This post is from staff writer April Dykman.
As a new homeowner, I recently had to buy a homeowners insurance policy. And as a personal finance writer, I tried to take my own advice and “shop around.”
To be honest, it was a pain, and the rates I was getting on my own were way too high. Maybe it wouldn't have been so bad if I wasn't also trying to close on a house. In the end, I found an independent insurance agent, and she saved me hundreds of dollars and lots of headaches.
But I also learned that there were things I could do to help her keep my premium low year after year. For instance, I had planned to install an ADT security system, which I later learned would lower our premium.
So if you're in the market for a new policy, here are six ways to make sure you're getting the best possible rate:
1. Make sure you aren't over-insured.
Being under-insured can be a big problem when disaster strikes. But being over-insured means you're wasting your hard-earned moolah. So the ideal situation is to have just the right amount of coverage. So how do you do that?
Review your policy when it's up for renewal each year. Specifically, make sure to review any floaters, which are extra insurance for items not fully covered in a standard homeowner's policy. Examples include things like expensive electronics or equipment, valuable jewelry and artwork. If you no longer own the item or if its value has lowered, cancel or reduce the floater.
2. Reconsider your deductible.
A deductible is the amount of money you have to pay before your insurance policy kicks in and pays the claim. And the lower your deductible, the higher your insurance premium. According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), today most insurance companies recommend a deductible of $500 or more. But if you can afford to raise your deductible to $1,000, you could save as much as 25 percent. And, advises the III, don't forget that you might have more than one kind of deductible. For instance, if you live in a disaster-prone area, like one prone to windstorms, hail or earthquakes, your insurance policy may have a separate deductible those specific types of damage.
3. Clean up your credit report.
Like it or not, when it comes to insurance, your credit report is up for grabs. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), states that insurance companies have a “permissible purpose” to look at your credit information without your permission. And since insurers have found that credit history is a reliable predictor of how risky someone is to insure, they use that information to determine whether or not to offer you a policy, as well as how much to charge for your premium.
So besides all the other important reasons to monitor your credit report, doing so can also yield you a lower premium on your home insurance, or at least prevent your premium from going up. And be sure to order copies of your credit reports once per year, since you can be sure insurers are checking it before you renew. For instance, a 2007 report by the Arkansas Insurance Department found that in 2006, a total of 457,982 policies in the state were written or renewed that involved the use of credit as one of the factors weighed in determining the premium. Of those, 32.3 percent resulted in the premium being decreased, and 9.2 percent resulted in the premium being increased. In the remaining 58.5 percent, credit was a neutral factor.
According to the III, in most states the insurance company has to advise you that they're raising your premium because of red flags on your credit report. But it's best to just check your credit on a regular basis and correct errors quickly to make sure your record is always accurate.
4. Make your home Fire Marshall Bill-proof.
Fire Marshall Bill was a Jim Carrey character on the sketch show In Living Color, and his safety lessons, which he demoed on himself, resulted in fires, explosions, and loss of limb.
You probably know better than to toss lighter fluid on a burning pipe, but you might not know about less ridiculous safety measures that could lower your insurance premium. Talk to your insurance agent or rep to find out if you can save money by doing things like:
Making your home more windstorm-resistant, such as adding storm shutters.
Updating your plumbing and electrical systems to reduce the risk of water and fire damage.
Increasing your home security with smoke detectors, burglar alarms or dead-bolt locks.
These aren't cheap updates, so make sure they'll lower your premium enough to make it worthwhile and that your updates will qualify for the discount. For instance, an insurer might have a list of qualifying alarm systems. Realistically, expensive updates like these aren't usually done solely to save crazy money on insurance premiums. They're typically things you want to do to make your home safer, or as Fire Marshall Bill would say, less “Dtuhhh-dthuhhh…DEADLY!”
5. Shop around every year.
We talked about this earlier, but really and seriously, you have to shop around if you want to make sure you're getting a great rate. Ask your network for recommendations, and check out the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (www.naic.org) for help finding an insurer in your area. Pay special attention to the consumer complaint information, since price isn't the only thing you want to consider when deciding on an insurer.
Or find an independent insurance agent, who shops around for you. Before finding my agent, my auto and home insurance quotes were in the $1,000-$1,300 range. Then I employed her services and she found a great policy from a reputable company for just $700. That's some serious savings.
And speaking of auto and home insurance…
6. Consolidate to save more.
Some companies that sell multiple types of insurance, such as homeowners, auto and liability, will knock a percentage off your premium if you buy two or more policies from them. It can save you anywhere from 5 to 15 percent, according to the III. Just make sure the combined price with a discount is actually lower than buying separate policies from different companies.
Readers, can you add anything to this list? How have you saved money on your home insurance policy?