Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Finding Cheap Car Insurance

Finding cheap car insurance can be a lot like finding a needle in a haystack. It’s long and frustrating and can lead to fits of uncontrollable swearing and temper tantrums. However, unlike the endless quest for that needle, finding the least expensive car insurance has a point. The more coverage you can get at the lowest price means more money in your wallet and a lot less stress about paying your other bills.

But which companies offer the cheapest insurance? That really depends on what you’re looking for. The amount of coverage you want will determine the price, along with your age, driving record and where you live.

Take for example, Geico. Everyone knows the little green gecko ads. They are extremely effective. But how much would they charge a 21-year-old male living in the suburbs outside of Boston, MA? Let’s say that 21-year-old is looking only for liability coverage, forgoing comprehensive, collision and medical coverage for a 1995 Chevy Cavalier. Let’s assume he has a clean driving record with no accidents or speeding tickets reported. If he selects all the minimum liability amounts for bodily injury, property damage and personal injury, his premium will be $83.30 a month, or $999.60 per year. That same 21-year-old living in Carmel-By-The-Sea in California would pay $56.32 a month or $675.84 a year for insurance, under the same conditions, searching for the same amount of coverage.

As any smart shopper would, it pays to check out Geico’s competition. A quick visit to Amica Mutual’s web site, using the same criteria with the same 21-year-old male, shows he would be paying an annual rate of $799 in suburban Massachusetts and $695.54 in sunny California. So the 21-year-old in Massachusetts would be smart to choose Amica Mutual for his car insurance, while the 21-year-old in California would more than likely choose Geico.

Why the discrepancy? Different states demand different minimums for liability coverage. Massachusetts sets minimum bodily injury liability coverage at $20,000 with a maximum payout of $40,000 per accident, along with a $5,000 limit for property damage. There is also a mandatory minimum for any uninsured drivers who might get behind the wheel of your car, also set at $20,000 with a max payout of $40,000. In California, the minimums are lower, with bodily injury set at $15,000 with a max payout of $30,000 and a minimum $5,000 property damage liability coverage. California does not require drivers to carry coverage for any uninsured or casual drivers who might get behind the wheel.

One good indicator of where to start looking for cost-effective car insurance is consumer surveys. Survey giant J.D. Power & Associates rank customer satisfaction with insurance companies annually. In their latest ranking, Amica Mutual topped the list, with State Farm and Shelter taking the second and third spots. Some other big names, like Geico and Progressive ranked further down the list, coming in at nine and 14, respectively.

One thing cannot be stressed enough: where you live plays a large role in determining how much you pay. Keep in mind, our 21-year-old in Massachusetts was living within 25 miles of a major urban centre, with a higher population density than picturesque Carmel-By-The-Sea. In fact, Massachusetts is one of the more expensive states where one can obtain insurance. In a nationwide survey done in 2005 (the latest figures available), five Northeastern states (New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Delaware) ranked in the top 10 most expensive states for car insurance. Connecticut comes in at number 11. Drivers in New Jersey drivers pay an average of $1336.20 in premiums a year. Only Maine, with its sparse population, ranked in the top ten for lowest car insurance rates. The Midwest makes up the rest of the list with Iowa being ranked the cheapest place to obtain car insurance. Drivers in Iowa drive easy knowing they’re paying an average of $664.20 in premiums every year.

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