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Prepare now for spring flooding

Heavy snows this winter could bring damaging floods this spring. On average, U.S. consumers lose about $2.4 billion every year from flood damage. You can mitigate that risk with flood insurance, but it's important to understand flood insurance's terms and conditions.

And since flood insurance does not take effect immediately in many cases, it's crucial to plan ahead.

You may think since you have homeowners insurance that will cover any damage. Not necessarily. Contrary to popular belief, damage from flooding is usually not covered under your homeowners or renters policy. Instead, flood insurance may be purchased from your insurance agent through the federally backed National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which contracts with insurance companies to sell and service its policies.

But you must be prepared. Generally, there is a 30-day waiting period for flood insurance to become effective once the full premium has been paid. When the snow melts or the rain comes, it may be too late to purchase a policy. The waiting period is waived, however, when obtaining, increasing, extending or renewing a federally backed loan for a property. In cases where a property has been reclassified as high-risk due to a revision in the Flood Insurance Rate Map, the waiting period is only one day.

Federal aid may be available in areas defined by the government as federal disaster areas. But consumers must be aware that often times, that aid is in the form of a loan that must eventually be repaid, and the cost per month is typically much higher than flood insurance premiums. What's more, fewer than 10 percent of all natural disasters qualify for that assistance.

To qualify for the NFIP program, property owners must live in a community that participates in the program. The federal government requires flood insurance as a part of mortgages for houses in flood-prone areas. You might be eligible for a reduced rate if the community you live in has agreed to certain zoning regulations.

In addition to insurance, you can also take simple steps to help minimize your risk for large losses, like moving electronics and valuables to higher areas of the house. Also, if you need flood

insurance in excess of the NFIP's limits of $250,000 for residential coverage of the building and $100,000 for personal property, and $500,000 each for building and contents of commercial properties, ask your insurance agent about specialized policies to provide excess coverage. There are also contents-only policies available for renters.

Floods and flash floods happen in all 50 states. And while many homeowners understand and plan for the danger of fire, in a high-risk area your home is more than twice as likely to be damaged by flood as fire.

Be prepared for the real risk of flooding by knowing what your homeowners policy covers and protecting your home - now - with affordable flood insurance. To learn more, contact an insurance agent or visit the FEMA website at www. and choose National Flood Insurance Program.