Avoid these five insurance pitfalls.. (and still save money)

When purchasing car, house, flood, or renters insurance, avoid these mistakes. It feels great to save money. And searching around for insurance coverage is an excellent method to accomplish this. However, just decreasing your coverage or skipping critical coverages completely is like to going on a diet without exercising—all it's about the numbers, not the benefits. Don't risk being severely underinsured and facing much larger expenditures in the case of a disaster.

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The five most frequent car, house, flood, and renters insurance mistakes, as well as tips for avoiding those problems while still saving money (we call them "better ways to save"), are as follows:

  1. Insuring a home for its real estate value rather than for the cost of rebuilding.
    When real estate prices go down, some homeowners may think they can reduce the amount of insurance on their home. But insurance is designed to cover the cost of rebuilding, not the sales price of the home. You should make sure that you have enough coverage to completely rebuild your home and replace your belongings—no matter what the real estate market is doing.
    A better way to save: Raise your deductible. An increase from $500 to $1,000 could save up to 25 percent on your premium payments.
  2. Selecting an insurance company by price alone.
    It is important to choose a company with competitive prices. But be sure the insurer you choose is financially sound and provides good customer service.
    A better way to save: Check the financial health of a company with independent rating agencies (some well-known ones: A.M. Best, Moody's), and ask friends and family members about their experiences with insurers. Select an insurance company that will respond to your needs and handle claims fairly and efficiently.
  3. Dropping flood insurance.
    Damage from flooding is not covered under standard homeowners and renters insurance policies. Coverage is available from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), as well as from some private insurance companies. You may not be aware you’re at risk for flooding, but keep in mind that 25 percent of all flood losses occur in low risk areas. Furthermore, yearly weather patterns—spring runoff from melting winter snows, for example—can cause flooding.
    A better way to save: Before purchasing a home, check with the NFIP to determine whether a property is situated in a flood zone; if so, you may want to consider a less risky area. If you are already living in a designated flood zone, look at mitigation efforts that can reduce your risk of flood damage and consider purchasing flood insurance.
  4. Only purchasing the legally required amount of liability for your car.
    The minimum is just that—the least you can get away with by law. So buying only the minimum amount of liability means you are likely to pay more out-of-pocket later. And if you are sued, those costs can jeopardize your financial well-being.
    A better way to save: Consider dropping collision and/or comprehensive coverage on older cars worth less than $1,000. The insurance industry and consumer groups generally recommend a minimum of $100,000 of bodily injury protection per person and $300,000 per accident.
  5. Neglecting to buy renters insurance.
    A renters insurance policy covers your possessions and additional living expenses if you have to move out due to an insured disaster, such as a fire or hurricane. Equally important, it provides liability protection in the event someone is injured in your home and decides to sue.
    A better way to save: Look into multi-policy discounts. Buying several policies with the same insurer, such as renters, auto, and life will generally provide savings.