Filing Homeowners Insurance Claims

Filing Homeowners Insurance Claims

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Most homeowners insurance companies allow you to easily file a claim online or over the phone. You can visit your insurance provider's website or call the number listed on your home insurance policy in order to initiate a claim. However, before contacting your agent, you should document evidence of the claim, such as any damage that might have been done to your home. Also, you should evaluate the cost of repairs and the amount you stand to gain in reimbursement, in order to determine whether filing a claim for home insurance makes the best financial sense.

What can I claim on my homeowners insurance?

Most homeowners insurance policies provide four forms of coverage:

  • Dwelling insurance: for the structure of your home, including attached buildings, such as a garage, and built-in appliances, such as a water heater
  • Personal property insurance: for your personal belongings, such as clothing, electronics and kitchen appliances
  • Liability insurance: should someone be injured on your property, such as from a dog bite
  • Additional living expenses (ALE) insurance: for the costs associated with temporary housing if you're forced out of your home from a covered claim

These coverages protect you from a host of perils specified on your policy's declaration page. For example, if you experience a blizzard and the weight of the snow causes a section of your roof to cave in, you could file a claim and your homeowners insurance would help cover the cost to repair your roof. Other covered perils may include:

  • Theft & vandalism
  • Fire & smoke
  • Lightning
  • Hail & wind damage
  • Falling objects
  • Explosions
  • Riots
  • Water damage (with exceptions)
  • Damage from electrical surges

However, be aware of any hazards specifically excluded from your policy, as damages due to these may cause your claim to be rejected. Perils such as regional flooding and earthquakes are often not covered by standard homeowners insurance policies. Instead, you may have to add additional coverage as an optional rider to your policy, or purchase coverage from a third-party insurer.

How to file a homeowners insurance claim

The first thing you need to do when filing a homeowners insurance claim is to document the damage. Photograph all damaged property before you clean up the scene of the incident. You'll need to submit these photographs as proof to defend your claim. Next, contact your insurance agent to initiate the claims process. Having your policy number and an explanation of the damage ready will help you initiate your claim. Your agent will be able further explain how you're covered and make recommendations for local repair services. Most insurance companies allow you to easily file a claim online. However, you can also contact them by calling the phone number listed on your policy. We recommend doing this as early as possible, both to expedite your claim and also to reduce the chance that your claim will be denied.

File a claim online
State Farm800-782-8332Start a claim
Nationwide800-421-3535Start a claim
Allstate800-255-7828Download the mobile app

Typically, the company will send an insurance adjuster to determine the cause and total cost of the damage. Their assessment will dictate whether your insurance company accepts responsibility for the cost and how much you will be reimbursed. For example, if an adjuster determines that water damage is the result of your own lack of maintenance, they will advise the insurance company to deny your claim. On the other hand, if you can prove that the damage was not due to your own negligence, they will evaluate the damaged property, and you'll be reimbursed according to the terms of your policy.

Keep in mind that if your policy includes a deductible, you'll have to pay this amount before receiving any reimbursement from your insurance provider. Additionally, the amount you will receive will depend on your coverage type and limits.

Filing a claim for damage to your home

Damage to the structure of your home would fall under the dwelling coverage portion of your homeowners insurance policy. The elements considered to be part of your dwelling will vary based on whether you own a standalone home or a condominium. However, for most homeowners, their dwelling insurance covers:

  • The home's walls, floors and roof
  • The home's foundation
  • The home's attached structures, such as a garage
  • The home's built-in appliances, such as a water heater or HVAC unit

For dwelling insurance claims, it's critical that you take steps to prevent further damage from occurring. For example, if you notice a minor leak, but fail to act immediately, that leak may continue to cause damage. When you do decide to file a claim, your insurance company will likely claim that your negligence led to further damage and deny coverage.

Also, it's important to review your policy and to understand how your coverage amounts are determined. Home insurance policies may include one of three types of coverage limits:

Coverage Limit
Actual Cash Value (ACV)The ACV is the market value of your house, minus any depreciation. For example, if you file a claim to repair a 10-year-old wooden floor that was damaged by a leak, your insurance wouldn't reimburse you for the cost of a replacement floor. Instead, they would take the original price of the floor, reduce the value proportionate to 10 years of wear and tear, and pay you the difference. Because of this, the ACV likely won't cover the entire cost to rebuild your home with new materials.
Replacement Cost Value (RCV)The RCV is the amount it will cost to rebuild your house at the current prices for labor and materials. This means that, when you file a claim within the policy's limits, you will only have to pay your policy's deductible. However, if your claim exceeds the policy's limits, you'll have to pay the difference. Also, a policy with RCV coverage will have higher premiums than one that covers only the ACV.
Guaranteed Replacement Cost (GRC) / Extended Replacement Cost (ERC)The GRC/ERC is like the RCV, but with a guarantee that the insurance company will pay a certain percentage beyond your policy's limits to rebuild your home. If you file a claim after a regional disaster, the cost of labor and materials may be inflated due to high demand. In this case, GRC coverage offers you the best protection. However, it's the most expensive option.

