Updated: March 2017
Many conditions can cause flooding: spring thaws, heavy rains, hurricanes and the rapid accumulation of rain after a wildfire are just some of them. And, while certain areas are prone to flooding, it can happen anywhere and at any time. According to Floodsmart.gov, floods are the No. 1 natural disaster in the United States. "All it takes is a few inches of water to cause major damage to your home and its contents," the federal government-run website declares.
So, are you prepared? Beyond readying your home and developing a family emergency plan, being prepared for a flood means understanding a bit about insurance.
Most important is the fact that a standard homeowners insurance policy typically doesn't cover flood damage. And because floods can occur anywhere, you should consider purchasing a separate National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) flood policy through an insurance agent. The NFIP is managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Not everyone understands the need for a separate flood policy. In fact, research shows that there's a common misconception that homeowners insurance covers flood damage when, in fact, it typically doesn't. In a March 2013 survey commissioned by Allstate, 44 percent of Americans said they believed they were covered for weather-related floods, when, in fact, only 15 percent reported having purchased a flood insurance policy through the NFIP.
Costs for flood insurance will vary depending on how much coverage you buy, what the policy covers (does it just cover the structure? the contents of your home?) and your property's flood risk. The NFIP offers flood risk maps to help you identify your community's level of risk.
If your home falls in a high-risk flood area and you carry a mortgage from a federally regulated or insured lender, your lender is legally mandated to require flood insurance on your property. Typically, that's not the case if your home falls in a moderate-to-low risk area. However, a lender may require you to hold flood insurance at any time — even if the company is not legally mandated to do so, according to Floodsmart.gov.
To obtain an NFIP policy, your community must participate in the program. Most do, but not every municipality across the country does. You can check whether your community participates in the NFIP Community Status Book (click on your state, and then search through the alphabetical listing of communities to see if yours is on the list).
While flood insurance is offered through the NFIP, policies are sold and administered by private insurance companies. Most policies don't take effect until 30 days after signing, so it's a good idea to consider purchasing coverage before storm season is upon you. Find an agent near you to talk about your flood insurance needs.