A certificate of insurance (COI) is a document that proves your business has an insurance policy. It’s also known as a certificate of liability insurance or a certificate of general liability insurance, depending on the coverage being confirmed. A COI is only attainable after you purchase a policy and is often used to prove to clients, vendors or other parties that your business is insured before you do business with them.

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What Is the Purpose of a Certificate of Insurance?

A certificate of insurance (COI) is usually a one-page document that summarizes what coverages you have in an easily digestible format. It lets clients and other businesses know you are insured against risks associated with your business, granting them peace of mind.

Not having a COI or providing any form of proof of insurance can lead to missed business opportunities, as it’s common for clients and vendors to require one before doing business with you. This is because they do not want to be liable in case of damages, injuries or poor handiwork.

Note that a COI is not your actual policy but a description of it. It will only become available to you if you purchase a policy from an insurer.

What Does a Certificate of Insurance Include?

A COI will summarize the details of your policy in one page, including information on the coverages you have, the limits and more. On a certificate of general liability insurance, which is the most common policy amongst business owners, details can include, but are not limited to:

  • Business name and business owner’s name
  • Insurance company and contact information
  • Insurance policy number
  • Policy expiration date
  • Coverage limits

COIs will segregate the types of business coverage you have. For instance, general liability, commercial auto and workers’ compensation insurance will all have their own sections.

What Businesses Need a Certificate of Insurance?

While having a COI to present to potential and existing customers can grant them peace of mind, not all companies need to showcase it or provide it. For instance, if you run a restaurant, you don’t need to provide a COI to every diner.

Generally, businesses that render a service to customers or other businesses are most often required to provide a COI. Businesses that have to bid for contracts may also need a COI. Some examples of businesses that often need a COI include, but are not limited to:

  • Electrical services or repairs
  • Plumbing companies
  • Landscaping businesses
  • Consultancies
  • Construction companies
  • Cleaning services
  • Property managers
  • Fitness or wellness businesses

When to Get a Certificate of Insurance

Once you’ve purchased your policy, you can request a COI from your insurer at any time. Clients can also request a COI from your insurer to confirm your coverage.

It’s also generally a good idea to get a COI if:

  • You recently purchased a policy.
  • You work with clients or other business vendors often.
  • You are undergoing a bidding process and are trying to win a contract.
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Providing a COI is crucial for your business. But it’s equally important to request a COI before working with other business vendors. Doing so can protect your business from potential liabilities and risks that may arise during a project or contract.

Validating a COI

A COI is generally condensed to ensure the reader can quickly understand what the coverages are. However, it’s still important to carefully review the details of the COIs you give out and receive. Some key pieces of information to check include:

  • The name of the insured party matches your business’s name or who you’re doing business with.
  • The policy is active and will not expire before the services are completed.
  • The limits of the liability insurance coverage meet the requirements of the contract.
  • The scope of coverage includes all the necessary protection against risks that are most likely to happen.
  • The insurer authorizing the form has signed it.

If there are any details you or the client are unsure about, it’s best to contact the insurer for clarification.

How to Get a Certificate of Insurance

To get a COI, you need to request it from your insurer. Most insurance providers allow you to do this online by filling out a form on their website, but you can also contact an agent or call their hotline.

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After purchasing an insurance policy, business owners receive a COI for free. Even if you request it again afterward, insurers do not typically charge extra for providing COIs.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Certificate of Insurance?

COIs typically have a quick turnaround time, but how long it takes will depend on the insurer. If you can request a COI with your provider online, you can often get a copy instantly. However, if you have to call your insurer, you may have to wait anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours.

How to Add an Additional Insured to a COI

An “additional insured” refers to another individual or entity covered by your business insurance. This coverage can be added temporarily for a project or for the policy’s lifetime.

Adding entities or individuals to a policy may be a requirement in some contracts to do business with a client or bigger company. For instance, a big company may insist that a small business add them to their insurance for a project, or a vendor may require that both the owner and the business are in the COI.

If you need to give someone or a business additional insured status, you can typically do so by contacting your insurer or applying to do so online.

When Does a COI Expire?

COIs expire at the same time as your policy expires. However, expired COIs should always be kept on file for a period of time in case of any future legal problems. For instance, if a lawsuit is filed, you can prove there was coverage in place.

Certificate of Insurance FAQs

Understanding what a certificate of insurance is, when it’s needed and what’s on it is essential for any business owner. Discover more about COIs in our frequently asked questions.

The purpose of a certificate of insurance (COI) is to sum up your insurance coverage and provide proof of that coverage to clients and vendors. Proof of insurance is often required to protect clients and vendors you work with from liability, so without it, you may lose out on opportunities.

No, it’s not. A certificate of insurance (COI) only proves your business has an insurance policy. It is not the same.

How fast you can get a COI depends on your insurer, but if you apply online, you can get it in just a few minutes. If you need to call your insurer, however, you might have to wait anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours.


About Melissa Wylie

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Melissa Wylie is a Content and SEO Manager at MoneyGeek. Melissa has worked in the financial content space since 2018 and has spent much of that time focused on all things small business.

Prior to joining MoneyGeek, Melissa held SEO positions at Bankrate and LendingTree. Melissa’s work has also appeared on LendingTree-owned websites ValuePenguin and MagnifyMoney.

Melissa began her career at American City Business Journals in 2015 as a reporter for the company’s women-focused publication Bizwomen. Melissa has a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of North Texas. Melissa relies on her foundation in journalism to craft content that simplifies complex financial topics to help everyone feel confident when making decisions with their money.

Melissa's other work can be read on LendingTree and Bizwomen.