NEW YORK (MainStreet) — While there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to filing a claim when damages occur to your home, even a single claim can increase consumers’ premiums by hundreds of dollars every year.
Across the U.S., filing one claim means a homeowner’s premium will increase an average of 9%, according to a new insuranceQuotes.com report. The state with the highest increase is Wyoming, which raises premiums by 32%, and the lowest is Texas, where home insurers are not allowed to increase premiums after one claim.
The increases depend on where you live and what type of claim is being filed. Connecticut is not far behind and raises premiums by 21%, followed by Arizona at 20%, New Mexico at 19% and California at 18%.
Filing a second claim is even worse and brings the national average increase up to 20%, with the highest amount occurring in Michigan at a whopping 71%. In Texas, a second claim increase is only 5%. The next lowest increases were observed in New York at 2%, Massachusetts at 2%, Florida at 3% and Vermont at 4%.
“Homeowners need to be really careful when filing claims,” said Laura Adams, insuranceQuotes.com’s senior analyst. “Even a denied claim can cause your premium to go up. Make sure to know your policy’s specific guidelines and only file a claim when absolutely necessary. Winning a small claim could actually cost you money in the long run.”
insuranceQuotes.com commissioned Quadrant Information Services to examine the average economic impacts of homeowner’s insurance claims. Quadrant calculated rates using data for six large carriers in all 50 states. The policies were derived from a sample two-story, 1,800-square-foot, single-family home covered for $144,000.
The increase in premiums depends largely on the type that is being filed. The most expensive are liability claims nationally. A single liability claim causes premiums to rise by an average of 14%.
When an injury occurs on your property, liability insurance protects homeowners if they get sued for damages and are found at fault, Adams said. Many insurance policies provide coverage from $100,000 to $300,000.
According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, homeowner’s insurance costs an average of $978 per year, so a single liability claim adds an average of $137 to that bill.
Theft, vandalism and fire are not far behind at a 13% increase each. Medical claims at 2% are the cheapest. Surprisingly, wind and hail damage only increase costs by 6% while water damage is at 12%.
While it may not seem fair, insurance companies attempt to gauge how risky you are after a claim has been filed. Homeowners who file one claim are more likely to file a second one, Adams said.
Go Hard Or (Just) Go Home
One rule of thumb for consumers to consider is to look at the amount of your deductible. For minor damages under $5,000, homeowners should consider paying for the damages out of pocket from their savings before filing a claim, she said.
Homeowner’s insurance should be regarded as an option for catastrophic or major repairs, but not for maintenance issues, Adams said. Once your premium is increased, most insurance carriers will maintain the elevated amount for an average of three years.
Insurance should be used only for large damages that are likely to be expensive, said Marty Frappolli, senior director of knowledge resources for the Institutes, a Malvern, Penn. property, casualty and risk management education group.
“Don't attempt to insure or collect for small incidents,” he said.
A smart way for consumer to approach this is to buy a policy with as large as a deductible as you can afford to handle, reducing the amount of your premiums.
“You'll save money on premiums while your insurer is happy to avoid small, frequent, but ultimately costly claims,” Frappolli said. “When you do sustain a substantial loss, you should be comfortable knowing that your insurer will respond and that you won't regret it. Look for insurers who want you as a long-term customer and who have a great reputation in claims handling.”
If the damages are minimal, and it's something you can repair easily yourself, it is probably better to skip filing a claim, said Kelly Pappas, an attorney who is an agent and advisor for the Foster Sullivan Insurance Group in North Andover, Mass. File a claim only when you lack enough money to pay a professional to make the repairs.
One of the things to consider is whether there could be any hidden damages that may increase the cost of the repair, she said. While a hole in the roof from a tree is easy enough to repair, homeowners should also consider other issues such as whether the tree also damaged several support beams and impacts the integrity of the structure.
Making a claim once repairs have already started is not a good idea since the insurance carrier may deny the claim, said Pappas, who previously worked for a major carrier in their claims department for 13 years.
“If there is any indication that structural damage may have occurred, the homeowner should report the loss to their carrier,” she said. “The carrier will assign a qualified engineer, contractor or adjuster to inspect the damage. Often times the carrier will also be able to offer the names of contractors they work with who will guarantee the work being performed.”
-- Written by Ellen Chang for MainStreet