While some might claim the notorious ‘American Dream’ hopelessly outdated, over 70% of Americans still perceive homeownership as essential to achieving their personal goals.
Traditionally, most real estate owners do not buy houses instantly but rather mortgage them, splitting the total payment into monthly installments and providing obligatory homeowners insurance to the lender to validate the mortgage contract.
Contrary to popular belief, fewer and fewer Americans are buying homes. The homeownership rate had been steadily rising from 63.7% in 2016 to almost 66% in 2020, indicating the people’s reestablished desire to own real estate rather than rent it, an essential change in the over-decade-long recession-triggered decline in the homeownership rate that lasted from 2004 to 2016.
Almost all owners of the house – as well as those paying mortgage – have their real estate insured, which can be done with one of the seven forms of homeowners insurance, HO-1 through HO-8, each of which provides different coverages, premiums, deductibles, etc. The U.S. homeowners insurance industry leader is Bloomington, followed by Allstate and Liberty Mutual.
Anyway, whether you are a full-fledged property owner or you are still paying your mortgage, the knowledge of the declarations page can save you from many financial troubles, protecting your real estate and property from damages, theft, and liability claims. But hold on a second…how can you be sure that the whole insurance affair is worth it in the first place?
The Preface: Do You Need To Insure Your Property?
Before we proceed to dissect the declarations page, let’s mention that homeowners insurance is not mandatory in the United States, but it can be required by your lender in case you are paying a mortgage loan.
Important digression: the inability to provide proof of homeowners insurance to your lender allows them to buy a ‘force-placed’ insurance policy for you and add its cost to your mortgage payments. The ‘force-placed’ policy is more expensive and usually less extensive than the regular one, which makes it a pretty undesirable scenario (therefore, make sure your policy is up to date and fully covers your needs). Also, if you’ve just bought or mortgaged a house and need proof of insurance, you can get an insurance binder serving proof of your insurance.
Remaining your property uninsured would be too risky. According to statistics, about 5% of homeowners insurance owners file at least one claim yearly. In contrast, about 2.5% of insurance owners send a claim related to weather conditions, such as wind, hail, lightning, or fire. On top of that, about 0.15% of the insured has liability claims.
The numbers may not look intimidating, but having no insurance may result in bankruptcy and ruined life, whereas paying an annual premium of $1,000 to $1,500 won’t worsen your financial well-being dramatically, will it? Ultimately, it’s your responsibility to assess the degree of risk and make your decisions based on that.
The Declarations Page in a Nutshell
With the total amount of paid claims (incurred losses) exceeding $65 billion in 2020, the highest recorded figure for the last decade and almost twice the amount paid in 2013, there’s very little doubt in the value of understanding your homeowners insurance, the main points of which are highlighted on its declarations page.
The Declarations Page – which you can get as a physical copy or a PDF from your insurance company, or you may be able to access it online on the insurer’s website – is a document containing the essential parts of your insurance.
It is issued by your insurer and updated (optionally) upon the renewal of the policy or whenever you want to make changes. Simply put, it is a summary of the lengthy document given to you for a better and faster understanding of the main points of the policy.
Reading the Contents of Your Declarations Page
No overarching insurance declarations page form would contain every nuance you could encounter, so your particular case will likely differ from what we describe below. Some info might be more extensive or less extensive on your declarations page, but in most cases, it will repeat what is shown in our sample declarations form:
- Section 1 – the general info on the parties and the property involved and the contact information for reporting an insurance claim.
- Section 2 – the duration of the policy (inception and expiration dates with the exact time in a specified time zone).
- Section 3 – the coverage (type/amount/limits) and the deductible.
- Section 4 – additional info, endorsements, discounts, and the premium amount.
Note, however, that your declarations page is not all-inclusive. Given chiefly for informational purposes, it displays only the general – not exhaustive – policy information and, therefore, might miss some details that must be included in the full policy version.
The Important Nuances To Know
While some may find the document pretty straightforward, others might be overwhelmed with the details and need help understanding the meaning of specific terms, such as deductible, endorsement, and inflation coverage index.
Here are the most popular terms you may encounter when deciphering your policy:
- Limits of coverage: indicate the maximum amount you will get for this or that claim. You must pay the rest out of pocket if the damage exceeds the coverage limit.
- Limits of liability: indicate the maximum amount you will get for a particular liability claim. You must pay the rest out of pocket if the claim exceeds the coverage limit.
- Deductible: how much you will have to pay out of pocket. For example, a $1,000 deductible means that only the financial losses that exceed $1,000 will be compensated, whereas anything less than that will have to be paid out of pocket.
- Policy premium: how much you’ll pay for your insurance annually or until you decide to change the terms of your insurance (for instance, by introducing endorsements).
- Endorsements (riders): the additions to your existing policy that remain until the policy expires unless a specific timeframe is stated. Not included by default, endorsements may be added whenever you want to alter your existing coverage or at the time of renewal. For example, if you’re going to include the coverage of some art pieces or jewelry as an endorsement, you can do it midterm or upon the renewal of your insurance policy. Note, though, that endorsements will inevitably lead to an increase in your premium.
- Inflation coverage index: Not shown in the sample declaration form above, the inflation coverage index is designed to cover the inflation affecting the replacement cost. An inflation coverage index may reach 4% a year and more.
- Discounts: provided upon meeting certain conditions, such as having several policies with the same insurer, being a loyal customer, being in a specific age group (seniors, for example), having safety and security systems installed on your property, having a clear insurance record, and more.
- Surcharges: The ways discounts can reduce your premium and surcharges can increase it. Surcharges may apply to, for example, old houses or houses without sufficient safety and security systems.
But then again, some unfamiliar terms may appear depending on the type of policy you’re using and other details of your particular case. Therefore, it is wise to consult with your agent, letting them elaborate on every aspect of the policy.
Oleksandr is an expert in deep research. He covers insurance topics across four major insurance verticals – auto, health, life, and home insurance – while taking into account the legal landscape of the state in question. Come rain or shine, you can expect regular quality blogs and timely updates from Oleksandr.