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What Is a Deductible?

A deductible is the amount that you, as the insured, must pay in case of an insurance claim. You already pay a premium to maintain coverage, but this fee comes in when you actually need to make a claim. 

Insurance policies work differently depending on their type, such as auto, home, and health. Car insurance typically has deductibles for physical damage, which you choose, whereas health may have different deductibles for certain coverages. 

The Importance of Deductibles in Insurance 

Insurance deductibles serve two crucial purposes. By distributing risk between policyholders (you) and insurance companies, the insurance companies can facilitate risk management. It allows insurers to offer affordable premiums to a broader customer base by requiring you to cover a portion of the initial loss (the deductible). This makes insurance accessible to many people while protecting them from catastrophic financial losses. 

In addition, deductibles have a direct impact on affordability. Higher deductibles generally lead to lower insurance premiums, making coverage more affordable. Deductibles are crucial for you as the insured to understand since they affect both initial costs and potential out-of-pocket expenses.

How Do Deductibles Work?

A deductible is the initial amount you must pay for covered services or claims before the insurance company shares the costs. For example, if you have a $1,000 deductible on your health insurance, you’re responsible for paying the first $1,000 of covered medical expenses.

On the other hand, an out-of-pocket maximum is the maximum amount you could pay during a policy period, beyond which the insurance company covers all eligible expenses. It combines deductibles, copays, and coinsurance. It does not include premiums. Once you reach this maximum, the insurer covers 100% of the covered costs.

Deductibles can be structured in different ways, including flat-fee (like a dollar amount), percentage, or even a combination of both. Flat-fee deductibles are typical in auto insurance, while health insurance usually can have either or both. Deductibles will be chosen or set when you apply for the policy.

Exceptions to Deductibles 

Deductible exceptions depend on the type of insurance and your exact policy. Common exceptions include the following:

  • Health insurance: Preventive care services such as vaccinations and screenings are often exempt from deductibles in health insurance plans. Certain plans may also offer exceptions for certain medications or treatments, especially for chronic conditions. 
  • Auto Insurance: In some states, your insurance company may cover your expenses regardless of fault, bypassing your deductible if you have no-fault coverage. 
  • Homeowners Insurance: Some types of natural disasters, such as floods and earthquakes, could require separate policies with different deductibles under homeowners insurance. 

It’s crucial for you to carefully review your insurance policies to understand these exceptions, as they can significantly impact the amount of financial loss you sustain during a claim.

Types of Deductibles 

Almost every type of insurance policy will have a deductible. While the deductible may be a different type or amount, it serves the same purpose. 

Health Insurance 

Health insurance deductibles are the amounts you pay before insurance coverage kicks in. For example, if your health insurance policy has a $1,000 deductible, you will pay that amount for your medical expenses. 

Once this deductible is met, the insurer typically covers a percentage of the costs, known as coinsurance or copays, while you continue to pay your share. Deductibles are different with each plan, with some being as low as a few hundred dollars or as high as several thousand, impacting both the premium and your financial responsibilities for the policy.

Individual vs. Family Deductibles 

The individual deductible applies only to the policyholder, while the family deductible applies to multiple people under the policy. For example, if you have a $1,000 individual deductible, then you must pay $1,000 before insurance benefits kick in. With a $2,000 family deductible, the combined expenses of all your family members count toward reaching the $2,000 threshold before coverage begins.

Car Insurance

A car insurance deductible is similar to a health insurance deductible. If you are in an accident and your car needs to be fixed, you will pay your deductible, which is applied towards the repairs. 

Take a look at the chart below for an example.

Total Car Repair Costs
Your Deductible
Your Insurance Company Pays…

Deductibles can vary and typically range from $250 to $1,000. The higher deductibles you choose, the lower your premium. You want to make sure you can afford the deductible, however, if you are in an accident. 

Homeowners Insurance 

The homeowner’s insurance deductible operates similarly to other types of insurance. Prior to the insurance company covering costs for covered property damage or loss, you will pay your deductible. 

Take a look at the chart below for an example.

Total Home Repair Costs
Your Deductible
Your Insurance Company Pays…

How to Choose the Right Deductible 

Depending on your situation, you may want a high deductible or low deductible. 

You could choose a high deductible plan if you identify with the following:

  • Financially sound: A high deductible plan might be a good choice if you want lower premiums and can afford a higher out-of-pocket cost. 
  • Healthy: If you do not go to the doctor often and have no chronic illnesses, the lower premiums might be a better choice.
  • Focused on savings: A high deductible plan may benefit people who want to utilize a health savings account (HSA) and the tax benefits.

You could choose a low deductible plan if you meet one of the following:

  • Risk-averse: A low deductible plan is a good choice if you can pay higher monthly premiums and predict your future costs. 
  • Frequent healthcare user: A lower deductible will likely make sense if you have a chronic illness or visit the doctor often.
  • Limited savings: This option might be best if you cannot afford a higher deductible at claim time. 

All in All 

Making informed financial decisions regarding your insurance policies means understanding insurance details, such as deductibles. Your costs, risk exposure, and overall financial well-being are directly affected. 

This knowledge helps you balance affordability and protection by choosing high or low deductibles. Understanding how deductibles work will keep you informed and ready for the future, should any unforeseen claims occur.

Frequently Asked Questions 

You may change your deductible at any time during the policy period with most types of insurance; however, health insurance can usually only be amended at open enrollment time. 

Depending on the policy, it could be per claim or policy period. Be sure to read your policy carefully. 

The majority of insurance policies have deductibles, but not all. 

Typically, yes. The higher the deductible, the lower the premium, and vice versa. 

You only pay a deductible once a claim occurs, so you would technically never need to “get it back.” You would never have paid the amount to begin with.

An annual deductible means you must meet that deductible each year. A per-claim deductible means you must pay the deductible for each claim. A per-claim deductible may mean you pay more out of pocket each year if you have multiple claims. 

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