Car-insurance premiums can be a big-ticket expense. Here are some ways to lower insurance bills.
Auto-insurance premiums have long since reached big-ticket status, so it pays to look for opportunities that will keep your costs down without sacrificing protection. Here are some things you can do:
Do Some Homework
Posing as ordinary buyers, investigators with the Pennsylvania Insurance Department once visited 186 insurance agencies in three cities. Of the 92 Philadelphia agents contacted, fewer than 30% volunteered information on discounts and deductibles that could have reduced premiums 20% to 40%.
The lesson: Arm yourself with as much information as you can before you start calling companies. You’ll find that some kinds of information are easier to get than others. It’s fairly easy to get cost and coverage information, but it’s also important to find out about the insurer’s complaint record — especially if you get a good cost quote from a company you’re not familiar with.
Visit NAIC.org to find the contact information for your state insurance office; many of them keep track of consumer complaints and will share the results if they’re asked. You can also look up consumer complaint statistics directly at www.naic.org/cis. Type in the name of the insurer, and choose “property/casualty.” Click on the name of the company, then on “closed complaints” and finally on “closed complaint ratio report.”
Finally, read through your policy carefully to make sure you’re comparing the same coverage amount and policy details when you ask insurers for price quotes.
Compare the Premiums
Survey after survey confirms that auto-insurance companies often charge greatly different premiums for the same coverage. In New York, Pennsylvania and elsewhere, premiums have been shown to vary sometimes by more than 100%.
Rates may not vary as wildly in your area, but the odds are you will discover substantial differences if you take the time to get premium quotes from a number of companies. Begin by checking out InsuranceQuotes.com and CarInsurance.com, where you can get quotes from several insurers (see our story 3 Simple Steps to Reshop Your Car Insurance).Then check out sites for State Farm, Allstate, Progressive, Geico, and others. These quotes can act as a measure against which to judge identical coverage rates at different companies. If you’d like individualized help, you can work with an independent insurance agent — you can find one in your area at TrustedChoice.com
Many state insurance offices distribute auto-insurance pricing guides, but the categories they use may not match yours. Your best bet is to use such a guide to identify your state’s most cost-effective insurers.
Manage Your Teenagers’ Driving
Young drivers pay much more than most others because, as a group, they have more accidents. Rates will drop several notches when they reach age 25 or marry. Most companies give good-student or driver-education discounts to young drivers — commonly 5% to 25% off for a consistent B average — because statistically, good students are superior drivers. Young drivers can also get discounts for completing an approved driver-training course. The parents of students who spend part of the year at a school more than 100 or 150 miles away from home (and away from the family car) may also get a break but still have coverage when the student returns home for vacation.
Drive Carefully Yourself
Discounts are common for safe-driving records: Some companies give 5% off for drivers with three years of a clear record, raising the discount to 10% for drivers with six or more accident- and violation-free years.
Depending on which company insures you and where you live, you may even get a discount if you’re a nonsmoker, a woman who is a household’s only driver, a senior citizen, or a member of a certain profession (such as law or medicine) that is statistically less accident-prone. You may also get a discount for carpooling, keeping low mileage, or taking a defensive driving course. Several insurers also offer discounts for participating in a data-tracking program, where you permit the insurer to monitor the number of miles you drive and your driving habits, such as hard braking and rapid acceleration. For more information.
When comparing policies, consider discounts but don’t fixate on them. A discount may very well be offset by a higher premium to begin with.
Check Your Car’s Rating
Insurers charge more for cars with high claims rates, no matter how good the driving record of the owner. Some charge less for collision and comprehensive coverage on models that score well for safety and durability, but add surcharges for others. A surcharge or a discount isn’t a judgment of a car’s quality. The rate variations reflect repair costs, accident frequency, theft losses and other factors.
Before you buy your next car, it might pay to check on such differentials. Highway Loss Data Institute and also CarSafety.org provide loss data on nearly all makes and models,and your agent should be able to tell you the new car’s rating.
Loss data do not necessarily translate into discounts, but they do show which vehicles are most likely to qualify.
Consider Raising Your Deductibles
It might make sense to choose the highest deductible you can afford to pay without seriously disrupting your finances. The idea is to pay for affordable damage yourself and let insurance kick in for bigger losses.
Whatever your situation, you can reduce your premium by accepting a larger deductible and transferring part of the risk from the company to yourself. Increasing your deductibles from $200 to $1,000 could cut your premiums by as much as 40% and prevent you from filing small claims that could cost you a claims-free discount. Even raising the deductible from $250 to $500 can take a bite out of your premiums. Then add extra money to your emergency funds to cover potential expenses.
Reduce the Coverage on an Old Car
You could consider dropping comprehensive and collision coverage on an old car to reduce your insurance costs fast. That would expose you to additional risk, but remember that the insurance company won’t pay more to fix a car than it’s worth. Each year’s depreciation therefore diminishes the maximum claim you can make against your collision coverage.
If your car is five or more years old, depending on its value, you may be better off dropping both collision and comprehensive coverage and banking the savings. Estimate your car’s value by checking out the Kelley Blue Book website and consider how much protection you’re really buying for your collision and comprehensive premium.
Insure All Cars With the Same Company
You get a break for the second and successive cars covered by the same policy, so it’s usually more economical to put all your cars on one policy. Similarly, consider using the same company for other policies. Some insurers offer discounts of up to 15% for insuring your home and auto with the same company.
Don’t Pay By Installments
Most companies tack on an extra amount on to your premium when you pay in monthly or quarterly installments. If you can afford it, pay your premium in a lump sum.