Thursday, March 26, 2020

Coronavirus effects on insurance

Coronavirus And My Insurance Policies

I know people are wondering if this pandemic will affect their home and auto policy premiums

It can, but it shouldn't

Your premium will most likely change at your next renewal, but that is common. There is no way to know exactly how the effects of this pandemic will affect premiums in the future. When companies lose money, they generally increase premiums to gain it back. But for now, your premium should stay the same unless you make changes, such as adding coverage.

My neighbor said I should lower my auto coverage

You may hear it is a good idea to lower your coverage on your auto policy since you won't be driving much for a while. I would caution against this. If you cancel the policy, it is illegal for you to drive- anywhere. If you lower your coverage and have an accident, you will pay much more out of pocket expenses for the damage. We do not know how long we may have to stay in our homes. We may need to drive because of an emergency. Think long and hard about the possible consequences before you make changes.

Can I still get a hold of my agent?

If you are looking for a new policy or need service work done, this should not be affected by the pandemic. Most insurance can be done by phone, fax and email. I know many agents have closed their office locations, but many of those have set up a way to work from home. If you don't get an answer when you stop by, call. If you don't get an answer when you call, email your agent. 

How is my carrier reacting to all of these changes?

Most of the carriers are working from home also. They have set up systems so their workers can answer phones and email from home. Many of them have offered payment deferrals for 30-60 days. This is for people directly affected by the coronavirus (loss of job or contracting the virus would qualify) But keep in mind, you will still have to pay your premiums eventually and you may have less time to pay it in, leading to higher payments you have to make down the road.

I know these are scary and uncertain times. I know many will have to make tough decisions. Whether your insurance is valid shouldn't be one of them!

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Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Roof coverage

Who Cares How Old My Roof Is?

   When quoting a home, one of the first questions we ask is, "How old is your roof?" Often the response is, "Why does it matter?" 

Why does it matter?

Roofing and foundation are the start and finish of your home. If one of them is damaged, the rest of the house is in danger as well. This is why insurance carriers are interested. If your roof is in poor shape, the chances of a claim are greater. Which is exactly what carriers want to avoid. Insurance is there to make you whole again in the case of a loss. But carriers do not want to have to pay claims. They will (if the loss is covered), but it costs them more money than you have paid them. So it isn't very cost effective for their bottom line. And trust me, while they are providing a very needed and valuable service, profit is a priority.

Why does it seem to be an issue in Texas?

   In Texas, we have storms, many, many storms. Texas has the most volatile weather of any state. We have wind, hail, tornadoes, hurricanes, even a few earthquakes! Your roof is the first line of defense for a home during a storm. It is the first part damaged, which leads to damage for the rest of the home. It is a huge risk to insure.
   Most carriers will send out inspectors to look at the home they are insuring. This is a business practice. They are not trying to find a reason to not insure your home. They are making sure your home is a risk they are willing to cover. Since they are the ones paying out thousands, possible hundreds of thousands, they do get to decide if they want to insure the risk. This inspection is not the same as the pre-sale inspection. I have seen the carrier inspection come back with a very different view of the home than the pre-sale inspection. The carrier's inspector results are the ones the carrier will use. The two inspections have different goals. The pre-sale inspector is there to evaluate the condition of the home for move in. The carrier's inspector is there to evaluate the RISK involved in insuring the home.  The most common issues found are fences and the roof. Thankfully, most carriers will give the insured 30-45 days to get the issue fixed or find another insurance policy. But if you don't repair the issue, you will most likely run into the same problem with the next carrier. 

Who decides if the risk is worth insuring?

   Sometimes, we run into customers who want to debate whether the carrier is right or not. I want to get this point across to the consumers out there. You can argue all you want. But in the end, it is the carrier who will have to cover the cost of replacing your roof or any other claim. They have the final decision as to whether or not they want to insure a risk. 
   This can be so frustrating to both the insured and the agent. Our goal, as agents, is to keep you insured. Your goal, as consumers, is to stay insured. We both need the carriers if we are to maintain our goals. Since they set the rules and guidelines, we are subject to those rules and guidelines. 

Who watches the carriers?

