By Dennis Volz
May 2009 (San Diego’s East County)--You can save TONS OF MONEY by just taking a few minutes to look over that annoying little renewal statement that has your insurance bill attached to it.
We sure get a lot of paper these days. It seems that in this paper-LESS society, we shouldn't have quite as much paper as we do. And although we can scan it, archive it, or just throw it away. There is one piece of paper that you'll want to pay attention to -- It’s your Auto Insurance Renewal Statement. You'll get these once or twice a year depending on how often your auto insurance renews. You'll probably also get one whenever you adjust your coverage or change vehicles.
One of the reasons the insurance company sends these statements out to you is to give you an opportunity to pause and determine if those coverages and limits and deductibles you started with so long ago still apply to you. Things change and so should your insurance policy. Sometimes people keep up with it; sometimes they don't. By not paying attention to these renewal statements, you could be spending needless premium on coverage you no longer need or want, or you could be setting yourself for an uninsured or underinsured loss by having limits that are too low or thinking you have coverage that you really DON'T have.
Here are a few steps to help you quickly and systematically look over that statement in just a few minutes.
1. Quickly review all the basic information: Name, address, vehicle description. OK there?
2. Next take a look at the rating information. You might need a little help from your company or agent on this one. Companies apply different rating factors for different driving characteristics. These can include how many miles you drive, your age, your years of driving experience, ticket, accidents, etc. A quick call to your company or agent and they can walk you through these in just a couple minutes.
3. Check your LIABILITY LIMITS. This is usually the first coverage listed. This is probably the most important coverage to examine. This is the coverage that stands between some accident that you may cause and everything that you own.
Individual state laws mandate different minimums. California minimums are 15/30/5. Others are listed here. This means the insurance company will pay up to $15,000 for the injuries you cause to any one person, up to $30,000 for the injuries you cause in any one accident, and up to $5,000 for any property damage you may do (the car, house, light post, whatever you happen to hit). While these limits may seem like lots of money, they can evaporate very quickly. Consider a recent client of mine who sustained injuries in an accident and spent over $14,000 before ever even leaving the emergency room.
My recommendation is to think in terms of at least 100/300/50 instead of whatever your state minimum might be. Consider more if you own a home or have appreciable assets. Cut and slice and minimize on other coverages, but this one is where you protect everything you own against the possibility of a large liability lawsuit.
4. Check your Medical Payments. This is usually listed second. It's the coverage that provides (depending on your state insurance laws) coverage for injuries to you and other people in your vehicle. There's some overlap here with your health insurance. This can be used to pay deductibles, copayment and other portions of your medical bills that may not be covered by your health insurance.
5. Check the coverage on your vehicle -- Specifically Comprehensive and Collision coverage. Collision coverage pays for your car when you sustain damage from a collision. Comprehensive covers (almost) everything else. Decide if the annual cost of these individual coverages makes sense compared to the value of your car. Check here for a more detailed discussion of this process.
6. Don't neglect Uninsured and/or Under Insurance Motorist Coverage. There are LOTS of uninsured drivers on the road these days. Some surveys estimate as high as 25%. That means one out of every 4 drivers on the road can be uninsured. This is the coverage that for just a few dollars a year 'constructively' gives all those drivers insurance coverage to pay you if they cause an accident with you. You should consider having limits at least equal to your liability limits (#3 above.)
7. Make sure you're receiving ALL the discounts you can get. Here's where that phone call can pay some dividends. There are many discounts available. There are discounts related to your car: Airbags, alarm system, theft tracker systems and others. There are also other discounts. One of the biggest can be the Multi-Line Discount. This is where you save even more on your auto insurance if you have other policies such as homeowners or life insurance with the same company. Also remember to check for short mileage, good student, mature driver, defensive driving class, loyalty (with the same company for a long time). Just call the company and ask them to list all of the possible discounts to see for which ones you can qualify.
This process might take you a little longer the first time you do it. I suggest you make some notes right on your renewal notice and file it for next time. Then when you get your next renewal, you can get your first one out and compare and use the notes you make to ask more questions that will either save you money or better protect your hard-earned assets.
Till next time...
Dennis Volz is an insurance agent for a large national insurance company and the author of The San Diego Insurance Blog. He has served the East County area since 1978. Dennis and his team have built their business around their mission statement:
We enable our policyholders to manage the risks of everyday life, recover from the unexpected and to realize their dreams. We strive to build personal, long-term relationships with our customers by offering quality service, a friendly atmosphere, mutual trust and integrity. Contact Dennis and his team at 619-670-1000 (24 hours a day), email at Dennis@DennisVolzInsurance.com or on the web at www.DennisVolzInsurance.com.