You buy insurance to protect your home and car from damage, but when an accident happens, is it in your best interest to file a claim? It seems like the answer should be a resounding "yes," but a middling "maybe" is a far better response. Why the ambiguity? The decision to file a claim can have a major impact on your insurance rates, even if the accident was minor or was not your fault.
The Claim Game
Regardless of the scope of the accident or who was at fault, the number of insurance claims you file has a direct impact on your rates. The greater the number of claims filed, the greater the likelihood of a rate hike. File too many claims and the insurance company may not renew your policy. Similarly, if the claim is being filed based on damage that you caused, your rates will almost surely rise.
On the other hand, if you aren't at fault, your rates may or may not remain unchanged. Getting hit from behind when your car is parked or having siding blow off of your house during a storm are clearly not your fault and may not result in rate hikes, but this isn't always the case. Mitigating circumstances, such as the number of previous claims you have filed, the number of speeding tickets you have received, the frequency of natural disasters in your area (earthquakes, hurricanes, floods) and even a low credit rating can all cause your rates to go up even if the latest claim was made for damage that you did not cause.
To File or Not to File?
There are no hard-and-fast rules around rate hikes. What one company forgives, another won't forget. Because any claim at all may pose a risk to your rates, understanding your policy is the first step toward protecting your wallet. If you know that your first accident is forgiven or that a previously filed claim won't count against you after a certain number of years, the decision of whether or not to file a claim can be made with advance knowledge of the impact it will or won't have on your rates. Talking to your agent about the insurance company's policies long before you need to file a claim is also important. Some agents are obligated to report you to the company if you even discuss a potential claim and choose not to file. For this reason, you also don't want to wait until you need to file a claim to inquire about your insurer's policy regarding consultation with your agent.