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How to get car insurance

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Getting car insurance does not need to be daunting. In fact, the process is relatively simple. But if you have never purchased a policy before, you might not know where to start. Bankrate’s insurance editorial team has simplified the process of buying car insurance down to six easy steps. Following these steps could help you feel confident in tackling the car insurance process from start to finish.

How to shop for car insurance

While there are steps you can follow when shopping for car insurance, the specifics of your coverage will be unique to you. Every driver has different needs, wants and considerations. One of the most important things you can do before shopping for insurance is analyze your overall financial picture.

What is your budget for coverage? What kinds of assets do you need to protect and what is the value of those assets? What is your level of risk tolerance? Having a general idea of the answers to these questions could help you move more quickly through the steps outlined below.

1. Assemble paperwork

The first thing to do is to gather and organize all the paperwork and documentation you will need. To buy car insurance, you will typically need a copy of your driver’s license, a voided check (or the routing and account numbers for your bank account) and a current declaration document if your vehicle is already insured. This step may take a while if you do not have all the paperwork on hand, but these documents are likely needed at some point in the process.

2. Decide how to apply

With your paperwork taken care of, it is time to determine how you will apply for car insurance. With most auto insurance companies, you can apply in person or over the internet on a company website. Some insurance companies may let you apply by phone or email, as well. Your choice can affect how long the application takes, but the process is relatively quick even if you speak with an agent in person.

3. Determine coverage type and amount

Before you can apply for auto insurance, you must decide how much coverage to purchase and what optional endorsements you might want. These coverage types can include basic liability, collision, comprehensive, uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage, medical payments, personal injury protection and roadside assistance coverage. The state you live in and the company you choose will affect what coverages are available.

To determine coverage amounts, you can look at your state’s legal auto insurance minimum requirements. You may want more coverage than the minimum, but it is illegal to drive with less. However, you may rest assured that you will not be able to purchase a policy with limits that are below your state’s minimum limits. Still, most insurance agents recommend that you purchase higher liability limits to offer more financial protection. If you have a loan or lease, you will likely need a full coverage policy, which includes comprehensive and collision coverages.

4. Shop around and compare companies

Now that you know what kind of coverage you want, it is time to find the right insurance company. While many components of auto insurance are similar across the industry, premiums, coverages, discounts and policy features can vary between insurance companies. By knowing the coverage types and limits you want, you can get quotes from multiple companies and see which will offer the best fit for your needs.

5. Fill out an application

Now it is time to contact the insurance company you have chosen and fill out an application. Remember, this can usually be done by phone, in person, over email or on a company website, depending on the carrier’s regulations. Much of the information needed to fill out your application can be found in the paperwork you assembled in step one and the policy specifics you decided upon in step three. Beyond these details, you will need to provide payment information. This is where the voided check or routing numbers come in.

Once the application is complete, submit it and wait for a notification of approval. You will usually receive these notifications by email but may be able to request a phone call. If you are working with an in-person agency, you should be able to talk to your agent to determine if your policy was approved.

6. Pay your first premium

If your policy was approved, you should have coverage as of the effective date you chose in the application step. You likely had to submit your payment information with the application, but in some cases you may be able to wait for approval to pay. Most companies offer numerous ways to pay your bill. You could set up an automatic withdrawal from your bank account or credit card, you could pay online or you might be able to pay in cash if you go into an agency location. Most policies can be set up on a number of payment schedules, including monthly, quarterly, semi-annually and annually. You might save money if you pay in larger installments.

Frequently asked questions

How long does it take to get car insurance?

Buying car insurance can be a fast process. Completing every step, from submitting your application to receiving approval, can take as little as a few minutes or as much as a couple of hours total. However, car insurance is written on a case-by-case basis. If you have a complicated policy, your coverage might take longer to quote and purchase. Generally, though, once you receive approval, you can pay your first premium. As soon as the company gets that payment, your car insurance should be active.

How much does car insurance cost?

The average cost of full coverage car insurance in the United States is $1,674 per year. However, your price will vary based on your unique situation. The number of cars you insure, the coverages you choose, the limits you purchase and your driving history can all impact your premium. Your rate may be higher or lower than the average.

Do I need insurance for each driver?

Every driver who regularly drives your vehicle needs to be listed on your car insurance policy. Generally, this includes all licensed drivers in your household, but it could also include any licensed drivers who do not live with you, but drive your car frequently.

Can I switch my car insurance to a new company?

Yes. If you already have car insurance, switching to a new company is relatively simple. You will follow the steps above to get quotes from a new company and apply for coverage. Once your new policy is effective, you can cancel your old policy. Just be sure of the date your new policy starts so that you do not cancel your old policy too soon and create a lapse in coverage. Also, you should check with your current carrier to see if there are any penalties for cancelling early, or otherwise you might want to wait until your renewal date to switch providers.

Can I still get car insurance if my coverage was dropped?

Yes, you should still have options for car insurance coverage even if you were dropped by another provider. If you have had a lapse in coverage or your insurer drops you based on your driving record, you can generally expect to pay more for auto insurance coverage. In some cases, you may be ineligible for coverage through the standard car insurance market. If this happens, you can contact your state’s Department of Insurance (DOI) to discuss its “assigned risk plan,” which helps provide car insurance coverage when you cannot purchase it elsewhere.

Written by
Cate Deventer
Insurance Writer & Editor
Cate Deventer is a writer, editor and insurance professional with over a decade of experience in the insurance industry as a licensed insurance agent.
Edited by
Insurance Editor