Monthly Archives: February 2017

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.

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.

Protect Yourself From Auto Insurance Fraud

There are various ways consumers can fall victim to auto insurance fraud, including accident scams,insurer tricks and referral fraud. Whether you’re buying auto insurance or on the road, it’s important to know how to protect yourself. To keep you out of trouble, we’ve compiled the most important tips from the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), the North Dakota Department of Insurance, FraudGuides.com and Edmunds.com.

When Buying Auto Insurance

  • Be wary of insurance offers from door-to-door salespeople, telephone callers or unsolicited Internet advertisements.
  • Be suspicious if the price of insurance seems much lower than the competition’s. It could be a scam, or the coverage might be full of exclusions that are only discovered when you need the coverage.
  • Contact your state’s insurance department to make sure the agent and company are licensed.
  • Check the company’s rating at the Better Business Bureau.
  • Make sure “free services” aren’t actually hidden in your insurance bill.
  • Ask if the insurance company has purchased or invested in vehicle repair shops; this is a red flag. You are not required to use them, and they will not give you better service or prices — in fact, they could be worse.
  • Guard your insurance identification number the same way you would your social security number, because once it’s stolen, criminals can use it in a scam.

While Driving

  • Be wary if a car pulls in front of you, forcing you to follow dangerously close. You may be set up for a staged accident.
  • Trust your instincts. If someone seems to be tailing you or otherwise behaving suspiciously, pull into the nearest gas, fire or police station, or other “safe spot” that you see.
  • Carry an accident emergency kit, or at least a disposable camera, in your car.

After a Two-Car Crash

  • Exchange information with the person driving the vehicle, including driver license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance. Take pictures of all damage to both cars.
  • Count the number of people in the car. Get a name, address and telephone number for each one, not just the driver.
  • Call the police, and if possible, have them come to the scene. Get a police report with the officer’s name, even if the damage is minimal. This makes it more difficult for a criminal to damage the car later and try to collect a larger claim. Note that in cities where police are stretched thin, the police may not come to an accident scene unless there are injuries reported.
  • Avoid people who suddenly appear at an accident scene and try to direct you to specific doctors or attorneys.
  • Avoid people who offer you quick cash to fix your car.
  • Be wary of tow truck drivers who recommend a specific auto repair facility without being asked.
  • Demand detailed bills for any repairs or medical services. Keep all your receipts related to the accident.
  • Make sure you get Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts at the repair shop.
  • Be wary of physicians who insist that you file a personal injury claim after an accident, especially if you are not hurt.
  • Never sign blank insurance claim forms.

Tips to Shop for Car Insurance

The word shopping brings a feeling of immediate excitement to most people. But if you combine the word shopping with car insurance — as in “shopping for car insurance” — it produces the opposite effect. The thought of shopping for auto insurance makes the eyes glaze over and the heart rate drop to the pace of a slumbering couch potato. Couch potato? Indeed. Doug Heller, a consumer advocate atThe Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights (a California-based consumer advocacy group) and a recognized insurance issues specialist, told us that too often “people purchase insurance by calling the number on the screen.”

But wait, this is important stuff! You want to be adequately covered if you get in an accident. And you certainly don’t want to pay more for car insurance than you should. Maybe waiting for a solution to be beamed into your living room is not the best idea.

How can you stay awake while navigating through this murky subject? Just remember: There is money to be saved. How much? Hundreds, even thousands, per year. For example, one of the authors typed all of his insurance information into a comparative insurance service. The quotes (for very basic coverage on two old cars) ranged from $1,006 to $1,807 — a difference of $801 a year. If you’re currently dumping thousands into your insurance company’s coffers because of a couple of tickets, an accident or a questionable credit rating, shopping your policy against others may be well worth the effort.

Look at it this way — you can convert the money you save into the purchase of something you’ve lusted after for a long time. Hold that goal in your mind. Now, let’s begin.

