Insurance has been one of the necessary evils of life for over 100 years. In this day of higher taxes, rising food prices and soaring housing costs, it is possible for you to get a handle on your own auto insurance costs. If you have been frustrated by an inattentive agent and constantly rising insurance premiums, this is the book for you!
Insurance can be complex and technical. Some people are paralyzed by simple buying decisions. Should I have collision coverage on my 15 year-old car? Would it make more sense to have a $500 deductible instead of a $100 deductible? Since I have adequate medical coverage at work, do I really need medical coverage on my car insurance as well?
I will show you how nearly all of your auto insurance-buying decisions can be simplified by answering 3 simple Test Questions.
With the overall cost of living swelling up around us, and insurance taking an increasingly larger portion of our income, it is important that we leave no stone unturned in controlling our insurance dollar! During the period from 1970 to 1990, auto insurance costs rose 40% faster than the overall cost of living. With this kind of increasing burden on your already stretched consumer dollar, it is imperative to get a handle on the auto insurance portion of your budget. One of the most important parts of your strategy is your agent and the working relationship that you share.
Sometimes, a newer agent will be energetic and willing to take the time required to effectively manage your insurance portfolio. But the newer agent may lack the experience required to exercise all of the potential money-saving applications available. Your agent must be experienced enough to know the ins and outs of the rating rules of the insurance company. Each company has rating and underwriting rules that, if properly applied can save you big dollars on your premium.
Your agent must also be willing to invest the time required to orchestrate your insurance portfolio. Older and more experienced agents generally know all of the little tricks but lack the drive and initiative to be of any real help to you. Some of the methods described below require personal and concerned attention. Agents that are too busy to sit down with you and devote the kind of time required to milk every ounce of protection out of your insurance dollar do not deserve your business. If your agent is hard to reach or doesn’t appear to be giving you a 100% effort, don’t give him or her even 1% of your insurance money!
Find another agent!
There are agents out there that have the right blend of experience and availability for you. Don’t sell yourself short here! You should be as willing to spend the time necessary to find a good agent as you are to shop for a competitive price. Furthermore, you must be willing to be ever vigilant in the management of your auto insurance. As you will see in the methods below, each time any part of your life changes, it may require some change in your insurance coverage. Each time one of these changes occur or when you receive your renewal statement, take a moment to consider your current needs verses your current coverage. The longer you wait between review sessions, the more money you may be needlessly giving the insurance company. When your renewal bill comes due, DON’T BE CAUGHT SLEEPING AT THE SWITCH !
TAKING YOUR FINANCIAL PICTURE –
Insurance is simply the management of risk. Owning and driving an automobile is a risk. You risk injury, loss of your vehicle, and potential liability for damage to others. The purchase of insurance is merely an agreement with the company to transfer some of your risk to them. You are saying, “I choose not to assume all of this risk myself. In exchange for my premium dollars, the insurance company will suffer some of the financial loss instead of me.” With this thought in mind, you must decide how much risk to transfer and in doing so, decide how much risk you are willing to keep yourself in the from of deductibles and unpurchased coverages.
Before we can get to ways to save money on your premium, you need to take a short inventory of your financial picture. Before you get to deciding whether to take a $100 or a $500 deductible on your collision coverage you first need to decide that you can reasonably handle a $500 loss. So before we jump into any tricks of the trade, lets take a moment to diagnose your “loss threshold.”
Lets say you go out and buy a $3 picture to hang in your bathroom. Are you going to insure it? Of course not! Now you go out and buy a famous $252,000 masterpiece painting. Are you going to insure it? Unless you are a multi-millionaire, you certainly will. Somewhere in between the $3 print and the $252,000 masterpiece is your loss threshold. Your loss threshold is the amount of money you can stand to lose without doing any great harm to your daily lifestyle or your peace-of-mind. In the above example, different people will have different thresholds. There is no right or wrong answer here!
In addition to settling on your personal loss threshold, it is important to consider your previous history of insurance losses. If you have had several losses in the last 10 years, you may be wise to lean more heavily on your insurance coverage. If, on the other hand, you go almost forever between losses, you will save premium dollars by assuming more of the risk yourself in the form of higher deductibles or dropped coverages. Now, if assuming this extra risk is going to give you some sleepless nights and make you a nervous wreck every time you get into your car, then don’t do it! Part of what you buy in the purchase of insurance is peace of mind.
What matters most is where you are comfortable. Take a moment to apply a value to your “Loss Threshold.” Try thinking in terms of $50, $100, $250, $500, and $1000. How much money can you, with peace of mind, place at risk? As you will see below, once you determine your Loss Threshold, you need only to weigh the cost of the coverage versus the potential for loss to you. Insurance can be a reasonably simple commodity to manage.
