Where to start with insurance: Filing a claim

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Susan Meyer

Senior Editorial Manager

  • Licensed Insurance Agent — Property and Casualty

Susan is a licensed insurance agent and has worked as a writer and editor for over 10 years across a number of industries. She has worked at The Zebr…

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Ross Martin

Insurance Writer

  • 4+ years in the Insurance Industry

Ross joined The Zebra as a writer and researcher in 2019. He specializes in writing insurance content to help shoppers make informed decisions.

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Look out! You’ve just collided with another vehicle, or you’re standing helplessly in the bathroom after a pipe burst, and now there’s water all over the floor. These situations will make anyone rattled — but luckily, you’ve got insurance, so you can breathe a sigh of relief. Except...do you know how to actually file a claim?

Welcome to another installment of our “Where do I start with insurance?” series, which breaks down key insurance topics, terms and knowledge to help you make the best decision for you. In this article, we’re breaking down the process of filing a claim.

There are different types of claims you can file based on your coverage, as well as whether you’re filing an auto insurance or homeowners insurance claim. Consult our comprehensive guide or have a look at our car insurance claims calculator below to see help decide if you should file a claim. 

When to file a car insurance claim

When you get into an accident, many things may run through your mind. After making sure everyone is okay and evaluating the damage to vehicles and property, you’ll need to determine whether you should file a claim with your insurance company. Here are some questions to ask yourself.

1. Are there any injuries?

If anyone is hurt, whether in your car, the other vehicle or a pedestrian, you should file a claim. Medical expenses aren’t cheap, and if you don’t file a claim, you may find yourself getting sued by another party. This can happen in any collision, but especially if you’re found to be at fault.

2. Who is at fault? 

Even if it’s not clear who’s at fault, it’s worth filing a claim. These situations are often your word against the other driver’s. Typically, insurance companies will negotiate and assign responsibility for the collision — and pay the respective parties accordingly.

3. Is your vehicle totaled? 

Finally, if your car is wrecked, it may be considered a significant or total loss. In those cases, you can file a claim through your collision coverage or your property damage coverage via your liability insurance. Your insurance company will pay for the damages, which can go toward replacing your vehicle.


When NOT to file a claim

Conversely, for collisions that only involve your vehicle, it may not be worth filing a claim. If you bump into a fire hydrant or accidentally pull a bit too far into your driveway and hit your garage, you may have dinged your vehicle a bit, but chances are you’re uninjured and didn’t damage any property.

In those instances, you’re likely better off paying repair costs out of pocket. Since car insurance plans have deductibles, you’d have to pay that much anyway before your insurance company would cover the rest.

For example, if you had a $1,000 deductible and your collision required $1,100 in repairs, filing a claim would only save you $100 on those repairs. However, the resulting increase in your monthly premium would quickly offset what you had saved.  

If you get into a minor fender bender, it’s often a better idea to exchange information and ask the other driver if you can pay for any repairs out of pocket instead of filing a claim. 

Remember, filing a claim will often (but not always) raise your monthly premium. Think about the pros and cons of filing before deciding. If you do file a claim, it’s typically better to act quickly.

Not sure if you should file a claim? Check out our State of Auto Insurance to see the impact of an at-fault collision on your insurance rates, which is calculated over a three-year timeframe. Compare that with an estimate at a nearby mechanic. If the repairs cost more than your total rate increase minus your deductible, it’s a good idea to file a claim.

If you’re worried you’re paying too much with your current insurance company (especially if you’ve previously filed a claim with them), compare car insurance quotes and find a new policy that could potentially save you money.

How to file a car insurance claim

Filing a car insurance claim may differ slightly based on your insurance company, but it’ll typically follow the same six-step process, per the Insurance Information Institute:


  1. Inform your insurance company of the situation as soon as possible via a phone call. You can do this at the scene of the accident, regardless of who was at fault.
  2. Use your phone’s mobile app to get your claim going even quicker. Most companies let you upload photos, schedule an appraisal to estimate the damages and request reimbursements for things like towing, glass damage and rental cars.
  3. Gather any documents to support your claim. Your insurance company will ask for a “proof of claim” form and a police report, if you filled one out at the accident scene.
  4. Understand your claim’s timing — are there any deadlines or time limits for filing a claim or submitting a bill (like, say, for repairs)?
  5. Check if your policy will pay for a rental car, and what the estimate process looks like regarding repairs.
  6. Provide any information your insurer requests. Keep organized records of all items related to the claim, such as forms, names and phone numbers of other parties and copies of bills. Contact your insurer with any additional questions. 

When to file a home insurance claim



Much like with auto insurance claims, there are times you’ll want to file a home insurance claim — and occasions where you won’t.

While filing a car insurance claim can impact your premiums for the next three years, a home insurance claim stays on your Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (CLUE) report for up to seven years.

That may lead to increased premiums, and filing too many claims can cause your insurance company to void your policy entirely. So, it’s important to know when to file a claim and when you may want to reconsider.

1. Are the repair costs significant?

If the cost to repair or replace part of your home is significantly more than your deductible and the damage was caused by a covered loss (such as a tree falling through your living room window), it’s worth filing a claim. For example, if you experience $8,500 worth of repairs with a $1,000 deductible, you’d save significantly by filing a claim, since the insurance company will cover $7,500 of the repairs. 

2. Is your home uninhabitable? 

Similarly, if there’s significant damage or a total loss — to the point that your home is no longer inhabitable — filing a claim will help cover those losses.


When NOT to file a home insurance claim

However, if you’ve filed a claim within the past three years or the damage is more modest, you’re probably better off covering any costs out of pocket. Insurance companies get nervous if they see multiple claims in a short amount of time, and normal wear-and-tear is usually easy enough to cover and may not even be honored by the insurance company in the first place.

As a homeowner, you need to provide basic upkeep and maintenance to your home. If a water heater should have been replaced several years ago and malfunctions, causing flood damage, your insurance company will deny your claim, since the damage could have been prevented with regular maintenance. 

How to file a home insurance claim

As with an auto insurance claim, filing a homeowners insurance claim will differ slightly based on your insurer. However, you’ll typically follow a process like this:

  1. Contact your insurance company as soon as possible and provide a thorough explanation of the damage. If the claim is related to a home theft, contact the police first — your insurance company will likely require a police report when you file your claim.
  2. Fill out the proper insurance forms. Your insurer will tell you how long you have to fill these out, but the general rule is the quicker, the better.
  3. Work with an insurance adjuster to inspect the damage. It’s possible this may come earlier in the process, but the claims adjuster will review everything and offer an amount of money to cover repairs.
  4. If possible, make temporary repairs, like boarding up windows, putting tarps on your roof or shutting off a water valve. Ignoring these stopgap measures could make the repairs much costlier.
  5. Once those temporary repairs are made, get an estimate on the damage. Share that estimate with your insurance company, as well. If your home is under a mortgage with a bank or lender, they’ll likely determine how those repairs get completed. In most cases, you’ll receive a payout for personal property at their replacement cost or actual cash value.
  6. Keep organized documentation of everything, including copies of forms, receipts from any repairs you make, a list of any personal property that was damaged and any other living expenses incurred if you need to move out of your home for any amount of time. The more detailed your notes are, the better.  

Make sure you know what your coverage includes, too. Here’s a guide to what homeowners insurance covers.

Wrapping up

Filing a claim can help you recoup damages in a car collision or damage to your home. Make sure you understand why and when you should file a claim, and always check with your insurance company to know what’s covered.