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How to buy renters insurance online
Most people looking to buy renters insurance take one of two approaches:
- Visiting insurance companies’ websites
- Speaking to an insurance agent
Because speaking to an agent can be time-consuming, going directly to the company’s website is usually the quickest and easiest way to get renters insurance.
Most insurers offer online renters insurance quotes, making it easy to compare policies. However, depending on what state you live in, some insurers may require you to finalize your purchase by phone after you have filled out the online form.
To buy a renters insurance policy, follow these five simple steps:
- Make a home inventory to determine the coverage you need
- Fill out an online application form with an insurance company
- Decide how much coverage (and what type of coverage) you want
- Adjust your deductible
- Pay your first premium to activate your new insurance policy
The following sections break down why these steps are important and how you can complete them quickly while avoiding common mistakes.
Step 1: Make a home inventory of your personal property
Before you apply for a policy, you should estimate the total value of your personal property. You can do this by creating a home inventory, which is a list of all the items in your house and their estimated value.
Making a home inventory is essential for ensuring that you choose the right amount of coverage, as your possessions are probably more valuable than you realize. You’ll also need to have this inventory on hand when you file a renters insurance claim.
Steps to making a home inventory include:
- Taking pictures or videos of your belongings
- Keeping receipts or bank statements of your purchases
- Documenting product information for valuable possessions (such as manufacturer/serial numbers and product keys)
- Using a home inventory worksheet or app to categorize items by room/item category and keep track of purchase dates and value estimates
- Making copies of your home inventory and proof of ownership documents
If this feels overwhelming, then it’s alright to just focus on your most valuable possessions and come up with rough estimates for other items. (For simplicity, you can group some items together, such as clothing or a collection of CDs/DVDs.) It’s also a good idea to update your home inventory at least once a year and after any major purchases.
Step 2: Go to your insurer’s website and enter your information
Now that you’ve developed your home inventory and determined how much coverage you need, all you need to do is choose your insurer and visit their website.
When completing their online application form, you’ll be asked to provide personal information as well as details about your residence. These will likely include
- Your name
- Your phone number
- Your address
- What kind of building you live in (apartment building, house, etc.)
- Your home’s safety equipment (e.g. burglar/fire alarms, smoke detectors, and monitoring equipment)
- Number of units in your building
- Whether you have any pets
Step 3: Choose how much coverage you want
Since you’ve calculated the total value of your personal property, you should have a clear idea of how much personal property coverage you’ll need. However, you’ll also need to pick your personal liability coverage, which covers your costs if you are deemed liable for causing bodily injury to someone else or damaging their property.
While this coverage doesn’t extend to damages caused willfully or through negligence, it does extend to injuries or damages caused off of your property by you or other residents included in your insurance policy. Most policies default to $100,000 in liability coverage, but if you have children or pets, then it’s wise to opt for higher coverage, such as $300,000. You should also double-check and make sure your renters insurance covers dog bites, as some insurers specifically exclude them from their policies.
Insurers often do not cover damages caused by certain natural disasters, such as earthquakes or floods. If you live in a disaster-prone area, you should consider getting additional coverage by purchasing a renters insurance rider (an optional add-on to your policy). If your insurer’s website doesn’t say whether they offer a flood or earthquake rider, call your insurance agent and ask.
Step 4: Adjust your deductible
Renters insurance plans are flexible in that they allow you to choose your deductible. Picking a higher deductible will make your policy more affordable.
Deductibles and premiums
Simply put, the amount of money you pay your insurer falls into two categories:
- Deductible: The amount that you are required to pay out of pocket when filing a claim before your insurance company covers the remaining cost of the damages.
- Premium: The amount that you regularly pay your insurer to maintain coverage.
You might want to read more about what a renters insurance deductible is and what a renters insurance premium is to get a more in-depth idea of what your options are and what roles these two numbers play in your insurance policy. However, the key point you should keep in mind is that a lower deductible always means a higher premium.
If you’re not sure what to pick, you can just choose a $500 deductible, which is the default amount offered by most insurers.
Step 5: Complete the online payment
The final step in the process of buying renters insurance online is to make your first premium payment. After you make this payment, your policy will officially activate.
You will be given the choice between a monthly and yearly premium. Paying an annual premium upfront can sometimes qualify you for special discounts. Opting for annual payment is also a good way to get renters insurance with no down payments or installment fees, which are additional fees that you may have to pay when you opt for a monthly premium.
Where to buy renters insurance
You can buy renters insurance one of two ways:
- Directly from an insurance company
- Indirectly, through an insurance agent
Buying directly from your insurer doesn’t require much explanation, but there are a few things you should know if you’re going to work with an insurance agent.
Working with renters insurance agents
While all insurance agents will help you choose a policy and file your application for you, you should know that different types of agents will offer you a different selection of policies to choose from.
Types of insurance agents
- Independent agents: These agents partner with various insurance companies and offer a broad variety of policies to choose from.
- Captive agents: These are employed by a particular company and will only offer you plans offered by that insurer.
Both types of agents have their pros and cons. Independent agents can offer policies from more insurers. Captive agents receive more support from the insurance companies, meaning that they may be better able to answer your questions or help you if you have a problem with your policy.
How long does it take to get renters insurance?
