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QUAKE INSURANCE MAY BE WORTH THE FINANCIAL SHAKE

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Homeowners at risk for earthquakes often pass up earthquake insurance because of the high cost. That's probably a mistake.

Joel Ginsburg of Las Feliz, Calif., near Los Angeles, turned down earthquake insurance for years.Then, after a quake two years ago, he decided to fork over $312 per year to add the protection to his homeowner's policy.

Even though it won't cover the $20,000 in structural damage his home sustained in the January earthquake, he still thinks the supplementary insurance is worthwhile.

Like most policies in California, Ginsburg's has a deductible of 10 percent of the policy limit.

If we were to have $250-deductible coverage, it would be so incredibly expensive that no one could afford it, says Bill Sirola, a State Farm spokesman.

In other states, most policies have 5 percent deductibles, and some are as low as 2 percent.

At least one company, State Farm, offers Californians a 5 percent deductible. But that adds about 25 percent to already-high premium costs.

Despite the high losses they have to cover out of pocket and the higher premiums - as much as 25 percent to 100 percent higher, depending on location - homeowners in high-risk areas should probably buy coverage.

San Luis Obispo financial planner Robert Wacker recommends that some clients buy earthquake insurance that covers only 60 percent of the replacement value of their homes, particularly if the house was built recently and is bolted to the foundation.

That lowers your deductible as well as your premium, but it increases your risk in the less-likely event of a total loss.

Do homeowners outside California need protection?

Missouri's New Madrid fault is another area at risk, and residents of southern Illinois, Louisville, Memphis and St. Louis should consider earthquake coverage.

While not cheap, protection in the Midwest is a far better deal than it is in California.

A New Madrid, Mo., homeowner who bought a $100,000 policy would pay about $60 per year to add earthquake coverage with a $5,000 deductible for damage to the property.

There's a separate deductible for damage to contents.

Outside California, the coverage is an extension of your regular homeowner's policy, so you're covered for $100,000 worth of damage to your house, plus whatever the base policy pays for damage to contents and for living expenses.

In California, earthquake coverage is sold as a separate policy, so only $100,000 in total losses and expenses would be covered.