   The carriers are not out there setting whatever limits and premiums they want. Insurance is one of the most regulated industries. Each state has a Department of Insurance that governs what the carriers can and cannot charge, cover and pay out. So again- you can debate all you want, but the rules and guidelines are set long before you buy your insurance. The gray area lies in the hands of the carrier as to whether they will insure a risk. Now, whether they will pay a claim once they have agreed to insure your home is a different story (and a different post). 

When shopping for home insurance...

   When you are shopping for home insurance, be honest with your agent. Tell him/her about your claims history and the age and condition of the home. This will help the agent place you in the correct policy from the start. Different carriers allow different levels of risk. Some will require a different deductible amount if your roof is over 10 years old. Some will require a higher deductible for an older roof. Give your agent all of the details so he can offer you the most suitable choices. And if you recieve a cancelation notice because of conditions of your home, take it seriously. Either get it fixed or get with your agent and see if he/she can find you a different policy!

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Thursday, February 20, 2020

Do Trees Affect Your Foundation?

Should They Stay or Should They Go?

   I love trees. I climbed them as a child. I am amazed at their beauty as an adult. They serve a great purpose, both as something beautiful to admire and as a natural resource. Trees in a yard can make a house look fantastic. But trees can be dangerous to home. They need to be planted a certain distance from the home, depending on the tree and its root system. If you are planting a new tree or evaluating an existing tree in your yard, call an arborist. Do it right, or you can cause a major damage to your home's foundation.

   Trees can cause foundation damage in 3 ways:

1. Physical contact with your foundation.
2. Affecting the moisture content of the soil under or near your foundation.
3. Causing air gaps and shifting soil due to decaying roots under or near a foundation.

   Larger trees are a bigger concern with physical contact. Obviously, the larger the roots, the more damage may occur. The roots can extend more than 3 times the height of the tree. So if you have a 50 foot tree, it's roots may grow out to 150 feet away from the tree. The proximity of the tree to your house can make a huge difference. A good gauge is if your tree has limbs near or over your home, its roots are probably growing under your foundation. If you have a Pier and Beam foundation (usually found in older homes), this is less of a concern. Slab foundations sit on the soil and is more easily affected by root pressure.

   Trees can affect the moisture content of the soil under and around your foundation. This is a concern if your foundation is "floating" on that soil (slab foundation). Trees transpire (draw in) water through their roots. And where are their roots? In the ground. If the tree is too close to your home, it is drawing moisture from the soil supporting your foundation and it will begin to recede. If you are not watering the entire perimeter of your home's foundation, it will recede much quicker. If you are not watering around your perimeter, the tree roots will look for water elsewhere. And the closest place for them to find it is under your home. They will grow out, looking for an adequate water supply. If you keep it watered and your trees are set the right distance away from your foundation, you are less likely to have foundation damage. 

Tree Removal

   If you have trees removed, make sure the entire root system is removed and the gap is filled in. If the roots are left, there will be gaps when they decay. Your soil will shift to fill those gaps, causing your foundation to shift. If your tree has many years of life left, it is often recommended to steer the roots away from the house, rather than remove the tree. If the tree is near the end of its life, removal is recommend.
   Again- call an arborist when dealing with trees. There are lasting consequences of improper planting, maintenance and removal of trees. They are beautiful and a wonderful resource, but they must be maintained properly or they become a hazard for your home. Insurance carriers will not insure foundation repairs due to wear and tear. Letting a tree root system grow into your foundation is wear and tear. Not watering your foundation properly is wear and tear (and neglect!).  As a homeowner, this is one of your responsibilities. Take good care of your foundation. It is the entire base your home rests upon!

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Monday, February 10, 2020

How important are insurance reports?

There are several different reports insurance carriers will run before thy will insure you. There are credit reports, claims history reports, payment history reports, violations reports. Home and Auto insurance carriers will both utilize these reports. This is the part where your history will affect your rates!

Can I Lie About My Driving History?

You can try, but it won't work. All carriers run your history reports before (or sometimes after) they write your policy. Most run the reports before they will bind the policy. Your reports largely determine your rates so they can be very significant in your pricing.

The CLUE report provides a 7 year history of claims associated with the driver/car. It will show the date of the loss, the type of loss, the amount paid out and the driver and car associated with the claim. Your agent can send you your CLUE report and you can dispute any claims that are on your report in error. 

