If you're shopping for car insurance, you know there are certain crucial factors influencing your rate that are out of your hands. Such factors include your age, gender and record of prior claims.
Despite this, there's a lot you can do to score a lower rate, and your choices bear more power than you might think. Here are 10 tips guaranteed to help you get the best rate possible on your auto insurance.
1. Get more than one rate quote before you commit.
"Company prices are very different, and it pays to shop around. You can easily wind up paying double from one company to the next," says J. Robert Hunter, director of insurance with the Consumer Federation of America, a national watchdog group.
Want to get a sense of who the low-priced carriers are? The National Association of Insurance Commissioners offers a map on its Web site that lists each state's regulators. Click on your state and you're taken to the state's Department of Insurance Web site. Its consumer buying guide compares insurance premiums across a range of companies. You'll also learn how many complaints each company has logged. Surprisingly, you don't have to sacrifice service quality to score a low premium. "A lot of the lower-priced companies have the best service rates," says Hunter.
There are a host of independent Web sites, like CarInsurance.com, that allow you to comparison-shop by offering online price quotes. These sites can be incredibly useful. However, Hunter warns that these services — which earn their keep by charging carriers a commission on each sale — occasionally fail to include the insurance companies with the lowest rates, since these low-cost carriers are unwilling to pay commissions.
2. Evaluate insurance costs before you buy your vehicle.
The year, make and model of your vehicle can have a profound impact on your insurance rate. All else being equal, new, expensive or sporty cars will cost more to insure than older, cheaper and more utilitarian vehicles. But you could find a substantial discrepancy even when comparing the cost to insure similar cars. So if you've got a few models on your shortlist, contact your carrier to see what rate each vehicle commands. Doing so could ultimately net you a windfall in savings when the time comes to pay your premium.
3. Go high on deductibles.
If you're willing to give a little with your deductible, you can wind up saving big on your rates. "If you go from a $250 to a $1,000 deductible, you can save between 25 and 40 percent on your policy," says Hunter. You can then set aside a portion of these funds to cover your costs in the event of a claim.
4. Nix collision and/or comprehensive coverage on older cars.
If your older car has comp and collision coverage, you might find yourself paying more in insurance than the car is worth. "Take your comp and collision premium and add it up, then multiply it by 10. If your car is worth less than that, don't buy the coverage," says Hunter. 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. Mind your credit score.
An increasing number of carriers are considering credit scores when making rate calculations. "Your credit score can be very important in determining your rate," says Hunter. "You can wind up paying up to 50 percent more if you have a bad credit score." Keep your credit score in tip-top shape by paying bills in a timely manner and by regularly checking that there are no items on your history that do not belong to you.
6. Ask about low-mileage discounts.
Many carriers offer discounts to policyholders whose annual mileage is lower than the norm. Maybe you have a short commute. Or maybe your participation in the office vanpool results in fewer hours spent in your daily driver. Whatever the case, your low mileage can score you a reduced rate with some companies, so be sure to inquire about available discounts.
7. Ask about group insurance discounts.
Oftentimes, insurance companies offer discounts to policyholders who are members of certain organizations or professions, such as veterans, engineers or teachers. Request a list of these groups from your carrier to see if you qualify — you might be pleasantly surprised.
8. Ask about all other discounts.
Some carriers offer discounts to policyholders whose vehicles bear certain safety features, like anti-theft devices or motorized seatbelts. Others give reduced rates to senior citizens, and to students whose grades meet certain requirements. "Many carriers offer discounts. Ask for them when you're shopping," says Hunter.
However, Hunter offers one caveat: "Some of the companies that offer the highest discounts have the highest rates, so don't get too focused on discounts. Some high-priced companies offer high discounts, but at the end of the day you're still paying more."
9. Avoid lapses in coverage.
Even a brief lapse in coverage can disqualify you from receiving discounts. "They use lapses in coverage to increase your premium," says Hunter. Pay your insurance bills on time. And if you're switching carriers, make sure not to quit your previous carrier until the new coverage takes effect.
10. Think twice about paying in installments.
Most carriers charge an administration fee to pay in installments. One carrier surveyed levied a $10 charge per installment to those who opted to break up their bill. The solution? Pay your premium up front, if at all possible.
Of course, this charge is more significant for those with small premiums. If you've got a king-sized premium and feel you'd get a better rate of return by investing your funds elsewhere instead of paying up front, then the installment route will probably best suit your needs.