Dear ABC News Fixer: FEMA and Flood Insurance Overcharge

PHOTO: President Barack Obama, accompanied by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, second from left, and others, speaks about superstorm Sandy during a visit to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Headquarters in Washington, Oct. 31, 2

Dear ABC News Fixer: I recently contacted my insurance company regarding the premium for my flood insurance. Through casual conversation with my neighbors I realized that I was paying considerably more than they were for similar flood coverage.

I asked my agent to check on whether I was being billed for the correct flood zone. I was told that I was, but I should feel free to check with my local parish government.

I did check, and I found out my residence is actually in a lower risk zone, not the more expensive zone A01. I have been paying nearly double what my premium should have been.

They tell me that FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program do not issue refunds. Is this true? What should I do?

- Linda Estopinal, Chalmette, La.

Dear Linda: You got caught up in one of life's little errors that can have a big impact over time. We looked into this and indeed, you are correct – your home is in a less expensive flood zone.

We started with your insurance company, State Farm, since that's where you had sent your payments until a few years ago, when State Farm stopped writing new flood policies under the National Flood Insurance Program's "Write Your Own" program. They told us FEMA would be the one to issue any refund.

So off we went to FEMA. It turns out they do issue refunds, if a consumer can prove overpayment due to an incorrect rating. It took a little while, but eventually they did give you some money back. However, under federal law, NFIP refunds can only be issued for the previous six years, so even though you probably overpaid for much longer than that, that's as much as they would pay. In the end, you said you got three checks, totaling $2,809. You said you're glad you got at least some of your money.

The good news is you won't be overpaying in the future.

Yours is a cautionary tale for anyone who has flood insurance but hasn't checked it in a while or who lives in an area that was reclassified. It's a good idea to check to make sure you're not overpaying -- or are under-insured. If you think you're overpaying, FEMA says you should contact your agent and provide documentation of the mistake.

Another note: Many consumers' rates have changed dramatically with the overhaul last year of the federal flood program. For more info and to find out whether and when the flood map for your area will be updated, check out FloodSmart.gov.

- The ABC News Fixer

Got a consumer problem? The ABC News Fixer may be able to help. Click here to submit your problem online. Letters are edited for length and clarity.

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