The Motor Vehicle Report (MVR) provides your driving history, your drivers license history (including suspension or cancellations), your traffic violations/citations and DUI convictions. The time frame of the MVR varies by state. 

Why Home Insurance Reports?

Home insurance claims are filed less frequently than auto claims of course. They will be different than the auto reports, but what they are looking at is the same;  your claims history. 

Catastrophe claims shouldn't affect your rates too much. These include tornadoes, hurricanes, hail storms. The industry decides if it is a CAT claim once the estimated claims from the "storm" reach a certain amount. 
Water Claims will affect your rates due to the price of repairs. It does not take long for water to cause expensive damage.
Liability claims will affect your rates. It shows a concerning lack of safety and upkeep at your home. 
Negligence claims will cost you , you may have a hard time finding a carrier who will insure you at all. And again, you can lie or not disclose, but the carrier will run reports and the claims (and their circumstances) will be found. 
Frequent claims filing will cost you in premium and by minimizing the number of carriers who will insure you. If you believe a claim should be filed, wait! Call out a certified contractor and get estimates! If you file a claim and it turns out the repairs will cost less than your deductible, the carrier will NOT pay out the claim. But you will still have the claim in your history. 

Why Do Carriers Use These Reports?

Home and Auto insurance carriers use these reports to decide how great the risk is to insure you.  The greater the risk (bad history), the higher the rates. So a clean driving or claims history will earn you better rates. Most carriers will look back 5 years. 

Your claims history is very important to your rates. You can lie all you want. We have had people tell us they have not had any claims and then we find out they do. "Oh I forgot about that" seems to be the common retort.  The reports will show your history, whether you have revealed it yourself or not and it will affect your rates. So be honest with your carrier for consistent rates. Carriers rate claims and violations differently, so where one carrier may choose to not insure you, another carrier may have decent rates for you. So don't lose heart and decide insurance is a luxury you cannot afford!

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Monday, February 3, 2020

Do claims affect my premium?

   Do you get frustrated by increasing insurance rates? The truth is, costs increase each year. And insurance is included.
   Texas is the most volatile weather state in our country. We have hurricanes, hail storms, thunder storms, snow, flooding and even an occasional earthquake! Most states have one, maybe two, of these types of weather. But things are always bigger in Texas, so we have all of them. This volatile weather leads to the number one reason for insurance rate increases; Claims.
   "But I didn't file a claim!" you cry in frustration on the phone to your agent. To which your agent may reply, "But your neighbors did." And then you shake your head and think to yourself (or out loud), "So I have to pay for their claims?" Yes, yes you do.

        Why do I have to pay more?

   Insurance companies are not repairing your damages for free. They are in it to make money (like every other company out there). Insurance is big business. And like every other type of company, if a carrier has more expenses (usually claims expenses) than they budgeted for, they will have to raise their rates to cover those expenses. So if there are major hail storms in January, chances are many carriers are going to have to raise rates to pay for those claims by year's end. So even if you didn't file a claim, but others did in your area, the carrier will most likely raise premium for everyone in the area to cover costs.

I hear the carriers try to keep from paying out claims.

   Most of the carriers I have seen do try to take care of the customer in a fair and appropriate manner. Of course "fair and appropriate" means different things to different people. But what you might keep in mind is that the insurance carrier is the one taking the risk. If you had to pay someone $500,000, wouldn't you make pretty darn sure they are eligible recieve the money? I know would!
   Whether it is $5,000 or $500,000, there are rules and guidelines to paying out claims. These are supposed to guide the carriers in evaluating what claims to pay and to what extent. There are some carriers who are being sued in a class action lawsuit by the state for not paying out eligible claims. So we know there are watchdogs out there looking out for the consumer. If you have a carrier who did not take care of you for an eligible claim, I am very sorry. And I urge you to call the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) at 1-800-252-3439 and report them or file a complaint online. Make sure the company takes care of you!