The entire process — from creating an inventory to choosing your plan and completing an application — takes much less time than you think. While going through an agent may take a bit longer, purchasing a renters insurance policy online is simple and fast, usually taking less than 10 minutes to complete.
Having a solid understanding of how to get renters insurance and knowing what type of coverage you need can speed up the process. To prevent potential delays, make sure that you
- Have easy access to all the information requested on the application
- Take note of details regarding your place of residence, particularly safety features
- For applications completed by hand, ensure that all writing is neat and legible
If you’re looking to purchase a renters insurance plan with special coverage, such as coverage for damage from earthquakes, then the process may take a little more time.
If you’re in the process of switching from one insurance policy to another, or if you’re not in a hurry to activate your insurance, then you can always wait before purchasing your policy or choose a specific start date. For example, you can choose a coverage period that begins a few weeks or even months after you have purchased a renters insurance policy.
Do I need to buy renters insurance?
Although renters insurance is not required by law, landlords can legally require you to have it in some states. Moreover, renters insurance is one of the cheapest types of insurance, costing just around $20 / month. Considering its low cost and broad protection from unforeseen financial loss, you almost always need renters insurance, even if your landlord hasn’t made it mandatory.
What to look for in a renters insurance policy
Regardless of whether you’ve gone through an agent or are browsing the websites of different insurers, you’ll need to carefully evaluate your options to figure out which policy meets all your needs. There are several factors you should consider when choosing a renters insurance policy.
Which perils are covered and which are not?
It’s crucial to understand what insurance perils are, and which perils are covered by your policy. If you lose your things in a fire or have your possessions stolen or vandalized, then your insurer will pay for it, because fire and theft are both covered perils.
However, standard renters insurance policies typically do not include coverage for floods or earthquakes. You also probably won’t receive any money back when trying to claim coverage for damage caused by bed bugs or other pests.
Different policies can get pretty specific regarding their limits of coverage within these categories. While ideally you should review the terms and conditions of your policy to understand these nuances, checking out your insurer’s website will generally give you a good indication of which perils are covered.
What is my coverage type and limit?
- How much money you’ll receive after filing a claim: Actual cash value takes into account depreciation (an item’s loss in value over time), meaning that your insurer will only cover the cost of what the item is worth at the time that the claim is filed. Replacement cost value policies, however, promise to repay the full amount that you paid for the item at the time of purchase.
- The cost of your renters insurance premium: Although opting for a replacement cost value policy means a bigger payout when you file your claim, it also increases your renters insurance premium.
Your policy also has an overall coverage limit (the maximum amount that your insurer will pay you when you file a claim) and probably has several sub-limits (limits on the amount of money that you can claim for items within certain categories, such as jewelry, electronics, or appliances).
If you have any particularly valuable possessions with a value beyond the sub-limit for their category, then you can add a rider or endorsement to your insurance policy to extend your coverage.
Take comfort in knowing that the protection of your personal property extends beyond your place of residence. Your insurance policy covers your possessions both on and off your rental unit, meaning that you’re covered even while traveling. Another bonus is that items you’ve borrowed from a friend are also included in your insurance policy.
How to lower your premium
Looking to lower your premium? Here are some easy ways of getting a discount on your renters insurance:
- Installing safety devices in your home
- Bundling your renters insurance with your auto insurance
- Choosing a higher deductible
Who is covered by my policy?
Most policies automatically extend coverage to your family members, including your spouse. If you’re living with a roommate or partner, then you also have the option to add them to your policy.
What are the exclusions on my policy?
Regardless of the policy you have chosen to purchase, it is important that you have a good understanding of which personal properties are not covered by your insurer.
Typical examples of things that are not covered by renters insurance are certain items that would typically fall into another insurance category. This includes motorized vehicles (and equipment/accessories) and pets. Other items may have limited coverage, such as jewelry, artwork, or money (including cash, precious metals, or coin collections).
You should also be aware of specific circumstances in which your policy won’t cover your loss. In addition to loss due to uncovered perils, this may include theft of specific items or damage to the outside of your home.
Damage caused by the negligence of your landlord (such as poor plumbing or faulty wiring) or intentional destruction that you have caused to your own property are also considered beyond the scope of coverage. Recognizing these gaps in your insurance plan can help you decide whether you need to purchase additional coverage.
What is the claim and payout process?
In the event that you need reimbursement for damages, it is important that you know how to file a renters insurance claim and that you understand the steps involved in delivering your payout. Before actually filing the claim, ensure that you
- Survey the situation and document the extent of damages or loss
- Inform your landlord and file a police report if necessary
- Notify your insurer (ensure that have your policy number handy)
You will generally need to notify your insurance company within 48 to 72 hours of the incident. Be prepared to present any evidence you have of the damages as well as receipts and other supporting materials (such as home inventory records).
When and how your insurer will pay your claim depends on certain factors. For example, if you chose to purchase an actual cash value policy, then you should receive a settlement check fairly quickly (you should be notified of your claim status within 10–40 days, depending on your state).
If you opted for a replacement value policy, then you’ll receive an initial check and then receive subsequent payments after you have submitted receipts from purchases you have made to replace your belongings. To speed up the process of receiving your payout, double-check the claim form for errors.