Hurricane Michael: Tips for updating your homeowners insurance after the storm

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Jeanine SkowronskiFormer Head of Content at PolicygeniusJeanine Skowronski is the former head of content at Policygenius in New York City. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, American Banker Magazine, Newsweek, Business Insider, Yahoo Finance, MSN, CNBC and more.

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Many Americans may have found themselves unable to purchase or update property insurance ahead of Hurricane Michael, the second major storm to hit the Southeast U.S. in the last 30 days.

Insurers issue "moratoriums" before a serious weather event, disallowing new policies or updates to existing policies as a means to stay in business.

If you're looking to update a policy once a moratorium in your area lifts or simply rethinking your homeowners insurance in the wake of this year's storms, here are the major coverage terms to consider.

1. Clarify what your policy considers a hurricane

Property insurance provides select coverage for certain perils — and what qualifies as a hurricane varies from state to state. Common deciding factors, or "triggers," in terms of hurricanes include:

  • The storm is given a name

  • A hurricane watch or warning is declared

  • The hurricane’s intensity is defined

Check with your agent or state insurance department to find out what constitutes a hurricane in your area. That information is instrumental in determining whether you need additional coverage.

2. See if you have a 'hurricane deductible'

Insurers in almost every Atlantic coastal state charge a special deductible for hurricane damage. A deductible is the amount of money you'll have to pay out of pocket before coverage kicks in. A hurricane deductible is a specific percentage you're expected to pay when one of the aforementioned "triggers" takes place.

You can find out if you have hurricane deductible — and, if so, how much it is — by checking your policy's declaration page. Certain states hold you to a set percentage. However, depending on your insurer and exact locale, you can sometimes pay higher monthly premiums in exchange for a lower fixed-price deductible.

3. Re-consider flood insurance

Homeowners insurance does not cover flooding. At all. You need a separate policy for that. Homes located in FEMA-designated high risk flood zone are required to carry flood insurance if a buyer wants to take out a federally backed mortgage. But it's become increasingly important for homeowners in hurricane-prone areas to look into flood insurance, even if they're not on an official flood plain. Otherwise, your insurer won't cover damage caused by storm-induced floods.

Flood insurance is managed by the National Flood Insurance Program through FEMA. You can use its Flood Map Service Center to assess your current risk. Meanwhile, we can help you compare homeowners and flood insurance quotes, if you need more coverage or are looking for a new policy.

4. Look into other supplemental coverage

The following coverage is generally excluded from standard homeowners policies, but worth considering if you live in a hurricane-prone or coastal area.

  • Windstorm coverage covers wind and hail damage from hurricanes. It can include dwelling coverage, personal property coverage and additional costs associated with building compliances and unforeseen construction cost increases in your area after a disaster.

  • Sewage backup insurance covers sewage overflow and subsequent water damage. It is usually added a rider to your standard policy.

5. Check if you're eligible for aid or discounts

Insurers sometimes offer discounts for being proactive and storm-proofing your house against powerful storms. That may include, but isn't limited to:

  • Storm shutters for your windows

  • Storm-proof shingles for your roof

  • Hurricane and wind resistant garage doors

  • Storm and impact resistant windows and doors

  • Shut-off valves for plumbing and irrigation systems

Certain coastal areas also have financial programs for people who can’t afford coverage. Texas and Mississippi, along with a handful of other coastal states, offer programs for people who have been denied adequate Hurricane coverage by private insurers.

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