Buying insurance can be confusing, but when the unexpected happens – a house fire, a car accident or a bone fracture – it is a relief to know that some of those financial losses are going to be covered. But how do you know how much coverage you need? And what questions should you ask before buying a policy? Many consumers aren’t very sure. Insurance coverage is far from one size fits all, so here are mistakes some consumers make when buying insurance.
1. Assuming insurance is out of reach. In some cases, consumers skip insurance because they think it’s out of their budget. Often, that’s not the case, according to Marvin Feldman, president and CEO of the LIFE Foundation, a nonprofit organization that educates consumers about financial planning and insurance. The LIFE Foundation collaborated with LIMRA, a worldwide research and consulting organization for insurance and financial services, on the 2013 Insurance Barometer Study, which found that the average consumer thinks life insurance is three times more expensive than it actually is.
When buying health insurance or property and casualty insurance, ask about potential discounts. While health insurance discounts are often income-based, homeowners and auto insurers offer discounts for everything from being a member of groups like AARP, to being a good student or a good driver, to having a home security system.
2. Relying on assumptions or outdated figures. Changing economic conditions mean you might need more insurance coverage than you had in the past. Take life insurance. In the past, consumers might have based their life insurance coverage on their current income, but if something happens and you’re no longer around, you need more capital at work to provide the same income to your beneficiaries. Disability and long-term care insurance are even more complicated than traditional life insurance.
In the case of homeowners insurance, your home could be underinsured if you’ve renovated or if the cost to build a home has increased due to higher material costs or other factors. That’s why experts recommend reviewing insurance coverage once every year to make sure it still fits your needs. Talk to your insurance agent if you’re unsure.
3. Shopping on price alone. Resist the urge to simply choose the policy with the lowest premium. Consider the company’s reputation and the coverage you’d get for that premium. In general with health insurance, the higher the premium, the lower the amount you pay when you go to the doctor. Private health insurance plans must provide coverage examples showing what your estimated out-of-pocket costs would be for, say, having a baby or managing Type 2 diabetes. Some examples might not apply to you, but they can help you compare plans and see how much you might have to pay in coinsurance and copays.
Your property and casualty insurance may not cover things like food spoilage in the event of a power outage or stolen electronics worth more than $1,000, so you may want to purchase extra endorsements to cover those possibilities.
With disability or long-term care insurance, prices can vary depending on the length of the elimination period – the amount of time you must wait before coverage begins – and whether the policy includes inflation protection, so consider these factors, too.
4. Overlooking details. Make sure you understand what your insurance policy covers. For health insurance, it’s cheaper to see doctors who are in-network and buy prescription drugs covered by the formulary, so check to see if your doctor is in-network and if your prescription drugs are covered before you buy a policy. Otherwise, you could get an expensive surprise.Read your insurance policy and contact your insurance agent if anything is unclear.
5. Setting your deductible too low. Setting a low deductible typically means higher premiums, and in the case of property and casualty insurance, a greater likelihood of small claims that could ultimately raise your premiums. Insurance is designed to protect against losses you could not cover yourself, so if you can afford to pay the first $500 or $1,000 in losses yourself, you may not need a lower premium.