What Is an Insurance Claim and How Do I File One?

secure Editorial Standards

SmartFinancial Offers Unbiased, Fact-based Information. Our fact-checked articles are intended to educate insurance shoppers so they can make the right buying decisions. Learn More

An insurance claim is a formal request for payment to an insurance company after the policyholder experiences damages, loss or liability from a covered incident. Payments issued by the insurance company are used to replace or repair your property, pay for medical expenses or cover legal fees in a lawsuit.

Insurance claims can be a little tricky to understand if it's your first time. This guide breaks down how insurance claims work, the different types and the process for filing.

Key Takeaways

  • If you suffer a covered loss, such as a collision with another driver or a house fire, you can file an insurance claim to get reimbursed for your losses.
  • When filing an insurance claim, you will generally need to provide documentation, such as pictures, receipts of lost items and a copy of a police report.
  • The claims process can take anywhere from one day to over a month depending on the severity of the claim and the insurance company.
  • In general, you should avoid filing an insurance claim if your losses fall below your deductible.
  • Filing an insurance claim can result in a rate increase when you renew your policy.

How Does an Insurance Claim Work?

The purpose of filing a claim in insurance is to protect the policyholder — you — against financial loss on a covered claim. Insurance claims commonly involve costs related to repairing or replacing personal property, medical treatment, loss of life and liability for injuries and damages. In addition, if you’re held liable for another party’s injuries or damages, then you may also be covered for your legal fees.

The process of filing a claim will depend on your insurance carrier. Often, the claims process will involve submitting documentation (e.g., police reports, receipts, photos, videos). Your carrier may send an adjuster to personally inspect the damages and calculate your losses.

If the claim is approved, you pay the applicable deductible and your insurance covers the remaining cost. The amount you are compensated or reimbursed for will depend on the amount of coverage you purchased. Keep in mind that when your policy renews, having a history of claims where you're at fault — rear-ending the driver in front of you, for example — can result in a higher premium increase than for claims where you're not at fault.

What Types of Insurance Claims Are There?

There are several different types of claims in insurance, ranging from home and auto insurance to health, business and life insurance.




Pays for property damage or medical bills when you're at fault in an accident. Additional coverage, like collision and comprehensive coverage, provide protection against at-fault accidents, fire, vandalism, falling objects, theft and more


Covers the cost of rebuilding your home, replacing your stolen or damaged belongings, and personal liability for damage/injury. Insurance carriers offer additional coverages like flood and earthquake protection


Covers the cost of replacing your belongings, if damaged or stolen, and personal liability for damage/injury. Loss-of-use coverage pays for living expenses if you're temporarily displaced from your home


Pays for covered medical expenses, such as doctor visits and hospital stays, although the healthcare facility will usually file the claim on your behalf


Protects the company against property damages and liability, including legal fees during a lawsuit, loss of income, bodily injury, malpractice and more.


Beneficiaries of the policyholders are paid a certain amount after the insurer receives the policyholder's death certificate

What Happens When You Make an Insurance Claim?

After filing an insurance claim, your insurance carrier may send an adjuster to assess the losses and damages. Depending on the investigation, the insurance carrier will determine if the incident is a covered event and how much payment you will receive to cover the loss.

When Should You File an Insurance Claim?

In general, it’s inadvisable to file an insurance claim for small accidents, especially when your losses do not exceed your deductible, which is your out-of-pocket cost before your insurance coverage kicks in.

Otherwise, you risk adding an incident to your claims history and your premium may go up when you renew your policy or switch to another carrier.

For example, say you accidentally backed your car into your mailbox and the only damage is a slight dent that costs $100 to fix. Your car insurance deductible is $500. In this case, you’re better off just paying for the repairs yourself than alerting your insurance company.

How Long Is the Insurance Claim Process?

The timeframe for processing an insurance claim from beginning to end can take anywhere from the same day to several months and it will largely depend on the severity of the claim and your insurance company. For example, one of Lemonade’s biggest marketing points is that some claims are approved instantly.[1] Meanwhile, another carrier like GEICO posts that the time frame for processing a car insurance claim settlement can take up to 48 hours to about six months.[2][3]

The state you live in can also affect the claims process. In California, for example, insurance companies must either accept or deny a property claim in writing within 40 calendar days after receiving the claim.[4]

How To File an Insurance Claim

Follow the general steps below for filing a claim with your insurance company.

