5 things you should know about disaster insurance

As the strongest-ever hurricane barrels toward Mexico and its remnants are forecast to bring more rain to an already flood-weary Texas, homeowners and renters should take a moment to review their coverage against the damages Mother Nature can inflict.

Here are the most important things to know:

Your standard policy probably isn't enough. Typical homeowners and renters insurance doesn't cover damage from floods or rising water. Some policies pay for damage from wind and wind-driven rain, while others don't. Many policies issued in hurricane-prone areas include percentage-based "hurricane deductibles" that require you to pay more out of pocket before your coverage kicks in. For example: If your $200,000 home is destroyed by fire, you would just pay the standard deductible of $500 or $1,000. If it's destroyed by a hurricane, you could have to pay the first 5 percent, or $10,000. Read your policy, and call the insurer or your agent to clarify anything you don't understand.

You probably need some savings. If you have a hurricane or other disaster deductible -- earthquake coverage can require you to pay as much as 15 percent out of pocket -- you should have savings earmarked for that purpose or a home equity line of credit you can tap. Set up the HELOC in advance, since no lender will offer you one once your house has been damaged.

Flood insurance often isn't required, even if you should have it. If your home is in a high-risk flood zone, your mortgage lender might force you to buy flood coverage. Otherwise, it's typically not required. The federal government offers flood coverage, but to buy a policy you'll need to go through an insurance agent or broker authorized to sell this coverage. To find one, call the National Flood Insurance Program at 888-379-9531 or visit its website at www.floodsmart.gov.

There's a waiting period for flood insurance. Flood policies typically take 30 days to kick in, to discourage people from going bare most of the time and buying coverage only when a threat looms.

Regular flood insurance has limits, too. The maximum coverage provided by the National Flood Insurance Program is $250,000 for property and $100,000 for contents. If you need more coverage, you may be able to buy excess flood insurance from private insurers.

  • Liz Weston

    Liz Weston is a columnist at NerdWallet, a personal finance website, and author of "Your Credit Score." Email: lweston@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @lizweston.