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What Is An Insurance Binder and When Do You Need One?

Picture this. You just bought your dream car. After saving for years and browsing for months, you finally found The One—it’s even the right color!

You've already called your insurance agent with the car's details and the type of coverage you want, but it's going to take a week for the underwriter to complete the formal contract. Does that mean you can't drive your dream car for a whole week because you don't have any insurance? Not necessarily. You can drive it, but you need a car insurance binder.

Wait. What's an insurance binder?

Honestly, it's not that complicated. We’ll break it down.

What Is an Insurance Binder?

An insurance binder basically proves that there’s a formal agreement in place between you and the insurance company. It's a temporary legal placeholder until your official insurance policy is issued. The same terms that are specified in your policy are also legally enforceable as part of an insurance binder.

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But why is it called a binder? Isn't it more like a safety net? A bridge? A connection? Well . . . yes, yes and yes. More importantly though, it's called a binder because it's legally binding. You're legally protected by an insurance contract exactly as if the official policy has already been approved by underwriting.

What Are the Types of Insurance Binders?

Now this is the easy part—there are only two types of insurance binders.

  1. Car
  2. Property (home or commercial)

It’s a short list, but each type of binder does come with its own potential scenarios and requirements that you’ll need to keep in mind. Let’s dig a little deeper.

Should I Ask for a Binder When I Buy an Insurance Policy?

It depends. If your policy is issued immediately, you don't need a binder. You’re all set!

However, if you're buying a new policy and the underwriting process is going to take time, definitely ask for a binder. You want to be sure you're covered while the policy is being written. Your insurance company might automatically issue a binder, but you should always ask.

Why Would You Need a Car Insurance Binder?

Think back to that dream car scenario we talked about earlier. Thanks to the internet’s lightning-fast speed, insurance companies can usually prepare and digitally send your formal policy within minutes. But if for any reason there’s a delay in the underwriting process, an insurance binder ensures that you’re protected from the moment you purchase the policy for your dream car to the moment the underwriting process is complete.

Essentially, binders make sure you're not financially liable for any unfortunate accidents. Here are some examples to give you a picture of what this could look like:

Worst-case scenario? Your actual policy hasn't been issued yet, you didn't get a binder, and you get in a car accident in that dream car. Guess what? You're responsible for damages, and your finances take a big hit. Nooooo!

Best-case scenario? You already have an insurance binder. You printed it and you have a copy in the car with you. That same unfortunate accident happens—but this time you can prove that you're fully and legally covered by your insurance company. It’s a much better situation, right?

Why Would You Need a Home Insurance Binder?

In the process of buying a home? Well, lenders almost always require proof of homeowners insurance before they approve your mortgage—they need to ensure that their investment (aka your home) is sufficiently protected.

Suppose you've already bought homeowners insurance and your insurance agent tells you it will take three days for the underwriter to approve the policy. If you were smart enough to request a binder for those three days, the binder can provide the necessary proof of insurance to the lender.

Your lender will review the home insurance binder to verify that your insurance policy meets their requirements. You're now one step closer to completing the closing process on your new home. Congrats!

If you don't have proof of homeowners insurance, you can expect a delay in your mortgage process, and another buyer could potentially buy your dream home instead of you. Don’t let that be you!

What’s in an Insurance Binder?

An insurance binder contains a summary of the exact same terms of coverage as your pending contract. Here's a breakdown of what to look for:

The Basics. First, the binder should clearly identify the name of the insurance company, type of coverage (home, property or auto), and the legal name of the agent who is authorizing the policy.

Risk. The insurance binder should specify exactly what's being insured. If it's a car insurance binder, the make, model and vehicle identification number (VIN) are essential. If it's a homeowner or commercial property insurance binder, the address and the total dollar amount of insurance should be clearly stated.

Duration. The insurance binder must cite the date the binder goes into effect and the date it expires.

Coverage Amount. The insurance binder should specify the coverage limit, deductible amount, fees, and terms and conditions for each section of insurance.

Premium Amount. The insurance binder must include the premium amount (and any other fees) and the date those payments must be submitted to the insurance company.

Insured Individuals. The insurance binder must spell out the legal name of the person(s) being insured. Unless there's a co-owner, the name of the insured is most often the owner of the property. The binder should also list any mortgage or lienholders—unless you’re a superstar who bought their home all cash!

For peace of mind (and we all need it!), double-check exactly what's in your official policy by reading your binder. Make sure the details match what you discussed with your agent.

How Long Are Insurance Binders Good For?

Insurance binders are valid for the set term that's written on the binder document. Typically, the expiration date is within 30–90 days of the date you bought your policy.

But don’t just get it and forget about it! Know your expiration date and keep an eye on the calendar. If your binder is about to expire and you still haven't received your formal policy, contact your agent and ask for your policy documents. Otherwise, you might not actually be insured—and you want to catch any issues with your policy ASAP.

Once the actual policy is issued, the insurance binder dissolves and you’re good to go.

How Do I Get an Insurance Binder?

If you're wondering how to get an insurance binder (or if you actually need one), don't worry. It's as simple as checking in with your insurance agent and asking for one. Be sure you’re working with a trusted, independent agent who can help you get the right coverage for your situation.

Don’t risk a lapse in protection—connect with an agent near you today.

Ramsey Solutions

About the author

Ramsey Solutions

Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners.

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