How Car Insurance Works


Wondering how car insurance works and how to save the most money? Keep reading!

Saving money in regards to car insurance is not just about finding the lowest premium, there are several aspects of it, and every one of them can be used to put some serious savings back into your pocket. We’ll discuss five different areas of savings focus:

  • Shopping Around
  • Fine-Tuning Your Policy
  • Fine-Tuning Yourself!
  • Making a Payment
  • Handling an Accident

Shopping Around

You absolutely must shop around — and do so every six months — to ensure you’re getting the most competitive rate for your situation. My personal favorite source (because it’s so drop-dead easy to use) is esurance.com. There are a bunch, I’ve just found their site to be the friendliest.

A while back, a blogger Jeff had this to report in regards to shopping around: “I think the most important thing to remember is to shop around. I recently looked around for a new policy for my ’96 Ford sedan and had one company offer me a plan for $1,000 a year (and I have a clean driving record) and another company offer me a plan for $155 for 6 months.”

While Jeff’s example may be a bit extreme, policies can vary by as much as $500 for six months’ coverage. Making sure you’ve found the best rate could literally mean $1,000 in your pocket that you otherwise wouldn’t have.

How Commissions Work

If you understand where and how the money flows in the insurance industry, you’ll significantly increase the likelihood of getting your policy at a good rate.

There are basically three different sources from which you can purchase a policy:

  • Direct writers (Geico/Amica come immediately to mind) – Direct writers do not pay commissions, so their policies are generally lower. However, they are much pickier about who they insure, so if your driving record is a bit tarnished, you will likely not get the best deal going through a direct writer.
  • Captive Agents (State Farm, Allstate) – Captive agents work exclusively with one insurance provider. So an Allstate agent will work only for Allstate and will be paid a commission for each policy sold (usually about 15%). If you’re driving record has some blemishes, this may be what should get your first look.
  • Independent Agents – Independent agents navigate the insurance waters on your behalf and are paid a commission from the insurer as well; they are not bound to one specific provider but can shop around and find you the best rate (though honestly, esurance.com or others like it do that for you just as well).

The Real Dangers of Too Much Bargain Shopping

If you’ve found a deal that’s “too good to be true,” then it’s possible that it may be! You can go too far with the bargain shopping — where you perhaps run across some companies that aren’t as financially sound as they should be. To double-check this, you can usually go to your state’s .gov website and look at complaints filed and other potential red flags.

At the Negotiating Table

Once you’ve found the lowest policy, it’s important that you don’t show all of your cards immediately. You’ll want to let potential insurers know that you are aggressively shopping around and will not settle for anything but the best price. There isn’t real flexible pricing when it comes to policies because all of the numbers are spit out by a computer — however, an agent or customer service representative certainly can tell you more about potential discounts. These are simply new variables you can plug into their algorithm to lower the premium even further.

Make sure you ask about:

  • Combining policies – will they lower the price if you insure both cars through them, or also move your homeowner’s policy over? Most will.
  • Will they offer a discount if you take a defensive driving course? Many courses can be taken online and spread over several days or weeks. Having a certificate of completion can significantly reduce your premium.
  • Is your (or your child’s) GPA a 3.0 or greater? A high GPA can knock as much as 40% off the premium!
  • Are you retired? That means you’re driving less. Let them know!
  • Do they offer discounts if you belong to any associations, or groups? Mensa members sometimes receive a discount. If you work for a large employer, you’re likely to receive a discount as well.
  • If you have college kids living further than 100 miles away, you’ll get your premium knocked down.
  • If your vehicle has anti-lock brakes, airbags, or automatic seatbelts, ask about a discount.
  • Once you’ve been with a company for a year, many of them will give you their “loyalty rate”. You can actually ask for the loyalty rate early and may be able to score it then as well!

When to Start Shopping

You do NOT want to wait until you’re near the end of a policy to begin shopping around again. Many insurance companies view consumers looking early at policies as “responsible” and will give you an “early shopping” discount of up to 12 percent!

