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By John W. Schoen Senior Producer
msnbc.com

Q: My husband recently got into a small accident. The other owner wished for a state police report even though there was no damage to his vehicle, which is fine with us, and his right. Does this automatically inform our insurance company? Should we pay for the cost of the repair ourselves without calling them if it the cost is small? Or should we ask for them for their share of the costs?Tara B. , Bolingbrook, Ill.

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A: That depends on what you mean by “small.”

First off, you should report the accident — in many cases you’re required to by law. Like most states, Illinois requires drivers to report any accident that involves “death, bodily injury or property damage over $500” — no matter who was at fault. And it doesn’t take much these days to do $500 in damage. (As for whether or not the damages reached $500, the law apparently expects us all to become amateur insurance appraisers; if you think it’s close, report it anyway.)

If the police don’t show up at the scene, you’re supposed to go to the nearest police station and make a report. But even if you report the accident to the police, you’re also supposed to notify the Illinois Department of Transportation. Unfortunately, the state’s Web site is a little vague on just how you’re supposed to do that.

You should also notify your insurance company — in case the other person decides later that they suffered injuries that they didn’t tell you about at the scene. (You may be able to see whether that the bumper wasn’t scratched, but it’s a lot harder to determine whether or not the other driver sprained his back.)  The police report may or may not make it back to your insurance company, but unless you file a claim that shows you were at fault, your rates shouldn’t go up.

As for whether to file a claim, if the other party doesn’t file one (and wasn’t at fault), there’s no reason you have to. But it’s worth asking your insurance carrier how much you would be surcharged if you do file a claim — and for how long. Most companies will raise your rates for the next three years. For minor damage, you’ll often pay more in added premiums that you’d collect (after deductible) if you go ahead and pay for repairs yourself.

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