Tag Archives: Insurance Information Institute

Four Steps to Switching Car Insurance

Could you save hundreds of dollars by switching your car insurance? It is a question worth asking yourself at least once a year. By doing a little research now, you may be able to find a comparable insurance plan at a better rate with another company, and save money. But you have to make sure you take the appropriate steps to switch, because you don’t want to have a lapse in coverage.

Jeanne Salvatore, senior vice president at the Insurance Information Institute in New York, suggests asking yourself if you’re happy with the cost, coverage and service of your current policy each time it comes up for renewal. “If the answer is ‘yes, yes and yes,’ then stay with them. But if you’re not sure, it’s a good opportunity to shop around,” she says.

Here are four key steps to take when it comes to switching car insurance:

1. Review your current driving situation.
Take note of your driving circumstances as well as the needs of other drivers in your household. Do you have a newer model car? Do you commute several miles each week to work? Do you have recent traffic tickets?

According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), your potential new insurance company may ask you all of these questions as part of the underwriting process. You’ll also likely be asked about the number of drivers on the policy, your driver license information, and the insurance coverage and limits you’d like to purchase.

Take a look at your existing auto insurance policy. Knowing what you currently have will make it easier to create apples-to-apples comparisons with the rates you receive from different insurers. An easy way to do this is to study your current policy’s declarations page, says Vaughn Graham, president of Rich and Cartmill insurance company in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“The declarations page describes the insurance you have, including the amount of coverage as well as coverage limits, and the amount of your deductible,” he says. When you’re more informed about your current coverage, it can help you become a smarter shopper.

2. Shop around.
Once you’re familiar with your current policy, it’s time to look for alternatives. A good first call is to your current insurance agent or the insurance company itself (some insurers, such as Geico and Progressive don’t work with agents). Even if you’re not happy with your existing policy (if you think the premiums are too expensive, for example), ask if there are ways to lower your rate for the same amount of coverage, says Salvatore. You may be eligible to receive discounts you’re not getting.

Here’s a list of common insurance company discounts, according to the NAIC:

  • Having safety devices in the car, such as anti-theft features
  • Having a good driving record
  • Driving a low number of miles a year
  • Having multiple cars on the same policy
  • Being a student who gets good grades
  • Insuring both your home and car with the same provider

While you’re reviewing discounts, be aware that switching to a new provider could affect discounts you already have with other types of insurance. For example, if you’re already getting a homeowner’s and car-policy rate reduction from your current provider, and you then move your car insurance to a different company, you may lose the discount you receive for homeowner’s insurance. It may make more financial sense to stay where you are, or switch both policies to a new provider that will give you a rate reduction for both.

In addition to speaking to your current agent or insurance company about your options, you can look online to research potential companies and obtain quotes. It is also a good idea to get referrals from family members, colleagues and other people whom you trust, Salvatore says. If they have had to file a claim with the insurer, they could tell you in person about their customer service experience.

If you’re currently buying through an independent agent who represents multiple insurance companies, you have a few more options. “You can go to them and say ‘I’m happy working with you, but I’m not so happy with this carrier’ and explain why,” Salvatore says. “Ask if they can suggest another carrier.”

A good agent should be able to offer you customized choices to fit your needs, adds Graham. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution. We’re all a little different.”

3. Don’t skimp on coverage.
As you receive quotes, make sure the insurance coverage and deductibles mentioned are satisfactory. Just because a rate quote may be lower than what you’re currently paying, it doesn’t mean it’s a better deal if the coverage is lacking, Graham says. If you’re not sure how much coverage you need, discuss your needs with insurance company representatives, and ask for guidance.

For example, if you have significant assets, you may need more than just the state minimum for bodily injury liability insurance. The same is true for property damage coverage. The retail price for an average new vehicle could easily top $30,000, but in many states, the minimum property damage coverage required is only $25,000. If you were responsible for a loss and did not have enough insurance coverage, you’d likely be on the hook for the difference. “Many of those limits are often inadequate and not near enough to meet today’s exposures to price of vehicles,” Graham says.

Though it’s important to have ample liability coverage, if you drive an older model vehicle that is paid for, you may choose to opt out of some optional types of coverage, such as collision and comprehensive insurance, in order to keep premiums low.

Collision insurance pays for the physical damage your vehicle receives if it collides with another object, such as a tree or another car. Comprehensive insurance pays for damage to your car from causes other than a collision. This could include vandalism, broken glass, fire and theft. If this coverage is more than your vehicle is worth, you could skip it to lower your rates. Just understand that you would then be paying for these losses out of your own funds if such damage did occur. People who live in areas prone to such natural disasters as floods, high winds and earthquakes might want to think about retaining their comprehensive coverage, experts say.

Another way to get a lower premium is to ask for a higher deductible. If you are willing to pay $1,000 out of pocket for a claim instead of $250, you could lower your rates. But make sure you can afford the higher deductible in the event that you suffer an insurable loss.

