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Car insurance companies look at a number of different factors when determining what your rates and premiums will be. They start with simple demographics such as age, income, education, and location to get an idea of who you are. Then, they look at driving habits such as lengthy commutes or city driving to get an idea of how likely it is that you'll be involved in an accident. This information lets them know where to start calculating your rates, however, it's what you do behind the wheel that has the greatest impact on your premiums.
How Rates are Calculated
How insurance companies determine their rates is usually a closely guarded secret and the actual methods for calculating rates will vary from company to company. Some states may require insurance companies to file a base rate (that's the average rate charged in that state before any discounts and adjustments, plus any processing fees) with state regulators but this isn't always provided to the public and doesn't include fluctuations based on an individual's driving history.
Other states require insurers to provide their methodology to their customers, but it usually comes in complicated spreadsheets and confusing formulas that aren't very helpful. Most companies, however, are usually consistent and some will be more lenient and others more harsh when it comes to rate increases due to tickets and accidents.
Assessing your Driving History
Every time you get a speeding ticket, run a red light, or receive a citation for any other moving violation, it becomes part of your driving history. Even though most insurance companies don't require you to report these tickets, almost all of them will review your driving history on a regular basis to see if any adjustments need to be made to your premiums. Most will check your history before agreeing to insure you, and then check in annually to see if any new tickets or accidents have been reported.
How Moving Violations Affect Your Rates
How each incident affects your rates varies from company to company and it often depends on whether this is your first offense, if you've received multiple citations at once, or if you're a repeat offender. According to a study of almost 500,000 policy quotes performed by Insurance.com, a single ticket can raise your premiums by as much as 22%. Here is a breakdown of how different offenses may raise your rates:
Of course, these are just averages and the actual increases vary from person to person and from one insurer to another. According to Insure.com, serious offenses and at-fault accidents can cause an even larger increase as many insurance companies follow the Insurance Services Office's (ISO) guideline of a 20% to 40% increase following a serious offense. The ISO suggests that the increase for a multi-car policy be 20% of the base rate for the first two cars and a 40% increase for a single-car policy.
Lowering Your Rates
Your insurance company may choose to increase your rates more or less than the averages or the standards set by the ISO. If you think your insurer is excessively inflating your rates, it's probably time to get a few quotes from their competitors. If you get a better quote, show it to your current company to see if they can either meet it or beat it. If not, it might be time to move on.
If you're not able to find a lower quote, you can still reduce your premiums by increasing your deductibles for collision, under- or uninsured motorists, and comprehensive coverages. According to Insurance.com, raising your deductibles from $250 to $500 can lower your rates for those coverages by as much as 30%. Also, if your car is older or not worth much money, you might want to consider dropping those coverages entirely to save even more. Just be sure that you're always carrying the minimum coverage that is required by your state.
Of course, the best way to keep your insurance rates down is to drive safely and follow the rules. Everyone makes mistakes, however, and just because you got a ticket or were involved in an accident doesn't always mean that you're stuck with the new rates your insurance company gives you. Because all companies calculate their premiums differently, be sure to get quotes from several places before settling on a policy.
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