Before you can shop for something, you have to decide what you need. The first step in finding the right auto insurance for you is to figure out the amount of coverage you need. This varies from state to state. So take a moment to find out what coverage is required where you live. Make a list of the different types of coverage and then return for the next step. (You will find a list of each state’s requirements and an explanation of the various types of insurance in “How Much Auto Insurance Do You Really Need?”. Also, check out “Little-Known But Important Insurance Issues” as it has a glossary of basic insurance terminology.)

Now that you know what is required, you can decide what — if anything — you need in addition to that. Some people are quite cautious. They base their lives on worst-case scenarios. Insurance companies love these people. That’s because insurance companies know what your chances are of being killed or maimed, and how likely it is for your car to be damaged or stolen. The information the insurance company has collected over previous decades is crunched into “actuarial tables” that give insurance adjustors a quick look at the probability of just about any occurrence.

It is important to keep in mind that the basis of insurance is a difference of opinion between you (the insured) and them (the insurance company). You believe you will, at some point, probably get in an auto accident. The car insurance company believes you probably won’t. And the insurance company is willing to take your money to prove you wrong.

Another issue Howard mentioned is that the limits of any uninsured and/or underinsured motorist coverage that you purchase cannot exceed the limits of your liability coverage. Such coverage, he said, can be valuable, as it will cover lost income if you’re out of work for several months after being injured in a major accident.

Your driving habits may also be a consideration. If your past is filled with crumpled fenders, if you have a lead foot or a long commute on a treacherous winding road, then you should get more comprehensive coverage.

“Consumers should also be aware that they don’t have to buy the package [of collision and comprehensive coverage],” Howard said. “If your vehicle is older, if you have a good driving record and if there is a low likelihood that it would be totaled in an accident, but a high likelihood of it being stolen, you could buy comprehensive but not collision.” Seems like good advice for all of the 1989 Toyota Camry owners reading this article — this has been the most stolen car in the nation for several years (it’s often stolen for parts). But we would expect that most of them on the road have well over 100,000 miles.

At this time, a rather sobering point needs to be interjected. Just having car insurance doesn’t protect you from absolutely anything bad that might happen. First, the insurance company needs to back up the claims that they make in the fine details of the contract. TV ads show folksy adjustors at the scenes of natural disasters passing out claims checks like coupons for cocktail wieners at a supermarket. But, in case you haven’t noticed, real life is a bit different from TV ads. If you have an accident, your car insurance company will take a close look at your claim before mailing you a check. And the check may be written for an amount much smaller than you had hoped. For this reason, you should be intimately familiar with the terms of your policy and call the company with any questions you might have.

Now that you have made several practical and philosophical decisions, it’s time to start shopping. Begin by setting aside about an hour for this task. Bring all your records — your current insurance policy, your driver license number and your vehicle registration. Drink plenty of coffee. Have a phone at your elbow. And, of course, power up your computer.

Begin with the online services. If you go to Netquote.com or other insurance quote sites, you can type in your information and get a list of comparative quotes. The form takes about 15 minutes to complete. If this bores you, just remind yourself that you are saving money and you can use that money to buy something nice for yourself. If the entire shopping process takes you two hours to complete, and you save $800, you’re effectively earning $400 an hour.

A few things to keep in mind: (1) When you use quote sites, you may not get instant insurance quotes. Some companies may contact you later by e-mail, and some that are not “direct providers” may put you in touch with a local agent, who will then calculate a quote for you. (A “direct provider,” like Geico, sells an insurance policy to you directly; other companies like State Farm sell insurance through local agents. We’ll discuss the pros and cons of each later.) (2) It’s not easy to get quotes from these sites in all states — if you live in New Jersey, for instance, you’ll probably find it faster to pick up the phone, since most insurers currently don’t provide online quotes for this state.

You can also try getting insurance quotes from some of the insurance companies listed on the Edmunds.com Web site — Geico, InsWeb, or Insurance.com. The forms will take about 10 minutes each to complete.