4. Notify your old and new providers.
After conducting all your research (and with a bit of luck), you may well find a company that offers good coverage at a lower rate. You may be willing to switch, but before you sign a new agreement, call your state’s department of insurance to learn if the company is permitted to do business in your state. You can also check out business-rating companies A.M. Best and Standard & Poor’s to check out the company’s financial stability. (Standard & Poor’s requires free registration before you can see company ratings.) It’s worth the extra time to spend before you agree to pay hundreds of dollars on a new policy.

Once you’ve verified that the new provider can do business in your state and appears financially stable, it’s time to make the switch. “When you are ready to cancel your current policy, let all parties know in writing, so that there is no gap in coverage,” Salvatore says.

If you end your existing auto insurance policy before it expires, you may receive a partial premium refund, depending on the terms of your agreement. However, you should continue paying for your old policy until the new coverage is confirmed in writing. Otherwise, the old policy could be dropped for non-payment before the new policy starts. And in most states, driving without proper car insurance coverage is against the law. “It may be easier to wait and have your new policy start when the old one expires,” Salvatore says.

Make it a priority to review your insurance policies on a regular basis. Household driving situations change often, and so do state laws that could affect the price of your premiums. By taking some time each year to do some car insurance research, you can make better decisions and pay the best possible prices for the best amounts of car insurance coverage.

Personal Factors That Affect Insurance Rates

A reporter recently asked Edmunds about the kinds of personal information that can affect the cost of car insurance. She also wanted to know whether people could do anything to address personal factors that were keeping their car insurance rates high.

They’re good questions, and Edmunds was happy to help answer them. During the research it became clear that when it comes to car insurance, there’s hardly anything that isn’t personal. Here are five all-about-you factors that can affect your car insurance premium:

1) Your driving profile. Such factors as the number of miles you drive annually and your accident and ticket history are major elements in setting your insurance rate. The less you drive, the less risk of an accident and a claim. Safer driving — meaning a history free of accidents and moving violations — also points to someone who’s less likely to file a claim.

2) The car you drive. Car insurance premiums are based in part on the car’s sticker price, the cost to repair it, its overall safety record and the likelihood of theft, according to the Insurance Information Institute. The cost of fixing a brand-new $225,000 2010 Ferrari 458 Italia is going to be a lot more than the repair costs for a used $17,000 Nissan Altima. The premium will reflect this.

3) Your essential personal information, including your age, occupation and where you live. Each of these things factors into the process of setting your insurance rate because insurance companies base their premiums on actuarial information about drivers. They look for patterns of claims activity among people like you. A teenage boy is likely to have a higher insurance rate than a middle-aged driver, because statistically, teenage boys have more accidents than do 40-year-olds.

Your occupation can play a role if it affects how much driving you do. Work that involves lots of miles on the road, such as an outside sales job, can affect rates. From the insurance company’s point of view, the more miles you drive means more risk of an accident.

Insurance companies also look at where you live. They track local trends of accidents, car thefts, lawsuits and the cost of medical care and car repair, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

4) The coverage you choose. The more coverage you elect and the lower the deductible you set, the more you’ll pay.

5) Your credit score. Some insurance companies use credit scores as a factor in setting rates. This practice is coming under attack, however, with seven states in 2010 passing regulations regarding the use of credit information in insurance. In 2011, several other state legislatures introduced bills to regulate the practice.

Actuarial studies show that how a person manages his or her financial affairs is an accurate predictor of the number and size of insurance claims he or she might file, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

If you want to lower your insurance costs, you can’t change your age, or easily change your job or hometown. But there are some personal changes you can make:

1) Consider pay-as-you-drive insurance. It’s a paradox, but the more personal you get, the better your rates might be. Pay-as-you-drive programs offer better rates because they’re tailored to how you personally drive — as opposed to the people who are similar to you in terms of age or other unchangeable factors.

This means that a teenager who is an excellent driver — who doesn’t speed, doesn’t drive at night and doesn’t drive many miles — can get a better rate than the average teenager, whose actuarial profile pegs him as a greater risk, based on the accident history for people his age.

Pay-as-you-drive plans have different configurations, depending on the insurance company and state. Some require that you install a telematics device that transmits information about your actual driving (such as speed, mileage and braking patterns) to the insurance company. Others, such as plans permitted in California, only are based on the number of miles you drive, not how you drive.

2) Be a calmer, more careful driver. If you’ve had speeding tickets in the past, resolve to change from being a speedy, aggressive driver to a calm one. A side benefit is that you’ll save money on gasoline. Edmunds testing has also shown that a calm driving style gets you 35 percent better fuel economy.

3) Choose a car with a lower cost of ownership. Edmunds has a True Cost to Own ® (TCO) tool that lets you size up cars when you’re shopping. It takes into account eight components — depreciation, interest on financing, taxes and fees, insurance premiums, fuel, maintenance, repairs and any federal tax credit that may be available — and tells you what your cost would be over five years. It’s a way to get a preview of what your insurance premiums might be. Also, talk to your insurance company when you’re car shopping to get a quote on how your choice will affect your insurance. If you wait until the deal is done, you’ve lost a chance to manage your costs.

