a fraction of what you need to actually rebuild and replace that facility.
The advantage of RCV is that coverage allows for full replacement of damaged or lost items, and the downside is that this kind of coverage will normally cost more than ACV insurance. If you want to save money, buy a policy that offers ACV coverage and if you are more concerned with protecting your assets, choose RCV.
#2 Items Not Covered
Another major pitfall many homeowners accidentally stumble into is that they incorrectly assume that their property is covered. You buy a pricey new laptop, Rolex watch, or iPhone and are confident that your existing insurance policy will cover it. Those high-ticket items are typically not covered by a standard homeowner’s policy, however, and neither are a long list of other items including fine art, gold coins, antiques, firearms, musical instruments, and many kinds of consumer electronics. Similarly, if you own a collectible automobile such as a vintage sports car, you will probably need to buy a special policy to insure it.
You need to talk to your insurance agent and tell them what items of special value you own in order to make sure your assets are adequately covered. Insurance companies will insure almost anything for a price, but you will likely need to purchase additional coverage for your most expensive and cherished possessions.
#3 Hazards Not Covered
Another kind of liability relates to your responsibilities as a homeowner, as outlined in the fine print of your rather incomprehensible insurance policy. Did you know, for instance, that if a tree falls on your house and the insurance company determines that the tree was diseased or already dead, that you may not be covered? Worse still, one of those 1,000 pound limbs could fall on your neighbor’s house or car. If the limb was rotting, however, the insurance company may say that it was your fault because you did not properly maintain the tree.
Since you did not trim those rotten limbs or cut down that weak tree, the liability may be all yours to shoulder, because you may have violated the terms of your policy related to home and property maintenance. All sorts of calamities can be uninsured if you don’t know the details of your policy. Some homeowners have been dropped by insurance companies because of the breed of dog that they own and keep around the house. Others have had their houses destroyed by fire or flooding, only to find that they lack coverage because they did not follow the rules regarding things like updated electrical wiring or building a house in a flood plain, for example.
Do an Annual Insurance Checkup
The bottom line is that you should review your coverage at least once a year. Talk to your agent or broker, and find out what deductions you qualify for and if you can save money by raising your deductibles or tweaking your coverage. Ask them specific questions to make sure you know what’s covered and what isn’t. Don’t assume that your valuable assets are protected unless it is clearly spelled out in the legal language of your current policy. Also, when insurance companies send updates to your policy, pay attention to those and review them in great detail. They may include new exclusions that will leave you underinsured.
Tom Kerr writes for CompareWallet.com in addition to others. He has been an avid writer for years, even winning awards for work he’s done.