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Getting renters insurance is easy. Regardless of whether you’re renting a house, apartment, or another type of rental property, the process is the same.
In this article, we’ll explain how to set up renters insurance in four steps.
Step one: Take inventory of your personal belongings
When you buy renters insurance, you have to decide how much personal property coverage you want. This is the maximum amount that your insurer will reimburse you when you file a personal property claim.
To figure out how much coverage to buy, you need to create a home inventory of your belongings before getting a quote from the insurance company.
How to create a home inventory
To create an inventory, you need to:
- Walk through your home and take photos or video of your possessions
- Estimate each item’s value
- Include receipts and other documents if you have them
- Keep your inventory current
1. Walk through your home and take photos or video of your possessions
Spend about 30 minutes walking through your home and take pictures of everything you own.
It’s OK to include related items in a single photograph — like the contents of your closet, for instance, or everything on your desk — but try to take individual pictures of your most expensive items. Include pictures of each item’s serial numbers and model information where applicable.
If you prefer, you can record a video walkthrough, which will be faster than taking still pictures. It will still help to briefly pause as you view each item and magnify the camera for better detail.
2. Write down each item’s value
Write down approximately how much each item is worth. Try to be precise about your high-value possessions, but when it comes to your less expensive items, it’s fine to just take your best guess.
If you have no idea how much something is worth, use Google to look up what items of equivalent quality are selling for these days.
3. Include receipts and other documents if you have them
If you have receipts for any of your items, store those in a safe place. You don’t need receipts to file a renters insurance claim, but having them really helps.
For particularly expensive items, like your engagement ring, you might also need to provide a formal appraisal. When you buy your policy, be sure to confirm that your provider will fully cover it — many insurers place special limits on how much they cover unusually valuable items.
4. Keep your inventory current
Once you’ve created your inventory, the only thing left is to maintain it. (This is an ongoing process, so you’ll have to revisit this step once you’ve finished buying renters insurance.)
In general, we recommend updating your inventory once every six months, but if you buy any big-ticket items, make sure to add them right away. It’s particularly important to note expensive items like fine jewelry, art, etc.
Step two: Evaluate how much renters insurance coverage you need
Standard renters insurance policies include four types of coverage:
- Personal property coverage
- Personal liability coverage
- Guest medical coverage
- Loss-of-use coverage
You don’t need to worry about the latter two types, since the amounts of guest medical coverage and loss-of-use coverage that most policies provide are pretty standardized.
You mainly need to decide how much personal property and personal liability coverage you need.
Choosing your personal property coverage
To figure out how much personal property coverage you need, take the home inventory that you created in step 1 and total up the value of everything you own. The number you’re left with is the amount of personal property coverage you should get.
If you get stuck (or if you decided that creating a home inventory was too much trouble), $30,000 is a pretty safe bet — that’s about how much property the average tenant owns. It’s rare for people to file property loss claims for more than that.
Choosing your personal liability coverage
Liability coverage pays for your legal expenses if you injure somebody or someone sues you. The “standard” amount is $100,000, which is enough for most people, but if you have any liability risks in your home — like a large dog that might bite people — consider opting for $300,000 or $500,000 instead. (And if you have a dog, make sure to get a policy that covers dog bites; not all policies do.)
For more information on how to pick your coverage limits, check out our guide on determining how much renters insurance you need.
Picking your deductible
When you buy your policy, you also have to choose a renters insurance deductible, which is a fixed amount of money that your insurer will deduct from your payout every time you file a personal property claim.
For example, if you choose a $500 deductible when you buy your policy and later you file an $1,800 claim, your provider will write you a check for $1,300 — not for $1,800. ($1,800 minus $500 is $1,300.)
To pick your deductible, think about your personal finances and ask yourself how much you can afford to pay out of your own pocket if you have to file a claim. It might be tempting to pick the lowest amount your insurer offers, but bear in mind that the lower your deductible is, the more they’ll charge you for renters insurance.
The most common deductible is $500, and unless you have solid reasons for choosing something else, that’s what we recommend.
Adding riders to your policy
When you get a quote from an insurance company, they’ll ask whether you want to add any riders or endorsements to your renters insurance policy.
Riders and endorsements are additions to your policy that increase the amount of coverage you have, or that add a new type of coverage that your policy wouldn’t normally provide.
If you live in a house with a basement that’s below the water table, we recommend getting a drain and sewer backup rider to protect yourself against water backups and sump pump failures. If you have any particularly valuable items, like expensive jewelry or collectibles, you should also get a scheduled property rider to fully cover them (which your policy otherwise might not).
When you buy your policy, browse your insurer’s website to see whether any other riders seem particularly useful. Renters insurance riders are usually fairly cheap, so don’t stress out too much about adding them.
