Standard auto insurance

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In the car insurance industry, “standard” refers to one of several risk-rating categories. Car insurance companies rate policies based on risk and generally categorize drivers as nonstandard (also called “high-risk”), standard or preferred. Your risk category will influence your rate.

Understanding what standard auto insurance is and how it can affect your premiums may help you make more informed decisions about your car insurance coverage. If you learn that you are a high-risk driver, you may be able to improve your record to move into the standard category. And if you are a standard driver, perhaps you can take steps to obtain the desirable preferred-driver status.

What is standard auto insurance?

Standard auto insurance refers to a rating category that auto insurance companies use to determine how much of a risk a driver presents. Generally, the higher the perceived risk, the more a driver will pay for coverage. Most drivers fall into the standard category.

Standard auto insurance does not refer to a coverage amount or type of policy. Because insurance is relatively customizable — nearly infinite combinations of coverages, limits and endorsements exist — there is no such thing as standard auto insurance coverage.

Standard vs nonstandard insurance

While standard drivers may not have perfect driving records, they generally do not have too many tickets, accidents or DUI convictions. They may also have avoided lapses in coverage and have average or good credit scores. A poor driving record, coverage lapses or a low credit score could cause insurance companies to view you as a high-risk driver, meaning you are only eligible for nonstandard insurance. The most notable characteristic of nonstandard vs. standard insurance is the cost of premiums. Because those who require nonstandard insurance are considered more likely to file a claim, insurers generally charge more for a policy. The coverage may be exactly the same as with standard insurance, but the amount you pay in premiums typically increases if you are offered a nonstandard policy. Some coverages or limits may also be unavailable to nonstandard drivers.

Standard vs preferred insurance

Preferred insurance is the most highly favored risk category, meaning that insurance carriers view you as a relatively low-risk client. Standard drivers may also not have bundled policies, instead choosing to purchase just their auto insurance with their company, while preferred customers might buy their auto, home and other insurance products all from the same company. Additionally, preferred drivers tend to have excellent credit ratings, while standard drivers typically have average or good credit. Standard drivers may change companies more often than preferred drivers.

Who needs standard auto insurance?

Most states require that you carry an auto insurance policy to drive legally. Standard car insurance is common across the country, as the majority of drivers fall into the standard rating category.

Keep in mind that standard auto insurance does not refer to a type of policy, a type of coverage or certain coverage limits. Standard auto insurance refers to a risk-rating category. When you are getting auto insurance quotes, you will not be able to choose your rating category. Insurance companies will assign you a category based on your rating factors, like your driving history and insurance history.

Reasons why you might not qualify for standard insurance

You may not qualify for standard insurance and, instead, require nonstandard insurance if you fall into one of the following categories:

  • You’re under the age of 25 or over 75.
  • You have a history of filing insurance claims.
  • You have had a DUI and need your insurer to file an SR-22 for you.
  • You have a salvage title on your car.
  • Your license is from another country.
  • You’ve had a significant coverage lapse in the past.

If any of these apply, or your insurer thinks you’re a risk for any other reason, you may not be able to purchase a standard policy. You may be offered a nonstandard policy, or, if the company you are getting a quote from does not write nonstandard insurance, you may be declined coverage.

How to get standard insurance

Getting standard car insurance is a fairly simple process, and a bit of research could help you find the best policy for your needs at the cheapest price. Here are some steps you can follow to help you find the right options for you:

  • Get a recommendation: Ask your friends and family who their standard auto insurance company is and find out if they’ve had a good experience with them. Sometimes, a referral to a great insurance agent can be the beginning of a new business relationship.
  • Do your research: Researching the different coverages, discounts, policy features and third-party rankings for various companies could help you find a carrier that fits your needs.
  • Utilize discounts: Most companies offer discounts for good driving, safety measures and company loyalty, among others, and these savings opportunities can bring your premium costs down.
  • Consider working with a local agent: While getting quotes and buying a policy online can be easy and convenient, you may find that working with a licensed insurance agent in your area can also be helpful. Local agents may be more familiar with the specific needs of drivers in your state and city, and might be able to guide you toward a company or certain coverages.
  • Fill out an application: When applying for the policy, you’ll need to fill out an application that asks questions to determine your risk level and eligibility. You will likely need to provide information about you, your vehicle and your driving history.
  • Pay your premium: Your first premium will probably be due when your application is approved. Setting up an online payment structure may earn you a discount and make it easy to pay each month. You might also save for paying in full.

How much does standard insurance cost?

The average cost of full coverage car insurance in the U.S. is $1,674 per year. This premium is for drivers with clean driving records and good credit.

Preferred customers may pay less. For example, the average annual cost of full coverage for drivers with excellent credit lowers to just $1,487 per year. But drivers with poor credit, who may be considered high-risk and have nonstandard policies, pay an average of $3,873 per year. Your driving record is also an indicator of your risk level. For example, after a DUI conviction, which generally leads to high-risk insurance, the average annual full coverage premium goes from $1,674 to $3,139.

While these numbers can be used as a baseline for how much your policy could cost, keep in mind that there are numerous factors that go into rating. The state you live in, the type of vehicle you drive and your driving history will all affect your rate. Rates vary even within the various rating categories.

Frequently asked questions

What is the best car insurance company?

There is no one best car insurance company, since everyone’s circumstances are unique and the offerings of one company might not work as well for you as another. To find the right company for you, you might want to first understand your needs and then get quotes from companies that might fit your circumstances.

Does my new teen driver need nonstandard insurance?

Potentially. Teen drivers are often considered high-risk due to their inexperience, but very often teens are insured on their parents’ policies. If you add your teen to your policy, you will likely see your premium increase but you won’t necessarily be relegated to a nonstandard designation. Your teen drivers may benefit from your insurance history, discounts and credit tier.

Can I switch from nonstandard to standard if I no longer have a reason for the nonstandard coverage?

It depends on your specific circumstances and the underwriting guidelines of each car insurance company. Generally, if you have a high-risk driver because of accidents, tickets, DUI convictions or lapses in coverage, you will need to go three to five years with a clean record and no lapses before you can apply for standard coverage again. If you are considered nonstandard because of your credit tier or other circumstances, you may need to remedy those issues before you will be eligible for standard coverage.

Methodology

Bankrate utilizes Quadrant Information Services to analyze 2021 rates for all ZIP codes and carriers in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. Quoted rates are based on a 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 coverages that meet each state’s requirements. Our base profile drivers own a 2019 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.

Credit: Rates were calculated based on the following insurance credit tiers assigned to our drivers: “poor, average, good (base), and excellent.” Insurance credit tiers factor in your official credit scores but are not dependent on that variable alone. The following states do not allow credit to be a factor in determining auto insurance rates: California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan, Washington.

Incident: Rates were calculated by evaluating our base profile with the following incidents applied: clean record (base), at-fault accident, single speeding ticket, single DUI conviction and lapse in coverage.

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