Florida property insurance company bankrupt: Advice for homeowners waiting on premium refunds
NBC - 8 WFLA (Tampa, FL)
TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) -- A month into hurricane season, an insurance company going bankrupt has left some some Florida families caught up in a property insurance nightmare.
Earlier this week, 8 On Your Side spoke with a couple whose insurance company went bust. After that story aired, more homeowners reached out, all asking what happens next.
Bari and Vince Reali paid $4,000 for property insurance. But then their insurer, Southern Fidelity Insurance Company, went bankrupt.
Now they have to find a new policy and pay their premium a second time while they wait for a refund.
"This is happening all over the place and no one seems to do anything about it," Bari Reali said.
8 On Your Side is working to help the Realis secure coverage. Thousands more are in the same boat.
We found the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association, or FIGA, will ensure homeowners get a prorated share of their refund back. Policyholders will take a small hit.
Ronald Assise CIC, CPRM, an insurance broker, says some minor fees will not be refunded.
He says while Southern Fidelity could issue a refund in a day, it takes FIGA months to process checks. The reason? When a company goes bankrupt, it takes FIGA time to figure out their system.
In the Southern Fidelity case, the agency has to sort through nearly 80,000 cases.
"Why can't we have the company process the refund?" Investigator Mahsa Saeidi asked.
"Once that insolvency is set up by the Office of Insurance Regulation, FIGA has to take over all transactions for the next 30 days by statute," Assise explained. "So it's not a won't -- it's a can't, unfortunately."
So how can you pay for new coverage while you wait for a refund? Assise says premium financing is an option but likely not the best one since there are fees to set it up.
"In our experience, people are actually better off if they have access to it using a credit card to make that down payment," said Assise.
Meanwhile, the Realis wish they hadn't paid the premium in one lump sum.
8 On Your Side asked if it's better for families to try to pay their premium in installments.
"Whenever you get into splitting up the premiums," said Assise, "the fee for that to pay four times a year... it's maybe 8 or 10 dollars per installment."
He says most companies will allow you to split up payments.