Completing an insurance claim can be a stressful first step in a bad situation. Learn the best ways to provide information and keep a cool head.

There are obvious differences between homes, cars, and human bodies. But there are also golden rules which apply to making insurance claims on each. Here are some best practices which cover all three claims—plus how to claim on them individually.

The first thing to do when filing a claim

Rule #1 is to understand your insurance policy in the first place to avoid wasted time and claim rejection. Insurance comparison site The Zebra conducted a survey which discovered:

  • 99 percent of those polled failed to identify basic coverage terms and types
  • Only 42 percent understood how collision coverage works
  • Just 35 percent knew what liability coverage does
  • Only 21 percent achieved a passing grade when asked to identify what impacts their coverage

Check your policy and understand it. After you’ve done your research and are confident of being covered, the next step is to notify your insurer as quickly as possible.

Be quick and thorough when providing your insurer with details

Timely claims are favored by insurers and can help proceedings while events are still fresh; the passage of time could dull important details or give an at-fault party time to cover up the cause.

Some insurance claims are the result of law-breaking; vandalism, burglary, and so forth. It’s especially essential to notify the police immediately in such cases—before your insurance company. The verification and documentation provided by law enforcement can be a valuable aid in establishing the legitimacy of a claim and moving it forward more quickly. Some insurers even have this as a requirement for policy holders—no police call, no payout.

Documenting a claim fully means keeping written and visual records of the incident. Damage should be photographed and copies of all communications regarding any parties involved with the claim should be retained. Insurers will respond in large part on the evidence you present, so gather everything you can and don’t risk losing any of it.

Store photos and digital communications safely when preparing a claim. Ask your insurer for emails confirming the content of any telephone conversations. We recommend scanning any paperwork into a digital format and making photocopies of letters and storing them securely in sleeves and binders.

Finally, always cooperate with your insurer’s claim requirements and be honest about the extent of any damage and the expense to set things right.

Is honesty always the best policy?

The answer is yes, assuming it’s informed honesty. Taking the blame may seem right if you feel at fault for an incident, but this can be a bad move when filing a claim (or even a bad reason not to file one). The true cause of an accident may be quite different after proper investigation.

It’s typical for insurers to invalidate your claim if they find out you’ve accepted blame. Claim filing should contain only the hard facts necessary to inform the insurer. These facts may also become the basis of a lawsuit, so let the insurer and the court come to terms over who is liable.

How to file an auto insurance claim

The same universal rules apply to strengthening third-party auto claims even though they can be more complex. Third-party or not, it’s necessary to know the market value of your car and the cost of repairs when filing an auto claim. Insurance adjusters tell policy holders how much repairs should cost, but this shouldn’t be taken at face value.

Get a repair estimate from at least two garages; multiple estimates help drivers and adjusters settle on a claim that accurately reflects the cost of repair. The Insurance Information Institute states that a car is off-road for repairs for an average of 2 weeks, so they recommend having rental reimbursement in place to make the situation more affordable.

Proper filing of a home insurance claim

Claims for structural damage or loss of property are greatly helped by a home inventory. This streamlines a claim in two ways: homeowners can more accurately assess the damage and insurers/adjusters have proof of what’s been affected. It’s important to resist the urge to dispose of damaged property even after documenting it. Damaged items support claims better than pictures.

Homeowners should retain any expense slips to prove the cost of living If they’ve had to relocate to temporary living quarters. Homeowners are typically obligated to protect the property from further damage after an incident, so the cost of any temporary repairs should be included in the claim. Failure to make temporary repairs and letting a claim situation worsen could lead to complications.

Filing a health insurance claim

Prompt filing of claims is a top tip, but health-related problems after an accident may not show up for a while after the fact. Will insurers frown on a driver who reports back pain 6 months after a collision? They might, but this can be mitigated by visiting a physician after even the slightest bump or home accident. A person may feel fine, but medical professionals might catch the beginnings of an injury.

Having medical records helps with health claims related to accidents. As for non-accident-related illness, knowing your co-pay and deductible amounts makes a claim easier. Claims are often filed by the medical provider rather than the policy holder and then assessed by the insurer against the coverage.

Policy holders who use out-of-network care providers should be prepared to pay upfront for treatment and be reimbursed later by their provider. A Consumer Reports help guide on health claims highlighted some interesting incentives to be diligent on expense reporting—some insurers may payout extra if policy holders can prove they’ve been overcharged.

Some insurers require prior authorization on a health claim. This means the policy holder must complete the claim before any treatment begins. Overlooking this clause in coverage could mean a health insurance claim gets rejected.

The New York Department of Financial Services offers more information on understanding claims and insurance in general—and NICRIS is here when you’re ready to put a policy in place.

NICRIS Insurance provides a free, personalized review to look at your unique needs. Connect with us for insurance advice on handling a claim from beginning to end.