Wrap Up

   * So my point here is that claims are the #1 reason premiums are increasing almost every year. There is no way around that. All insurance carriers are not evil any more than all consumers are scam artists.
   You can counteract increases by shopping around. (Another good reason to go with an independent agency!) When it is renewal time, we can re-shop the client if the premium has increased quite a bit. We don't guarantee a lower rate, but at least we can see if we can find something better for them. In today's world, there are many options available to you!

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Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Renters Insurance Basics

Renters Insurance Basics

Every policy (regardless of type) should have a Declarations Page, commonly referred to as the “Dec Page”. This page “declares” who you are, what property you have insured, your coverage choices and how much you are paying for this policy period.

Similar to Homeowners insurance, there are 2 types of coverage on your Renters insurance policy; Coverage that protects the other party and coverage that protects you.

Coverage that protects the other party:

Personal Liability: Covers you if someone is injured on your property due to your negligence.  It may help pay for treatment of their injuries and your legal costs.

Guest Medical Payments: May provide reasonable and necessary medical expenses to a guest on your property injured in an accident.

Coverage that protects you:

Personal Property:  This is your contents on the property. This can be written as Actual Cash Value (ACV) or Replacement Cost (RC) coverage. ACV coverage means your belongings are covered at the amount it would cost to replace them minus depreciation. So if you have a 5 year old tv that is stolen, you will receive the amount it would cost to replace the tv 5 years ago.  RC coverage means your belongings are covered at the amount it would cost to replace them at the time of the claim. So if you have a 5 year old tv that is stolen, you will receive the amount it would cost to replace the tv at todays cost.

Loss of Use:  May provide reimbursement for reasonable increases in living expenses (such as a hotel room or apt) due to a covered loss, if your rental home is uninhabitable.

Deductibles:  is the amount you pay out of pocket when you file a claim for a covered loss. You will have several options to choose from for your deductible. If you have a $500 deductible and a $6,000 loss, the insurance carrier would pay you $5,500 for the claim. A higher deductible will generally mean a lower premium and vice versa.

Additional coverage: You may be able to add optional coverage such as extra jewelry coverage or Identity theft restoration or increased coverage for business property.

For Parents of college students:  if you have kids living in dorm, remember- personal property coverage  on your home insurance policy will extend to the dorm. But it only covers up to 10% of your personal property coverage amount. A renters policy is an inexpensive way to make sure you child is covered at school!

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Monday, January 20, 2020

Do Home Inspections matter?

Do Not Ignore the Inspection!

There are two common types of home inspections. 

Presale Inspection: You should have one done before you buy a home. Do not let someone talk you out of this. They may "know" the home is in great condition, but you want to make sure it is. You should get the inspector yourself so you know they are working for you and not your realtor. Nothing against realtors, but their motivation is to get you to buy the house. Your motivation is to buy a home in good condition. I strongly urge you to go to the presale inspection and walk with the inspector. Listen to him/her. Ask questions as he/she walks. This is going to be your home. Make sure you know what you are getting into. Maybe you are a Do-It-Yourself kind of homeowner and you are looking forward to doing some repairs. Great! But if you are not, then it is a nightmare to buy a house and realize (after the closing) that there is major repair work to be done. There are some things you absolutely want to know about before you buy the house! The carrier doesn't want to insure a hazard they will most likely have to pay to repair/replace in the next few years. And you (as the homeowner) do not want to buy a house that will not protect you the way your home should.

Carrier Inspection: Most carriers will conduct a home inspection. They usually employ a third part inspection company to complete the inspection.  It is the carrier who will pay out the claims, so they want to make sure it is a good risk going in. One of the most common issues on a carrier inspection is roof condition. Often we get an Underwriting notice citing the roof condition from the inspection. When we reach out to the client, they tell us their home inspection said the roof was just fine. Many times the presale inspection didn't say the roof was fine. It might have said replacement was a good idea but the client didn't walk and talk to the inspector so they didn't read the inspection. Even if the presale inspection does say the roof is in fine condition, the carrier's inspection may disagree. Now, you can argue all you want, but the carrier can still cancel the policy if you do not make repairs. 

The best way to avoid a bad carrier inspection is to make sure you have a good presale inspection!

