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Flood insurance policies usually come with waiting periods of 14 to 30 days. The difference depends on whether you obtain coverage through a private policy or through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Private policies typically have a waiting period of about two weeks, while NFIP policies — sold through private insurers but underwritten by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) — nearly always have a 30-day waiting period.
Whether you get coverage from an NFIP or a non-NFIP policy, it's usually very difficult to receive immediate flood insurance — especially if you are a first-time flood insurance buyer. Typically, the only way you can avoid a waiting period is by changing your existing policy at or just prior to its renewal date. Even then, you’d probably only be eligible for immediate coverage if your mortgage company required the change, or if your property met special risk designations assigned by an adjuster.
What is the waiting period for flood insurance?
A flood insurance policy from the NFIP normally carries a 30-day waiting period before it becomes active. Congress raised the waiting period to 30 days from five days in 1994 to combat purchases that took place immediately before a flood. However, there are still some exceptions to this 30-day waiting period. The NFIP may waive its waiting period if:
You purchase new or add to existing flood insurance because of a mortgage or loan: Banks usually require that mortgaged homes have flood insurance, especially if the property is in a high-risk zone. If you purchase flood insurance in order to meet a mortgage lender's requirements, you won't have to wait 30 days for the coverage to apply. Similarly, there's no waiting period when you extend or add to your existing flood insurance coverage because of a mortgage requirement.
Your home is located on burned federal land: Devastation from wildfires can also elevate flood risks in surrounding areas. When a fire occurs on federal land, an adjuster determines whether the fire's destruction could contribute to a higher risk of flood damage for the area. If the adjuster decides that flooding is more likely, he or she will settle on a containment date — the date that the fire is under control. You have 60 days after the fire's containment date to purchase new flood insurance coverage with no waiting period.
Your home was moved into a special hazard zone: FEMA restudies and revises flood hazards in communities across the United States. FEMA might reassess your property's location and determine that you face a higher risk of flooding, changing your designation from a standard risk zone to something higher. If this were to happen, you would face only a one-day waiting period if you revised your existing policy at its renewal time.
You decide to increase your preexisting coverage: You wouldn't have to wait 30 days if you increase your coverage at the renewal period to keep pace with inflation. Your insurer should provide this figure for you. But if you increase your policy more than your insurer suggests, you must do so 30 days prior to your renewal period. Otherwise, the 30-day waiting period applies. Keep in mind that the NFIP limits its homeowners policies to $250,000 (with $100,000 of contents coverage) and $100,000 for renters.
Regardless of your waiting period, the NFIP specifies that if a flood happens before your policy's effective date, you will not receive coverage.
For example, imagine that a flood happens in your area 29 days after you apply for a flood insurance policy — the day before your policy goes into effect. Even if damage to your property does not happen until the next afternoon — after your policy has gone into effect — you will not be eligible for coverage since that damage was caused by flooding that pre-dated your coverage.
What is the flood insurance waiting period for a private policy?
Private flood insurance coverage providers have significantly shorter waiting periods than the NFIP — usually only 10-14 days.
As with the NFIP policies, purchasing or extending private flood insurance coverage due to your mortgage lender's requirements can reduce your waiting times. If you use your mortgage to pay for your coverage, there is no waiting period for your insurance to go into effect. For any other sources of payment in connection with a loan, the wait is usually 10 days following the date of your insurance application.
If you decide on replacing your current NFIP policy with non-NFIP coverage at the renewal date, you will not face a wait period. In this case, you would simply need to provide a signed application and full payment within 30 days of your old policy's expiration. Your new policy goes into effect as soon as you meet these requirements.
In any other instance, your private policy will take 14 days to activate.