Fatten Your Wallet: Cut Insurance Costs

Learn how to shop around and what expenses are not really necessary.

Feb. 2, 2009 — -- In the last couple of weeks, more than one insurance company has reported that revenue is down because Americans have cut back on their insurance policies to save money. And now here I come to tell you that cutting back your car insurance is a great way to save money in tight times.

Before the insurance folks start screaming, let me make it clear: Insurance is important because it protects you from true financial devastation. But there are some ways you can cut costs without cutting coverage.

For one thing, experts say you can find big differences in car insurance prices if you shop around. So many of us just fall in with the company our parents used, but that's not a good idea. If you've been with the same insurance company paying the same premium for a long time, do yourself a favor and make a few calls. Market conditions may have evolved and you could be paying too much.

It's particularly important to reprice insurance policies if your circumstances change. For example, if you switched to public transportation instead of driving to work during the gas price spike of the summer, you will almost certainly save on your car insurance.

If you only have time to make one call, call an independent insurance agent that can quote you prices from multiple different insurance providers.

You can find independent agents here: www.trustedchoice.com. Just make sure you don't go with such a rinky dink company that you risk getting poor service when you need to utilize your policy after a wreck.

Click Here to Ask Elisabeth Your Consumer Questions About This Topic or Any Other Consumer Issue

There are some classic ways to save on car insurance.

No. 1: Raise your deductible. Switching from a $200 deductible to a $500 deductible can save you 30 percent.

No. 2: Insure your car and your home with the same company.

No. 3: Skip the collision coverage if you have an older car that's not worth repairing.

You can save on your insurance before you even buy a car.

What? That's right. You should really find out how much it will cost to insure a particular model before you go out and get one. Some cars are expensive to repair. Others attract irresponsible drivers.

For example, say you're young, single and you've had a couple of tickets. If you buy a muscle car with a convertible top you could pay up to $14,000 a year to insure it.

Here's another pricey proposition: If you're planning to lease, you may be required to get a hefty insurance policy to protect the car company.

Here are the numbers: One major insurance company charges $1,447 to insure a leased American sedan for six months. If you bought that same car and insured it more modestly, the price would be $987 for six months.

A state insurance commissioner recently warned me about another practice that can cost consumers. Every state has an insurance policy of last resort for people whose driving records are so bad that they can't get coverage elsewhere. It's called "pool" insurance or an "assigned risk" plan and it's expensive.

Even though it's organized by the state, you buy the policy from a private agent. Some agents specialize in pool insurance and don't offer anything else. They've been known to push drivers with good records into the pool plan just to get their business and make a commission.

Beware of another sleazy tactic called "sliding." That's when an insurance agent slides extra coverage into your policy that you didn't request: roadside assistance, rental car coverage -- things like that. The agent may claim the coverage is free or try to sneak it in. Truly bold agents have been known to tell customers the extra coverage is required by law.

If in doubt, check with your state insurance commissioner to see what kinds of coverage really are required.