Is the claim you’re about to file worth the price you will pay for 3-5 years and possibly longer if you have to file another more legitimate claim?
That nasty hole in your fence from a downed tree may make you cringe, but it won’t be nearly as revolting as the hike in your insurance bill if you make a claim on it.
That’s particularly true if you live in states like Minnesota, Connecticut and Maryland, where a single homeowner’s claim can up an annual premium some 20%. That’s right, a $1,000 claim can lead to years of higher premiums.
“Many consumers mistakenly believe that incidentals should be covered because that’s why I have home insurance,” says Laura Adams, senior insurance analyst at InsuranceQuotes.com. “The reality is that filing a claim is not always in your best interest.”
Let’s put it this way: If you live in Minnesota and pay a $981 average annual premium, you can expect to see your yearly payouts jump to about $1,187 if you submit a claim to fix the fence. That’s a 21% premium hike, the highest in the U.S., according to a recent InsuranceQuotes.com study. After seven years—assuming your claims record is now pristine—you will have shelled out $1,442 extra, or roughly $206 more each year. But what happens if there’s a hailstorm or, worse yet, a hurricane, and you have to make a much bigger and more insurance-appropriate claim? You get another 21% hike on your premium.
“That $1,000 is really where you might want to consider a break-even point,” Adams says.
And don’t think it’s just the number of claims that are paid out that spike your rates. You can get hit hard with a claim that’s been denied. And even if you just innocently ask your agent about a potential claim, she has a right to open a file when you’re making queries, so make sure the agent knows your question is theoretical.
There are a number of factors that influence the costs of your homeowners insurance and much of it is determined by what state you live in, what neighborhood your home is in, and what you want included in your policy. But other issues, like the size of your deductible, your loyalty to the insurer, your credit history and whether you bundled homeowners with auto insurance will play key parts too in most states. And then there’s the house itself. How old it is? Is it a wood-framed house or brick? Is there a pool or a trampoline that are ripe for injuries on the property? Do you have smoke detectors? A burglar alarm? A sprinkler system? What about deadbolts on doors and security devices like wrought-iron bars on windows?
Rates across the U.S. are as varied as a bowl of mixed nuts. That’s partly why the hike on a claim can be so high in states like Maryland or Illinois. In the Old Line state, the average annual premium is $784, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. At 19%, it is one of the top three percentage jumps that InsuranceQuotes.com found. (The No. 2 spot belongs to Connecticut at 21%.) In the Land of Lincoln, the average yearly nut is $793 while the percentage increase is 15%. These would be considered relatively low premiums because, for the most part, they’re in areas of relatively low levels of risk.
On the flip side, Louisiana and Florida—magnets for major hurricanes and tropical storms—carry hefty annual average premiums that are more than double what some states charge — $1,546 and $1,544, respectively. The average bump after a claim in Louisiana is 7%, and it’s only 2% in the Sunshine State. In Oklahoma, where most of the state falls into Tornado Alley, the premiums average $1,246 and will rise just 5% after a first claim.
“Consumers in some states are paying pretty high rates to begin with,” Adams says. “Texas, for example, has a lot going on with disasters and that’s been the norm for decades. But in states like Minnesota, which has had more recent problems, insurers are trying to catch up by compensating on the back end.”
In Texas, the mouth of Tornado Alley, premiums are the highest at $1,560, but there is no rate hike after the first claim because the state doesn’t allow it (the only one to do so in the U.S.)
Here’s another reason why filing insurance claims can backfire: Like credit-ratings firms, insurance companies keep track of your history and judge you accordingly before deciding whether to insure you and how much to charge you. A long history, or even a spotty history, of making claims sends up red flags that you’ll do it again. That could mean you’re a risk that they don’t want to take or that they will begrudgingly handle but at a steep price to you.
Insurers turn to the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange to chart your claim behavior. CLUE, as it’s commonly known in the industry, is a compendium of all the personal auto and personal property claims you’ve made over the last seven years.
Insurance companies—every one you’ve ever used—report all claims that they paid out on, that they set up a file for and even those they formally denied. That’s why it’s important to talk hypotheticals with your insurer when you’re asking innocent questions.
The report then contains this information on each claim:
Type of loss
Description of the covered property
Date of birth
Date of loss
Amount the company paid
Property address for homeowner claims or specific vehicle information for auto claims
Again, like your credit report, you can get a free copy of your CLUE report by filling out documents here. Be prepared to make copies of some form of identification and a major bill statement. This is something you want to get your hands on at least once a year to check for accuracy or unrelated information that could inflate your rates.
So when should you file a claim? Here are some basic rules to follow:
Never file if the claim is bigger than the deductible—mostly because it won’t be covered. Also because you’re putting the claim on your insurance record and it will stay there for at least three years. You should carefully consider the risk-reward profile too if the claim is $1,200 or even $2,000.
Make sure you’re covered for the claim. After heavy rains and hurricanes—remember Hurricane Sandy—many homeowners mistakenly think they have flood insurance and file a claim. Traditional homeowners insurance does not cover water damage caused by floods. That’s separate coverage underwritten by the federal government through the National Flood Insurance Program. But guess what? If you file a claim with your insurance company for something that isn’t covered, the claim itself doesn’t go away.
Think about the last time you filed a claim. If you’re a consistent claimant, you’re going to get slammed on rates. It isn’t unusual for a homeowner to file up to two claims in a 10-year period, but more than one or two in a three-year time span and the alarm bells go off as a high risk.
Don’t submit claims for what is really a home-maintenance project. If the fence is rotting away and you know that one big windstorm will blow it over, budget the household finances for a new fence first. There’s a plus to this too: better maintained homes get better premiums.