Raise your homeowners insurance deductible for solid savings

Rethinking a homeowners insurance deductible

There are many ways to save money on home insurance, but one option that a lot of homeowners may not consider is adjusting the homeowners insurance deductible.

A study conducted by Quadrant Information Services examined the average economic impact of increasing a home insurance deductible (that is, how much you pay out of pocket for a claim before your insurance coverage kicks in).

Using a hypothetical two-story single-family home covered for $140,000, the study looked at how much an annual U.S. home insurance premium can decrease after increasing the deductible. According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), the average home insurance premiums is $1,096:

  • Increase from $500 to $1,000: 6 percent savings.
  • Increase from $500 to $2,000: 16 percent savings.
  • Increase from $500 to $3,000: 20 percent savings.
  • Increase from $500 to $5,000: 28 percent savings.

"The upside here is obvious — if you increase your deductible, you save money on your premium," says Mike Barry, spokesman for the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute.

Why are homeowners insurance deductibles so important?

Generally speaking, the size of a deductible strongly correlates to how often a homeowner will make a claim — and the more frequently a homeowner makes a claim, the more expensive he or she is to insure.

"If someone has a $500 deductible, they're more likely to file claims for $1,500 or $2,500 worth of damage," says Jonathan Stein, a California-based consumer law attorney who specializes in insurance. "If someone raises his or her deductible to $2,000, then he or she isn't likely to file a claim. A $5,000 deductible reduces that number even more significantly."

Most home insurance claims aren't "total loss" catastrophes, but rather smaller claims for things like smoke, water or theft issues, says Matt Naimoli, co-owner of the Massachusetts-based G&N Insurance. For instance, someone might file a claim after a leaky roof allowed water to collect behind a wall, creating mold or structural rot.

"Smaller insurance claims cause a majority of the claims paid out," Naimoli says. "Naturally, if the client has a $500 deductible and a $6,000 claim, he's not going to think twice to file it. But if that same homeowner has a $5,000 deductible, he wouldn't dream of filing that same claim." 

Home insurance deductible savings by state

Increasing a home insurance deductible almost always results in a cheaper premium, but this difference can vary significantly between states.

For instance, North Carolina residents save, on average, 25 percent when increasing a deductible from $500 to $1,000. And when increasing from $500 to $5,000 they save an average of 45 percent on home insurance (the most significant difference in the country). In fact, North Carolina had the highest percentage savings from deductible increases in all four categories.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma residents see the second-highest savings when increasing home deductibles from $500 to $5,000, but save substantially less for lower amounts.

Or consider Florida. According to a 2015 study conducted by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, the average cost of home insurance in Florida is $2,084 per year, the highest of all 50 states and Washington, D.C. The study found that residents of the Sunshine State get the second-highest savings rate for increasing a deductible from $500 to $3,000.

Should you increase your home insurance deductible?

According to Tennessee-based insurance agent Joseph Graves, the general rule of thumb is that homeowners should set their deductibles between 0.5 percent and 1 percent of the home's value.

For example, if your home is worth $150,000 then your deductible should be between $750 and $1,500.

While it may seem tempting to save money on the premium by increasing the deductible to as much as $3,000 or $5,000, Graves doesn't recommend it.

"The main question needs to be this: Do you have access, immediately, to $5,000 in the event of damage to your home?" Graves says. "The consequences of not being able to afford the deductible could be terrible."

According to Barry, the bottom line is this: If you can't come up with the deductible amount right now, your deductible is too high.

3 other ways to save money

Whether or not you increase your deductible, here are a few other ways to save money on your home insurance.

1. Don't file minor claims.

According to a 2014 Quadrant study, U.S. families who file a single homeowners insurance claim can expect their annual premium to increase 9 percent. This means homeowners need to think hard before filing an insurance claim.

Also, don't ever file a claim if the cost of the repair doesn't exceed your deductible. And even if it does, it's important to consider by how much.

For instance, if you have a $1,000 deductible and you put in a $1,200 claim, you'll only get a $200 settlement — and you'll also have a claim on your record, which could increase your premium.

2. Bundle home and auto insurance policies.

According to Graves, insurance discounts are frequently offered to those who buy their home and auto insurance through the same carrier.

See also: Bundling home and auto insurance: 5 states where you can save the most — and least

3. Ask your agent about additional discounts.

According to Barry, there are myriad discounts available to homeowners, many of which go unnoticed. For instance, discounts between 15 percent and 20 percent may be applied to some of the following:

  • Setting up an automatic payment through your online checking account
  • Installing a 24/7 security system
  • Updating old wiring in the house
  • Updating your roof to include “impact resistant” materials
  • Not filing a claim for 10 years or more

4. Shop around.

Homeowners should compare three or four new policy prices every two or three years, and do so at least a month before the current policy renews, according to Graves. 

"Too many people get 'comfortable' with the brand they bought," Graves says. "Your best bet for saving money is going to be changing carriers every so often."

See also: What 6 home insurance discounts will save you