What’s an insurance deductible?

couple revieiwing insurance policy

Like many other industries, insurance has its own unique jargon that can sometimes make shopping for coverage seem overly complicated. Your local independent insurance agent is always happy to break things down for you and explain any language or terms that you don’t understand. One term that is commonly used in auto, health and in other insurance policies is “deductible.”

In simple terms, a deductible is the amount of money that you, the insured, must pay for a claim before your insurance will kick in.

If you have a deductible, it means that you will be responsible for any losses or payment of services up to the stated dollar amount in your insurance policy. Usually, deductibles are defined as a dollar amount, but they can also be defined as a percentage.

Deductibles can be beneficial both for the insured and for the insurance company. For the insured, it can be a way to are a way to reduce the cost of insurance: The more risk for loss that you, the insured, agree to pay before the insurance kicks in, the lower your premium. For the insurance company, it is a way to avoid the cost of processing and paying a high volume of small claims. Talk to you insurance agent about what deductible options are available to you and how they will affect the cost of your coverage.

Let’s look at an example: You are in an auto accident and your car’s damages are assessed at $1250 in damages. If your insurance policy has a $500 deductible, you will have to pay the first $500 of the damages to your car out of your own pocket and the insurer will pay the remaining $750. Generally, once the deductible is met, any future losses that you might have during the term of that policy will be covered in full.

The Insurance Information Institute has a great article on understanding your insurance deductibles that explains how deductibles work to prevent surprise costs and save money. It’s a good introduction with clear examples. They also discuss homeowners disaster deductibles for hurricane, wind/hail, flood and earthquake coverage. (Reminder: your homeowners insurance does not automatically cover you should your home be damaged by flood, earthquake, and other natural catastrophes – talk to your insurance agent about what your homeowners does and doesn’t cover.)

Businesses can also opt for deductible plans for certain types of business coverage such as workers compensation programs.

Many people are familiar with deductibles through their health insurance coverage. Learn more about health insurance deductibles at HealthCare.gov.

As with all insurance matters, you need to check your own policy. Insurance can vary by state law, by type of coverage, and by individual policy. It’s a good idea to read your policy and to ask your insurance agent to explain any terms that you don’t understand.


Umbrella Insurance Policies: Not just for the wealthy

While you most likely have insurance on your home and car — and you do, don’t you? — you may not be completely covered. If you were the target of a multi-million dollar liability lawsuit, what would happen when your insurance coverage was exhausted? Could you lose your home and all your assets? The answer to the last question, sadly, is yes and that is the point of umbrella insurance policies – they kick in after traditional insurance policies have been exhausted. An umbrella insurance policy helps to protect you from being completely wiped out even if you get sued for an automobile crash or an accident at your home that costs more than your liability insurance company is willing to pay.

Traditionally, these were the choice of wealthy individuals and families, but umbrella policies are gaining in consumer popularity and are increasingly being purchased by the middle class. In this litigious society, a nip from the family hound or a fall on the family trampoline can lead to enormous liability lawsuits that can quickly exhaust even comprehensive insurance policies.

Who should have umbrella coverage? Some experts recommend that anyone with dogs, teenage drivers in the family or high risk yet attractive recreational facilities like pools, trampolines or ATVs should consider an umbrella policy. We recommend that you talk to your independent insurance agent in the context of your total coverage needs, which should be reassessed periodically. Your agent can help you assess whether such a policy would us right for you and can find the right insurance policy, if so. Sometimes, you can even cover the cost of an umbrella policy simply by raising the deductible on your home or auto policies.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, umbrella policies are typically sold in $1 million increments and cost on average between $150 to $300 a year for the first $1 million in additional coverage. The next million will typically cost about $75 annually and about $50 for every million after that. Most insurance companies will not write one unless you already carry liability insurance of about $250,000 on your auto policy and $300,000 of liability insurance on your homeowners policy.

Just like knowing that you always have an umbrella in the car on a rainy day, an umbrella insurance policy can give you extra peace of mind. In this uncertain world, that might be worth a couple hundred dollars a year.

Unclaimed property

There’s a total of more than $32 billion in the nation’s unclaimed property pools representing more than 117 million accounts. It’s mostly money or assets that were either forgotten or abandoned – and in many cases, the abandonment occurred when the account holder died and nobody else knew the account(s) existed. Don’t let your property become part of that pot!
We’ve previously talked about the importance of updating your beneficiaries on insurance polices and other financial records. Just like changing batteries in your smoke detector and getting your car inspected, you should set a routine time to do this annually – failing to do so might leave your loved ones wrangling with court proceedings – or even totally unprotected. The importance of planning cannot be overemphasized. Not to be grim, but you simply never know when your time will be up. For a statistical assessment, see our prior post What are the Odds where we have a lot of risk tools that you can play with. They range from actuarial tables to to calculators for finding out your relative risk of dying in the next year or being attacked by a shark.
OK, you get the point. Planning is important. This past week, the Wall St. Journal featured an excellent and very helpful article in their finance section about The 25 Documents You Need Before You Die – alternately titled as “Designing your death dossier,” which makes it sound pretty fancy. The article makes the point that it is not simply enough to ensure that your policies are updated – it’s also critical that somebody in your family knows what and where all your important documents are.
We counted more than 25 important documents referenced in the article – but it is unlikely that all will be relevant to your situation. Nevertheless, it’s a great reference article to bookmark and keep as a checklist for your annual planning.
Oh, and about that unclaimed $32 billion, if you think any of it might rightfully belong to you, here’s a good place to check: The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators will let you conduct a free search.

