If you've been hit by Hurricane Matthew, you're probably taking inventory of the damages. If you're not in a high-risk area, your homeowner's policy will most likely cover most of the damage caused by the hurricane's relentless gusts. Most policies cover damage from rain, wind, hail, lightning and other storm-related elements.
Even damages caused by vehicles slamming into homes (hopefully that didn't happen to yours), and vandalism and theft are usually covered, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III). So if you evacuated to a shelter and looters raided, you're likely covered.
"Hurricane Matthew's wind-caused property damage will be covered under most standard homeowner's, renter's and business insurance policies," said Michael Barry, vice president of media relations for the III.
But there are some things that might not be covered under your policy, at least not without extra coverage. Even if Mother Nature spared you, or you're a renter, it is still a good time to comb over the fine print of your insurance contract to see what might not be covered. It's likely time to update it and put aside some savings to cover the deductibles for the next blustery day. If you don't, you might be left in the lurch if you don't have enough coverage in your policy. No one wants to risk falling into debt or carrying a high balance on their credit card because of one stormy day.
"If a tree falls into your roof, or rips your roof off, and rain gets in your house, you're typically covered," said Nancy Kincaid, spokeswoman for the California Department of Insurance (CDI). But damage from rising water or surges typically need extra flood insurance. This is the biggest category that often gets overlooked. Hopefully you've got flood insurance from your carrier or from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). If you don't, damage from surges and rising waters to your home will likely not be covered by the average homeowner's policy unless you have additional flood insurance.
You might have another option, however. "If someone's home or business is flooded, and they did not have a FEMA NFIP policy covering their property, they will usually have to request financial assistance directly from FEMA (individuals) or the Small Business Administration [if they are a business owner]," said Barry.
If your car was the victim of a flood, it might be covered under your automotive insurance.
"Flooded cars are covered under standard auto insurance policies so long as the driver purchased comprehensive coverage, something nearly 80% of drivers nationwide choose to buy, even though it is an optional coverage," said Barry.
2. Your deductible
Hopefully, you've got enough savings to cover your deductible, which is usually at least several hundred dollars. In most cases, the deductibles are subtracted from the reimbursement you'll get. For windy storms, there are two kinds of wind damage deductibles: those that apply to damage specifically from hurricanes, and those that apply to any kind of wind damage, according to III. You'll need to find out how yours works, and talk with your carrier.
"In some states, policyholders have the option of paying a higher premium in return for a traditional dollar deductible. However, in high-risk coastal areas insurers may not offer this option, instead making the percentage deductible mandatory," according to the III website.
3. Expensive items
Pricey items such as jewelry and electronics might exceed your policy limits and need a separate policy, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners' (NAIC) website.
4. Damage caused by mold, sewer, drain backups & sump overflow
You might need to buy endorsements to cover damage like these, since most homeowner's policies offer limited or no coverage for these types of events, said NAIC's website.
5. If you're a renter
Most homeowner's policies have a gap in their coverage if the property is being used to make money, said Kincaid. So if you're renting, it's likely your personal items won't be covered under your landlord's policy, so unless you have a renter's insurance policy, you could be out of luck.
6. Damage from sinkholes
Some sources said they are caused by heavy rains. But you'll have to prove it, since many homeowner's policies have a gap when it comes to sinkhole coverage.
7. If the ground shifts during the storm & causes damage
In this case, engineers and possibly even seismologists will need to come to make an evaluation and determine what kind of shift it was, because things like landslides are rarely covered by insurance, said Kincaid, and earthquakes often require extra coverage. "If it's storm inundation, it's possible (that it will be covered)," said Kincaid.
8. Replacement costs vs. cash value
If you have a cash-value policy, that television you bought for $500 a few years ago might now only be worth $200 due to depreciation, and that's what you'll get. If you have a replacement cost policy, they'll likely reimburse you to replace it new.
"Replacement cost is the amount it would take to replace or rebuild your home or repair damages with materials of similar kind and quality, without deducting for depreciation," according the NAIC's website. "It is important to insure your home for at least 80% of its replacement value. Actual cash value is the amount it would take to repair or replace damage to your home after depreciation."
This is a tricky one, and it depends on where the tree falls. "In most states, if your neighbor's tree is blown down in a storm and it comes down in your yard, it is your responsibility to remove it," said Mark Huffman at Consumer Affairs, a consumer news and advocacy organization. Even if the neighbor's tree crushes your fence, it's your responsibility to remove it, said Huffman, but if it strikes and damages a building on your property, you can file a claim.
10. Wind damage if you're in a high-risk area
Some areas, like those along the coast, require extra coverage for wind damage.
11. Replacing your mobile home
If you own a mobile home and have a stated amount in your policy, that's the amount you'll receive if your home is destroyed, according to the III -- even if the replacement homes are much more expensive. (You may want to check with mobile home dealers to make sure your value is current.)
12. Identity theft
Thieves sometimes break into homes just to steal the information that's in your drawer, and insurance companies don't always cover the resulting problems. For this reason, it's a good idea to keep an eye on your credit after a storm for any signs of identity theft, such as a sudden drop in your score. (You can get a free snapshot of your credit report, updated every two weeks, on Credit.com.)
In the meantime, if you're you think you've been treated unfairly, you can contact your state's insurance regulator for advice. The regulator will also help you if you don't understand your policy's coverage.
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