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A tornado rips through your town, reducing your home to a pile of rubble. In the aftermath, you discover that it’ll cost $350,000 to rebuild your home, but your homeowners insurance policy offers only $300,000 worth of coverage. That leaves you on the hook for the rest.
To avoid being underinsured for this type of catastrophe, consider reviewing your home insurance coverage on a regular basis. Here’s how to figure out how much homeowners insurance you need.
Insuring your home
Start by making sure you have enough dwelling coverage, which pays for the structure of your home. This includes the roof, walls and floors, built-in appliances, and attached decks and garages.
If you’ve got a shed, fence or other detached structures, you’ll also want to check your limit for other structures coverage.
You should have enough dwelling coverage to rebuild your house if it’s destroyed. This amount is often called the “replacement cost.” Note that it may not necessarily be the same as the price you paid for the home.
The replacement cost will reflect the size of the house, its features and the cost of building in your area. For example, a big house with a high-end gourmet kitchen will cost more to rebuild than a modest rancher with standard fixtures. Your insurance company or agent can help you determine an accurate replacement cost.
Keep in mind that improvements you make to your home could boost your replacement cost. To make sure your coverage keeps pace, inform your agent after any major renovations.
Learn more about dwelling coverage.
Guarding against rising costs
Your dwelling coverage limit may be sufficient at the time you and your agent come up with it, but what happens if inflation or natural disasters send building costs skyrocketing?
There are a few ways to make sure your dwelling coverage won’t fall short. First, ask your insurer if there’s an inflation guard on your policy. This will automatically raise your coverage levels on a regular basis to hedge against inflation.
Second, see whether your insurance company offers either of the following options:
Extended replacement cost, which will pay up to a given percentage over your dwelling limit if your coverage isn’t enough.
Guaranteed replacement cost, which will pay as much as necessary to rebuild your home after a covered claim.
These options may be a little more expensive than the default coverage, but they could make a big difference in your payout after a claim.
Finally, you may also want to ask about ordinance or law coverage, which pays to bring your home up to current building codes during covered repairs. If you have an older home, making these updates could get expensive if you don’t have ordinance or law coverage.
Other structures coverage
Insurers generally set other structures coverage at 10% of your dwelling limit. You may need to raise this amount if it’s not enough — for example, if you have a large studio in your backyard that would be expensive to rebuild. If you don’t have any detached structures, you may be able to remove this coverage altogether.
Learn more about other structures coverage.
Insuring your stuff
Furniture, clothing, electronics and other belongings are covered under the personal property section of your homeowners policy. Your personal property limit should be enough to replace all your belongings if they’re destroyed.
Personal property insurance
Trying to figure out how much all your stuff is worth can be overwhelming. Insurance companies typically set your personal property limit at a fixed percentage of your dwelling coverage limit, such as 50% or 70%. You can usually revise the limit up or down, depending on the value of your stuff.
The best way to figure out how much personal property coverage you need is to make a home inventory. This survey of everything you own can not only help you determine how much coverage you need but can also be useful when filing a claim.
You can also use this quick personal property calculator to get a rough estimate of how much your stuff is worth:
In addition to choosing the right amount of personal property insurance, it’s also worth asking about how your belongings are covered.
Actual cash value vs. replacement cost coverage
Many standard homeowners policies cover your belongings on an “actual cash value” basis. This means if your stuff is stolen or destroyed, the insurance company will pay you the amount the items were worth at the time of the incident. Because most items lose value over time, you may not receive enough to buy brand-new replacements.
To avoid this, ask about upgrading to replacement cost coverage for your belongings. With this coverage, the insurer will pay out enough for you to buy new items.
Named perils vs. open perils
Most homeowners policies cover your stuff for damage from causes specifically named in your policy. These causes, known as “perils,” typically include things like fire, theft, vandalism and wind.
You may be able to broaden your personal property coverage to “open perils” or “special perils” coverage. With this option, your insurer will pay for damage from any cause that isn’t specifically excluded in your policy.
Learn more about personal property coverage.
Coverage for valuable items
Homeowners insurance policies often have limited coverage for valuable items such as jewelry, furs, electronics and firearms. Jewelry theft may be covered only up to $1,500, for instance.
Depending on your insurer, there may be a couple of ways to make sure your valuables are properly covered. Scheduled personal property is one option, in which you insure an individual item such as an engagement ring. An appraisal may be required.
The other option is blanket coverage for a collection of valuables. This entails raising the coverage limit for a given category such as firearms or electronics.
Protecting your finances
Homeowners insurance doesn’t just cover your house and the stuff inside it. Your policy also covers you if you accidentally hurt someone or damage their property. This coverage comes in two forms: liability and medical payments.
If someone sues you because they slipped on your icy sidewalk or your dog bit their child, liability insurance can help. It will pay for your legal defense and cover damages if you’re found liable, up to your policy limit.
Homeowners liability insurance limits typically start at $100,000, but higher amounts may be a better choice if any of the following risk factors apply:
You have a lot of savings or other assets that could be targeted in a lawsuit.
You like skiing, hunting or other activities where you could potentially injure others.
You have a dog, a swimming pool, guns or a trampoline.
You often host parties at your home.
Regardless of your risk factors, it’s wise to select a liability limit at least high enough to cover your net worth.
If you can’t get enough coverage through your homeowners policy, ask your insurer about umbrella insurance. This is a separate policy that extends your liability coverage beyond the amount in your underlying policies.
Learn more about personal liability insurance.
Medical payments coverage
Medical payments coverage is designed to cover small expenses if someone is injured on your property or due to your actions. For example, it could pay out if someone trips on your stairs and needs a few stitches at urgent care. No lawsuit or legal negligence is required.
Limits for this coverage tend to be relatively low, ranging from $1,000 to $5,000. As with liability coverage, you might want to choose an amount on the higher end if you feel you’re at greater risk (if you have a dog, for example).
Covering your living expenses
The final piece of your homeowners insurance policy is loss of use coverage, also known as additional living expenses. This coverage pays for you to live elsewhere while your home undergoes covered repairs.
For example, it can take many months for your home to be rebuilt after a fire. Loss of use coverage can help cover the cost for you to rent another house during that time.
Many insurers set loss of use coverage at a percentage of dwelling coverage, such as 20% or 30%. Others may specify a length of time for coverage, such as 12 or 24 months.
To determine whether your coverage limit is sufficient, look at rental prices in your area. Keep in mind that your coverage might also need to cover costs such as restaurant meals, additional commuting and moving expenses.
Learn more about loss of use coverage.
Other homeowners coverage you might need
You’ve set all your coverage limits, but you’re not done quite yet. To fill in any remaining coverage gaps, consider whether you need the following additional policies or endorsements:
Water backup coverage: Pays for water damage associated with sump pump failure or backed-up sewers or drains.
Flood insurance: Pays for damage due to storm surge, heavy downpours or overflowing bodies of water. Most flood insurance is administered by the federal government, though you can buy it through many major insurers.
Earthquake insurance: Pays for earthquake damage, which isn’t covered by standard homeowners policies.