Filing a home insurance claim for damage to your personal belongings

Even though your homeowners insurance policy covers both your dwelling and your personal property, you will likely need to file two separate claims for reimbursement if both have been damaged. Make an inventory of all damaged property and submit that list to your insurance company. If possible, photograph the damage and provide supplemental documentation, such as receipts, to further aid your claim.

If the damage was limited to a few items, your insurance company may reimburse you according to those itemized losses. If all of your property was destroyed, as could be the case in a home fire, you will likely receive a lump-sum payment within the limit specified on your policy. In either case, maintaining an inventory of all of your belongings before an incident occurs will ease the claims process and help ward off any suspicion of insurance fraud.

If you own luxury items, such as jewelry or artwork, review your policy to learn how this property is covered. Such items are often subject to a coverage limit, typically around $2,000, unless you purchased an optional rider to increase your coverage. Also, no damage to your vehicle would be covered by your homeowners insurance policy. Instead, if your car is damaged while parked at home, you'd file a claim under your auto insurance policy's comprehensive coverage.

Homeowners claims involving theft and burglary

If you have experienced a home break-in, your claim will fall under your personal property coverage, and you will follow the same steps outlined above. However, since such a claim involves a crime, your home insurance company will require you to submit a police report in order to file your claim.

Contact the police as soon as you've realized a theft has taken place, and make sure they note any damage or missing property in their report. After their investigation, ask for instructions on how to obtain a copy of the report. Once you have a copy, submit it to your insurer, along with an inventory of any vandalized or stolen property.

How to file a liability claim

If an incident occurs on your property that may result in a lawsuit, notify your homeowners insurance company as early as possible. For example, if someone visiting your home falls and is injured, your home insurer would need to know the following:

  • Your name and policy number
  • Details of how the fall happened
  • The time and place it occurred
  • The name and address of the person injured
  • A description of any damage or injuries caused
  • The name and address of any witnesses

Insurance companies need this information in the event the policyholder is ultimately held responsible and must file a claim. Reporting an incident like the one described above won't impact the cost of your premium.

Policyholders also are responsible for notifying their homeowners insurance company as soon as they are aware of any lawsuit being filed against them. In addition to that notice, customers need to copy and forward any litigation-related documents to their home insurance company for review. If the insurer accepts liability for the lawsuit, a number of things will be expected of you as a policyholder.

Your carrier will have you complete informational forms related to the lawsuit against you. You may also need to preserve and send them any evidence related to the incident. You may also be requested to appear in court or at a deposition per the request of the litigating party or your own carrier.

Remember, there are a number of incidents that home insurance liability will not cover, such as any harm caused by intentional acts and any harm caused during provision of business activities. For example, if a policyholder's family member gets into an argument that results in violence, your home insurance policy will not cover any damages or a lawsuit against you resulting from that act.

Additionally, the liability portion of your homeowners insurance will not cover any harm caused by your vehicles, even if that damage takes place in your driveway. If you damage someone else's property with your car, the cost of repairs would fall under your auto insurance policy's property damage liability. If you physically harm another person with your vehicle, it would fall under your auto insurance policy's bodily injury liability coverage.

Additional living expenses (ALE) claims

If your home becomes uninhabitable due to a covered peril, such as a fire, you can file a claim and your home insurance policy's ALE coverage will help pay for the costs associated with temporarily relocating your family. Covered costs may include:

  • Rent or hotel fees
  • Gas expenses from traveling between your house and temporary home
  • Moving costs
  • Food costs, if your temporary home doesn't have a kitchen

Review your policy to determine your ALE insurance limits. Most insurers set your additional living expenses (ALE) coverage at a fixed percentage of your total dwelling coverage amount. For standard homeowners insurance policies, the limit is typically 30% of your dwelling coverage limit. So, if your policy has a $250,000 dwelling coverage limit, your ALE coverage limit would be $75,000. However, if you own a condo, your ALE coverage amount may be up to 50% of your dwelling coverage limit.

