Say it's March 1 and you have a fender-bender in your car. Just
how long do you have to wait to get your insurance check for the
damages? Generally you should be riding pretty by April 1. At least
that's the goal of most
auto insurance companies
-- to have your claim paid out on or before the 30-day mark. Of
course, there's no certainty your vehicle will be repaired by
But auto insurance rules are made to be broken. The time limit
to pay your claim varies by state, according to each state's
"claims settlement provisions." In Connecticut, paying "promptly"
is the vague term used, which describes a payment within 30 days,
and only if it is an undisputed "clean" claim. A clean claim means
there is a straightforward accident, the insurer has complete
documentation and there's no dispute between parties or question
whether the insurer
In New Jersey, insurers have 60 days to pay a bodily injury
claim. In Texas, insurers have five business days after acceptance
to pay claims. Insurers can be subject to interest, fines and
penalties for not complying.
"The state laws are usually things like you have so many days to
acknowledge a claim has been made, around 15," says Bob Passmore,
senior director of personal lines at the Property Casualty Insurers
Association of America, a trade group.
Some states have laws stating if someone has a proof of loss,
the carrier has a certain number of days to pay or determine what
their position is -- to deny the claim or ask for more information,
for example. "But the vast majority of claims are paid in a much
shorter time frame," says Passmore.
When there's a dispute or larger claim (like a total loss),
insurers need to assess the damage, which can stretch out the
process. A typical fender-bender should be handled and closed
Most auto insurance companies have direct repair programs and
can refer you to one of their shops. The shop assesses the damage
and communicates with the insurer for you.
"Delays are not very good for keeping customers," notes
Passmore. The goal is to get each claim handled as quickly as
possible, and to make sure the right amount is paid so the insurer
doesn't have to deal with it again. "If insurers are going to do
things like delay, they're going to lose a customer."
Time is money
When an insurance company snags a new customer, there are costs
associated with "acquiring" the new client. There's advertising,
paying the insurance agent their commission, and the cost to
produce the policy for the first time. It can take as many as seven
years before an insurer can break even on a particular policy, and
that's assuming the customer doesn't have a claim, explains
If they have a claim the insurer will have to keep them even
longer -- ideally claim-free -- to make back its money. So insurers
are always better off providing good service and fair settlements
in order to retain customers, who on average submit a claim only
once every 10 years, according to Passmore.
And if you don't like the customer service, "There's a lot of
competition out there that will be happy to take that customer off
your hands," says Passmore. Insurers don't have much incentive to
delay; they want to get claims paid as fairly and quickly as they
Staking your claim
Claims against someone else's policy are a different
"Any time you are going through a carrier that you're not
insured with [the other party's insurer], that process has the
potential to be slowed down a bit just while the investigation is
continuing," says Dan Young, senior vice president of CARSTAR,
North America's largest multi-shop network of independently owned
and operated collision repair facilities.
When the car is drivable, most people go to their carrier's
drive-in location, where they get an estimate and a claims check on
the spot. Or they can use a direct repair facility, a one-stop
option. They'll drive directly to a specified shop affiliated with
the insurer, pick up their rental, get a written estimate and have
Your own inability to cover your deductible could delay your
repairs. Young observes that 20 years ago he never saw a $500 or
$1000 deductible. That's changed.
"In order to try and make insurance less expensive, many people
have these very high deductibles and so they can't afford their
portion of the repair," says Young. That's why you see so many cars
with dents and damaged fenders. Young says many people never get
around to fixing their cars.
If your car is a total loss, the insurance company will buy
what's left of the car and will pay you the vehicle's value before
it got damaged.
"If you disagree with their figure, you have the opportunity to
provide additional information that could help, like examples of
other comparable vehicles," says Passmore. Even this process is
typically completed within 30 days, he says.
what to do when your auto insurer totals your
How to speed up your insurance check
- Exchange contact information and insurance agencies at the
- Get a police report.
- Report your accident to your auto insurer as quickly as
- Use your carrier's drive-in insurance center or try the
direct repair program if available. However, you are not required
- Check your rental car coverage. Most policies only provide
coverage for 30 days.
- Find out your state's law for paying a claim.
- If you suspect your insurance company is violating the
"Unfair Claims Settlement Act," talk to your adjuster's
If you don't get any satisfaction, file a complaint with
your state's insurance department