Question: If I have a $500 deductible, what do I pay if the damage is less than that? Will my insurer just pay for the whole thing? 

Answer: If the cost to repair your vehicle after a car accident is less than your deductible amount, then there’s no reason to make a claim with your auto insurance company. The insurance company will not pay any amount toward your car’s repair bill.

For your physical damage coverages of comprehensive and collision, you choose a deductible amount at the start of your policy — in this case it’s $500 — and that is the amount you’re responsible for before your car insurance benefits will kick in. It’s your responsibility to take care of repair costs that are below your chosen deductible amount.

Once repair costs reach and exceed your $500 deductible, you can make a claim and your collision or comprehensive coverage (whichever coverage the damage falls under) would pay for the repair costs beyond the deductible. That, however, doesn’t mean it’s always wise to file a car insurance claim just because your deductible amount had been reached.

Even if the cost of repairs exceeds your deductible amount, you may still want to pay out-of-pocket for the repairs to keep a claim off of your history. If the repairs come up to, say, $600 and you can afford to pay out the whole amount, then you probably should. Your insurance company will only pay $100, and the claim could raise your premiums on renewal. 

One minor claim under $1,000 may not raise your rates, but if in the near future you have additional claims, then your overall claims activity could cause your rates to rise, or even cause your insurance company to not renew your policy at the end of your term. 

If you are comfortable with paying for minor damages to your car and have the money to cover them, then you may also consider choosing a higher deductible.

However, don’t ever make your deductible so high that you can’t afford it and can’t pay for repairs up to that amount. And you may not be able raise your deductible if you have a lienholder that requires you to keep your deductible at $500 or below.

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Contributing Researcher

Chris Kissell is a Denver-based writer and editor with work featured on U.S. News & World Report, MSN Money, Fox Business, Forbes, Yahoo Finance, Money Talks News and more.