Sometimes, insurance lingo is quite confusing. Even simple terms can be misunderstood when you review your policies. One question that our agents hear all the time is “What’s the difference between cash value vs. replacement costs in homeowners insurance?” Here’s the scoop.
Cash value insurance coverage is the cost of the item minus depreciation. So, if a fire destroyed your entire home or a thief broke in and stole your TV, you would be paid for the cost of your home or TV less depreciation. That means you might not realize enough payment to rebuild your home or replace your TV in today’s market without dipping into your own pocket to supplement the costs.
Replacement cost insurance coverage, on the other hand, does not factor in depreciation. It pays you the cost to rebuild/replace in today’s marketplace. Most homeowners insurance policies quoted are for “replacement cost” by default but always check to be sure. Even with replacement cost coverage as an option, you need to review your policy limits with your insurance agent regularly to be sure they are sufficient for your needs.
There’s a third, less-common option called guaranteed or extended replacement cost. The Insurance Information Institute explains:
This policy offers the highest level of protection. A guaranteed replacement cost policy pays whatever it costs to rebuild your home as it was before the fire or other disaster–even if it exceeds the policy limit. This gives you protection against sudden increases in construction costs due to a shortage of building materials after a widespread disaster or other unexpected situations. It generally won’t cover the cost of upgrading the house to comply with current building codes. You can, however, get an endorsement (or an addition to) your policy called Ordinance or Law to help pay for these additional costs. A guaranteed replacement cost policy may not be available if you own an older home.
As we noted, in most policies, replacement cost would be the default, but check. So why would anyone opt for actual cash value rather than guaranteed or extended replacement? Like most things in life, it comes down to cost. There may be some instances when an actual cash value coverage makes sense, such as on a vacation home.
Even when you have replacement cost coverage, there are some instances when that coverage might not be enough. One example is in the case of items that are irreplaceable or that increase in value over time, such as art, antiques, or special collections. Plus, most insurance companies set limits on how much a standard homeowners policy will cover for valuable items such as jewelry and furs. If you have valuables or special collections, talk about those with your independent insurance agent. You might need a policy add-on called a floater (more lingo!) to extend coverage for those items.
Of course, there are other coverage issues you need to consider in a homeowners policy, such as liability coverage. The Insurance Information Institute offers a good primer with guidelines on how to protect your home and your assets with adequate insurance coverage: How much homeowners insurance do I need?
There are no dumb questions, just dumb lingo
Insurance can be very confusing and that’s why having an agent as a guide can be great. Many TV ads make car and home insurance seem like simple choices, but as the saying goes, the devil is in the details. It’s important to fully understand what an insurance policy does and doesn’t cover so that you don’t face any unpleasant surprises at the time of a loss. Make sure that you talk over any lingo or unfamiliar terminology in your policy with your agent.