Of course, there are many other insurers that you can contact online. But remember, while you’re researching companies, make notes in a separate computer file or on a piece of paper divided into categories. This will keep you from duplicating your efforts. When you visit the different online insurance sites you should take note of several things:

  • Annual and monthly rates for the different types of coverage — make sure to keep the coverage limits the same so that you can make “apples-to-apples” comparisons
  • An 800 number to call for questions you can’t get answered online
  • The insurance company’s payment policy (When is your payment due? What happens if you’re late in making a payment?)
  • Discounts offered by the insurance company that pertain to you
  • The insurance company’s consumer complaint ratio from your state’s department of insurance Web site (more on this below)
  • The insurance company’s A.M. Best and Standard & Poor’s ratings (more on this below)

Once you have exhausted your online options, it’s time to work the phones. Those companies you haven’t been able to get an online quote from should be contacted. Surprisingly, doing this process verbally can actually go faster than the online counterpart, providing you have all the information regarding your driver license and vehicle registration close at hand. When you get a quote, be sure to confirm the price. Also, ask them to fax or e-mail the quote to you as a record.

We can all find the lowest premium, but it may not be immediately obvious how to determine whether a company is reliable. When we say “reliable,” we’re talking about how the insurer treats you, the customer. Particularly, how will the company deal with you when you file a claim? Will you be paid the full amount to which you are entitled? And will you be paid promptly?

How To Get Affordable Car Insurance

If you lose your job, take a pay cut or encounter another kind of financial hardship, affordable auto insurance quickly turns from nice to necessity. While it’s easy enough to find companies offering cut-rate car insurance, is that the best way to go?

Not really, according to consumer watchdogs and insurance experts. To find the lowest possible rates from an insurer that’ll be there when you need it, learn what type of coverage you must carry, research the reputations of insurance companies and take advantage of every possible discount for which you’re eligible, experts say. They also recommend checking out pay-as-you-drive policies that peg premiums to how many miles you put on your car each year. Finally, if you’re eligible, look into low-cost auto insurance programs that such states as California, Hawaii and New Jersey offer to people with very low incomes.

When it comes to buying affordable car insurance, you’re your own best advocate. At the same time, it’s not always easy to take on that role, says J. Robert Hunter, a former Texas insurance commissioner and insurance director at the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America in Washington. Don’t settle for the first insurance company or agent you find, Hunter says. Shop around. “That’s how big buyers of insurance do it,” he says. “They put it out for competitive bids. That’s what you should do, too.”

Here’s a step-by-step guide to finding the lowest rates without getting ripped off:

1. Start with the car. What you pay for comprehensive and collision coverage depends on the year, make and model of the car you drive. Generally speaking, the newer, more expensive the vehicle, the higher the premium. Rates for comprehensive and collision coverage don’t vary much, so if you can’t afford to pay a lot for insurance and you’re in the market for a car, buy one that’s inexpensive.

2. Know your limits. Most states have set minimums for liability insurance coverage, both for bodily injury and property damage. Look up coverage minimums here or on your state insurance commission’s Web site. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners lists insurance commissions in all 50 states and U.S. territories. If you’re taking out a loan to purchase a new or used car, the lender will likely require you to carry a certain level of comprehensive and collision coverage, according to the NAIC.

3. Take the highest possible deductible. Want an easy way to lower your premium? Take a high deductible. By opting for an annual deductible of $1,000 instead of $250, you’ll pay less up front, but should you be responsible for an accident, you’ll foot more of the bill before insurance payments kick in.

4. Check your credit score. Some states allow insurers to take your credit history into account when compiling what’s called an insurance credit score, which they use to calculate your premium. Bad credit because of overdue bills or a personal bankruptcy means you could end up paying more for auto coverage. To improve your insurance credit score, pay your bills on time, monitor your credit report and do anything you can to fix problems that could be lowering your score.

