How to Compare Earthquake Insurance in California

Three Parts:Comparing PoliciesComparing Insurance CompaniesMaking Your Selection and Purchasing a Policy

There is a greater than 99% chance that an earthquake of at least 6.7 magnitude will strike California within the next 30 years. While most Californians live within 30 miles of a fault line, only one in ten California homeowners has earthquake insurance. Although earthquake insurance might seem like an expensive investment, paying for earthquake damage out of pocket can be far more expensive. Even so, coverage options are varied, and it takes diligence and attention to detail to pick the right policy.

Part 1
Comparing Policies

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    Look at the premium. It’s the first thing most customers will do, and with good reason. The cost of the premium has to fit within your budget. The trick is to make sure you get a policy covering all the essential areas for the right price.
    • You should expect the premium for earthquake insurance to cost about the same as the premium for your homeowner's insurance. Of course, that's subject to variation. If you live on top of a fault line, you can expect your earthquake insurance to be more expensive than your homeowners' insurance, because it's all the more likely an earthquake will cause catastrophic damage.
    • The most exact estimate you'll be able to get before you talk to an insurance agent will be at the California Earthquake Authority's premium calculator, available at
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    Choose a deductible you can live with. The likelihood of anyone’s home being destroyed in an earthquake is relatively small. However, when an earthquake does occur, damage is widespread and extensive. For this reason, premiums for earthquake insurance are often high—as high as the premium for homeowner’s insurance—so a lot of homeowners will try to keep the premiums low by agreeing to a high deductible.[1]
    • This can be a dangerous tactic. The deductible for earthquake insurance is expressed as a percentage of the home’s value rather than a number. So if a house was $400,000, a 15% deductible would amount to $60,000. Ask yourself—if your home was totally destroyed in an earthquake, would you be able to cover $60,000 on demand?
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    Take note of how coverage is itemized and what is covered. In many earthquake insurance policies, different limits are applied to personal property coverage, living expenses, and coverage for structural damage. Only you know what the value of your personal property is, but the limits for coverage on personal property start out at around $5,000 for a basic earthquake insurance plan.[2]
    • Coverage limits can even apply within the umbrellas of personal property coverage and structural coverage. For instance, a policy might have a $5,000 limit for coverage to collectibles, and it might not cover fine china, crystal, or fine art at all.
    • Additional living expenses (ALE) covers the temporary expense you might have if an earthquake rendered your home unlivable. For example, if you had to get a hotel room and laundry service, ALE coverage would apply. Basic plans start out with just $1,500 worth of ALE coverage, but it can go as high as $25,000.[3]
    • Even coverage to your dwelling might not cover what you would imagine. It usually excludes masonry veneers, landscaping, and damage caused by sinkholes, floods, and fires, even when the earthquake caused the flood or the fire. [4]
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    Inquire about discounts for retro-fitting your home. Reducing your premium for earthquake insurance isn’t as easy as reducing your premium for other types of insurance. That’s because risk is calculated based on the location, size, and age of your home, as well as the type of soil it sits on and its proximity to fault lines. However, if you retro-fit your house to be more earthquake resistant, it can bring down premiums somewhat.[5]
    • Retro-fitting for earthquake resistance includes upgrades such as bolting your house to the foundation, bracing the walls with plywood, and attaching the hot water heater to the studs in the wall. [6]

Part 2
Comparing Insurance Companies

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    Look at reviews online. The simplest, quickest way to get a sense of an insurer’s reputation is to look for consumer reviews of their operating practices. While this is only a first step in the evaluation process, it can easily give you an idea of insurers you don’t want to work with.[7]
    • A great deal of California residents choose to buy their earthquake insurance though the California Earthquake Authority (CEA). The CEA is a publicly regulated exchange where private insurers offer earthquake coverage.[8] You can find the CEA at The participating insurers are all private companies that issue thousands of polices, and other policies are available outside the exchange from major national insurers or from specialty insurers like GeoVera.[9] All of the insurers should have an extensive online footprint.
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    Check with the California Insurance Commissioner. While online reviews might give you a sense of an insurer’s operating practices, the Insurance Commissioner will have records of complaints, licenses, and whether or not the insurer is covered by the state in case of default. You can find the Insurance Commissioner at[10]
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    Ask the Insurance Commissioner if they have a record of the insurer's loss ratio. Some state insurance commissions also keep records of the insurer’s loss ratio, which can give you the best idea of an insurer’s actual practices. The loss ratio describes how much of every dollar the insurer receives in premiums that are spent in payouts. Anything less than 50% in payouts is suspicious—the insurer either overcharges or underpays.
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    Estimate the insurer’s financial strength. Finally, another good way to compare insurers is by looking up the rating of their financial strength as rated by one of the major financial ratings bureaus. The strength of a firm is evaluated on a scale of AAA to D, with AAA being the best and D the worst.[11]
    • An insurer with poor financial strength is more likely to default in the event of a disaster, when many people make large claims all at once. The better the financial strength, the more likely the insurer is to pay out.
    • Some of the more well-known financial ratings services include Moody’s, Standard and Poor’s, and Fitch IBCA.

Part 3
Making Your Selection and Purchasing a Policy

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    Determine which insurance companies are in your budget. Weighing the possible expense of replacing your home and belongings out of pocket against the monthly expenses of another insurance premium, decide what you can afford in terms of another monthly payment.
    • Remember that some insurance is better than no insurance. Even if you can't afford a policy that would cover a total replacement, a policy that covered a partial replacement is preferable to nothing.
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    Call each company and discuss whether the rate could be lowered. Aside from adjusting premiums, deductibles, and making your house more earthquake-proof, there are a few ways you can negotiate a lower premium.[12]
    • One of the most common ways is by bundling--enrolling in several kinds of policies with one insurer. Ask how much money you can save by bundling.
    • You can also tell a prospective insurer that a competing insurance company is offering to insure you at a lower rate.
    • Some insurance companies also offer discounts to employers. Ask if your insurance company is covered.
    • If you've been insured with the same insurer for along time, sometimes they'll reduce the premium.
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    Make a selection and purchase your policy. Once you've considered the financial stability of the company, your budget, and negotiated the best rate, weigh the competing factors and select your policy.

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