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Is Florida Home Insurance Too Late to Get in Line For a Washington Bailout?

Is Florida Home Insurance Too Late to Get in Line For a Washington Bailout?
By Michael Letcher 

The financial crisis brings more shocking news every day. This week was no different as executives from General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler landed in Washington with their corporate jets to ask for their share of the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program.

In a shameless display of arrogance and entitlement, leaders of what used to be "best in class" companies begged for billions of dollars with their tin cups outstretched in front of the US Congress.  Before the Big Three ever arrived in Washington, billions had already been committed to AIG and some of the largest financial institutions in the country.

During this financial meltdown we're seeing something we never expected to see in our lives - broken promises from major corporations and government entities on a scale never considered possible. We've reached a point where even large companies and large states like Florida can't meet their obligations using the bond markets.

If you are a Florida home insurance consumer, your biggest asset is now at risk during the financial crisis - your Florida home.

Can you name a more sacred promise than the one a home insurance company makes to you when it takes your money and agrees to insure your home?

When you buy homeowners insurance in Florida the insurance company is promising you fast and fair payment of your claim. Florida insurance companies buy reinsurance to help them make good on this promise to you. Reinsurance is backup coverage that insurance companies buy to help protect themselves from big losses above certain levels.

The Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund was formed as a way to help stabilize the Florida home insurance market after Hurricane Andrew caused billions in damage to Florida in 1992. By offering reinsurance at affordable rates, the fund helped to make homeowners insurance available and affordable for many years.

That all changed after the Florida hurricanes of 2004 and 2005 when Florida home insurance became overpriced and hard to find again.

The Florida legislature responded to the Florida home insurance crisis by voting in 2007 to expand the reinsurance sold by the Cat Fund by $12 billion - raising its total risk to a total of $28 billion. Florida home insurance companies were required to purchase this additional reinsurance from the state and to pass along the savings realized on reinsurance to home owners.

As a Florida homeowner, you didn't get the rate reductions that this law was supposed to provide. You didn't get the 24% average rate reductions that were predicted when the legislation passed. And to make things worse, the Florida Cat Fund took on an additional $12 billion in risk.

Now the Florida Catastrophe Fund has told us that the frozen bond markets won't be an acceptable source to raise the cash it needs to meet its commitments to the insurance companies after a major Florida hurricane. It recently estimated that it could pay out $13 billion over the next twelve months - That's $15 billion less than the $28 billion it is on the hook to pay!

What does all of this mean to you as a Florida home insurance consumer?

You didn't get the rate relief you expected and your state took on financial obligations that it has no hope of paying.

You are at risk if Florida experiences a major hurricane in the next year. Once the losses of your Florida home insurance company exceed certain levels, your company will ask the Florida Cat Fund to reimburse them in order to pay your claim. Since the Florida Cat Fund is short on cash, you might have a long delay in getting your claim paid.

The promise to pay your Florida home insurance claim has never been more at risk than it is today.

Now that you know that the Florida Cat Fund can't meet its obligations, let's look at the idea of a National Hurricane Catastrophe Fund that some in Florida have been pushing in Washington for many years. This National Cat fund would offer an additional layer of loss protection above and beyond the obligations of the Florida Cat Fund.

The theory is that a National Catastrophe Fund would be funded in part by insurance premiums paid by policyholders in states that are part of the fund. A National Cat Fund would be a separate fund that would earn interest and grow during the years when there aren't any claims.

Supporters claim that no taxpayer money would be needed to sustain a National Cat Fund. History tells us there would be storms so large that federal tax dollars would have to be used to cover major losses.

And everyone knows that the federal government can't keep its funds separate. Just ask someone in Washington to show you the billions that are supposed to be in the Social Security Trust Fund. You won't be shown any cash - just a drawer full of T-Bills and IOU's.

Now that the Big Three Auto makers and other shameless Fortune 500 companies have beaten Florida to the punch in Washington, it is very unlikely that a National Hurricane Catastrophe Fund will pass anytime soon. Even President Elect Obama will shy away from any additional federal obligations as he faces all of the red ink in Washington today.  So don't look to the federal government to make good on the promise that was made to pay your Florida home insurance claim.

Finally, Citizens Property Insurance Corporation has consistently reported that it doesn't have anywhere near the money it needs to pay out the almost half a trillion dollars in hurricane exposure it after a major Florida hurricane.

A large hurricane would mean that Citizens can't pay even its primary obligations - those that it must pay even before losses reach levels where Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund reinsurance kicks in. And as a policyholder with Citizens, you are subject to paying higher special assessments after a major Florida hurricane than policyholders who have private homeowners insurance - special charges tacked on to your annual insurance bill.