Things to Look for during a PreSale Home Inspection

Exterior of the Home

Windows: Depending on the age of the windows, you may need to replace them. At the very least, they need to be caulked once a year to keep them energy efficient.  
Tree Trimming: Tree limbs hitting the roof or side of the house will need to be trimmed back away from the house. If they are hitting the home, they will cause additional wear on the roof/siding. 
Termites: Hollowed or Damaged Wood. Wood damage can be found below and behind surfaces like walls, floors and windows.

Interior of the Home

Heating/Air: Filters need to be change twice a year. If they have not been, the buildup in the filters will make the system very inefficient, particularly for people with allergies. In some cases, the system will need to be replaced.
Water Heater: Most hot water heaters need to be replaced after 15 years. If your hot water heater breaks down, it is expensive and a royal pain to replace. 
Ventilation / Insulation: Ventilation and Insulation matter most in the attic. If either are in poor condition, you will have increased energy bills and possible increased damage to your roof (from the inside)

Roof: Carriers (and hopefully you!) would require the condition of the roof to last at least 5 years. With all of the wind/hail/storms we have here is Texas, roofs rarely last longer than 10 years. If you are looking at a house with a roof over 10 years old, it is a strong possibility the inspector will inspect the roof closely, looking for any indication the roof will not last. And many carriers will not insure a roof over 10 years old.
Electrical: Older homes may have quite a bit of electrical work to replace. Many carriers will not insure homes with fuse boxes so you may have to replace it with an updated breaker box. 

Presale Home Inspections look for issues that can be improved.  Carriers Inspections look for hazards that are more likely to cause a claim pay out  in the near future. They do not want to intentionally take on that risk. Since they are the ones that will pay out thousands or more, the carrier gets to decide if they want to take on the risk. You, as the homeowner, can disagree. But you will most likely NOT change their mind. So again, intentionally look at your home inspection before you buy the home.

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Monday, January 13, 2020

Prevent Child Identity Theft

Prevent Child Identity Theft

Identity theft is a constant threat these days. With the number of major data breaches that have occurred in the past few years, such as the unprecedented Equifax breach in 2017, you’ve most likely experienced some form of financial fraud.

You might keep a close eye on your own finances for that reason, but your child can also be susceptible to identity theft. An identity thief can use your child's Social Security number to open a credit card, a bank account and apply for government benefits.

More Information Online Means More Child Identity Theft

According to the The Federal Trade Commission, many school forms require personal information and many are now online. Even novice hackers can get into systems easily to steal identity information. (My dog once received a credit card solicitation!) How your child's personal information is collected, stored, used and thrown away by their school can make a difference. As a parent or guardian you have the right to question the school and request they safeguard your child's information.
You can find a list of red flags to look for and how to repair the credit damage here. If you believe your child's credit may have been compromised, check to see if they have a credit report.
You can file an Identity theft claim with the FTC online or by phone 877-ID-THEFT

Avoid and Repair

Fortunately, a law went into effect in 2018 that lets you freeze your credit ― a helpful preventative measure ― for free. This can help avoid identity theft and or repair the credit damage afterwards if needed. You can freeze your child's credit so no one is able to use the information. (You can also freeze your own credit.)
The FTC suggests checking for a credit report in your child's name before they turn 16. You will need to fix any issues with the report before they apply for jobs, scholarships, loans or rent an apartment. Their credit plays a big part in all of these.
Identity thieves are ruthless and they do not care how much trouble they cause you. It can happen to anyone (or anyone's child). Even yours. Report any irregularitie you see and stay safe online!

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Monday, December 30, 2019

New Years Changes

Here's to a New Year!   

Well, 2019 is ending and 2020 is beginning. I have to say I am not sad to say goodbye to 2019. Here's to a wonderful 2020!

The start of a new year is a time to re-evaluate our closet, pantry, decor, vocation, relationships. It is a great time to look at our lives in general. I'm not big on New Year's resolutions. I have not been good at keeping them long. But I do think it is a good time to look are our homes and make some changes.  

If your family is anything like our family, you have packed away the Holiday decorations. Yet somehow the house doesn't look the same as it did before you put them up. That small time of unfamiliar is the perfect time to make some changes. You are already in the mood for new and different and you have created space in your home by removing the decorations. 

 #1 Did you get something new? Donate something old!