4) Change your coverage. Don’t go for every bell and whistle in an auto insurance policy. If you’re willing to pay a slightly higher deductible, you can wind up saving big on your rates. Going from a $250 to a $1,000 deductible could save you 25-40 percent on your policy. Set aside a portion of these funds to cover your costs in the event of a claim.

If you have an older car with comprehensive and collision coverage, you might find yourself paying more in insurance than the car is worth. One tip: Take your comprehensive and collision premiums and add those up. Multiply by 10. If your car is worth less than that amount, don’t buy the coverage. If you’re worried about being left overexposed, consider this: The typical policyholder makes a claim only once every 11 years, and reports a total loss only once every 50 years.

5) Explore discounts for which you might be qualified. The options available include discounts for low-mileage drivers, for seniors and for cars with anti-theft devices and certain safety devices. It’s a lengthy list — just ask your insurer about any discounts, and go from there.

6) Clean up your credit. Keep it in good shape by paying bills on time and by regularly checking that there are no items on your history that do not belong to you. You can get free annual credit report checks here.

Is there personal information that doesn’t matter? Gender, one expert told us. Insurance companies don’t care if you’re female or male as long as you’re a safe driver. And it’s a myth that red cars have higher insurance rates than those sporting more sedate shades, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Ultimately, insurance companies care about how likely it is that a particular driver would end up making or causing a pricey claim against them. Green is the only color that matters.

Do You Have the Right Car Insurance?

Car insurance is inherently tricky to navigate because you don’t find out just how well it works (or doesn’t) until you have an accident. And if you’re lucky, that doesn’t happen too often. So how do you know if you have the right kind of car insurance for your budget and lifestyle?

U.S. News interviewed a handful of car insurance experts to find out what you should do before making a final decision on your policy in order to get a good deal and decrease the chance of being surprised by unexpected costs after an incident. Here’s their best advice:

When choosing a policy, start by asking friends for recommendations. “It always makes sense to first ask people who you respect who they have auto insurance with, and if they were happy when they had a claim,” says Jeanne Salvatore, spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute, an industry group.

[See: 10 Unexpected Costs of Driving.]

Strangers can also offer useful advice. People often take their complaints about car insurance to social media, blogs and other websites. Search for posts on Twitter using the hashtag for the company you are considering. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners and the Center for Insurance Policy and Research makes it easy to find formal complaints that have been lodged against companies as well.

State buyer’s guides are another resource. States release detailed guides for purchasing auto insurance that explain the ins and out of property damage as well as collision and comprehensive coverage. “Get the buyer’s guide – don’t just go to some agent,” recommends Bob Hunter, director of insurance at the Consumer Federation of America. Those buyer’s guides also outline the minimum required coverage and what factors influence your insurance rates, from driving records to how you use the vehicle.

When comparing policy prices, be sure to compare similar policies, cautions Phil Reed, senior consumer advice editor at Edmunds.com. Auto policies vary by length of time, level of service and an array of add-ons, he says. Instead of just searching the Internet to compare quotes, Reed recommends getting on the phone with companies and asking questions, too. Certain car safety features, such as alarm systems or anti-lock breaks, can help lower your rate.

[Read: Blue-Collar Workers Pay More for Car Insurance.]

At the same time, there’s no need to obsess about constantly chasing a better deal. Jeff Blyskal, senior writer at Consumer Reports, says when the magazine asked readers to try to get a better deal with a competing insurance provider, only 12 percent of respondents were able to do so. That’s despite the slew of auto insurance advertisements that would have you think a better deal is always just around the corner.

Once you’ve settled on an insurance provider, you’ll have the chance to consider various add-ons to your policy. In general, the more you pay upfront, the greater the coverage you’ll have. For example, you can opt for a higher deductible in order to minimize your rates – probably a good move for anyone who considers themselves a careful driver and can afford the higher deductible in the event of an accident.

You might also want to consider rental coverage. Auto insurance policies often allow you to add on coverage for renting a vehicle while your car is getting fixed after an accident, and if you only have one car, that kind of coverage can pay off. “Every customer who didn’t have rental coverage wished they had it,” says Richard Arca, senior manager of pricing at Edmunds.com and a former insurance adjuster. It typically adds about $20 for six months to a policy, he says.

On new and leased cars, GAP insurance can also make sense. You’ve might have heard that when you buy a new car, it loses value as soon as you drive it out of the lot. Leased vehicles also often carry a lower fair market value than what you owe on the vehicle. That means in either of those cases, if you total the car, the insurance company will only reimburse you for the car’s fair market value – and you could be out a lot of cash. GAP coverage, which stands for “guaranteed auto protection,” safeguards people from that problem. “It’s highly recommended for people who lease vehicles,” Arca says.