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How to buy renters insurance

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A

Depending on the renters insurance company, you can either buy renters insurance online, through an app, over the phone, or in-person at an agency.

Kara McGinley

Kara McGinley

Published February 26, 2020

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Before buying a renters insurance policy, you should take a home inventory to determine how much coverage you need. You also need to consider how much liability coverage and loss-of-use coverage you want to buy

  • You should compare quotes from different insurance companies. You can do this online, over the phone, or in person

  • When shopping for a renters policy, you should look to see what perils are covered, and if it is a replacement cost or actual cost value policy

  • Insurance companies will offer you discounts on your renters policy for various reasons, like taking safety precautions in your home or paying your premiums in full

Renters insurance is one of the most affordable insurance products you can buy, and one of the easiest to shop for. A landlord might require their tenants to buy a renters policy, but there are a lot of other reasons to get renters insurance regardless of whether or not your landlord requires it.

Renters insurance provides you with financial protection in case your belongings are destroyed or stolen, or when a guest gets injured in your home and you’re liable for his or her medical bills. It will also pay for you to stay elsewhere if your home becomes uninhabitable. Renters insurance may be cheap but it can save you thousands of dollars if disaster strikes.

And not only is renters insurance affordable for almost any budget, it’s also very easy and convenient to get. Unlike other forms of insurance, such as life insurance or disability insurance, you’ll almost always be eligible to get coverage regardless of your age. You can also get renters insurance entirely without speaking to anyone else if you’d prefer that: Some insurers automate the whole process through an app or website.

In this article:

What to do before you buy renters insurance

Before buying renters insurance you should take an inventory of your personal property. Renters insurance personal property coverage will pay to replace or repair your belongings if they are damaged by a covered peril, like a fire or a burst pipe. It’s important to take an inventory of how much your personal property costs so you know how valuable your belongings are and how much coverage you need to buy.

For example, if you have roughly $20,000 worth of personal property – TV, laptop, coin collection, couch, clothing and so on – you should get a renters insurance policy with a personal property coverage limit of $20,000 or more. Anything less and you risk being unable to replace your things.

When taking a home inventory, you don’t have to write down every single thing you own, but you should aim for a rough estimate of the contents of each room, and consider recording the specific value of any big ticket items. There are a few ways you can do this.

  • Document your personal property with photographs or videos
  • Keep receipts or print out bank statements when you purchase new furniture or expensive items
  • Hire professional appraisers for expensive or rare items
  • Update your inventory after a big purchase or every few months

There are free home inventory apps out there, along with other services that make cataloging your personal property easier. When you file a renters insurance claim, these records will be used to confirm that you actually owned your things as well as the condition they were in prior to the loss.

Make special note of any difficult to replace or expensive items like art, collectibles or jewelry. Many policies, if they cover these things at all, have lower coverage sublimits for expensive items that may not match up to what they're actually worth. Because of this you may want to buy additional coverage in the form of a renters insurance endorsement.

How to buy renters insurance

Once you know the approximate value of your personal property, it’s time to start shopping for renters insurance. Renters insurance contains three different types of coverages.

  • Personal property coverage: Covers your personal property if it is stolen, damaged, or destroyed by a covered peril.
  • Liability coverage and medical expenses: Covers your personal liability and legal expenses if you damage someone else’s property or if someone is hurt on your property.
  • Loss-of-use coverage and additional living expenses: Pays for you to stay elsewhere, like at a nearby hotel, if your home becomes uninhabitable due to a covered peril. This coverage will also reimburse you for any living expenses you accrue while you are temporarily dislocated from your home, like if you need to spend more money on gas because you are living further from work.

For each category of your renters policy, you’ll choose the coverage amount you want. Here are typical coverage amounts for a standard renters insurance policy:

Type of coverageCoverage amounts and ranges
Personal property$15,000 - $500,000
Liability and medical expenses$100,000 or $300,000 or $500,000
Loss-of-use and additional living expenses$3,000 - $5,000 or 40% of your personal property limit
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Compare renters insurance quotes

When you start shopping for renters insurance, you should compare quotes from several different insurance companies. You can do this on your own, or an independent agent can help you get multiple quotes and compare coverage options.

