Why are some homeowners insurance companies refusing to renew thousands of policies?
Let's start off in Florida where State Farm has just sent out notices to 15% of the 810,000 people holding home insurance that their policies will not be renewed. For the record, the insurer has to give six months' notice of its intention to refuse renewal. This is supposed to give adequate time for all homeowners to make alternative arrangements. This move to drop some 125,000 policies is quite significant so what's going on? The answer is unfortunate and going to become a problem around the country. Every state has a Department or Office of Insurance that's responsible for licensing and regulating the selling of insurance. One of the standard conditions in every one of the fifty US states is that each licensed insurer should have adequate capital reserves to pay out on all claims as and when they fall due. Before the recession, this was not a problem. All the insurers had their reserves invested in stocks and bonds. While the DJIA and other exchanges continued on an upward trend, the world sat back and assumed nothing could go wrong. This overconfidence meant that insurers were slow to pull their money out of the markets when the recession started to hit. As a result, almost all the insurers lost a big slice of their capital worth. In early 2009, State Farms in Florida realized it was likely to be insolvent in about two years if the projected number of claims were made. It approached the local Office of Insurance and did a deal. It would reduce the number of homeowners insured and increase the premiums for the remaining policyholders. This would reduce its exposure to claims and increase its capital reserves. Even with this plan, A M Best reduced the rating of State Farm to “fair” based on the expected continuing deterioration in its earning capacity.
When a company with some 18% of the market in homeowner policies admits it's within two years of insolvency, this is a serious concern. Now look with a clear eye at the rest of the insurance companies. They are in the same position, struggling to meet claims out of the reserves in hand. And thereby hangs a slightly different story. There's no federal insurance industry. Every insurer is obliged to set up separate subsidiaries to trade in each US state. In theory, the obligation to hold reserves is specific to each state. But the larger companies have been moving money around from one subsidiary to another, always ensuring there's enough in hand on each reporting date. This is close to dishonesty because, if you ask each Department or Office of Insurance, they will tell you the insurers must have permanent reserves and not merely the qualifying amount on the reporting date. But the insurers have been getting away with their sleight of hand for the last eighteen months.
So when you are looking round the local state's market for a homeowners insurance policy, do not simply get multiple quotes through this site's search engine. You should also check in with A M Best for the latest rating on the companies offering the most competitive terms. If you expect to stay with the same company for some time, make sure it's financially secure before you buy the policy. Otherwise, when you come to make a claim, you may find all those premiums will be lost and that homeowners insurance policy is just so much waste paper.
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