The Worst That Can Happen: Renters Insurance FAQ

A couple moving into new home

For most apartment dwellers, renters insurance is an afterthought. In fact, the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (IIABA) found that nearly two-thirds of Americans living in U.S. rental properties don't have renters insurance and risk severe financial loss.

Service members are no exception. The Government Leased Housing Program will not reimburse or replace personal items lost due to theft or natural disaster, according to the Navy Recruiting Command.

So if you're the average U.S. renter with more than $35,000 worth of possesions in your apartment, you will want to think about getting renters insurance. And, naturally, you'll have questions about the type of coverage you should have.

In an effort to help you find the policy that's best for you, here are a few questions and anwers about renters insurance, published by the Navy Recruiting Command.

Question: Does renter's insurance cover all my possessions?

Answer: It depends. Some possessions -- jewelry, computers, and expensive cameras -- are often subject to a per-category theft limit (for example, some policies have a $5,000 limit for computers). When seeking information on renter's policies, ask about the various category limits and how they apply to expensive items you own. You may purchase a personal property rider, providing additional coverage for specific items not included in your basic policy.

Q: Is my property covered away from home?

A: Yes, but coverage may be limited. Restrictions in terms and the amount of coverage might apply (from 10 percent of your personal property coverage to full value). Ask your agent for details. Your liability coverage does not change.

Q: What happens if my rented or borrowed items are stolen?

A: Items that are "in your possession" are covered under a standard renter's policy.

Q: What if my insurance company does not respond to a claim?

A: Your state insurance department or local consumer protection office can answer questions on filing claims and also take complaints.

Q: Is my bicycle or car covered by renter's insurance?

A: Your bike is protected by a standard renter's insurance policy. Motor vehicles are not covered. A separate insurance policy is needed to protect your car, van or motorcycle.

How do you Buy Renter's Insurance?

Take an inventory.  Before purchasing, make an itemized list of everything you own with price estimates, serial numbers, receipts (if possible), and purchase dates. Your inventory will help ensure that you purchase the right amount of insurance - not too much or too little. Also, an inventory will help make filing a claim easier. Make copies of this inventory and keep it in a safe place outside of your home (at work, in a safety deposit box or friend's house). Take photographs or a video of your property since this can be helpful when filing a claim.

Make an informed decision.  Ensure you ask the insurance agent about:

Theft Limits. For example, most renters policies have a $1,000 total limit on jewelry that is stolen, a $3,000 -- $10,000 limit for computers and $2,500 -- $10,000 for silverware or flatware. Policies vary, so ask questions. Ask for a list of standard coverage limits so you know whether you'll need to buy a personal property riders, which provides additional coverage for some of your items.

Cash or Replacement Value.Your policy can insure possessions one of two ways - for either the cash or the replacement value. Cash value coverage takes into account the age and condition of items at the time of damage or loss. Replacement value pays today's cost of a new item when replaced.
For instance, if your five-year-old TV is stolen, a cash value policy will pay part of the original purchase price while a replacement policy will reimburse the current price of a comparable set. Replacement value policies tend to cost more, and there may be other requirements as well.

Deductible Options. Find out about the deductible -- your out-of-pocket cost. The lower the deductible, the more the policy will cost you.

Seek Discounts. Some insurance companies may offer discounts to their auto policyholders interested in buying a renters policy from them. Also, you may be eligible for discounts if your apartment or home has a security system, smoke detectors, or deadbolt locks. Additional discounts may be available depending on your age or whether you are a non-smoker. Policies vary. Examine as many options as possible.

Shop Around. Find an insurance agent or insurance company representative with whom you are comfortable. Ask friends or relatives or consult Yelp. Call a variety of insurance companies and agents. Ask questions. Keep your inventory handy, so you can find the amount of coverage that is most appropriate for you ($16,000 is usually the smallest amount of coverage you can get). 

Read Your Policy. An insurance policy is a contract between you and your insurance company. Read the policy carefully. If you have questions or if something is unclear, call your insurance company representative. Don't sign the contract unless you fully understand the company's responsibilities as well as your own. An insurance policy spells out several obligations for both you and the company. For example, the company has a duty to defend the insured renter in court if the renter is sued for a covered loss. On the other hand, you must give the insurer complete, accurate and timely information.

Don't Wait Until Theft or Disaster Strikes

Don't wait until disaster or a theft strikes to buy renters insurance. Be proactive and protect your investments. For more information, visit the Insurance Center.


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