Agents advice annual insurance check-up

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While getting set to make those New Year's resolutions, area insurance agents have some advice: Resolve to spend a little time making sure your insurance coverage is adequate.

Especially if your new Christmas bauble isn't covered in your existing policy.

That's rare, said Al Cashion, American Family Insurance Agent. Most of the gifts under the tree are covered under a standard homeowner's policy. Exceptions are expensive jewelry, a new snowmobile or items that may exceed $1,500 to $2,500 in value.

"It depends on the policy and what the internal limits of that policy are," Cashion said.

What's covered depends on the policy and the biggest problem, he said, is that most people don't know what their policy covers.

"The main thing is to make sure you're adequately protected," he said. "Most people do not understand their insurance."

He recommends people schedule 20 minutes with their agent each year to go over their policy and get it updated.

"That way, when you leave, you've got some piece of mind and know what is covered and for how much," he said.

Cashion said he doesn't recommend shopping around for better-priced insurance every year.

"There's not a more competitive industry in the world than the insurance industry," he said. "If you stay with one company over a period of time, you'll find you spend just about the same amount of money you would've spent if you were bouncing around."

Many companies give long-standing customers discounts, so he said sometimes changing companies often costs more in the long run.

He does recommend that people who are at risk for flood damage and are considering purchasing flood insurance do it now.

A flood insurance policy must be in place before spring floods begin for it to be effective.

Flood damage is not covered in any standard homeowner's policy, and is usually expensive.

"Usually, it's every bit as costly as the entire policy for your home," he said "And, like all insurance, a certain amount is a gamble."

There are few private insurance companies that offer flood insurance. Cashion said he knows of only two, including Lloyd's of London.

Most flood insurance policies are written through the National Flood Insurance Program "because the government doesn't have to worry about making a profit," Cashion said.

Most insurance agents can set up a flood insurance policy.

Insurance agent Sue Lyster of Farm Bureau Insurance said with low interest rates, many people have already updated their insurance. When buying a home or refinancing, they have to review their policies.

"You consider, when is the last time you've re-evaluated the contents and value of your home?" she said.

It's usually something people forget until disaster strikes -- either them or someone they know.

She recommends people re-evaluate their policy and their rates every two to three years.

She also urges caution.

"We're seeing more insurance companies who are not renewing policies based on claims history," she said. "It's a tough market out there. Insurance companies are tightening their belts."

Lyster said she realizes insurance is a double-edged sword. People are required by law to have automobile insurance and required by mortgage companies to have homeowners insurance, yet they must be careful not to use those policies.

"Companies are saying, 'We don't want people who are using insurance as a maintenance policy,'" she said.

Lyster also recommends people not forget renter's insurance. Policies are very reasonable, and well worth the investment in the case of fire or robbery, she said.

"Young people never think they need it," she said. "Insurance isn't something you want to pay."

In any case, it's still important to know what your policy covers and what it needs to cover. Documenting your possessions and valuables is an important part of the process.

And that new Christmas gift might be the answer.

Digital cameras, growing in popularity, easily and inexpensively document and update records of possessions -- whether they be jewelry, a television, or antique china.

"It's well worth the effort to archive your possession and keep this record in a safe place," said Madelyn Flannagan, with Independent Insurance Agents of America.

When documenting possessions, the Independent Insurance Agents of America offer these tips:

  • Photograph items both in close-up and in their regular settings. Doing the latter will help establish the item you're claiming was actually in your home.
  • Photograph serial numbers when available, as well as

identifying features.

  • Make sure lighting is sufficient.
  • Write detailed captions describing images including who you acquired the object from and the purchase price or estimated value.
  • Make multiple copies of the pictures or disc and store in a safety deposit box and at a relative's home.
  • Also photograph important documents including deeds, birth certificates, passports, credit card numbers, wills, driver's licenses and bank account numbers.

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031 or by e-mail at ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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