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October 3, 2013

Consumer Reports: How to buy critical flood protection

Meteorologists predict that the Atlantic hurricane season, which officially started June 1 and lasts until Nov. 30, will be more active than usual. Consumer Reports Money Adviser notes that that forecast, plus the extreme weather in other parts of the country, might prompt you to buy flood insurance for the first time.

Or you might be forced to buy it. In recent years, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been rolling out new flood maps of the entire country, reclassifying some moderate-risk flood zones as high-risk. Homeowners who live in these new "special flood hazard" areas and have federally secured home loans will have to buy coverage. In addition, some mortgage lenders are requiring flood coverage for houses outside high-risk zones. And a 2012 law reduces federal subsidies on mandated coverage for mortgage holders living in high-risk areas, which could mean that they'll face significant increases in premiums.

FILL YOUR HOMEOWNERS GAPS

Though you might be able to buy a homeowners insurance rider to cover, say, a sewer backup that floods your home, your best — and often only — option to protect yourself from naturally occurring floods is a government-sponsored flood policy. Even if you don't live near a body of water, flood insurance can be a wise purchase because it includes more than the overflow from rivers, streams and ocean tides. Also covered are mudflows and pooled water from oversaturated or still-frozen soil, and paved driveways and parking lots that divert rainwater into basements and crawl spaces.

In fact, those events account for many claims. The National Flood Insurance Program, the FEMA division that administers most residential flood insurance policies, says that more than 20 percent of claims are filed by homeowners in medium- and low-risk areas. A survey this spring by the Consumer Reports National Research Center found that almost 30 percent of homeowners affected by Superstorm Sandy last October could have benefited from flood insurance, but they didn't have it.

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