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Insurers getting skittish about what and whom they'll cover

And read fine print from credit card companies

Talk about buyer's remorse. You're about to close on your dream house, but you lack the proof of insurance necessary for the mortgage lender to release the funds. Or the paperwork is in order, but a few months later — when you already own the house — the insurer threatens to charge you an outrageous premium or informs you that it won't cover you after all.

In recent years, insurers have become increasingly skittish about who and what they will cover, particularly in areas hit hard by natural disasters.

"Insurance used to be the last thing people would think about when buying a home," says Marcia Salkin, staff coordinator for the National Association of Realtors' insurance task force.

Salkin now advises buyers to request a copy of their claims-history report, such as the one produced by the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange, or CLUE, to check for errors. She also recommends asking the sellers for a claims-history report for the property. Insurers use these reports, which go back five years, to assess their risk in insuring you and your new home.

You can order your CLUE report at or a similar A-PLUS report at 800-709-8842. Each report costs $9 unless you live in Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey or Vermont, where you can get a report free of charge.

Opt out, or else

Most people pitch the privacy notices from banks, credit-card companies and other financial firms in the trash. But only by reading the federally mandated notices can you find out how to stop a firm from giving out your personal information. Telling them not to share information, such as your Social Security number, is called opting out.

Beth Givens, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, encourages consumers to "wade through the verbiage and find the opt-out opportunity." Look for a section labeled "Choice" or "How to Reach Us," which will provide you with a phone number or address to contact.

The federal agencies that regulate the financial-services industry are attacking the problem of unreadable, legalese-laden notices. They are beginning a research project this fall to figure out how to make it easier for consumers to understand and exercise their rights.

A few financial institutions, such as E-Loan and ING Direct, have an opt-in rather than an opt-out policy. That is, they will not share your data unless you specifically give them permission to do so.