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Your home was damaged in Winter Storm Stella. What to do?

A sewage drain is seen intaking large quantities of garbage and water at the end of Beach Street on March 14, 2017 in Sea Bright, New Jersey. Due to high winds, tidal waters from the Shrewsbury River are expected to remain several feet above regular high tide levels throughout the day.
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A sewage drain is seen intaking large quantities of garbage and water at the end of Beach Street on March 14, 2017 in Sea Bright, New Jersey. Due to high winds, tidal waters from the Shrewsbury River are expected to remain several feet above regular high tide levels throughout the day.

This week, you can bet, will be a busy one for insurance companies.

Winter Storm Stella, the beastly nor'easter that brought chilly winds, snow and sleet, surely toppled a few trees, damaged several roofs and generally wreaked havoc in the Northeast.

For renters, it's an inconvenience. To those living the American dream in their own home, it can be a nightmare. The paperwork should begin as soon as reality sets in. Insurance experts suggest if you're going to file a claim, hop to it, otherwise you may make things worse and delay the process.

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"If you have extensive damage, you really want to take care of it right away so there's not further damage," said Loretta Worters, spokeswoman for the trade group Insurance Information Institute. "Water will damage the walls, that would cost more money."

From 1996 to 2015, Worters said U.S. homeowners suffered about $30 billion in insured losses from winter storms. She's a big proponent of not waiting to file a claim, although legally, depending on the state, you could have months to do so.

If it's minor damage, say a few missing shingles, Worters said a call to your insurance company may not be worth it, especially if you have the means to complete the job yourself and have a high deductible. She suggests homeowners hold off from filing a claim if the repair costs are less or even a little bit more than the deductible. It's up to the homeowner, she said, to weigh the costs. She added, however, that one claim won't affect the cost of your policy. Insurance companies, rather, focus on the severity and frequency of claims when determining rates.

In the case of a winter storm, waiting could allow an unnoticed ice melt to seep into the house, which could lead to more damage. Also, you shouldn't wait because your additional living expenses benefit in your policy helps cover the costs of where you stay while your home is in disrepair, such as a hotel. Another reason to move on a claim quickly: Insurance company offices become busy in the aftermath of a storm.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners suggests homeowners immediately contact their insurance provider after a storm, snap photos of the damage and keep the receipts for the costs of any temporary repairs. Temporary repairs often are later reimbursed. The organization reminds people that not everything is covered on common home insurance plans, including spoiled food when the power goes out, water damage from backed-up drains and fallen tree removal.

Finally, if you fear your deductible will be higher because this winter storm was named Stella: don't. The Weather Channel gave the storm the name, not the National Weather Service and, according to Worters, does not come with an added deductible common for hurricanes. In many coastal states insurance companies will charge a more expensive deductible, known as a "named storm deductible," when property is damaged by a named weather event, such as a tropical storm or hurricane. That shouldn't apply when the Weather Channel names a storm.