Frequent insurance question: I’m not covered? Why not?

This post was written by Pat Long of Eldredge & Lumpkin Insurance Agency

There’s been more than one occasion when a customer called or visited to report a claim, and I have had to tell them they are not covered. Talk about a very uncomfortable conversation!
Insurance is an intangible; you don’t need it until you need it. You pay premiums, sometimes high premiums. And often you never use the coverage. So, when you have a claim under homeowner’s insurance, auto, liability, or worker’s compensation, you want it covered, right? Then why are some claims not covered by insurance?
Policies as Contracts
An insurance policy is a legal contract between you, the insured, and the insurance company. You sign the application and pay the premium, and the insurance company sends you a policy. All policies define who the insured is, and they tell what the company is willing to cover. But sometimes coverage and claim do not match.
These are specifically noted perils that the company will not cover. For example, some homeowner’s policies exclude coverage of flood damage. Many people in Louisiana did not understand this when Hurricane Katrina hit. You can purchase a separate flood policy, but flood damage is not covered by the basic homeowner’s policy.
These are general rules or procedures that the insurer and insured agree to follow, under the contract. When you sign the application and pay the premium, you agree to these conditions. For example, did you know you have duties after a loss? In order to claim a loss, you need to promptly notify the insurance company or agent; some policies have specific notification deadlines. If you have theft coverage, you’re required to notify the police. If a tree falls on your home and opens a hole in the roof, you must protect the property from further damage and make reasonable and necessary repairs to protect the property. Most policies require you to cooperate with investigations and settlements. If you don’t meet these conditions, the insurance company can deny the claim.
So what’s the best way to make sure you are properly covered? Simply think about what is important to you:

  • Do you worry about cost of health care when you get older?
  • Are you concerned about your 16-year-old son or daughter driving?
  • Have you inherited an heirloom and wish to pass it on to your family?
  • Do you have an older home with systems that no longer meet state requirements?
  • As a business person, have you just signed a contract to build three more homes?
  • Do you have an office in your home?

Ask your insurance agent how best to cover what is important to you. Taking a proactive approach to insurance may avoid the discomfort of the “you’re not covered” discussion.

Update your beneficiaries for insurance policies and retirement plans

As you gather your year-end documents for tax preparation, there is one important financial item that should be included: checking your insurance policies and other important financial records and plans to ensure that your designated beneficiaries are up to date. It’s a good idea to review beneficiaries annually because life events may have changed your situation. Parents die, marriages dissolve, children are born, and any of these events may warrant a change in beneficiaries. Failing to periodically update your beneficiaries could have unintended consequences – you might not want a former spouse rather than your current spouse to be the beneficiary of your assets but that could happen!
Here are some best practices when naming beneficiaries:
Always name a beneficiary. People who have wills often think they have their beneficiaries covered, but this assumption can be wrong. Generally, beneficiaries named in insurance policies and retirement plans will take precedence over any instructions you leave in your will. Make sure you have specified individuals as beneficiaries in your policies and plans. People often name their “estate” as the beneficiary but this can lead to benefits being tied up in probate court. Failure to name a beneficiary may also mean that you miss out on certain plan or policy advantages. For example, if you name an estate as beneficiary, an IRA will be liquidated on your death and taxes will be due. If your spouse is named as beneficiary, he or she could potentially continue to enjoy tax-free growth.
Be specific. Avoid ambiguous language. Simply stating “my husband” or “my niece” may not be sufficient, particularly in instances of multiple marriages. It’s a good idea to use full names of intended beneficiaries to avoid potential confusion or disputes.
Name a secondary beneficiary. Make sure that it will be you and not your state law that determines who will be the recipient of your policy benefits. If your primary beneficiary should pass away and you have not named a secondary or contingent beneficiary, your insurance policy or retirement plan will be distributed according to your will. If you have no will, the decision will default to state law.
Keep important records in a secure place and tell a trusted family member what and where they are. Many people die suddenly without leaving instructions as to where a will, insurance papers and other important records are kept. All too often, benefits go unclaimed because family members don’t know about potential benefits or can’t find important account information. Bank accounts and insurance policies are overlooked. Make sure someone in your family is familiar with your most important records and where they are kept.
Further reading:
Are your beneficiaries up to date?
Update your beneficiaries
Life Insurance: Reviewing Your Policy Important to Securing Your Family’s Future
Insurance Beneficiaries