You’re probably paying too much for homeowners insurance coverage.
Each year, most Twin Cities-area homeowners let hundreds of dollars — and, for many, more than $1,000 — slip through their fingers because they renew their policies with high-priced companies. Nonprofit consumer group Twin Cities Consumers’ Checkbook collected sample premiums from the state’s largest insurers for several illustrative area homes and found, for example:
• For a typical policy for a sample frame house and family in Minneapolis, rates ranged from $1,123 with USAA, $1,307 with Auto-Owners, and $1,320 with AAA/Auto Club to $2,568 with State Farm (the state’s largest writer of homeowners insurance policies) and $3,220 with MetLife.
• For a sample brick house in St. Paul, rates ranged from $1,080 with USAA, $1,208 with Nationwide, and $1,222 with Safeco to $1,912 with Allstate, $2,182 with State Farm, $2,220 with Amica, $2,350 with Farmers, and $2,647 with MetLife.
There are enormous opportunities for area homeowners to save because so much of the homeowners insurance business in Minnesota is written by several large companies that often are not competitive on price.
To help you find a low-cost, high-quality company, through a special arrangement Star Tribune readers can access Checkbook’s ratings of homeowners insurance companies for free through Jan. 4 by visiting the website below.
Which companies will offer you the lowest rates depends on several factors. Since your home and family’s location and characteristics likely differ from the sample profiles Checkbook used for its comparisons, do some shopping on your own. And know that you don’t have to wait until your policy term ends to sign on with a lower-priced company: The small administrative fee you might have to pay to cancel your current insurance is usually much less than the savings you’ll get from a switch.
Even if you select a low-priced company, don’t waste hundreds of dollars a year buying the wrong coverage. Some tips on minimizing premiums:
• Take a high deductible. You’ll get a big discount, and it will make you less likely to file small claims that may generate future premium hikes. Determine how big a loss you can incur without unacceptably disrupting your life, then set your insurance deductible levels accordingly.
• Obtain an accurate estimate of what it will take to rebuild your home. Many homeowners do not maintain adequate insurance coverage, leaving themselves financially vulnerable in the event of a total loss. Don’t count on your insurer to keep your homeowners policy up to date. Every few years have your insurer re-estimate your home’s replacement cost and then adjust your coverage as needed.
• Maintain a good credit record. With many companies your credit score and other financial information have greater influence on rates than any other factors: The prices most companies offer customers with poor credit are double what they offer customers with excellent credit. Many consumer groups — including Checkbook — oppose this use of credit scores, arguing that the scores are not a direct measure of insurance risk and that using the scores in insurance pricing hurts low-income consumers, whose scores tend to be lower on average.
• Carefully consider optional higher coverage limits and add-ons. Raising limits for some types of coverage — such as liability coverage — won’t increase your premium much, and most consumers find the extra protection worth it. But many other add-ons aren’t worth their added costs.
• Consider buying your homeowners and auto policies from the same company. Many companies offer dual-policy discounts to customers who insure both their homes and cars with them. But such discounts are usually small and won’t make a high-priced company a good deal.
Keep in mind that what companies sell as their standard insurance policies varies, which makes direct cost comparisons more difficult. Especially take into account what you get with basic coverage if you own an older home, where you might want to make sure expensive-to-replace features like woodwork are properly covered. Also, with older homes make sure you’re covered in case there are additional costs to bring old systems up to code during a rebuilding process.
You’ll want a company or agent that offers unbiased information and quotes accurate prices. Unfortunately, Checkbook’s undercover shoppers often found many agents more interested in selling them too much insurance than dispensing solid advice and reliable price quotes. When shopping for insurance, speak with several companies and agents — and question price quotes that seem excessive or include unrequested coverage.
The nonprofit Twin Cities Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and Checkbook.org rate service companies and professionals. See ratings of area homeowners insurance companies free of charge until Jan. 4 at checkbook.org/startribune/insurance.