1. File a Police Report if Anybody Is Injured

For incidents involving criminal activity or serious injuries, you should always notify the local authorities. Filing a police report is useful because it can prove the incident occurred and possibly prove you were not at fault for the incident. In some cases, this official document can speed up the claims process to help you get your settlement quicker.

2. Document the Damages

As soon as it is safe, document the incident and any damages or losses as soon as possible. Pictures and videos will come in handy when assessing the damages or losses after filing a claim. If you’re filing a home insurance claim, having a home inventory on hand can make it easy to valuate your personal property losses.

3. Contact Your Insurance Company

Depending on the insurance carrier, you can start the claims process through an online claim form, mobile app or by phone. Be sure to have the necessary documentation ready, including a police report, photos and videos of the incident and receipts showing the value of the damaged property.



Online Portal



File online claim

American Family


File online claim



File online claim


Varies by policy

File online claim

Liberty Mutual


File online claim



File online claim

State Farm

Varies by policy

File online claim



File online claim

Keep in mind that you may be required to file a claim within a certain time frame, such as within 30 days after the incident occurred.[5] As a result, you shouldn’t delay filing a claim and should start it as soon as possible.

4. Undergo the Investigation Process

Some carriers, like Lemonade, may approve an auto insurance claim within minutes.[1] In other cases, especially with a homeowners insurance claim, the process may be more extensive. If your home suffered a fire, for example, then your insurance carrier may send an adjuster to assess the condition of your home and the cost of necessary repairs.

After the investigation, the adjuster will use their findings to determine the appropriate amount you will be given to fix or replace your damaged property (e.g., repair a roof, replace a totaled vehicle).

5. Accept the Settlement and Repair the Damages

If you're agreeable to the settlement amount, you can accept the payment. Typically, your settlement will be based on the lost item’s actual cash value, which deducts for depreciation factors like age and wear and tear, although you may be able to pay extra to get reimbursed for the cost to replace the item today.

how actual cash value works

Your insurance carrier will typically issue payment via check or deposit, which can be used to pay for your repairs. If you’re filing a claim for a totaled car, then you will be reimbursed for the actual cash value of your car by default.

If you're filing a home insurance claim, you may receive multiple checks. In some cases, your first check will just be an advance against the total settlement and the rest will come later. You may also receive a separate check for your additional living expenses if your home is undergoing extensive repairs.

OPTIONAL: Dispute the Settlement Offer

You can dispute the claim if the claim is denied or you disagree with the settlement amount. One option is to submit an internal appeal with the insurance company — your insurance carrier would review your case and make another decision. Another route is to submit a complaint to your state's insurance commissioner, speak with a public adjuster or take legal action. (Just be mindful of any legal fees that could easily outpace the cost of your damages and losses.)


Will filing an insurance claim increase my premiums?

If you are at fault for the accident, such as rear-ending the driver in front of you, your insurance carrier will typically increase your premium by a percentage. If you demonstrate you're a risky customer and file multiple claims within the policy period, your insurance company may not renew your policy.

How are insurance claims paid?

After a claim is approved, your insurance company may send you payment(s) via direct deposit or check to cover approved repair or replacement costs.

Will an insurance claim impact my credit score?

Filing an insurance claim will not have a direct impact on your credit score.[6]

How soon can you file a claim after getting insurance?

Immediately for most policies, assuming you’ve paid your first premium. The exception is life insurance, which may carry a waiting period after buying the policy before a death benefit can be issued.[7]

What happens when an insurance claim is made against you?

If a claim is filed against you, both yours and the claimant’s insurance company will investigate who is at fault. For example, in car insurance accidents, it may be found that both drivers were at fault and may have to pay toward each other’s losses.


  1. Lemonade. “The Secret Behind Lemonade's Claims.” Accessed Nov. 28, 2023.
  2. GEICO. “How GEICO Handles Your Car Insurance Claim.” Accessed Nov. 28, 2023.
  3. GEICO. “Find Out About Payment Recovery for Car Accidents.” Accessed Nov. 28, 2023.
  4. Calif. Dept. of Insurance. “Guide for Adjusting Property Claims in California After a Major Disaster ,” Page 13. Accessed Nov. 28, 2023.
  5. National Home Improvement. “What Is My Insurance Claim Time Limit?” Accessed Nov. 28, 2023.
  6. Experian. “What Is an Insurance Claim?” Accessed Nov. 28, 2023.
  7. Fidelity Life. “Why Are There Waiting Periods for Life Insurance?” Accessed Nov. 28, 2023.

Get a Free Insurance Quote Online Now.