(BPT) - Car insurance can take a bite out of your budget. On average, consumers shelled out nearly $800 for auto insurance for each vehicle in 2011, according to a recent report from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. In some states, the annual cost to insure one car topped $1,100.
To cut insurance costs, the first thing to do is talk to your agent. Your agent can tell you about discounts and other painless ways to reduce your premiums, says Charles Valinotti, a senior vice president with insurer QBE North America.
“Insurance companies reward drivers for behaviors that reduce risk,” Valinotti says. “But you have to ask your agent which discounts and savings apply to your situation. You may be surprised to learn the number of ways you can lower your premiums.”
For example, if one of your teenage drivers earns As and Bs in school, you may be eligible for a good student discount, Valinotti says. You may also be eligible for a discount if your son or daughter attends college more than 100 miles from home, and does not have a car at school.
Other ways to save include:
* Owning two or more cars and covering them on one policy.
* Owning a vehicle that’s outfitted with safety equipment like anti-lock brakes, air bags or a security system.
* Having a passive anti-theft device, such as a “smart” chip embedded within a car key.
* Paying the full cost of the premium up front.
* Safe driving. Keep your driving record accident-free for 36 months.
* Buying your auto and homeowners, renters or condominium insurance from the same company.
Whatever you do, don’t cut corners with coverage. While it may be tempting, it is best not to buy a policy that offers bare bones coverage. A savvier way to save money would be to increase your deductible, Valinotti advises.
“Rather than buying minimal coverage, think about increasing your potential out-of-pocket cost if you have an accident,” Valinotti says. “If you can handle it, raising your deductible can lower your premium without reducing the amount of coverage on your vehicles. Your agent can tell you exactly how much you’ll save in premiums by choosing a higher deductible policy.”
Don’t focus strictly on cost when choosing an insurer. A company that offers auto insurance at rock bottom prices may not be your friend if it takes forever to handle claims. Do your homework on a company’s record of claims service before you buy coverage.