How to protect your most valuable asset

(BPT) - If you're like many Americans, your home may be your most valuable asset. That's why it's so important to protect it with homeowners insurance. Plus, it's probably a requirement of your mortgage. Setting up your coverage the right way starts with understanding the major parts of a homeowners policy.

Consider the following information and tips from the USAA Home Learning Center:

Dwelling protection

This protection covers the cost of repairing or rebuilding your home if it's damaged or destroyed. When you select the amount, keep in mind the cost to rebuild your home is different from its market value.

It's important to get the dwelling coverage right and to monitor it over time to make sure it keeps up with construction costs to rebuild. Under most homeowners policies, if you file a claim and have underinsured your home, your payout may be reduced.

Some insurers will help you estimate the rebuilding cost. They take into account the features, materials and finishes that make your home unique.

Personal property protection

This protection covers your furniture, clothing and pretty much everything else inside your home. Most policies set the amount of personal property protection as a percentage of the dwelling coverage.

It may not be enough, though. Homeowners plans set limits on certain high-value items. If you own expensive jewelry, art, guns, stamps, furs, cameras, computers, silver or collectibles, you'll want to consider buying valuable personal property insurance. This is sometimes called a "personal articles floater."

When you set up your homeowners policy, you may have to make an important choice about how to reimburse losses. There are two approaches:

  • Replacement cost. This coverage is the amount needed to replace the property with a comparable, new item.
  • Actual cash value. This coverage considers depreciation in the value of your property. If your 10-year-old couch is destroyed, you'd receive what it was worth at the time of loss, not the money you'd need to buy a new one.

To make your recovery from a loss as smooth as possible, replacement cost coverage is recommended.

Liability coverage

This is one of the most important and least appreciated forms of protection offered through homeowners coverage. It protects you if you're found to be at fault for someone's injury or property damage. It even covers you for non-automobile incidents away from your home. Generally, it also covers your legal costs associated with such claims against you.

As a rule, your liability coverage should at least be equal to the total value of your assets for both your homeowners and auto insurance. If your assets are higher than the maximum coverage allowed under the policy, consider purchasing umbrella insurance to cover the difference. This is important to protect the savings and other assets you've worked hard to acquire.

Deductibles

As with other types of insurance, a deductible is the part of a loss that you're responsible for covering out of your own pocket. The higher your deductible, the lower your monthly premium.

Choosing a higher deductible can save you money with a lower monthly premium but increases the risk you take. Consider the amount of cash you typically have on hand in your emergency fund or checking and savings accounts. Make sure you can cover the deductible amount comfortably.

What may not be covered

Your policy's basic coverage won't cover some special risks.

  • Floods: While a standard policy covers most weather-related events, floods aren't one of them. Flood insurance is inexpensive and the federal government offers it through insurers. While it's mandatory when you have a mortgage and live in a flood zone, you should give it strong consideration no matter where you live. Whether it's a flash flood or a few inches of excess water, flooding can cause massive damage to your dwelling and its contents.
  • Earthquakes: You can add coverage for earth movements to your policy with an extra premium. If you live in an area prone to earthquakes, consider reinforcing your home protection with this coverage.
  • Home businesses: Homeowners plans provide limited coverage for business equipment. If you run your business from home or have expensive office equipment, you may need to consider additional coverage. Your homeowners policy may not cover injuries to someone if they're related to your business.

For additional information on protecting your home, visit USAA.com/Homeowners.

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