Most people don’t expect to be the victim of theft or vandalism, but it can happen to anyone, no matter where you live. If you come home to find your property stolen or destroyed, your first phone call should be to the authorities to file a police report. Your second call? It should be to your insurance agent, who can then start the process of paying you on your claim.

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Generally, homeowners insurance policies cover theft, although there are some specifics that you should be aware of. Bankrate can help you understand the finer points of your home insurance coverage as it relates to theft and burglary.

Does home insurance cover theft?

If you have an HO-3 policy — the most common type of homeowners insurance — you have theft insurance. Theft is one of the named perils that is standard coverage with this type of policy. Your coverage comes from three of the elements that make up a standard policy.

Dwelling coverage

Dwelling coverage, also known as Coverage A, is the portion of your policy that pays for damage to your home itself, which includes damage caused by theft or vandalism. Someone breaking into your home may damage windows or doors in the process. Your dwelling coverage should pay for those repairs after your deductible is applied.

However, there may be limits to this coverage. Talking to your agent to ensure you are adequately covered might be a good idea. If the locks on your door, for example, are custom or antique, you might benefit from increasing your policy’s coverage amount if possible so that you could replace them with something similar in quality. Keep in mind that damages must be over your deductible for insurance to kick in.

Other structures coverage

If the damage or theft occurred in a detached structure on your property, other structures coverage should pay for damage to the building. Say someone breaks into your garage. In that case, the damage to your garage from the break-in would likely be covered. However, other structures coverage usually maxes out at 10% to 20% of your home’s insurance value on a standard homeowners policy. So if you’re worried about your garage, shed or fence not being fully repaired as a result of a break-in, you should talk to your insurance agent about potentially increasing your coverage.

Just like dwelling coverage, the damage to the structure must be over your deductible for insurance to pay anything out.  Also remember that if your car is stolen from your garage, your homeowners insurance doesn’t cover it. You would need to have comprehensive coverage on your auto policy to cover a stolen vehicle.

Personal property coverage

This may be the most important part of your homeowners policy if items are stolen from you because it covers your personal belongings. From clothing to furniture, your personal property insurance is designed to pay the costs of replacing your personal items, up to your policy’s limits and taking your deductible into account. If your property was stolen from your car, your car insurance should pay for the damage to your vehicle, but your homeowners insurance could pay for the personal property that was stolen. Auto insurance policies do not cover your personal property.

Do you need supplemental coverage for high-end belongings?

In general, yes, you do need supplemental coverage for expensive or high-end items. If you have expensive, high-end, collectible or antique items, you may want to consider scheduled personal property coverage.

While expensive items like jewelry or artwork are generally covered under a standard homeowners policy, they are only covered up to a certain amount. For example, standard homeowners policies typically set a value limit of $1,000 for theft of jewelry. If you have a collection of jewelry that is worth far more than this, it may be worth considering scheduled personal property coverage.

Scheduling your personal property can be beneficial if you own other items as well, like expensive electronics, cameras, furs, or other items. If your hobby involves collecting items such as stamps or coins, or if you have high-value musical equipment, talking to your insurance agent about scheduling those items could help ensure you get an adequate claim payout if they are stolen.

You’ll probably need to have an appraisal of their value to schedule them, but once you have one, you may be able to insure them for the full value if they are stolen or damaged by covered events. One benefit is that scheduling may expand the range of events you are covered for and often includes replacement if you’ve lost them. Another benefit: there is usually no deductible.

Actual cash value vs. replacement cost insurance

Your insurance should cover you in the event of a theft, but how much it covers your belongings for is determined partly by whether you have an actual cash value or a replacement cost policy.

What’s the difference? Actual cash value insurance takes depreciation into account. For example, if your two-year-old laptop is stolen from your home, you might only receive a few hundred dollars in a claim payout with actual cash value insurance, since computers depreciate quickly. That may not be enough to replace your property.

Replacement cost insurance, on the other hand, would pay you what was needed to purchase a new laptop of approximately the same quality as the old one. So your payout might be $1,000 or more, depending on what it would cost you to purchase a new one.

