From home and health to auto, life, disability and more, it's important to be smart about how you buy coverage to limit costs, purchase the right coverage and avoid redundancies.
The best place to start is on your state's official government website, says FindLaw.com, the nation's leading website for free legal information. There you will find a list of licensed insurers so you can be assured that you're dealing with a legitimate company.
"Work with a reputable insurance agent who represents a financially sound, highly-rated company," advises Ed Susolik, an attorney who specializes in insurance law at Callahan & Blaine in Santa Ana, Calif. "As is often the case, you get what you pay for. You don't want to add to a tragedy by discovering that you're underinsured or that the policy you've purchased from a little-known company is fraught with loopholes."
Here are some additional tips from FindLaw.com on purchasing insurance coverage:
Follow the law. Check the laws of your state. You may be required to carry certain types of insurance, such as liability insurance to operate a car, motorcycle or boat. This also applies on the federal level, for example, with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, all Americans will be required to carry health insurance as of 2014.
Read your policy. Many Americans don't read their insurance policies and hastily sign contracts without considering the implications. For example, if your health insurance covers 90 percent of all medical bills and you require significant medical attention, the 10 percent for which you're responsible could add up. If you have trouble understanding what a policy proposal covers, don't hesitate to slow down and ask your agent for clarification or get a quote from a different company. Remember: you're buying insurance to ease, and not trouble, your state of mind.
Plan for major milestones. Major events will trigger the need to purchase insurance or increase your existing coverage. With the birth of a first child, parents should consider purchasing term life insurance. It offers a benefit to a spouse and child to cover living expenses if one parent dies before the child reaches adulthood.
Inspect your home insurance. Carefully review your home insurance policy. Are you insured for your home's market value or replacement value? The replacement value is the cost of rebuilding your house, while the market value is based on an appraisal of its value in relationship to surrounding homes. Your agent should be willing to work with you to sculpt the policy that meets your needs.
Consider flood insurance. Standard homeowners insurance typically does not include flood insurance. First, determine the level of risk for flooding in your area. There are a few options online, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency's website (www.fema.gov), where you can search your address and assess flooding risk. Your insurance agent also should have access to this information and can explore your options with you.
Add an umbrella policy. It's not a bad idea to purchase an umbrella liability policy to provide additional coverage above and beyond your homeowner's insurance. This helps in situations where you could be at fault for accidents, such as your dog biting a mail carrier or a tree in your yard falling onto a neighbor's car.
Research renter's insurance. Apartments can be burglarized or damaged like any other property. If you rent, consider purchasing renter's insurance to cover assets such as computers, furniture and other significant items.
Inventory your belongings. Take photos or videos, with audio descriptions, of your property so you and the insurance company have an accurate record of your belongings in the event of a fire or other accident. Capture your home, prized possessions and high-value items such as cars, boats, jewelry and collections. Store the files on a portable hard drive in a secure and safe location, such as a safe deposit box.
To learn more about insurance and the law, visit FindLaw.com.