In this new brave world where even governments can't keep their promises here are some steps you should take as a Florida home insurance consumer right now:

Get a Florida wind inspection done and harden your home as much as possible.

Avoid Citizens Insurance Florida if you can.

Find a home insurance company that is strong financially and one that has spread its risk across both Florida and other states. Fewer policyholders will mean faster payment of your claim.

Report your insurance claim the same day as the Florida hurricane. This will make it more likely that you will get paid before your insurance company looks to the Florida Cat fund for reimbursement.

Last but not least. The fact that the Florida Cat Fund is short on money has not been lost on Florida home insurance companies. They are being charged for reinsurance by an entity that has publicly stated that it can't meet its obligations. That means insurance companies are not getting what they paid for.

You should expect Florida home insurance companies to try to buy more of their reinsurance in the private market and not from the State of Florida in 2009. And they will look to pass that cost through to you in the form of higher insurance rates. If they don't get the rate increases they need, your Florida home insurance policy might be cancelled.

As the Florida home insurance crisis continues, it has never been more important for you to stay on top of the Florida home insurance market for private insurance. You never know when you might have to find a new Florida home insurance carrier.



Florida Home Insurance Buyers BUNDLE and $ave

How to Select a Combined Home and Auto Insurance Online
By Elizabeth Newberry

When you purchase more than one kind of insurance policy from the same company, you're usually purchasing what's called a "multi-line policy." Some insurance companies may refer to this as a "combined policy." Regardless of the name, most insurance companies offer discounts for these kinds of multi-insurance purchases. This means you could save loads of money on premiums by purchasing more than one kind of insurance policy from a company with which you're already doing business. Cheaper and easier? It just makes sense.</p><p>If you already have a homeowner insurance policy, or an auto insurance policy, ask an agent or representative if your insurance company provides the opposite kind of insurance coverage, too (home or auto, whichever relates to your situation). Since purchasing both kinds of insurance coverage will most likely make you eligible for a discount, your insurance company undoubtedly has its own special procedures to get you signed up with a combined home and auto insurance policy.</p><p>If you don't already have either kind of insurance policy, what are you waiting for? While homeowner insurance isn't always required, auto insurance is required in all states. Get two birds with one stone by searching online for combined home and auto insurance. The process for shopping around for multi-line insurance isn't much different than shopping for only one kind of insurance.</p><p>Simply search for insurance companies that handle both auto insurance and home insurance. Follow the same steps as you normally would (check coverage and price, research financial rating and customer complaints, and talk with current customers), then set up an appointment with an agent with the company to discuss getting set up with combined home and auto insurance.</p><p>It's pretty easy to purchase auto insurance online; however, purchasing homeowner insurance isn't always so cut and dry. When you're ready to actually purchase combined home and auto insurance, it'd be in your best interest to speak with a live agent.


Property Owners Are Not the Only Ones With an Insurable Interest

Usually when a person buys a home or business, it is assumed that the purchaser or owner has an insurable interest in the property. However, when it comes to property insurance, the insured doesn’t always have to be the owner of the property. In fact, there are many other persons or entities that may have an insurable interest on a specific property at one time.

When there are multiple owners, or mortgager and mortgagee, life tenant, or lessor and lessee, each party may purchase insurance on the property to protect their interests in the event of a loss. But without a specific agreement regarding interests on a specific insurance policy, each party can only recover under its own policy.1

In the event of a loss and multiple insurance policies held by different parties, each insured may only recover up to the value of its interest in the property, even if the amount of the insurance exceeds the insured’s interest. For example, if a mortgagee (lender) and a property owner both take out a policy on the full value of a property, in the event of a loss, the mortgagee is entitled to recover only the value of its interest.2

I am often asked if a mortgagee (lender) has an interest under the property owner’s insurance policy when a loss occurs. The simple answer is, although a mortgagee has an insurable interest, the mortgagee has no right to the benefits of the property owner’s policy payout unless the mortgagee is actually named as another insured, a co-insured, or "loss payee," which gives contractual rights to the mortgagee.3  Also, a lender has rights to an owner’s insurance policy if there is a separate contract in the purchase or lending agreement.

Many policyholders don’t read their policies, and many more do not pay attention to the specific details of their lending or purchasing agreements. When purchasing insurance, know who your insurance policy covers and whether your lender has rights under your insurance policy. Knowing such information will give you a better idea of how much insurance is needed and should be discussed with your broker or agent when the policy is purchased or renewed. When insurance proceeds from a loss are payable to your lender, there may be difficulties in rebuilding or figuring out how much money will be released right away to help you recover.


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