Fine-Tuning Your Policy

Increase Your Deductible

If you can afford it, you should immediately look at increasing your deductible. The key is to “self-insure” up to a point that makes sense for you. As you begin to build an adequate emergency fund, that cash on hand will allow you to use this strategy. Simply increasing your deductible from $200 to $500 saves anywhere from 15 to 30 percent. If you increase the deductible up to $1,000? You’ll likely save 40% or more.

Consider Dropping Some Coverage

If you’re looking at paying coverage of $1000 annually for your car, use the Rule of Ten. Ten times your annual premium would be $10,000. If your vehicle is worth less than that, you may want to consider dropping collision and comprehensive coverage. Both of those options can account for as much as 40% of your premium and they only cover the car’s replacement value. If you’d ever have a claim that would exceed the cost of your premium (less your deductible), comprehensive and collision probably aren’t worth it.

Fine-Tuning Yourself!

Yes, Your Credit Score Does Matter

While I’m not fan of debt in any form–and certainly not a fan of credit scores (because they’re so inherently tied to credit)–I do want to stress that your insurance rates are very much influenced by your credit score. It’s not exactly a credit score–it’s actually an “insurance score”, but it’s based on the same basic inputs.

One sure-fire way to lower your premiums is to raise your credit score. The first step in doing that is to know what it is. You can get a free credit score every year. Once you know your score from all three credit reporting agencies, you’ll quickly be able to dial in on what you need to improve.

Let me reiterate — I’m not advocating becoming a credit score diva. Credit scores are mainly for borrowing money and borrowing money, as a rule, is not good. This is specifically so you can save real dollars by lowering your car insurance premiums.

Drive Carefully!

Your very first at-fault accident could raise your rate 40 percent! Don’t text and talk!

(Here’s a juicy tidbit that you may not have known about though. Many insurance companies have a “forgive the first accident” policy. Ask how to qualify and you might see a major positive correction on that premium rate. They obviously won’t go around advertising this, but many times it’s there — you only need to ask!)

Teen Drivers

Just one note on teen drivers. Many parents believe that once their child turns driving age, they need to add them to the insurance — absolutely not! Only add them once they have a driver’s license.

Making Payment

Many insurance providers tack on “installment” fees if you pay monthly. Do your best to follow Rule Two of the YNAB Way and save enough premium funds to only pay it once every six months — this can save you up to 15 percent!

Handling an Accident

In the horrible situation where you are in an accident, there are many things to be aware of that will truly save you a bundle. This gets into the sometimes-tricky state-by-state legal stuff, but I’ve outlined it here and it should be a cinch going forward.

  1. Fourteen states allow you to make a claim for the diminished value of your vehicle in the event of an accident. Diminished value basically means that, even after repairs, your car will never be worth what it was prior to the accident. If you weren’t at fault in the accident, you can often make a successful case against the insurance company of the driver that was at fault for that difference in value. (The fourteen states that allow this? Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia).
  2. Also, there are 28 states that require auto insurers to pay for the sales tax when you replace your totaled vehicle with a new or used car. Now remember, the insurance companies aren’t going to be upfront at all with you in this regard, but the sales tax on a $12,000 vehicle can be substantial and it should go to you as parting of making you “whole” from the accident. Also, even if you don’t see your state listed below, if you ask, many auto insurers will not deny the request. States that require auto insurers to pay the sales tax: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin).
  3. Stacking. If you’re involved in an accident where an under- or un-insured motorist (UIM) is at fault, you may be able to “stack” your UIM policies. For example, if you have two cars insured by your auto insurer and you’re in an accident with a UIM, your damages may come to be $32,000, but each policy only comes to $25,000. You could stack the coverage from both policies for a total of $50,000 in coverage. I know the law on stacking varies from state to state.

Conclusion

I know this has been a lot of information to digest, but I really want to make the YNAB Saving Tips valuable to you! Hopefully you’ve found something in here that will save you a few hundred dollars each year on your car insurance premium. Remember, if you pick only one strategy it should be to shop around!