Other coverage decisions
When you fill out your renters insurance application, your provider might ask you to choose between getting a replacement cost and actual cash value policy. If they do, we recommend getting a replacement cost policy, which will cover your things much more comprehensively.
Your insurer might also offer you a choice between getting a named perils or all-risks policy. This is relatively uncommon — most renters insurance policies are named perils policies — but if your insurer does give you this choice, we recommend an all-risks policy.
Step three: Compare renters insurance quotes from different companies
Your goal when you buy renters insurance is to find the most affordable policy that meets all of your coverage needs.
It’s worth spending half an hour getting quotes from different insurers and comparing them. It usually won’t take more than that to find something that’s acceptable to you.
How to find renters insurance quotes
You can shop for renters insurance both online and offline.
Getting rental insurance online is your quickest and easiest option. Type “renters insurance quotes” into Google and you’ll find plenty of companies that will provide you with a free renters insurance quote instantly, including:
- State Farm
- Liberty Mutual
- American Family Insurance
- USAA (if you’re a veteran or are in the military)
You can also consult with insurance agents in your area over the phone or in person. This takes longer and it’s stressful for the phone-shy, but it allows you to ask your potential insurer in-depth questions, such as what riders they offer.
Key information you need to provide to your insurer
Whether you solicit your quote online, over the phone, or in person, you need to be prepared to provide a few important pieces of information.
Your insurer will ask:
- Personal info, such as your name, age, and marital and employment status
- The address you want to insure
- The value of the personal property you want covered
- How much liability coverage you want
- Whether you want any add-ons to your policy, such as identity theft insurance
- Basic info about your building, such as the number of rental units
- Your home’s safety features, e.g. whether you have a fire alarm, burglar alarm, a deadbolt on your door, etc
- Whether you have any pets, and if so, what they are
- Whether you’ve filed any insurance claims in the past few years
After you provide this information, your insurer will run the numbers and provide an estimated quote. Depending on where you live, you might need to wait for them to run your credit before they finalize it, although in several states, such as California and Michigan, you can get renters insurance with no credit check.
How to get cheaper renters insurance
Renters insurance is usually quite cheap, but your premiums might be higher if you have poor credit, a history of making expensive insurance claims, or if you live in an area that has a high crime rate or is prone to extreme weather.
There are a few steps you can take to get discounts on renters insurance:
Bundle your insurance policies
Most insurance companies offer discounts for bundling your renters insurance with another type of insurance policy, such as auto insurance.
This is the best way to get cheaper renters insurance — depending on your provider, you might be able to save 10% on either insurance policy. In many cases, saving that much on your car insurance is practically like getting renters insurance for free.
Invest in a home security system
The more security features your home has, the better. You can usually get a discount for installing:
- Deadbolts on your doors
- Fire alarms
- Burglar alarms
- A central security system
If you don’t have the money to install any of those safety features (or your lease doesn’t allow you), consider asking your landlord to do so.
Point out that improving your unit’s security will benefit them, too. If you make your case effectively, you might be able to get a safer home and discounts on your renters insurance at your landlord’s expense.
Step four: Finalize your purchase
Once you’ve shopped around and found a suitable renters insurance policy, it’s time to go ahead and buy it.
Most insurance companies allow you to pay online with a credit or debit card without speaking to an agent. This is usually the fastest way to get coverage, but if you prefer to handle things over the phone, you’re free to do so.
How long it takes for renters insurance to kick in
You can complete the entire process of buying renters insurance (either calling an agent or getting a quote online and hitting the purchase button) in about fifteen minutes.
When you get your policy, your insurer will ask you when you want your coverage to begin. If you’re not currently insured, you should schedule it to start immediately. If you’re covered by another insurance policy (that your new one will be replacing), schedule your renters insurance to start shortly before your current policy expires.
Reasons why you might not be able to get renters insurance
When you solicit a renters insurance quote, the insurance company might decline to issue you a policy. This can happen for several reasons:
1. You have a poor credit rating or claims history
When you apply for renters insurance, your insurer will investigate your insurance claim history. They’ll also check your credit score (unless you live in a handful of states where doing so is illegal, such as Michigan and California).
Insurers do this to get an idea of how much of a risk you are. Statistically, people with poor credit or a history of making insurance claims are more likely to file expensive claims in the future.
If the insurer you picked declines to sell you a policy, don’t panic. Call them and ask to speak with an agent. You might be able to work something out, although you should be prepared for them to charge you more for insurance than they otherwise would.
2. You have a big dog breed (or other exotic pets)
Many insurers refuse to insure people who own certain dog breeds, particularly Rottweilers and pit bulls. If you own one of those breeds, you can still get renters insurance, but your options will be limited to the providers that cover pit bulls.