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Auto Insurance Information
What is auto insurance?
Auto insurance protects you against financial loss if you have an accident. It is a contract between you and the insurance company. You agree to pay the premium and the insurance company agrees to pay your losses as defined in your policy.
Think of your auto insurance policy as six separate policies. Some types of coverage are required by state law, depending on where you live. Others are optional. Consider each one and ask yourself how much you need. Each type of coverage has its own premium. Add them up and you've got the price of your auto insurance policy. Subtract the ones you may not need and you gain some control over the cost.
Bodily injury liability (BI) coverage covers you if you cause an accident in which someone else is hurt or killed. State laws differ as to how much you are required to carry. Many financial experts recommend carrying at least $100,000 per person and $300,000 per occurance - commonly expressed as "100/300." Consider what assets you have to protect and what you can afford when deciding how much to purchase.
Property damage liability (PD) coverage covers you when you damage someone else's property. Usually it's someone else's car, but it could apply to buildings, utility poles, garage doors, and other physical property. State laws determine the minimum you must purchase.
Collision coverage covers damage to your car if you run into another car, a brick wall, a fire hydrant, or other object. This coverage is not required by law, though your bank may require it if you have an auto loan. You may choose a deductible on this coverage—what you must first pay out-of-pocket for a claim before the insurance kicks in.
Comprehensive coverage covers you in case your car is stolen or damaged in ways that don't involve a collision. Covered risks include hail, fire, theft, flood, earthquake, explosion, falling objects, and encounters with wildlife, such as deer. Comprehensive is optional coverage, though your bank may require it if you have an auto loan. You may choose a deductible on this coverage.
Uninsured/Underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage covers medical and other expenses when you are hit by a driver without adequate auto insurance. Whether this coverage is mandatory or optional depends on your state laws. You can purchase additional coverage to pay for damage to your car if hit by an uninsured motorist, but many people instead just purchase collision and comprehensive.
Medical payments coverage (Med Pay, or MPC) acts as primary coverage for medical expenses you and your passengers incur if injured in a motor vehicle accident, regardless of fault. States have different laws regarding this coverage.
How do I read my auto insurance policy?
Your policy is a legal contract, so at first glance it can seem confusing. But, if you know what to look for and where to find it, your policy becomes a lot easier to understand. Each auto and homeowners insurance policy has three standard parts:
Declarations Page. This is where you'll find your name, a statement of the policy period during which you are covered and the amount of premium you pay. The "dec" page also includes a description of the insurance coverage provided and gives the maximum dollar limit the insurer will pay for a claim under each coverage.
Insuring Agreement. This is the main part of the policy. It describes what the insurance company will do in exchange for the premium you're paying. The insuring agreement will also say who is covered: The persons named as insureds on the declarations page, residents of the same household and persons using the car with the permission of the insured. Everything is spelled out specifically in an attempt to avoid misunderstanding. Read the definitions section and the list of exclusions that apply to each coverage. Its vital that you know what you are covered for and what you are not covered for when you need to use your coverage!
Conditions of the policy. This last section describes your responsibilities when you have a claim, for example how much time you have to report it and what documentation you must give to the insurance company. It also explains the terms for canceling your policy—both for you and the insurer. You can cancel your policy at any time, however your insurance provider may only cancel under certain conditions and with advance notice to you.
Why do you need auto insurance?
It's really all about protecting yourself financially.
- If you're in an accident or your car is stolen, it costs money, often a lot of money, to fix or replace it.
- If you or any passengers are injured in an accident, medical costs can be extremely expensive.
- If you or your car is responsible for damage or injury to others, you may be sued for much more than you're worth.
- Not only is having insurance a prudent financial decision, many states require you to have at least some coverage.
Questions to ask your agent
Your Independent Agent is an advocate for finding auto insurance that meets your specific needs. Here are a few things to consider as you prepare for the discussion:
- How much can you afford to pay if you get in an accident? (To keep premiums low you may want to have a higher deductible and be willing to pay more for repairs.)
- What is the insurance company's level of service and ability to pay claims?
- What discounts are available? (Ask about good driver, multiple policy and student discounts.)
- What's the procedure for filing and settling a claim? (Ask who to call and what happens after you file a claim.)