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Guide to low-income car insurance: What you need to know

Updated Apr 08, 2024
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What is low-income car insurance?

Nationally, the average cost of minimum-coverage insurance is $644 per year. If paying this amount would be a hardship for you, you may qualify for low-income car insurance. This allows people who can’t afford standard car insurance to get coverage that is less expensive. Ultimately, the goal of low-income car insurance is to reduce the number of uninsured drivers on the road.

Low-income car insurance is offered at the state level, but it’s not widely available. There are only a handful of states that participate. Each state has its own requirements for low-income car insurance, and not everyone is approved for coverage.

Typically, you’re considered low income if you make under a certain amount of money and are enrolled in one or more government assistance programs. To qualify for low-income car insurance, you likely have to have a valid driver’s license in your state of residence and a clean driving record. Many states also have requirements for the value of your vehicle.

Low-income car insurance is considered to be a last-resort option for drivers. You should only apply for low-income car insurance if you’re unable to find private insurance that you can afford. Although low-income car insurance is cheaper, it doesn’t offer as much coverage.

State-sponsored options low-income car insurance

To date, four states have developed low-income car insurance programs: California, Hawaii, Maryland and New Jersey. These programs differ from each other. Here are the details you need to know about each one.

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Coverage.com, LLC is a licensed insurance producer (NPN: 19966249). Coverage.com services are only available in states where it is licensed. Coverage.com may not offer insurance coverage in all states or scenarios. All insurance products are governed by the terms in the applicable insurance policy, and all related decisions (such as approval for coverage, premiums, commissions and fees) and policy obligations are the sole responsibility of the underwriting insurer. The information on this site does not modify any insurance policy terms in any way.

Advertising Disclosure
This advertisement is powered by Coverage.com, LLC, a licensed insurance producer (NPN: 19966249) and a corporate affiliate of Bankrate. The offers and links that appear on this advertisement are from companies that compensate Coverage.com in different ways. The compensation received and other factors, such as your location, may impact what offers and links appear, and how, where and in what order they appear. While we seek to provide a wide range of offers, we do not include every product or service that may be available. Our goal is to keep information accurate and timely, but some information may not be current. Your actual offer from an advertiser may be different from the offer on this advertisement. All offers are subject to additional terms and conditions.

What is the best low-income car insurance?

Even if your state offers a special option for car insurance to low-income individuals, several insurance companies offer affordable average minimum coverage prices that you may want to check out for more robust coverage options. Individuals with a low income may want to consider getting quotes for minimum coverage from one of our picks for cheap car insurance companies. Minimum coverage is more affordable than full coverage and can be one way to save, although people considering this option may want to discuss if that will be enough coverage with an insurance agent.

Car insurance company Average annual premium for minimum coverage
Auto-Owners $420
USAA $434
Geico $459
Erie $558
Amica $674

Along with minimum coverage — which only helps pay to repair damage others incur in an accident you cause — you can add other types of coverage to customize your insurance policy. These may include collision and comprehensive coverage to create a full coverage policy that helps pay for damage to your car.

It's worth noting that many insurance experts recommend gathering quotes from multiple insurers when you are hunting for the most affordable policy. Every insurer uses a proprietary method to determine its rates, so you are likely to receive a range of quotes, allowing you to choose the most reasonable price for the coverage you need.

Other ways to find car insurance with a low income

Even if you do not live in a state that has a low-income car insurance program, it might be possible to secure lower-cost coverage by trying some of the following strategies.