If you are unable to pay for these expenses, ask your insurance agent if you can file your claim and receive a payment in advance. In some cases, it is possible to receive a check to pay for additional living expenses up front. Either way, it's important to save receipts for any covered expenses and to submit them to your insurance agent when finalizing your claim.

Is homeowners insurance tax deductible?

In most cases, homeowners insurance is not tax deductible. While some elements of homeownership, such as mortgage interest, may be partially tax deductible, the premiums you pay for a home insurance policy are treated similarly to any other personal expense related to your home, such as a utility bill.

However, there are a few cases where some insurance premiums may be deducted. The most common case is if you have an office in your home.

Home office

If you have in your home an office that’s used solely for work purposes, you may be able to deduct some of your homeowners insurance premiums. The amount you'd be able to deduct will be proportionate to the percentage of your total home expenses that you allocate to that office. For example, if 15% of your total housing expenses go toward that space, you would be able to deduct up to 15% of your homeowners insurance premiums for that year.

However, simply having an office in your home does not qualify you to deduct a portion of your insurance premiums. First, the office must be dedicated solely to your job or business. If you work from home at your kitchen table, you can't deduct your kitchen from your taxes since you regularly use that space for other purposes. On the other hand, if you have a separate room that you only use for business-related storage, meetings or daily work, it could be considered tax deductible.

Before you assume your home office is tax deductible—or even insurable—consult your home insurance agent. Some business types, such as an in-home daycare, may obligate you to purchase a seperate insurance policy in order to obtain coverage.

Can I cancel a home insurance claim?

If your insurance company has not yet paid out any money related to an incident, you should be able to cancel the related claim. Contact your insurance agent and provide them with your name and claim number and ask them about canceling your claim. Be prepared to give an explanation for why you want to cancel the claim, and ask whether you need to submit any paperwork to finalize the cancellation.

Please note that your insurance company will likely keep a record of the incident on file. However, since no money changed hands, it would be reported as a zero payout. As such, it shouldn't hurt your home insurance rates when you renew your policy the following year.

Does your home insurance go up after a claim?

If you file a claim with your home insurance company, there is a chance you'll see a higher rate when you renew your policy the following year. The amount your insurance company may raise your rates after a claim depends a number of factors, including:

  • The cause of the claim
  • Whether you've filed any additional claims in the past few years
  • The total cost of the claim
  • The state you live in

For example, if a hail storm shatters a few windows and damages some shingles on your roof, resulting in a $1500 claim and a $1000 payout (after a $500 deductible is applied), you likely wouldn't see a significant increase in your rates due to this claim alone. The claim did not cost the insurance company a significant amount, and your home is not necessarily predisposed to risk of future hail storms, as it may be to floods if you lived in a flood zone.

However, if your dog bites a neighbor's child, resulting in a $20,000 lawsuit, you will likely see a significant increase in your rates—especially if you maintain ownership of the dog.

Similarly, imagine you filed a $3,000 claim for water damage a year ago, due to a leak in your plumbing system. This year, you encounter new water damage, and you file a second claim for a comparable amount. Your insurance company is going to determine that your plumbing system poses significant risk of future damage, and will raise your rates accordingly.

You should consider the ultimate cost of a rate increase when deciding whether it makes sense to file a claim. Unless you stand to gain a significant amount of money from a claim, it might be better to skip filing it, and instead pay for the damage yourself. For example, imagine your home insurance policy costs $1,000 per year, you have a $500 deductible, and you've already filed one claim in the past three years. If you encounter a leak and minor water damage that will cost $750 to repair, you'd only gain $250 after your deductible was applied. Since that would be your second claim in recent years, your insurance company could impose a substantial rate increase. Over time, the cost of those increased premiums might exceed the $250 you gained from your claim.

If you are facing a rate increase and want to lower your premiums, you can consider changing your policy to one with a higher deductible. A higher deductible will mean you're on the hook for more of the initial cost when damage does occur, but it should lower your monthly premiums.

Can your insurance company drop you after a claim?

In most cases, your home insurance company cannot cancel your policy once 60 days have passed since you purchased it. However, insurers do have the right to cancel at any time if the following situations occur:

  • You fail to pay the premium
  • You commit fraud in a claim
  • You significantly alter your home so that the carrier deems it is no longer insurable
  • You leave the home vacant

However, dropping a policy and choosing not to renew are not the same thing. If you file claims significant enough that your insurer decides it no longer can take on the risk of insuring your home, they are free to decide not to renew your policy once your annual contract expires.

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