If you get a new robe, give away the old. How about a new blanket? Maybe you can give an old one to a shelter or a person in need. Even if they are a bit ratty, animal shelters can use old blankets and towels! Did you get new sneakers? Are the old ones still in decent condition? There are many people in need of decent shoes!

#2 Did you get gifts you don't want? You don't have to keep them.

I am a pack rat and I also worry that anyone who gives me a gift will want to see it used. But I have to admit that many gifts end up in a cabinet or closet somewhere. We had a rule, if we didn't use an item in the last year, it's time to give it away. But now I try to give away unwanted items as soon as I realize I will not use them. This helps me not have to do a massive clean up down the road. (Do you have one of those closets you cannot open?)

#3 When did you last clean out that medicine cabinet?

There may have been a time or two when I cleaned out our medicine cabinet and found medicine that was over 2 years old! If you are anything like me, you buy an over the counter medicine for temporary symptoms and then then shove it to the back because it's no longer used. It's unsafe to use medicine after it's expiration date.  Do you always check the date before you take the medicine? Does your spouse or your kids? I know it doesn't happen in our house. Try to go through and throw out the expired medicine once a year. 
Do the same for your refrigerator and your pantry. Expired food needs to go!

#4 Do you really need two of those?

I am also a gadget queen. I LOVE gadgets, especially kitchen gadgets. I also, forget that I have already bought things. This is a good time to go through your kitchen cabinets and give away things you haven't used at all in the last year (even if you just KNOW you might need it sometime). Also look for things you have more than one of. At one point I had 5 different sets of measuring spoons. Same measurements, just different spoons! I am a firm believer you cannot have too many bowls or too many spatulas. But if you don't have the space for multiples, I promise you can survive with only one of each!

#5 New year, new insurance?

Most insurance policies are 12 months long. But that does not mean they start at the beginning of the year. Since making changes are already on your mind, you may begin thinking of other things you can re-evaluate. You can reevaluate and make changes to your insurance policy any time. You don't have to wait for the renewal. Take a look at your policy. Look at things like contact information, housing value, coverage amounts. Sometimes the most obvious things (like changes to your contact information) are the very things we overlook. Things that may affect your coverage are adding a swimming pool, a trampoline or a new dog. It's a good idea to check in with your agent and discuss your policy.

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Monday, December 16, 2019

Flood Insurance

Do You Need Flood Insurance?

The Basics

People often assume flood is covered by their home insurance policy. No home insurance policy covers flood damage.  Consumers are not required to carry flood insurance unless they are in a high risk Flood Zone. In that case, their home mortgage company (if they have one) will require a flood insurance policy. You should talk to your agent and make sure you know if you should have a flood policy or not, regardless of which zone you are in. 

   Your flood policy has a Dec page, just like every other insurance policy. It will “declare” who you are, what property you have covered, the insurance limits you have chosen and how much you are paying.

   Flood Insurance is written through the federal government under the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) National Flood Insurance Program regardless of who you buy the policy from. There are various levels of coverage and deductibles to choose from. You will have a separate deductible for both the building and the contents. Unlike Home and Auto insurance, Flood insurance only covers You. There is no “other party” liability in a flood policy. Keep in mind- two properties, or two acres, have to be flooded for the event to be considered a flood. Your hot water heater overflowing and flooding your hallway is not covered by flood insurance.

Building Coverage: This covers physical damage to your home due to rising flood waters, and it covers the building and its foundation, electrical and plumbing systems, a/c equipment, furnaces, walls, flooring… etc. The amount of building coverage should be based on your dwelling/replacement cost amount on your home insurance policy. The flood cannot be higher than the home insurance amount and it usually caps at $250,000 for residential homes.

Contents Coverage: This covers physical damage to personal property such as clothing, furniture, electronics, certain valuable items, such as artwork (up to $2500). It will not cover currency or precious metals.

Deductibles: The Building and Contents coverage have a separate deductible. The higher the deductible, the lower the premium, but the more you will pay out of pocket in the case of a claim. (Just like in Homeowners insurance)  

  That’s Flood coverage. It is a simpler Dec page than home and auto with fewer coverages to understand. But please make sure you do understand what it will and will not cover and how much coverage you need to have. 
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