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As a homeowner, you can’t plan when you’ll need to file an insurance claim. But with 1 in 20 insured homeowners filing claims each year, there’s always a chance you’ll need to do so.
Whether it’s water damage from a leak or broken windows from a natural disaster, home insurance claims are often urgent, and knowing how to start the process is essential. Here’s a step-by-step guide for how to file a homeowners insurance claim and receive funds as fast as possible.
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How to file a home insurance claim
The exact claims process can vary from one insurer to the next, and it’s critical to understand the details of your homeowners insurance policy. However, the claims process typically involves the following steps:
Before you clean up or contact your insurance agent, document the damages with a camera or phone. Your insurance company will ask for pictures. Images can help speed up the process and ensure an accurate claim payout.
File a police report if damages are due to theft or vandalism — it can help with the legal process, and your insurance company might require it. Finally, if you have any receipts showing the prices of damaged items, gather those as well.
2. Make temporary repairs
After you document the damage, make temporary repairs. It’s essential to prevent further damage and ensure your house is as safe as possible. If you spend money on emergency repairs, save the receipts to get reimbursed later in the claims process.
For example, suppose a pipe causes a flood on your ground floor. You might use the main valve to temporarily turn off the water for the entire house or contact a plumber for a quick fix if you can’t do it yourself.
3. Contact your insurance company or agent
When your home is safe, contact your insurance company to file a claim. Most insurers offer multiple ways to file a claim, including over the phone, through the company app, or online. If you don’t know which method is best, check the company’s website and review the section for claims. Most insurers have claims representatives available 24 hours a day.
4. File paperwork
Complete the forms from your insurer, including pictures of the damage, proof of loss forms, and receipts for damaged or missing personal property. If you made any temporary repairs that cost money, you can submit receipts for that as well. Return the forms as soon as possible to ensure that the process continues to move forward.
5. Work with your insurance adjuster
Depending on your insurer, the claims adjuster may come before or after you submit forms. Insurance adjusters assess damage and determine potential costs for necessary repairs. The purpose of the visit is to determine the extent of liability for the insurance company. Work with your insurance adjuster to schedule a time. Prepare for the visit with a list of damages and be ready to show the adjuster each one.
6. Get estimates
After the adjuster completes the appraisal, your insurance company estimates the cost of repairs to determine how much to pay. Your insurer provides the funds to complete repairs, and you decide which contractor to hire. It’s usually a good idea to compare estimates from multiple contractors to find the best deal.
7. Review your settlement offer
The settlement offer is usually the final step in the claims process. Your insurance agent provides a settlement, the amount the company agrees to pay for repairs. The money usually arrives in two checks — the first check is usually an advance so you can start repairs as soon as possible.
Make sure to understand the total settlement amount and what it covers. You’ll also receive multiple checks depending on the type of damage. For example, you can usually expect separate checks for structural damage, replacement of personal belongings, and additional living expenses. If you agree with the offer, accept it and begin repairs. If you disagree, talk with the claims manager. You can also consult an attorney or contact your state’s insurance department.
Should you file a home insurance claim?
Homeowners regularly deal with home repairs; not every repair qualifies as an insurance claim. But even if it does, it might not make financial sense to file one. Here’s how to determine the difference.
Filing a home insurance claim often makes sense in the following situations:
The damage is due to a covered event.
The amount of damage and cost to repair likely exceeds your deductible.
You couldn’t pay to repair or replace damaged property alone.
However, it might not make sense to file a home insurance claim if the following applies:
The damage is from an event your insurance doesn’t cover.
The cost to repair or replace is less than your deductible.
The damages or costs are minor, and you want to avoid a possible rate increase due to a claim.
Pros and cons of filing a home insurance claim
It’s always a good idea to have home insurance, and your mortgage lender likely requires it. However, filing an insurance claim has advantages and disadvantages. Here’s what to consider as you decide whether to file.
Insurance claims can pay for repairs you couldn’t afford without coverage.
You might receive a settlement to help pay for living expenses during repairs.
You can receive separate funds for structural repairs and property damage.
Claims can increase the cost of your annual premium, which means you might have to pay more for coverage after filing.
You must pay your deductible, which can cost more than the repairs in some cases.
The claims process requires time and energy, which might prolong repairs.
How long does it take to get paid for a home insurance claim?
The timeline for payment depends on different factors, including the appraisal, the type of damage, and how quickly you schedule repairs. You can begin to receive funds within a few days, or it might take multiple months.
There’s a chance that the claims adjuster will offer you an on-the-spot settlement during the appraisal. If that occurs, you’ll receive funds right away. For personal belongings, you often need to replace the items and submit receipts to obtain the total amount.
Typically, the first check is an advance and only covers a portion of the total settlement. If you have a mortgage, your lender might also control your payment, which can dictate how and when you receive funds.
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How a claim can affect your home insurance premium
Insurance claims can affect your home insurance premiums and cause your rates to increase. When you file a claim, it appears on your loss history report, which records your insurance losses.
Insurers review your claims history when determining rates. Insurers charge more for coverage if you have a history of filing claims — they see you as likely to file more claims in the future. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t file claims, but it’s essential to understand how it might affect your insurance costs.
Home insurance claim FAQs
It’s important to understand when it makes sense to file an insurance claim and how to do so. Here are answers to common questions about the process.
When should you file a home insurance claim?
You can file an insurance claim for any damage or loss your homeowners policy covers. However, it doesn’t always make financial sense to do so. If the out-of-pocket repair or replacement cost is cheaper than your deductible, you can save money by not filing a claim.
How can you get the most out of your homeowners insurance claim?
Taking pictures and documenting the damage are the best ways to maximize your insurance claim. Images allow insurers to understand the damage better and create an accurate settlement offer. Ideally, create a home inventory to catalog the cost of personal belongings before you need to file a claim.
Is making a home insurance claim worth it?
Whether a home insurance claim makes sense for you depends on the extent of the damage, the cost of repairs, and the size of your deductible. For example, suppose the cost of repairs is $500 and your insurance deductible is $2,500. It’s probably not worth filing a claim in this case because your insurer won’t send you any money to help with the repair.
Can you file two claims for the same loss?
You can’t file two claims for the same loss. However, you can reopen a claim if the adjuster offers you an on-the-spot settlement during the appraisal and you find additional damage later.
Is there a statute of limitations on insurance claims?
Most insurance companies require homeowners to file claims within one year from the date of damage. You may not receive any money for repairs if you miss the deadline. Because of that, it’s essential to file a claim as soon as possible.
Taylor Milam-Samuel is a writer and credentialed educator who is fascinated by how people earn, save, and spend their money. When she's not researching financial terms and conditions, she can be found in the classroom teaching.