As millions of Americans tighten their belts, they’re focusing new attention on an often overlooked place to save: car insurance.
A recent torrent of TV ads promote just about every imaginable form of discount car insurance under the sun. And a good insurance agent often can help you save even more cash.
You may be in a hurry to get a rate quote. But Jerry Becerra, founder of Barbary Insurance Brokerage in San Francisco, says it's important to find an insurance agent who will ask you a lot of questions.
If those questions go unasked, "sometimes the dots don't get connected" and discounts are overlooked, Becerra says.
"The important thing is discounts often stack on top of each other," he says.
If you get enough to add up, you could save up to 40 percent on your auto insurance premium, Becerra says. Here are seven savings tips a good agent should suggest.
Your best guarantee of low rates is keeping your driving record clean, with no accidents or speeding tickets accumulated over the past three years. But even if you have been accident-free for 30 years, it never pays to be complacent.
"The more proactive a client is, the less of a premium they pay," says Mark Carrasquillo, an account executive with E.G. Bowman Co. in New York.
If you are age 50 or older, organizations like AARP regularly offer defensive driving courses, and many auto insurance companies provide discounts to those who complete the course. If you're in your mid-20s or younger, you may net a break on your rates for taking a driver's education class.
Unfortunately, if you fall in between these age groups, you're less likely to see the benefit of lower rates from taking one of these courses.
If you own an older car, it might make sense to drop comprehensive coverage and collision coverage, Carrasquillo says.
Before considering such a move, know the value of your car, which you can get through sources like NADA Guides. If your car is damaged or stolen, your insurer will only cover you up to the "actual cash value" of your vehicle. Weigh the value of your car against the costs of carrying collision and comprehensive coverage.
On the other hand, Carrasquillo says you should never skimp on liability coverage, regardless of your vehicle's age, because you could be on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars if you cause a serious accident.
It's easy to get into the habit of simply renewing your auto insurance policy year after year without making any changes. But Bill Mills, vice president of the SIA Group in Jacksonville, N.C., suggests re-evaluating your collision and comprehensive deductible amounts regularly.
If your deductibles are only $100 or $250 and you're a good driver, consider boosting the deductibles to $500 or $1,000. Lower deductibles come with higher price tags and "you've wasted money," Mills says.
Keep an eye on how many miles you drive each year because some auto insurers offer a low-mileage discount, Mills says. Discounts are especially likely if you have a short daily commute, take public transportation to work, telecommute or drive mostly for pleasure.
Companies have different upper limits on the number of miles you can drive to qualify for the discount. While some car insurance companies take your word on how much you drive, others install devices to monitor your mileage and base discounts on the number of miles you chalk up.
Some auto insurance companies offer discounts if you etch your vehicle identification number (VIN) onto your windshield or windows, Carrasquillo says. Etching the number makes it harder for thieves who want to sell the car unless they replace the windows.
You may get a discount on the comprehensive portion of your auto insurance or your insurer may waive your deductible. Police departments or car dealerships may offer the service, or you can order a do-it-yourself kit.
What you do for a living or where you went to college may earn you a discount on your auto insurance rates, Becerra says. Insurance companies favor people they perceive as being low risks.
"Teachers always seem to qualify," Becerra says. He's also seen discounts for police officers, firefighters, scientists and other professions.
Some insurers also have affinity programs with certain universities, giving alumni a break on their insurance rates.
Many auto insurance companies offer discounts for full-time students who get good grades, Becerra says. You're likely to have to show a copy of your report card.
College students who are going to school more than 100 miles from home also are often eligible for discounts, based on the assumption they're seldom behind the wheel of the family car.
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