The National Flood Insurance Program: What You Need to Know

Find out what the NFIP's flood insurance policies cost, on average, and learn how to get covered.
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Written by Sarah Schlichter
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Nerdy takeaways
  • The National Flood Insurance Program is the largest provider of flood insurance in the U.S.

  • NFIP flood insurance is sold through partner companies such as Allstate and Liberty Mutual.

  • Federal flood insurance isn’t your only option; there are private alternatives to consider too.

If a flood struck your property, it could cause thousands of dollars in damage — but your homeowners insurance policy likely wouldn’t cover any of it. That’s where the National Flood Insurance Program comes in.

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What is the National Flood Insurance Program?

Run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Flood Insurance Program provides most flood insurance in the U.S.

The NFIP was created in 1968 to help property owners and communities prevent and recover from flooding. Not all communities participate in the program, and coverage is available only in those that do.

Participating communities agree to enforce local laws that reduce the risk of flood damage. In return, residents receive access to federal flood insurance and, in some cases, discounts on their premiums.

The NFIP offers coverage not only to owners of single-family homes but also to those living in condos, manufactured homes and rental properties. It also covers businesses.

What is a FEMA flood map?

Aside from offering flood insurance, one of the NFIP’s primary functions is to create maps showing the likelihood of flooding in communities across the country.

You can access these maps through a searchable database. Enter your address to see whether your home is located in what FEMA calls a “special flood hazard area.” These areas have a 1% or greater chance of flooding in a given year. If your home is located in one of these areas, your mortgage lender will generally require a flood insurance policy.

If your home is in a moderate- or low-risk area and coverage isn’t required (but your community participates in the NFIP), you can still buy a flood insurance policy, usually at a lower rate.

NFIP flood insurance coverage

A storm can cause all kinds of destruction from factors such as wind, hail and lightning, but flood insurance covers flood damage only. Specifically, that is damage caused by "an excess of water on land that is normally dry, affecting two or more acres of land or two or more properties,” according to the National Flood Insurance Program What Flood Insurance Covers. Accessed Dec 7, 2023.
. This includes:

  • An overflow of "inland or tidal waters," such as a river that overflows its banks.

  • An "unusual and rapid accumulation or runoff of surface waters."

  • A mudflow.

If you experience a flood and have insurance through the NFIP, you can file a claim to pay for flood damage to:

  • The structure of your home. This can include your house, built-in appliances and detached garages, up to $250,000.

  • Your belongings. Clothing, furniture and other personal items are generally covered up to $100,000, as long as they’re not in a basement.

Separate deductibles apply to building and contents coverage.

If the NFIP’s coverage limits aren’t high enough, you can purchase excess flood insurance through the private market. A local insurance agent or broker can help.

What the NFIP won’t cover

Make sure you understand what your NFIP flood insurance won't pay for, including:

  • Land, trees and shrubs.

  • Features outside a house's exterior walls, such as decks, patios and fences.

  • Underground structures such as wells and septic tanks.

  • Cash and paper stock certificates.

  • Temporary housing expenses if your home is uninhabitable.

  • Many items in basements. Coverage is limited to foundational elements and appliances such as the furnace and water heater. Finished walls, floors and belongings in basements aren't covered.

  • Cars. Add comprehensive coverage to your auto policy to insure your vehicle against a flood.

NFIP flood insurance rates

The average federal flood insurance policy costs about $819 a year, according to NerdWallet’s analysis. However, this cost is rising for most people under the NFIP's new rating methodology. Your own premium will depend on the deductibles you choose, the amount of coverage you need and your property’s level of flood risk.

Flood insurance for renters could cost as little as $99 a year.

Here’s more information on the cost of flood insurance.

How to get a National Flood Insurance Program policy

The program partners with insurers such as Allstate, Liberty Mutual and USAA to provide coverage in participating areas. All partner providers sell the same standard coverage and use the same factors to determine rates, so you won’t find a cheaper policy from one company over another.

To find an agent near you, visit FEMA’s flood insurance provider locator and enter your state.

After you apply and pay for your policy, there's a 30-day waiting period before coverage starts, unless:

  • Your area was recently designated as a special hazard area.

  • The policy is started or changed in connection with your mortgage.

  • You update your coverage when you renew your policy.

  • Your home is affected by flooding due to a wildfire on federal land. If you bought a flood insurance policy within 60 days of the date the fire was contained, a waiting period may not apply.

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Alternatives to FEMA flood insurance

When the NFIP was first created in the late 1960s, private flood insurance was largely unavailable. But depending on where you live, policies backed by the National Flood Insurance Program may no longer be your only option.

Companies such as Chubb, Neptune Flood and Aon Edge sell flood insurance policies that often have shorter waiting periods and more generous coverage terms than the standard NFIP policy. For example, they may cover items in your basement. They may also pay for temporary housing expenses if you need to move out while your home is being repaired after a flood.

Many private flood insurers offer higher coverage limits than the NFIP’s maximums of $250,000 for your home and $100,000 for contents within it.

Learn more about private flood insurance.

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