1. DROP YOUR COLLISION COVERAGE-
So you have been driving “Old Betsy” now ever since Noah was working on his boat. To you, its worth every bit of what you may have paid for it way back when but to another car buyer, its just an old bucket of bolts, rubber, faded upholstery. Unfortunately, the insurance company views your precious 4-wheeled family member with the same cold business approach as a prospective buyer. Its only worth…well, its worth a lot less than you would hope.
There comes a time in the life of almost every car when its value does not warrant the cost of collision coverage any longer. Collision coverage is that portion of your insurance that pays to fix damage to your car suffered by a collision. You will need this coverage for your car when you are in an accident that is your fault or if your car is the victim of a Hit & Run accident. Looking back to your Financial Picture we discussed above, compare the cost of your coverage with the potential for loss.
In discussions with your agent or by examining your renewal bill, identify the annual cost of your collision coverage. By looking in the newspaper or car-trading publications, determine the actual retail value of your car. Be careful to be objective here and remove whatever emotional attachment you may have to your car that might unrealistically increase its perceived value.
Let’s say that the real value of your car is $1200 and the annual cost of just your collision coverage with a $100 deductible is $150. Now here are the Test Questions:
- Can I afford to withstand this loss without any help from the insurance company? (in this case $1200)
- Would I rather save $XX (in this case $150) every year and risk the loss of the car myself? By not getting this coverage I am saving $XX ($150) per year. I will save enough to make up the loss ($1200) in Y (8) years. (1200 ÷ 150 = 8)
- Does my driving and claim history lead me to believe that I might go Y (8) years without suffering that sort of loss?
If the answers to these questions are yes, then you might be well on your way to cutting your insurance costs by dropping your collision coverage. These simple Test Questions can be applied to virtually any insurance-buying decision. Take a look at the next example.
2. DROP YOUR COMPREHENSIVE COVERAGE –
Comprehensive coverage like collision coverage is designed to protect your car from loss. Much of the same logic that we applied to collision coverage can be used to decide on the fate of your comprehensive coverage. There are, however some important considerations to weigh in your analysis.
Comprehensive coverage covers almost anything that happens to your car except collision. The most commonly submitted claims are broken windshields, stolen hub caps, stolen stereos, vandalism and theft of the entire vehicle. Note here that many of these losses produce the same amount of financial loss regardless of the value of the car. It costs virtually the same to replace a windshield in a 75 Ford as it does in an 85 Ford. Consider also that the cost of comprehensive coverage is much less than collision coverage. The ratio between money saved and dollars put at risk is smaller and therefore you may be less eager to drop this coverage. Ask yourself the Test Questions that we did for collision coverage and make an informed decision.
If your vehicle is financed or leased, always remember to check with your financial institution before changing these coverages. Your loan contract may have certain requirements and deductible limitations that somewhat restrict your options.
3. RAISE YOUR DEDUCTIBLES –
If deleting collision and comprehensive coverage puts you at greater risk than you are willing to assume at this time, you may want to consider increasing your deductibles as a compromise. As you increase your deductibles you decrease your premium. The insurance company is going to give you a break on your premium here for two reasons. First, when you have a loss, the insurance company will pay you less money when you have a higher deductible. Secondly, with a higher deductible, you will have fewer claims that are presented to the insurance company in excess of your deductible.
When you take a higher deductible you are saying that you, for the consideration of a lower premium are willing to assume a greater portion of the loss yourself. You trade the certainty of a lower premium for the uncertainty of more loss to you should a claim occur.
If you have decided in your Financial Picture that you are comfortable with a $500 loss (and the premium savings is enough) and you own a car worth $3000 then you probably do not want to drop your collision coverage completely. But you can increase your $100 collision deductible to $500 and your zero comprehensive deductible to $100. Let’s examine the numbers. If you save $30 per year on your comprehensive coverage and $65 per year on your collision deductible you realize a $95 per year savings the first year and every year thereafter. You are only increasing your risk by $100 on the comprehensive coverage and by $400 on the collision coverage. Remember you already had a $100 deductible on collision and increasing it to $500 changes your participation in the loss by $400. Again, ask yourself the same questions.
- Can I afford to withstand this loss (the bigger deductible) without any help from the insurance company?
- Would I rather save this money ($95) and risk the larger deductible loss myself? By taking this bigger deductible I am saving $95 per year. I will save enough money to make up the loss in one year for a comprehensive loss and in just over four years for a collision loss.
- Does my driving and claim history lead me to believe that I might go one or five years without this sort of loss?
You may be beginning to see that insurance is not all that difficult! If the answers are primarily yes then most likely an increase in deductibles is right for you.
In Part 2, we’ll examine the rest of the 10 Ways to Beat the High Cost of Auto Insurance.