If you start adding up all the auto discounts in which you qualify, you may think your insurer’s going to pay you for the privilege of providing coverage for your car or truck. Sadly, it doesn’t quite work that way. But there’s no doubt that the clever application of discounts can hugely reduce your premiums.
Here are six tips that could help you pay the least possible amount for your car insurance.
1. Know the available discounts
A 2015 survey revealed that fewer than one in five Americans ask for auto insurance discounts, according to The Business Journals. That’s a big mistake you really don’t want to make.
Insurers are enterprises, and they aren’t going to hand over any of their profits to you unprompted. Dan Wade, an attorney with non-profit consumer advocacy group United Policyholders, talks about “insurers’ increased use of ‘price optimization,’ which refers to how much a consumer is willing to pay for the product/how much of a price increase they will tolerate or notice before switching.” In other words, your premiums may be based on what your company thinks you’re willing to pay, rather than the risk you present.
So next time you get car insurance quotes or renew, first access the list of discounts and savings on this page, and run through the ones that might apply to you with the insurer’s call center agent. Focus in particular on the ones providing the biggest savings, such “bundling” (insuring your home, car and maybe other policies with the same insurer) and putting multiple vehicles on the same policy. Others might shave only a few bucks a year off your payments, but together they could represent serious savings.
2. Shop around every year – especially for discounts
You may think loyalty to your insurer is buying you a great deal. But a survey by Consumer Reports reveals that nearly half of the insurers in Washington state gave a zero discount to those who’d been loyal for 15 years. Loyalty discounts varied widely by company and state, so the only way you can be sure you’re getting the best deal is to compare quotes whenever you renew or change insurer.
That’s a point taken up by vice president of communications at the Insurance Information Institute Loretta L. Worters: “One important thing to keep in mind is that the key to savings is not necessarily getting discounts, but the final price. A company that offers few discounts may still have a lower overall price.”
And Wade concurs: “Shop and compare; don’t assume you are getting the best deal simply because you bundled all your insurance or have been with the same insurance company for a long time,” he says. “In some cases, you may actually pay more.”
Before comparison shopping, check whether you’re eligible for special discounts because you’re a member of a particular group. Some insurers may offer special rates for those serving in the military or veterans. Or you may save because your employer or union has a deal with an insurer or you’re a member of a particular club. Some of these “affinity” discounts are the biggest available, and can save up to 25 percent on your premium. But that still doesn’t automatically make them the best overall deal.
3. Don’t fixate on discounts
Be cautious about spending money to obtain richer discounts. For example, you might earn a discount of between 5 percent and 20 percent for fitting anti-theft devices (though some companies insist they’re factory-fitted to qualify), such as tracking devices, alarms and kill switches. But Consumer Reports suggests that some expensive add-ons earn you very little.
Take tracking devices. TopTenReviews reckons that in 2016 a high-end one of these could cost you $1,157.80 over two years when you add the monitoring subscription to the cost of the device. But Consumer Reports says the average discount for fitting one is $8 a year. Meanwhile, an audible alarm might save you $4 a year and etching your VIN on your window $2. Of course, if you want these things anyway, go ahead. But don’t think your resulting car insurance discount is necessarily going to contribute more than a tiny fraction of the cost.
Some discounts are more worthwhile than others. The average one for a defensive driving course is 10 percent, if you’re a young or inexperienced driver or a senior. That course might cost you around $100, though you may be able to find them for $30, depending where you live. So it’s possible you could get all the benefits of what you learn while your insurer foots the entire bill.
4. Save when you pay upfront
Managing customers’ accounts represents a significant expense for insurance companies. So they’re happy to incentivize you to make the processes involved easier and less costly. You could save on average 3 percent just for agreeing to pay online and forego paper statements. Some may offer more in exchange for automated payments, and you could get 5-10 percent off if you pay your whole annual premium upfront.
Providing you’re tech-savvy, these are ideal discounts because they cost you nothing. Well, nearly nothing: Paying the premium upfront will deny you some interest on your savings, but with yields the way they are you may find that discount among your best investments.
5. Make sure you get what you need
When you’re comparing quotes for automobile insurance, it’s easy to focus on the bottom line, and go for the lowest premium. But that’s a dangerous strategy.
With more than 30 years’ experience in the insurance industry, Patti Clement knows more than most about getting good auto discounts. And as senior vice president and managing director of Private Client Advisors at HUB International, she regularly sees how chasing those discounts without regard to other factors can lead to trouble.
“Make sure that you understand what insurance coverage you have and what your potential out of pocket expenses will be in the event of a loss,” she says.
And Clement warns, “Also, make sure that you carry good liability coverage, not the minimum state requirement. Many people are under-insured – not understanding that if you cause bodily injury or property damage to others that you are responsible for the damages, even if they exceed your insurance policy limits.”
Worters raises other non-cost issues: “It doesn’t matter how good a ‘deal’ you get if service is sub-par,” she says. “The best way to check out a company’s financial stability is through rating agencies like Standard & Poor’s. The best way to check out a company’s service is by checking with friends and family members to see what kind of service they’ve had with their insurers.”
6. Compare quotes quickly but carefully
Comparison shopping for insurance and financial products can be daunting, but there are ways to simplify the process:
- Read “How to switch car insurance companies” to avoid tripping yourself up.
- Get your car insurance quotes.
- Organize them in order of cost, with the least expensive on the top of your actual or metaphorical pile.
- Read through them first, comparing what it offers with your existing policy. Focus especially on coverage, exclusions and deductibles.
- Work your way down the pile, pulling out the ones that give you all you need at low prices.
- Check quotes from good insurers. Clement suggests, “Make sure that the insurance company has an A rating or better. Don’t just shop for price but look for a company that will be around to pay the claim.”
- Call the insurers’ call centers and run through the list of discounts on this page to see if you can get an even lower premium.
Even with multiple quotes, this process can often be achieved in an hour or two. But, potentially, the saving you might achieve could see those your highest-earning hours of the year.