  • Look into car insurance discounts: Almost all insurers offer at least a few discounts, and many of them are easy to earn. For instance, you can generally earn a decent discount if you purchase your car and home (or renters) insurance from the same company or if you have more than one car on your policy.
  • Consider the vehicle make and model: Your vehicle's make and model play a role in determining the rate you pay for insurance. Cars that require expensive replacement parts typically demand higher premiums. For example, the average cost of full coverage for a BMW330i is $2,789 per year as of April 2024. A Ford F-150 has an average rate of $2,142 per year for the same coverage.
  • Switch insurance companies: It can be a good idea to do an informal audit of your policy when it is up for renewal. Make sure your coverage is still right for you, and consider comparing new quotes to see if another insurer might offer you better value for your dollar. Every insurer has a slightly different method for determining rates, and several characteristics specific to you, your vehicle and your driving habits impact that rate. 
  • Enroll in a telematics program: Most insurers offer telematics programs. Upon enrolling, your driving behavior will be monitored. If you prove to be a safe and careful driver, you could be rewarded with a discount of up to 40 percent in some cases.
  • Review your car insurance needs: If it’s been a while since you evaluated your policy, you could be paying for insurance that you no longer need. For instance, you could drop a rideshare endorsement if you no longer drive for Lyft or Uber. Or maybe you paid off your used car and no longer want full coverage. Work with your insurance agent to determine what is right for you.
  • Increase your deductible: The deductible is the amount you pay out of your own pocket before your coverage kicks in after filing a car insurance claim for damage. The higher the deductible you select, the lower your insurance premium. Be sure to choose an amount that you feel comfortable paying on short notice.
  • Improve your credit score: Although this step takes time, working on building credit or improving your score can have a big impact on how much you pay for car insurance. This is because insurers in many (but not all) states look at your credit-based insurance score to help determine how risky you are to insure. People with poor credit scores are more likely to file claims, so companies often charge them higher prices.

Who can get low-income car insurance?

The definition of “low income” varies from state to state. In many cases, low income is determined by a percentage of the federal poverty levels, which are decided at a national level and used to determine eligibility for Medicaid and other programs. Qualifications for low-income car insurance are also determined on a state-by-state basis. For example, in Hawaii, only drivers who are older than 65 and meet other qualifications can qualify for the state’s low-income car insurance program.

Low-income car insurance can be a lifesaver for people who qualify and can’t afford private coverage. However, it is not the best option for everyone. That’s because low-income car insurance coverage is limited. It is not the same insurance you would get through a private provider. Most state-sponsored insurance programs offer minimal coverage to keep the price low. For instance, California drivers in the CLCA program only get liability and property damage coverage.

Low-income car insurance is a good option if you need coverage to avoid driving completely uninsured (which is illegal in most states), but it is generally not a good option for anyone who is looking for comprehensive coverage. Low-income car insurance often has significant gaps that could lead to out-of-pocket expenses if you have to file a claim.

How income affects car insurance rates

Technically, your income does not impact your car insurance rate. Unlike a loan, insurance companies do not review your income to determine if you should get approved for coverage. Other factors that may play a role include the make, model and age of your car, your driving record and other personal factors.

However, many of those factors relate to your income level. For example, if you have a low credit score, it could be because you have debts you cannot afford to pay because of your income. People with a low credit score may pay more money for their car insurance, depending on the state they live in, because they are considered high-risk.

Additionally, people with a low income might live in a neighborhood with a higher rate of crime. Individuals who live in ZIP codes with above-average rates of crime and theft tend to have higher insurance premiums.

Frequently asked questions

Methodology

Bankrate utilizes Quadrant Information Services to analyze April 2024 rates for all ZIP codes and carriers in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. Rates are weighted based on the population density in each geographic region. Quoted rates are based on a single, 40-year-old male and female driver with a clean driving record, good credit and the following full coverage limits:

  • $100,000 bodily injury liability per person
  • $300,000 bodily injury liability per accident
  • $50,000 property damage liability per accident
  • $100,000 uninsured motorist bodily injury per person
  • $300,000 uninsured motorist bodily injury per accident
  • $500 collision deductible
  • $500 comprehensive deductible

To determine minimum coverage limits, Bankrate used minimum coverage that meets each state’s requirements. Our base profile drivers own a 2022 Toyota Camry, commute five days a week and drive 12,000 miles annually.

These are sample rates and should only be used for comparative purposes.

Written by
Mary Van Keuren
Contributor, Insurance

Mary Van Keuren has written for insurance domains such as Bankrate, Coverage.com, and The Simple Dollar for the past five years, specializing in home and auto insurance. She has also written extensively for consumer websites including Reviews.com and Slumber Yard. Prior to that, she worked as a writer in academia for several decades.

Edited by Senior Editor, Insurance