Replacement cost insurance, as you might imagine, is generally more expensive than actual cash value insurance, but it can leave your finances in far better shape after a home invasion.

How do you know if you have the right amount of homeowners insurance?

The right amount of homeowners insurance is unique to each person. The amount of insurance you need depends on the value of your home and property, the risks you are facing and the amount of coverage you are comfortable with. In general, the more money you have to replace your things, the more insurance you need to consider purchasing.

If you are not sure whether you have the right amount of coverage, one way to check is to speak with your agent or check the declarations page of your policy. The declarations page shows how much coverage you have for each type of coverage, including how much your personal property is insured for.

Another way to know if you have the right amount of coverage is to conduct a home inventory and evaluate whether you need to increase your coverage limits. A home inventory is a list of every item you own. Homeowners who take the time to create a detailed inventory often have a better sense of how much coverage they need and are typically better prepared when a claim needs to be made.

If you think you need more coverage, you can contact your insurance professional and ask about higher limits for your personal possessions. You can also consider whether you want to insure your belongings for actual cash value or for replacement cost.

How to file a home insurance claim for theft

If you’ve been the victim of theft and the damages are greater than your deductible, you might want to file a home insurance claim. This allows your insurance provider to investigate your loss and potentially pay you for your damages. You can file a claim by following these steps:

  1. Assess the damage. If your home or car has been broken into, take stock of what was damaged. Damage to your car should be covered by a full coverage auto insurance policy, whereas damage to your home and any stolen property (from your home or car) should be covered by your home insurance. You don’t have to work up an exact dollar amount for the car or home damage and stolen items, but you’ll probably want to make sure the damage is above your deductible before you file a claim.
  2. Contact your insurance company. Many companies have mobile apps that allow you to file a claim or access online customer portals. You might need to call an 800-number or talk to your local agent to initiate the claims process. You’ll need the date the loss happened, details about the event and information about the damage that occurred.
  3. Work with your claim representative. Your case will likely be handled by a claim representative, although occasionally you’ll work with an entire team of claim handlers. These insurance representatives are called adjusters. Keep in contact with your adjuster via email, phone, text or mail. You may need to provide documentation proving you owned the stolen property and proof of its value.
  4. Receive your payout. If your claim is approved, you’ll likely get a check in the mail for the agreed-upon value of the damages. For your personal property, the check will likely just be in your name, unless the property is jointly owned. However, if there is damage to your home or car, the check may include your mortgage or finance company’s name as well and you’ll need to work with that institution to cash the check.

How to prevent theft from your home

Most people will agree that it is better not to have to deal with a theft than to have to deal with the aftermath of one. With that in mind, here are some suggestions for making your home less appealing to burglars and giving yourself the peace of mind that comes with knowing your family and your belongings are safe.

  • Install deadbolt locks on all doors and reinforce your window locks.
  • Install security devices, such as motion-sensor lights or a burglar alarm.
  • Ask your local police if they will do a security audit of your home. Then, tackle as many of their suggestions as you can afford.
  • Keep bushes in front of windows clipped back so no one can hide behind them while they are jimmying the locks. Planting bushes with thorns under windows may deter potential burglars.
  • Keep valuables such as important documents, money or expensive collections out of sight and, if possible, in a locked safe.
  • Don’t leave ladders or tools visible outside.
  • Don’t talk about your vacation plans in a public place. While gone, ask the police and neighbors to keep an eye on your property.
  • Make sure your garage or shed doors and windows have locks.
  • If you have a pet door, make sure it’s locked when not in use.

Insurance companies will often give discounts if you have safety devices that lessen the risk of your home being broken into. These devices might include:

  • Deadbolt locks, which make breaking into your residence more difficult.
  • Local alarms, which sound at the residence to scare off intruders.
  • Central alarms, which ring at the residence and automatically alert the authorities to the situation.

Additionally, if you live in a gated community or a community with a security guard at the entrance, you might get a discount on your home insurance.

Frequently asked questions