How to buy flood insurance

Flood insurance is traditionally provided by the National Flood Insurance Program, but you can often get cheaper and better coverage with private flood insurance.

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A standard homeowners insurance policy doesn’t cover flooding, so you’ll have to buy separate flood insurance to protect your home against flood damage. In some cases, flood insurance may even be required by your mortgage lender if you live in a high-risk flood zone. 

5 simple steps to buying flood insurance

  1. Find out which flood zone you live in

  2. Figure out how much coverage you need

  3. Find a flood insurance provider

  4. Compare flood insurance quotes

  5. Finalize and purchase your policy

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1. Find out which flood zone you live in

Before figuring out your coverage needs and comparing quotes, you’ll want to look up which flood zone you’re in. You can check your home’s flood zone through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) locator tool. This is valuable for a couple of reasons:

  • It gives you an idea of your home’s flood risk and how much flood insurance you’ll need

  • You can double-check if your lender’s flood insurance requirements are legal

Mortgage lenders generally require flood insurance if your house is in a special flood hazard area according to FEMA flood maps. But these maps are often outdated or inaccurate. So if your home is in a high-risk flood zone according to a 10-year-old map, it may be worth appealing your flood zone designation with FEMA via a Letter of Map Amendment. It’s also possible your mortgage lender simply misread the map and incorrectly identified your property as having high flood risk.

Genius tip: When is flood insurance required?

If you live in an A or V flood zone and have a federally backed mortgage, your lender will likely require flood insurance. If you live in a lower-risk area, like zones B, C, or X, your lender could still require flood insurance.

2. Figure out how much coverage you need

If flood insurance is required for your mortgage, your lender will likely specify coverage minimums in your mortgage contract. You’ll typically need to purchase enough flood insurance to cover your remaining loan balance. So if you still owe $200,000 on your mortgage, you’ll need at least that amount of building property coverage. 

But depending on factors like your home’s location and elevation, you may want to consider more than just the minimum coverage amounts required by your lender. 

To figure out your flood insurance coverage, you’ll want to get an estimate of:

  • The replacement cost of your home: This is the amount it would cost to rebuild your home from the ground up. Replacement cost is based on factors like your home’s square footage, build, and external factors like local labor and construction costs.

  • The value of your personal belongings: You’ll want enough personal property coverage to cover the value of your belongings inside the home, including furniture, electronics, and appliances. Any belongings at or below your property’s base flood elevation should be calculated into your personal property coverage limit.

If you already have homeowners insurance, you can use the same dwelling and personal property coverage limits for your flood insurance coverage. 

→ Learn about how to calculate flood insurance coverage 

Genius tip: Is there a cap on flood insurance coverage?

Flood insurance coverage is often capped at $250,000 when it’s purchased through the National Flood Insurance Program. If your home’s replacement cost is higher than this amount and you’d like more coverage, you’ll need to purchase supplemental excess flood insurance or private flood insurance.

3. Find a flood insurance provider

Now that you’ve determined your flood risk and coverage needs, you’ll need to decide where to buy flood insurance from. There are two options for purchasing coverage: 

  • The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) 

  • Private flood insurance

NFIPPrivate flood insurance
Building property coverage$250,000Higher amounts available
Personal property coverage$100,000Higher amounts available
Additional living expensesNot includedOften included
Basement contentsLimited to wall fixtures, air conditioners, washer/dryersMost basement contents are covered
Deductible$1,000 to $10,000$1,000 to $50,000
Waiting period30 daysAs little as 10-14 days
Accepted by mortgagesYesYes
Availability56 states and jurisdictionsMay be limited in higher-risk areas
Can your coverage be dropped?NoYes

The National Flood Insurance Program

The National Flood Insurance Program is the primary source of flood insurance in the U.S. and is responsible for roughly 90% of all active policies. To buy it, you need to live in a community that participates in the NFIP.

You also need to find an insurance company that sells it. Currently, 60 insurance companies, including Allstate, Liberty Mutual, and USAA, all sell NFIP flood insurance. If you need help finding a flood insurance provider, the NFIP has a tool on their website to help you find NFIP providers in your area.

Private flood insurance 

Some insurance companies also offer their own private flood insurance in addition to or instead of the NFIP option. While NFIP flood insurance is sold by private companies but backed by the federal government, private flood insurance is sold and backed by private companies. This allows companies to take on more risk and offer higher coverage limits. Plus, you only have to wait up to 14 days for your coverage to kick in after you’ve been approved for private flood insurance, compared to a waiting period of 30 days for NFIP coverage. 

However, there are a few caveats to be aware of. Private flood insurance isn’t available in every state. Private flood insurers can also cancel your policy mid-term or choose not to renew it once your policy term expires. With NFIP flood insurance, you don’t have to worry about your coverage getting dropped.

→ Learn about the differences between the NFIP and private flood insurance

4. Compare flood insurance quotes

Once you’ve evaluated your flood insurance options, be sure to compare flood insurance quotes from at least three companies through a marketplace like Policygenius. With Policygenius, you can compare NFIP and private flood insurance rates from multiple companies, including Neptune, Orchid, Palomar, and Progressive.

Since flood insurance rates are set by the NFIP, federal flood insurance will cost the same regardless of which company or independent agent you use. But even so, consider looking into each company’s track record with customer service and claims by reviewing their J.D. Power and AM Best ratings  before settling on a policy. While the insurance company doesn’t write the reimbursement checks, they are responsible for processing and communicating the status of your claim. 

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5. Finalize and purchase your policy 

Once you’ve selected an insurance company you’re comfortable with, there are a few things you’ll want to do before you finalize your policy. 

  • Ask about community-wide discounts: NFIP policyholders who live in communities enrolled in the NFIP’s Community Rating System are eligible for flood insurance discounts of up to 45%.

  • Get an elevation certificate: An elevation certificate (EC) provides evidence of your home’s elevation relative to your area’s base flood elevation, which is the maximum height floodwaters can rise to during a flood event. If you recently mitigated your home’s flood risk by elevating your house or filling in your basement, an EC can provide the proof you need to get discounts on flood insurance.

  • Choose a flood insurance deductible: Your flood insurance deductible is the amount you’re responsible for paying on each claim before your insurance kicks in. A high policy deductible means lower flood insurance rates, but it also means you’ll be paying more out of pocket in the event of a claim.

  • Understand how your premiums are paid: If flood insurance is required for your mortgage, you’ll likely need to pay your first flood insurance premium at closing. You might also need to escrow your flood insurance payments, meaning you’ll pay for flood insurance as part of your monthly mortgage payment. 

Once your first flood insurance payment is made, you’ll have a waiting period before your policy goes into effect. For NFIP flood insurance, the waiting period is around 30 days; for private flood insurance, your policy should become active within a couple of weeks.

Frequently asked questions

Do I need to buy flood insurance?

Whether or not you are required to buy flood insurance depends on the specifics of your mortgage and the location of your home. If you live in a special flood hazard area and have a mortgage through a federally backed or regulated lender, you will be required to buy flood insurance.

How much does flood insurance cost?

The average cost of NFIP flood insurance is around $738 a year, or $62 a month, according to Policygenius’ analysis of FEMA rate data. Residents in high-risk flood zones pay an average of $1,167 per year. The cost of your own flood insurance policy will depend on your home’s location and individual flood risk.

Can I buy flood insurance directly from FEMA?

No. To buy flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program, you’ll need to find a flood insurance provider in your area that sells it. NFIP flood insurance can often be purchased through your home or car insurance company.

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