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Business Debt Adjusters Salary – After Hurricane Irma hit Florida last year, college graduate Brett Brown worked as a freelance claims adjuster, earning him more than $60,000 in less than two months. Jeff Haller for The Penny Hoarder
As August 2017 turned to September, the nation’s eyes were on their tablets, phones and TV screens. Hurricane Harvey had just hit Texas with record rainfall and catastrophic flooding, and Hurricane Irma was tearing through the Caribbean with Florida in its sights.
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Brett Brown also had his eyes fixed on the computer screen, but for different reasons: He was looking for a job.
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Fresh out of college with a degree in plant pathology, Brown returned to his hometown of Mobile, Alabama, and wanted to put his education to good use. But as we all know, getting started is easier said than done.
So Brown was intrigued when he received a phone call from an old family friend about a temporary job opportunity. Would you like to do some work in Florida for a few weeks after Irma passes? A friend told Brown he could earn enough to pay off most, if not all, of his student loans.
Naturally, Brown was skeptical. When you get a call out of the blue about a job that usually pays thousands of dollars and requires no experience, it’s too good to be true. But such gains are very real for independent insurance adjusters after a natural disaster.
Independent adjusters work as contractors for an adjustment firm. Earnings vary depending on the amount of work involved and the adjusting firm’s fee schedule, but experienced independent adjusters can make upwards of six figures a year.
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Like staff adjusters who work for a company or public adjusters who represent policyholders, freelancers can handle routine claims, catastrophe claims, or a mix of both. The day-to-day work consists of routine claims that happen all the time, such as water damage from a broken pipe. Catastrophic claims are the result of natural or man-made disasters, such as hurricanes or oil spills.
Brown hadn’t given up on his goal of working in horticulture, but when the opportunity to make good money came (or, in this case, called), he took it.
As Harvey and Irma hit one after the other, Florida faced a major problem: a shortage of insurance adjusters. Crews and independent regulators from around the country were already on their way to Texas as Irma passed through the Sunshine State.
As the nation’s two largest and most populous states were hit hard by hurricanes that caused more than $290 billion in damage, independent disaster adjusters were in high demand, and firms were willing to take on people with little or no experience.
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So on September 12, 2017, Brown found himself at the Quality Inn & Suites in Gulf Breeze, Florida to begin training as an independent claims adjuster for the Canada-based Catastrophe Response Unit. He had zero experience and wasn’t quite sure what he signed up for.
While working as a claims adjuster, Brown would work 16-hour days using a ladder, tape measure, tape measure and phone to photograph roofs and other damaged property. Jeff Haller for The Penny Hoarder
Brown and about 70 people in his group spent the next five days filling out paperwork, watching training videos, taking tests and listening to presentations on the proper procedures for verifying and processing claims. As debuggers are in high demand, the training process has been simplified.
“They were just trying to get people out in the field and see customers and inspect their properties as quickly as possible,” Brown said.
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He had to learn industry standard software for evaluating property claims. And he had to buy it for $150. Independent claims adjusters pay their expenses — lodging, gas, food, the whole nine yards — out of pocket. Fortunately, Brown already had a laptop, a ladder and a truck.
“[The Division of Disaster Management] emphasized that you don’t think about the money you’re spending right now,” Brown said. “Just think about the investment you’ll be making for yourself in the next month or two.”
Claims adjusters, even temporary ones, must be licensed, and each state has its own rules and regulations. After completing five days of training and certification, Brown earned an ambulance license. A few states—Florida is one of them—make these available in the event of a disaster.
Independent adjusters work on a salary contract based on a pay schedule rather than a salary or hourly wage. The insurance company pays an independent adjustment firm a fixed fee for each claim it closes; the interest paid is based on the final settlement of the claim. After the company receives its fee, it usually pays a portion of 55% to 70% to the adjuster. (With CRU, Brown was about 60%.)
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To elaborate a little more: When Brown handled a claim up to $20,000, he won $600. For claims between $20,000 and $50,000, he took home $900; Over $50,000, his fee was $1,200.
Brown shows a typical photo he would take using his phone as a claims adjuster. Jeff Haller for The Penny Hoarder
After completing the rapid training process, Brown headed south to set up base in Tampa, Florida. With no prior experience in claims settlement, the learning curve was steep. His first week was quite difficult.
Brown started with 50 claims. He had to contact each policyholder to set up a time to look at the damage before going to the field. To maximize the number of visits he could make in a day, he booked visits to houses close to each other.
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Brown set his alarm for 6 a.m. His first inspection began at 7:30 a.m. Although based in Tampa, assignments took him to central Florida.
Inspections took an hour on average, depending on the amount of damage. At first he only did one or two checks a day, but as Brown got comfortable, he added more. By the second week, he was logging four or five claims a day. At his busiest times, Brown was doing up to 10 a day.
Whether the property was missing a few shingles or missing an entire wall, each required extensive inspection. Ladders and rooftops were part of the job—and remember, this was all in Florida, where fall is an urban legend and 90-degree days are the norm.
It was on one of those rooftops, about a week later, that Brown realized his worn-out New Balances weren’t the right shoes. He found himself on a particularly steep roof, in danger of slipping. Brown avoided his own disaster, but invested in some sturdy, non-slip work boots.
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After a long day of inspections, squeezed in with maybe a 30-minute lunch break, Brown returned to the rented house he shared with other CRU regulators he had met during training. But his work was far from over. Documentation was required for each inspection to process the claim. He would stay up until about midnight, damage the software and compile the documents, then set the alarm clock and wake up at 6 to do it all over again.
Brown’s insanely long hours are the industry norm during a disaster. “They stay in a fancy hotel and work 16 hours a day, six to seven days a week,” says Peter Crosa, owner of Peter J. Crosa & Co., who has been in the regulatory business for more than 40 years. “They make a lot of money … but it’s a difficult task.”
Along with being away from home, driving to properties scattered across several states and working 16-hour days, Brown had to meet with people dealing with the nightmare of a damaged or destroyed home. This part was difficult and emotionally draining.
Overall, Brown found the work quite rewarding. After all, he helped people in difficult times.
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Brown decided to pursue his skills as a claims adjuster as an option to earn extra money in the future. Jeff Haller for The Penny Hoarder
On November 1, Brown packed his bags and headed home to Alabama. Less than two months of 16-hour days, seven days a week, earned him more than $60,000.
After subtracting the taxes he had to handle on his own as an independent contractor, Brown made about $40,000. He decided to set aside some money for rainy days and investments. The rest went to student loans, and he was able to pay off most of them. Brown still has some debt left, but imagine the convenience of paying off a $40,000 loan in one sitting.
“Oh, absolutely,” Brown says. “For the first few weeks, I doubted myself and the opportunity as a whole, but after the second week, it really happened.
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