Moving insurance: Coverage from here to there

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America always has been a nation of movers. From the Pilgrims who sailed across the ocean to the pioneers who settled the West, we rarely have been content to stay in one place.

We also love our “stuff,” and take it wherever we go. But how do you keep your things — particularly valuables — protected when making a big move? Do you need to get some kind of moving insurance?

Home insurance or renters insurance should offer at least some peace of mind. Many insurance companies provide coverage for damage caused during a move by the usual perils named in your policy, such as fire and theft.

But if items break while they’re being handled by movers, that can be another story, says Loretta Worters, a vice president with the trade group the Insurance Information Institute.

“Your home insurance will not pay for any damage done to personal property while in the care of movers,” Worters says.

So, you will need to pack some special moving insurance coverage.

Insurance options from the movers

You can obtain some coverage from the movers. Moving companies offer two major types, Worters says:

Full-value protection. This is the more comprehensive coverage. The mover is liable for the value of replacing anything that’s lost or damaged. If an item goes missing or is harmed or destroyed, the mover can choose one of three options to compensate you:

  • Repair the item.
  • Replace the item with something similar.
  • Offer you a cash settlement for the cost of the repair or the current replacement value.

Full-value protection coverage will cost you a fee. Choosing a higher deductible can reduce the price of this coverage.

Released-value protection. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, this is coverage that movers offer for free.

“However, it provides only minimal protection,” Worters says.

Under this option, the mover assumes liability for no more than 60 cents per pound per article, she says. That means, for example, that a 10-pound piece of stereo equipment would net $6 in damage reimbursement even if the item is worth hundreds of dollars.

Under federal law, movers must offer both full-value and released-value coverage options for all interstate moves. Technically, these two types of coverage are not insurance and are not regulated by state insurance laws, meaning customers who have a beef with their moving company have no recourse through their state’s insurance department.

Whichever moving insurance option you choose, Worters urges that you clearly understand what protection is being offered and at what cost.

“Always ask your moving company to provide the specific policy terms in writing,” she says.

Add-on coverage from your own insurer

Again, standard homeowners or renters insurance covers loss due to perils named in your policy, such as theft or fire.

But if an item breaks while shifting around in the back of a mover’s truck, your policy isn’t likely to be much help unless you purchase what’s called a special-perils contents rider.

This type of add-on covers most breakage, except for fragile items, such as collectible figurines, china, vases and fine arts. (Those items can be covered by yet another rider known as a fine arts rider.)

Extra coverage for valuables

Remember that even if your home insurance does protect your belongings, and even if you have a rider for any breakage that occurs during a move, your insurance may not fully cover pricey items such as jewelry and electronics.

Purchasing a rider on such expensive items can increase your coverage level and leave you better protected, says Pete Moraga, spokesman for the Insurance Information Network of California.

“This increases the per-item coverage of the valuable and will protect it when it moves outside of the home,” Moraga says.

Consult with your agent and other experts if you are unsure about how much coverage to purchase, Moraga says.

“An expert who specializes in the type of item is best,” he says.

Finally, it is important to understand whether your valuables will be replaced on an “actual cash value” or a “replacement cost” basis.

Actual cash value means you’ll be reimbursed for the cost of your damaged item at its current, depreciated value, while replacement cost means you’ll receive the full cost of replacing the item with something new.

Moving it yourself? Rental truck coverage

Some people prefer to handle the moving themselves and use a rental truck to get the job done. Coverage for your valuables is available here, too.

For example, U-Haul offers SafeMove, which covers both the rental truck and any damage to your stuff that results from a collision, fire, windstorm or the truck overturning.

Up to $25,000 in coverage for your cargo is available for the one-way rentals typical of long-distance moves, says Scott Willson, U-Haul’s director of insurance programs. In-town rental coverage is limited to $15,000.

There is a $100 deductible. It is also important to note that this type of moving insurance coverage is actual cash value, meaning that any payout would be made based on the depreciated value of your used belongings.

“Depreciation would be measured by determining the useful life of an item, and what percentage of that useful life remains,” Willson says.