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  Is your loss covered?
If you are unsure if your policy covers a specific loss, check your policy or contact your agent. If the loss is not covered under your policy, you do not have a claim. If the loss is covered, find out if the loss exceeds the amount of your deductible?

What is your deductible?
The deductible is the amount of money you agree to pay before the insurance company will begin paying on a claim. If you are unsure about the amount of your deductible, check your policy or contact your insurance agent.

How much damage or loss do you have?
If you have had damage to your property or possessions, how much would it cost to fix the damage or replace the item. If you're unsure, make a list of missing or damaged items and make a written description of the damage to your car. This information will assist the insurance adjuster when it is time to review your claim.

You may need to hire a qualified professional to give you an estimate on the damage. You may need to do some shopping to find the best price to replace personal possessions. In any case, you will want to determine an estimate of the amount it cost to to return your home or vehicle to the condition it was in prior to the loss and replace items lost or damaged. This amount would be your estimated claim amount.

Is my vehicle a total loss?
Under the terms of your Auto Insurance policy, your insurer will decide whether to pay for repairing your vehicle or to declare it a "total loss". If your vehicle is declared a total loss, your insurer will pay you what is known as actual cash value (ACV). The ACV is the market value of your vehicle.

Most standard auto policies will not pay to repair a vehicle if the repairs cost more than the cash value assigned to the vehicle or if the vehicle cannot be repaired to a safe condition.

Insurance companies use a number of tools to help determine the market value of vehicles including guidebooks, online vehicle ads and dealership quotes. Depending on any special features, parts and mileage, your insurer could adjust the settlement amount.

For you to get a settlement higher than the book value of your car's make and model, you will need to submit evidence such as mileage records, service history and affidavits from mechanics to show that your car was worth more before the loss than the average market value for your vehicle. You are entitled to the market price of the car you just lost.

Does the estimated amount exceed your deductible?
If the amount of your estimated claim is the same or less than the amount of your deductible, you do not have a claim. Although the insurance company will not pay you for your loss, your agent may be helpful in directing you to qualified repair professionals or companies with reasonable prices.

If the amount of your estimated claim is more than the amount of your deductible, you may have a claim. There is one more aspect you should consider before you make that claim: is the amount above the deductible sufficient to make a claim worthwhile?

If the estimated claim is $550 and your deductible is $500, you may want to pay the extra $50 and not submit the claim. The reason for this is that insurance is intended to cover major expenses. An insurance company will consider a $50 claim the same as a $5,000 claim.

If you have multiple claims over a period of two or three years, you may find the amount of your deductible must be increased to accommodate your change in risk classification. Depending on its underwriting guidelines, an insurance company may elect not to renew your policy if you have had too many claims during a certain time period. None of us can afford to pay out more than we take in.

My estimated claim exceeds my deductible, I need to make a claim. What do I do now?
Report the damage to your insurance agent or insurance company. The claim process will begin in one of two ways. Your insurance company may send you a claim form to complete or make an appointment for you to visit with an adjuster. An adjuster is a person professionally trained to assess damage. In either case, the more information you have regarding damage and/or missing or damaged property, the faster your claim can be settled.

I filed my claim. What do I do now?
After you have filed your claim forms and the insurance adjuster has made an inspection of the damage, the insurance company will usually respond to you in writing within a week. The insurance company may ask for additional time in accepting or rejecting the claim, they may ask for additional information, or they may offer you a settlement. Once you and the insurance company agree on the terms of the settlement, a payment will be sent promptly.

In conclusion...
If you have questions regarding your coverage, making or settling a claim, call your insurance agent or company.

This information is provided by the members of the NW Insurance Council, a nonprofit organization established in 1968 to educate the public about relevant insurance issues.