Wednesday, January 31, 2007

What is a Hurricane/Wind deductible and why is it on my Homeowners Insurance policy?

If you are a resident of the Long Island area and have not looked at your homeowners insurance policy lately, you probably should. One of the big changes that has come about over the last couple of years is the addition of a special, higher deductible for hurricane damage. Sometimes the higher deductible is for 'wind and hail', not just specifically hurricane. It depends on the insurance company.

So what does this mean? Quite simply, it means that if Long Island is hit by a hurricane, instead of your standard policy deductible of $500 or $1000 (the amount you have to pay in a property loss, after which the insurance company pays) may instead be tens of thousands of dollars! Usually, the deductible is a percentage of the amount of insurance on your house, ranging from 2% to as much as 10%. By law, the insurance companies must put both the percent and the dollar amount on the face of your policy.

These are being dictated by the reinsurance companies, the place where insurance carriers go to protect themselves againts catastrophic losses (those that affect large numbers of policy holders at the same time). These are your giant off-shore companies, many based in Bermuda or in the London market. They are not subject to the same state regulation as our 'domestic' carriers, and so they can decide what they want to charge and what coverages they will provide, and our Long Island homeowners insurance carriers pretty much have to live with it or assume more risk themselves, which they don't want to do.

As an example, if your house is covered for $400,000 and you have a 5% hurricane deductible, you would have to shell out $20,000 after a hurricane before your insurance company would be involved. And one of the biggest problems is that there is no standardization among the insurance carriers. Some have deductibles that activate with ANY hurricane that hits Long Island, some for category 2 storms, some just for any wind or hail whether or not it's associated with a hurricane.

There has been some talk in the state legislature about allowing a tax deductible savings plan that people can put money into each year to prepare for paying these large deductibles if a hurricane hits. The Small Business Administration (SBA) may also get involved in offering low interest loans but that is not guaranteed at this point in time. You can also buy an insurance policy to cover the deductible, from Lloyd's of London, for about 10% of your deductible. So in our example above, it would cost $2000 a year to cover your $20,000 deductible, not a very good bet.

This is an evolving area and as insurance agents here on Long Island, and in particular in Suffolk County, we need to be paying attention. But as consumers, readers of this article need to look at their own policies and make sure you understand what coverage you have so it doesn't come as a surprise when the inevitable storm hits.