Actual Cash Value

Reviewed by Stefan Tirschler

Noun

ac·tu·al cash val·ue | ˈak-ch(ə-w)əl ˈkash ˈval-(ˌ)yü

Definition: The depreciated replacement cost of damaged or stolen property at the time of loss.

Robert’s insurance company awarded him the actual cash value for his furniture that was destroyed in the fire.

What is actual cash value?

Actual cash value (often abbreviated: ACV) is one of the ways an insurance company will determine how much money to pay out when they settle a claim. Actual cash value is a calculation of how much money something is worth, taking into consideration the item’s age and condition.

Think of it as the value of an item if you were to find it at a garage sale.

Example

Sandra bought her couch brand-new from the local furniture store eight years ago for $500. She’s moving soon, and she hopes to sell the couch in a garage sale. She’d love to get $500 back for it, but she knows that’s not even remotely realistic.

A couch may be worth $500 brand-new, but you’d never expect to pay that for the same couch after it’s been used for 8 years. The amount that Sandra actually gets from selling the couch is like the actual cash value.

How do you calculate actual cash value?

Rather than determining actual cash value willy-nilly the way one might at a garage sale, insurers use depreciation to calculate it. Depreciation is an accounting method that spreads the value of an item over its expected lifetime.

That is to say, if Sandra wanted to depreciate the value of her couch, she’d first decide what the couch’s life expectancy was. Let’s say she decides that 10 years is a reasonable life expectancy for a couch.

Sandra’s couch is 8 years old, so it’s lived through 8/10 of its expected life, or 80%; it’s been 80% depreciated. The couch now has 20% of its life left. To calculate the actual cash value, Sandra multiplies the couch’s original value by the percentage of its life remaining:

$500 x 20% = $100

Thus, based on her depreciation calculation, Sandra could ask $100 for her couch at the garage sale. That’s her determination of the actual cash value . It’s a simplified version of the way that insurance companies calculate Actual Cash Value.

How does ACV work in insurance?

When they’re figuring out Actual Cash Value, insurance companies add one more step to the process. Insurers don’t base their calculation on the original purchase price of an item; they’ll use the replacement cost.

Replacement cost is the amount of money one would pay to replace an item with a new one of similar kind and quality (or to repair it, whichever costs less). That sounds like a small difference, but it’s very important.

Example

After selling her couch at the garage sale and moving, Sandra needs to buy a new couch. She really liked her old couch, so she heads to the furniture store to scope out a new one. She’s shocked to see that similar couches are now worth $700!

In this case, the replacement cost of Sandra’s couch is $700, even though she only paid $500 originally. When property is insured for its replacement cost, insurers are committing to replace lost or damaged items with new ones. They don’t expect people to travel back in time to buy new items at the historical cost. They also don’t expect people to replace their damaged items with inferior versions. This is what’s meant by replacement cost.

So, if an insurer was calculating the actual cash value of Sandra’s old couch, they’d do it a little differently than she did. They’d first determine what it would cost for Sandra to buy a new, similar couch: $700. Then, they’d determine what the expected life of that couch is. Insurers have standards that they use when determining the useful lives of various types of property. In this case, the insurer agrees with Sandra: a couch should last 10 years.

With those numbers in mind, here’s the calculation the insurer would use for Sandra’s old couch:

$700 x 20% = $140

(replacement cost) x (percentage of expected life remaining) = (actual cash value)

The insurer determines that the actual cash value of Sandra’s couch is $140. If Sandra had lost her couch in a fire before she could sell it, her insurer would have paid her $140 on an actual cash value basis. The only difference between Sandra’s $100 valuation and the insurer’s $140 valuation was original value vs. replacement cost. So you can see, replacement cost is an important concept in insurance.

Finally, keep in mind that the condition of the item is still relevant. Even if Sandra’s couch might have theoretically had a few years left, if it was already in terrible condition before the loss (completely destroyed by the dogs, stained with food, and bashed in from a rough move), then its ACV would be lower.

It only takes 5 minutes

ready for an online quote? Policies start at $12/month if you rent your home and $40/month if you own your home. To see how much you can save with Square One, get a personalized online quote now.

Replacement cost and ACV

Most home insurers provide property coverage on a replacement cost basis. This means that they don’t factor in depreciation when deciding how much to pay out for a claim, as long as the customer actually repairs or replaces the item. However, there are cases where an insurer will opt for an actual cash value settlement instead of a replacement cost settlement. For example, let’s say an insured decides not to replace their lost property, and instead asks the insurer for a cash payout. In this case, the insurer would apply depreciation before paying out the cash settlement.

$1,200 x 20% = $240

(replacement cost) x (percentage of expected life remaining) = (actual cash value)

Example

One day, Sandra’s new home is broken into, and a bunch of her stuff is stolen. Her insurer will cover the cost of replacing the stolen property, minus her deductible. However, since her new place is smaller than her old one, she decides that she doesn’t want to replace the television that was stolen; she usually watches movies on her laptop these days anyway. Sandra asks her insurer for a cash settlement for the TV’s actual cash value.

A new, similar TV would cost Sandra $1,200 (the replacement cost), and her TV was four years old. Her insurer has determined that a TV’s expected lifetime is five years. Sandra’s TV had one year, or 20%, of its expected life left, so the depreciated actual cash value would be $240.

In Square One’s case, we use what’s called limited depreciation. If an insured chooses not to replace their lost or damaged stuff, we can often provide them with a limited depreciation settlement. That means we’ll deduct no more than 50% of an item’s replacement cost for depreciation. That often means a greater payout than other policies that always apply full depreciation.

The important points

  • Actual cash value is the monetary worth of an item, which factors in the item’s age and condition.

  • It is determined by calculating the cost of replacing the item then subtracting the amount the item’s value has depreciated during its lifetime.

  • Insurers will use actual cash value to decide how much to pay when an insured chooses not to replace lost or damaged items, and chooses a cash settlement instead.

Computer

Get a free quote

Get a personalized online home insurance quote in just 5 minutes and see how much money you can save by switching to Square One.

Get an online quote now

People

Protect your family

Even when you take precautions, accidents can happen. Home insurance is one way to protect your family against financial losses from accidents. And, home insurance can start from as little as $12/month.

Learn more