Know how your deductibles work to prevent surprise costs—and save money
Deductibles have been an essential part of the insurance contract for many years. Understanding the role deductibles play when insuring a car or home is an important part of getting the most out of your insurance policy.
A deductible is an amount of money that you yourself are responsible for paying toward an insured loss. When a disaster strikes your home or you have a car accident, the amount of the deductible is subtracted, or “deducted,” from your claim payment.
Deductibles are the way in which a risk is shared between you, the policyholder, and your insurer. Generally speaking, the larger the deductible, the less you pay in premiums for an insurance policy.
A deductible can be either a specific dollar amount or a percentage of the total amount of insurance on a policy. The amount is established by the terms of your coverage and can be found on the declarations (or front) page of standard homeowners and auto insurance policies.
State insurance regulations strictly dictate the way deductibles are incorporated into the language of a policy and how deductibles are implemented, and these laws can vary from state to state.
How deductibles work
For dollar amount deductibles, a specific amount would come off the top of your claim payment.
For example, if your policy states a $500 deductible, and your insurer has determined that you have an insured loss worth $10,000, you would receive a claims check for $9,500.
Percentage deductibles generally only apply to homeowners policies and are calculated based on a percentage of the home’s insured value. So if your house is insured for $100,000 and your insurance policy has a 2 percent deductible, $2,000 would be deducted from any claim payment. In the event of the $10,000 insurance loss, you would be paid $8,000. In the event of a $25,000 loss, your claim check would be $23,000.
Note that with auto insurance or a homeowners policy, the deductible applies each time you file a claim. The one major exception to this is in Florida, where hurricane deductibles specifically are applied per season rather than for each storm.
Deductibles generally apply to property damage, not to the liability portion of homeowners or auto insurance policies. To use a a homeowners policy example, a deductible would apply to property damaged in a rogue outdoor grill fire, but there would be no deductible against the liability portion of the policy if a burned guest made a medical claim or sued.
Raising your deductible can save money
One way to save money on a homeowners or auto insurance policy is to raise the deductible so, if you’re shopping for insurance, ask about the options for deductibles when comparing policies.
Increasing the dollar deductible from $200 to $500 on your auto insurance can reduce collision and comprehensive coverage premium costs. Going to a $1,000 deductible may save you even more.
Most homeowners and renters insurers offer a minimum $500 or $1,000 deductible. Raising the deductible to more than $1,000 can save on the cost of the policy.
Of course, remember that in the event of loss you’ll be responsible for the deductible, so make sure that you’re comfortable with the amount.
Homeowners disaster deductibles
Wind/hail and hurricanes are covered by standard homeowners insurance; flood and earthquake policies are purchased separately by homeowners. But each of these disasters has their own deductible rules. If you’re in an area that’s high risk for one of these natural disasters, understand how much of a deductible you’ll need to pay if a catastrophe strikes. Start here, check your policies and speak to your insurance professional to learn exactly how your particular deductibles work.
- Hurricane deductibles. In hurricane prone states, special deductibles may apply for homeowners insurance claims when the cause of damage is attributable to a hurricane. Whether a hurricane deductible applies to a claim depends on the specific “trigger” selected by the insurance company. These triggers vary by state and insurer and usually apply when the National Weather Service (NWS) officially names a tropical storm, declares a hurricane watch or warning, or defines a hurricane’s intensity in terms of wind speed. Hurricane deductibles are generally higher than other homeowners policy deductibles and usually take the form of a percentage of the policy limits. In some states, policyholders have the option of paying a higher premium in return for a traditional dollar deductible; however, in high-risk coastal areas insurers may make the percentage deductible mandatory.
- Wind/hail deductibles work in a similar way to hurricane deductibles and are most common in places that typically experience severe windstorms and hail. These include Midwestern states (like Ohio) and around Tornado Alley (which goes through Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska). Wind/hail deductibles are most commonly paid in percentages, typically from one to 5 percent.
- Flood insurance offers a range of deductibles. If you have—or are considering buying—flood insurance, make sure you understand your deductible. Flood insurance deductibles vary by state and insurance company, and are available in dollar amounts or percentages. Furthermore, you can choose one deductible for your home’s structure and another for its contents (note that your mortgage company may require that your flood insurance deductible be under a certain amount, to help ensure you’ll be able to pay it).
- Earthquake insurance has percentage deductibles that are anywhere from 2 percent to 20 percent of the replacement value of your home, depending on location. Insurers in states that have higher than average risk of earthquakes (for example, Washington, Nevada and Utah), often set minimum deductibles at around 10 percent. In California, the basic California Earthquake Authority (CEA) policy includes a deductible that is 15 percent of the replacement cost of the main home structure and starting at 10 percent for additional coverages (such as on a garage or other outbuildings).
Next steps: Steps to take in the event of a homeowners claim.