Career Path to Become an Insurance Claims Adjuster

Low angle view of the front part of a car after an accident
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Insurance claims adjusters determine whether a party claiming loss due to property damage, bodily injury, etc., is owed a payment under an insurance policy. They also decide the payment amount.

Most insurance claims adjusters are employees of insurance companies, but some are independent consultants who represent claimants. Closely allied occupations include insurance claims examiners, insurance appraisers, and insurance investigators. An alternative job title for insurance claims adjuster is insurance loss adjuster.

Education and Experience

While there is no specific degree requirement, most potential employers likely will expect candidates to have a bachelor's degree. Many large insurance companies have in-house training programs, and if you have previous experience in a related field, that will be taken into consideration during the hiring process.

For example, insurance companies like to hire people with legal experience to work as adjusters for liability claims. People with engineering or architectural backgrounds tend to get hired as adjusters for industrial claims.

Skills and Responsibilities

You need analytical skills as well as people skills to work as an adjuster. To evaluate a claim, you may need to interview numerous people, such as the claimant, witnesses, law enforcement personnel, and expert consultants. You also need to examine numerous documents, such as police reports, court records, building records, and medical records. Also, navigating a settlement with a claimant may require negotiation or legal action, which means adjusters must work well with lawyers.

Typical Schedule

Adjusters split their time between office work and field work, and sometimes it is necessary to travel out of town. Schedules can vary because they are based on clients' needs and may require working evenings and weekends. You also may need to work long hours without warning to handle claims pursuant to a natural disaster or severe weather event. Workweeks topping 50 to 60 hours are not unusual.

Salary Range

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for claims adjusters, examiners, and investigators was $64,900 as of 2017. However, independent adjusters can make more than $100,000 a year, especially if they specialize in handling catastrophes.

Types of Adjusters

Medical claims adjusters, also known as claims processors, determine if a medical insurance policy covers particular procedures. In this position, you'll be expected to review policy details, establish whether procedures are elective or necessary, and look at other health conditions to see if procedures are warranted.

You must be a good communicator because you'll need to field calls from medical personnel and patients. You also need to regularly update both parties on the status of claims. You'll typically have set hours and work in medical offices or at insurance companies. The work is methodical and sometimes tedious, but it is consistent.

Auto claims adjusters have a little more variety in their work than medical claims adjusters. If working in this field, you typically will be an insurance company employee and assigned to claims when accidents occur. You'll review police reports, talk to drivers and witnesses, and evaluate damage to vehicles. Often, you need to view damaged cars in person, which means working both in the field and in the office to determine the appropriate settlement amount.

Settlement processes become more involved when accidents result in personal injury. In that case, you must review medical bills and records and negotiate subjective claims such as pain and suffering. Your objective will be to find a reasonable amount to appease a claimant, but your employer may task you with finding reasons to limit the settlement. Attorneys are often involved. To handle this job, you must be a critical thinker with attention to detail.

Property claims adjusters evaluate damage to homes or businesses caused by many things, including local natural disasters such as floods. You need to take photos of the damage and possibly navigate environments such as slippery roofs and tight crawl spaces. Communicating extensively with policyholders and insurance companies is necessary in order to determine settlement amounts. As this type of adjuster, you may be independent, insurance company staff, or a public employee. 

Catastrophic insurance claims adjusters are the superheroes of the adjuster field. Natural disasters bring out such adjusters in droves, and doing this kind of work can be nomadic, requiring you to sleep in motels, trailers, and even your car as you travel all over the country in response to ice storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, and major floods. Part of your job in this position is to keep a close eye on the weather in order to be ready to assist wherever you are needed.

This position requires long hours in dangerous conditions where you work with people who have suffered unimaginable loss. The work is generally seasonal (from fall till spring), emotionally taxing, and involves extensive travel. However, it’s personally fulfilling to be able to help people in need.