You should find a policy that not only meets your coverage needs, but also fits easily into your budget. In terms of renters insurance rates, what you’re aiming for is a low premium, the amount you’ll pay to keep your policy in force.

However, besides premium price, there are a few other significant factors you need to keep in mind when purchasing a renters policy.

  • The amount of coverage you need: The amount of coverage you need is the largest factor in determining your renters insurance rate. After you create your home inventory, you will have a good idea about how much personal property coverage you need. But when comparing renters policies, you need to keep in mind how much liability coverage and loss-of-use coverage you want to buy as well.
  • Your deductible: Your deductible is the amount you’ll have to pay out of pocket for claims before the renters insurance company picks up the rest. Common deductibles are $500 or $1,000, and a lower deductible means higher premiums. For example, if your $3,000 couch gets destroyed in a fire and your deductible is $500, you will need to pay your insurance company the deductible and then they will cover the remaining $2,5000.

Once you know how much coverage you need, what you can afford, and how much you want your deductible to be, you can get a quote from the renters insurance company. Quotes are an estimate of how much your premiums will be once the carrier calculates exactly what it will cost to insure you. The Insurance Information Institute recommends comparing at least three different insurance companies before buying a policy.

You can compare quotes by:

  • Shopping around online
  • Calling different insurance companies over the phone
  • Meeting in person with local insurance agents
  • Working with an independent broker

What to look for in a renters insurance policy

Your renters insurance policy will contain all the information you need about your coverage. But these policies are full of legalese and, although usually very thorough and clearly written, are kind of a slog to read through.

Here are some significant factors to look for in your policy:

  • What perils are covered? This question refers to the different ways your belongings can get destroyed, this is not about which belongings your renters insurance coverage will replace. Renters insurance coverage extends to various perils, events like fire, hurricanes, vandalism, and even political unrest will be covered. However, incidents like floods, earthquakes, and bed bugs may not be covered without specific endorsement.
  • What personal property is covered? Most belongings are covered, but you also need to factor in coverage limits. Some covered items are only covered up a certain limit of liability – “liability”, in this case, meaning the insurance company’s liability to you. Antiques, collectibles, and memorabilia often have lower coverage sublimits, but check with a representative or read over your policy carefully to confirm.
  • Do I have an actual cash value (ACV) or replacement cost value (RCV) policy? These types of policies differ in how you will be paid out in the event of a covered claim. Replacement cost coverage means you will be reimbursed as if your personal property was new, but actual cash value coverage deducts depreciation from the value. Replacement cost policies will pay out more, but they also cost more.
  • Will my renters insurance policy cover my partner, roommate, or guest? Although renters insurance policies typically cover any immediate family members, people who live with you, including your partner if you’re unmarried, are not always covered. Ask your representative about adding people who live with you to your policy if your policy doesn’t already cover them.
  • Will my policy cover me away from home? Your insurance policy will cover your personal property both on and off your rental premises. Often times this coverage even extends to your other family members. Your children are covered under your policy while at college, for example, although you should ask your representative if there are any limits to that coverage.

How to save on your renters insurance premiums

There are a few things you can do to get lower premiums. One way is to bundle your renters policy with another insurance product from the same company, like an auto insurance policy, which could save you money on both policies. An insurance company may also give a discount if you’ve been claims-free for the past few years. Here are some other ways to lower your renters insurance premium.

  • Installing approved security devices: Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors can lead to a discount.
  • Buy an insurance policy with a high deductible: The higher your deductible the lower your premium. Just make sure you have enough saved up to cover your deductible if there's an emergency.
  • Improve your credit: Having bad credit or a low credit score may raise your premiums. Pay down your debts and make any bill payments on time and in full, which should raise your score and possibly lower your premiums.
  • Pay your premium in full: If you pay a year’s worth of premiums up front (instead of monthly or bi-anually) then your insurance company may offer you a discount.

About the author

Insurance Editor

Kara McGinley

Insurance Editor

Kara McGinley is an Insurance Editor at Policygenius. She previously worked as a freelance writer and a copywriter for various startups. Her work can be found in Teen Vogue, The Culture Crush, Mask Magazine, and more.

Policygenius’ editorial content is not written by an insurance agent. It’s intended for informational purposes and should not be considered legal or financial advice. Consult a professional to learn what financial products are right for you.

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