As moving season gets into full swing, many military families are making decisions about when they'll move, how they'll move and where they'll live.
While children settle into new schools, spouses seek new jobs and dozens of other items get checked off the to-do list, there are insurance factors to consider – renter's insurance, vehicle insurance, homeowner's insurance, and making sure your personal belongings are adequately covered.
Insurance is not a place where you want to skimp, said Melanie Hart, USAA's senior program underwriter for loss prevention and safety.
"Take it upon yourself to make sure you have enough coverage," Hart advised. "Determine the level of coverage you need, and within that, how will you be able to afford it?"
Take this opportunity to shop around for the best rates, and to ask if the company offers better rates if you purchase multiple types of insurance with them, such as renters' insurance and vehicle insurance.
DURING THE MOVE
Contact your insurance company ahead of time to let them know you're moving. You'll want to make sure your belongings are covered throughout the move. Through the military's household goods movement program, your property is covered primarily by the moving company.
Your own insurance may come into play if there's a total loss on your shipment, or a covered "peril" – insurance-speak for mishap – and the shipment is more than the weight limit allowed for those in your rank. Such incidents are handled on a case-by-case basis, Hart said.
The other important scenario is when you move all or part of your belongings yourself. It's always a good idea to check with the insurance carrier, for any gaps in coverage or any actions you need to take to ensure your policy stays in effect, Hart said. For example: Are you covered if your goods are stolen from your moving van while it's in the hotel parking lot? What if they're taken from the van or from storage while you're in temporary quarters?
Separately, if you're taking valuable jewelry or other items with you in your vehicle, make sure you have adequate insurance on those pieces. Moving or not, if personal property is stolen from your vehicle, your vehicle policy doesn't pay for it, said Mike Nixon, vice president of insurance operations for Armed Forces Insurance. It's your renter's or homeowner's insurance policy.
Whether you're living in barracks, family housing on base, or renting a house or apartment in the civilian community, you'll need renter's insurance, because your belongings are not automatically covered.
"Not as many people are buying renters' insurance," AFI's Nixon said. "They may think the government covers it."
Some people have found themselves in a bind when they didn't have renters' insurance, Hart said – renters may not think their possessions would be very costly to replace, but buying new clothes, shoes, and electronics adds up.
Make sure your policy covers replacement costs, not just cash value, Hart said. And make sure you have enough coverage: The rule of thumb is $10,000 to $20,000 per person, Hart said. That covers the basics, but add the value of any big-ticket items on top of that figure.
A minimum $10,000 policy is about $15 to $20 a month, she said, calling it "a good deal when you think about protecting your personal belongings and making sure you've got something to offset a loss."
If you own your home, maintain the insurance on your home until it's sold. If you plan to keep the home and rent it, you'll need rental property insurance (some call it fire insurance). It covers the structure, but not the renter's belongings inside.
Contact your insurance company to update the status of the home and to give them your change of address. Be aware that if you don't immediately have renters or sell the house, and the home is vacant and unoccupied for 30 days or more, your company could start to exclude coverage for vandalism.
If you're buying a house in your new location, make sure the coverage is adequate, Hart said. For example, if you're moving from the East Coast to the West Coast, it may not be obvious that earthquake insurance coverage is not included in the policy. That requires an additional policy, with an additional premium and a separate deductible.
Evaluate your deductible. The higher your deductible, the lower your monthly premium.
"We've talked to people who said they wouldn't file a claim for less than $1,000, but their deductible is lower. So we told them to increase their deductible to get the best savings," Nixon said.
PERSONAL LIABILITY PROTECTION
Just like the vehicle insurance policy provides liability protection in the event you are sued because of an accident, you need personal liability protection "for all the things we could do as humans to other folks," Hart said.
For example, if you hurt somebody unintentionally while you were grocery shopping, you could be held liable for any injuries they suffered if they sued you.
Homeowners and renters' insurance policies provide this personal liability protection.
As soon as you know the general area where you're going, call your insurance carrier and ask for a quote, even if you don't have an address. Shop around for rates of other companies who offer insurance in the state. The quote may not be exact, but it will be in the ballpark, Hart said.
It's important to ask about states' requirements – minimum liability protection requirements vary from state to state, and the new state may have higher minimums.
The rates themselves also vary by area, generally rising along with traffic volume, Nixon said. If there’s required coverage that a previous state didn’t require, the new policy would automatically provide that.
Once you have your new address, let your insurer know and ask what the premium will be. If it's lower than your previous area, you have the option of asking for the policy with the lower rate, Nixon said. If it's higher, you have the option of waiting until the term of your policy runs out. You'll have to go to the new rates at the renewal date; this is true with most, if not all, companies, Nixon said.
Tell your insurance company if you plan to store your vehicle – you may no longer need full coverage and may qualify for a lower rate. However, Hart cautions that your definition of "storage" may be different from the insurance company's definition: Being in a storage facility where the cars are maintained in a professional environment is different from being parked at your in-laws' house with someone occasionally behind the wheel.
You must have full coverage if anyone ever drives the car, Hart said, because you are the responsible party as the owner of the vehicle.
"Ask yourself if it's worth it to store it, or if it's better to sell it," Hart said. "It's good to talk to your insurance company ahead of time to make decisions about the vehicle while you're away."
Making sure you have the right kinds of insurance, and enough of it – whether it's your house, your belongings, or your vehicle, is crucial to protecting yourself, your family and your assets, Hart added.
"You never want to find out you don't have enough coverage, after the loss," she said. "You come to the realization that you're going to have to absorb the financial loss yourself."
Karen Jowers covers military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.