5. Narrow the field. Use the process of elimination to come up with three or four reputable insurance companies or agents to approach for quotes. Start at your state insurance commission’s Web site, which usually lists several dozen of the area’s top insurers. Choose the half dozen or so companies with the lowest prices for coverage that’s closest to what you need. Next, check the reputations of insurers by going to the NAIC’s Consumer Information Source Web site to find the “complaint ratios” for each. Complaint ratios show the number of complaints that consumers filed against a company in a given year and then compare this to the company’s share of all premiums for a specific type of auto policy during that period. The national median is 1.0, and highly rated companies can score well below that.

Here’s exactly how to see where your candidate companies stand. In the search box on the right side of the Consumer Information Source page, type in the name of the insurance company you want to research, your state and “Property/Casualty” for the statement type. From the results page, click on “Closed Complaints.” To see complaint ratios for the company’s auto insurance policies, choose “Closed Complaint Ratio Report” and “Private Passenger.”

If a company’s ratio is substantially higher than the median, go back to your state insurance commission’s Web site to see if regulators have taken action against them. With that information, whittle your list down to the three or four insurers with the lowest complaints. Then contact them directly. Consumers who are really financially strapped — to the extent of not having Web access at home for this research — can ask a friend or relative with Internet access for help, or use free Internet service at a public library.

6. Find an agent. If the insurance companies you’ve identified as possibilities sell directly to customers, you can plug information into a form on their Web sites, get a quote and have someone contact you. If the companies sell through an agent network, ask friends or family who they use, or go back to your state insurance commissioner’s Web site to look up agents in your area. Give anyone you contact specific details about the coverage you want and let them know you’re comparison shopping. “Say, ‘I’ve talked to this company and got a quote for $480. Can you beat it?'” says Hunter, with the Consumer Federation of America. “Then you’ve put them to the test.”

7. Grab those discounts. Insurers offer a multitude of discounts, including lower rates for drivers with short commutes, retirees, students with good grades or vehicles with safety devices such as car alarms or motorized seatbelts. If you’re over 55, you could lower your premium by 10 percent by passing a defensive driving course, according to the Insurance Information Institute. When you’re talking to agents, don’t forget to inquire about the group discounts that some insurers offer to members of professional organizations or other groups. Companies including State Farm, Auto Club of Southern California and Progressive have begun offering pay-as-you drive discounts, with premiums tied to your annual mileage, with a cap at approximately 19,000 miles. In many of these programs, you report your mileage online or to your agent when your policy’s up for renewal.

8. Consider opting out of some — but not all — coverage. If you drive an older car and own it outright, consider dropping comprehensive and collision coverage. If the vehicle is really old, you could be paying more in insurance than what it’s worth. But hold onto that liability insurance. It’s illegal in most states to drive without it, and insurers in some states charge significantly higher premiums if you let coverage lapse, even if you haven’t been driving.

9. Investigate state-run low-cost insurance programs. If you live in California, Hawaii or New Jersey, and if your household income is close to or less than the poverty level, you may qualify for state-run low-cost or no-cost insurance programs. Policies under the California Low Cost Automobile Insurance Program, for example, cost less than $400 a year and cover about 12,000 low-income drivers at any given time, according to Doug Heller, executive director of Consumer Watchdog, an advocacy group in Santa Monica, California. He expects more people to sign up as a new state law takes effect that lets agents sell the program online for the first time. “That’s important not just for people who can get online from their homes, but for agencies that provide resources for low-income families,” Heller says. Lawmakers in Nevada and Michigan recently proposed or approved pilots for similar programs.

10. Assess insurance needs and premium costs annually. Life isn’t static, and your auto insurance premiums shouldn’t be either. Review your policy once a year, especially if you’ve moved or switched to a job that has you driving more or less. A review is also a good time to check on whether you’re eligible for additional discounts.