Cars on a highway
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If you’re like most drivers, you don’t think about your car insurance policy unless the monthly premium just went up, you’re in an accident or you have to file a claim. In fact, consumers often stay with an insurer for years and may be paying more than they need to without realizing it.

Your insurance needs—and costs associated with your needs–change over time, but many people don’t think about switching car insurance because of the time and research involved. Car insurance quotes can vary dramatically between insurance companies. Even though it takes time to get a quote, it’s a good idea to review your current policy annually to determine if you’re eligible for any discounts or if it’s time to switch car insurance.

Check on competitive insurance rates or incentives from your current insurer before renewing, when you’re moving or after buying a house to guarantee that you’re not overpaying. Comparing rates with different insurers and seeing how they’d change with different coverage amounts ensures that you have the best car insurance coverage to meet your needs.

If you’re thinking about switching car insurance, you may wonder how to change car insurance. The best time to swap policies is before your renewal, but you can switch at other times too. Here are nine steps on how to switch car insurance.

1. Consider your coverage options

Too little insurance can leave you financially exposed, but too much coverage may mean you’re paying more than you need. If you think you’re spending too much, consider switching car insurance.

“Ask yourself: do I drive an older vehicle? If you do, you may not need collision and comprehensive insurance, or you may decide to choose a higher deductible to save money,” says insurance expert Michelle Demora.

She also suggests considering how much you have to protect. A 22-year-old who rents may not need as much liability coverage, for instance, as someone who owns a home, has multiple vehicles and has been built up a sizable savings account.

2. Decide if the time is right

Most auto policies last for six months or a year, depending on your state. One of the best times to check out other carriers and their premiums includes when you move. Your zip code, the distance you drive to work and whether you park in a garage will all impact your insurance premiums. You should also look at insurance options following other big life events like getting married because married people often get lower rates.

If you are moving because you bought a house, you often can bundle your home and auto insurance to save money. Most car insurers give discounts when you add another car or driver to your policy or any time you bundle policies.

If you have an accident or an open claim, it might not be a good time to switch. You might have to deal with two insurance companies while the details of the claim are settled. Also, because insurance companies usually recalculate your rates around your renewal time, a new insurance company might calculate your rate higher than your current rate higher than it would be if you stay with your current provider for a few more months.

It also might not be a good time to switch if you have a long time before your renewal. You may have to pay penalties that could make changing policies less worth it.

If you don’t have a major change that might make you want to change your policy during coverage, insurance experts like Demora recommend that you do your research a month or two before your policy is up for renewal.

In addition to inquiring about discounts, pay attention to the benefits offered between carriers. Just because an insurer quotes a lower premium doesn’t mean that the coverage will meet your needs. If the lower premium is due to a higher deductible and you’re in an accident, the policy could cost you more in the long run. A cheaper policy also isn’t useful if it’s full of benefits that aren’t relevant to your needs.

Make certain you understand what’s covered and how much protection you’ll receive under the new policy. While you can speak to your current insurance agent about your options, also ask friends, family members, co-workers and other people you trust for their recommendations on a car insurance company.

“Family members and friends are valuable resources when it comes to shopping around for new products and services,” says Demora. “A lot of times, they’ve already done the legwork to provide helpful advice and narrow down your search — and finding the right auto insurance provider is no exception.”

3. Check for potential penalties

If you decide that switching car insurance is the right option, find out if there are any penalties for changing before the end of the coverage period. Fortunately, auto insurance companies generally give you the right to cancel your policy at any time as long as you give proper notice.

While most insurance companies will likely refund your entire unused premium, some may hit you with a fee if you choose to cancel in the middle of your policy term. Esurance, for example, warns its customers that they may charge $50 if they cancel before a policy expires.

If you find out that you will be charged a penalty for canceling in the middle of your term, do the math and determine whether you’d be better off switching now or waiting until your policy expires.

4. Compare car insurance quotes from multiple carriers

Comparing rates from multiple different companies gives you a better understanding of average costs and standard coverage options. Getting car insurance quotes is an easy process, but you’ll need some basic information to get an accurate quote. A lot of factors can influence your car insurance rates, which leads to variations between providers. The following is a typical list of the necessary information, as listed by State Farm:

  • Vehicle information:You’ll need the make, model, year, VIN, current mileage and ownership details of your vehicle.
  • Address: Where will this vehicle be parked overnight? Will it be parked in a garage, driveway or on the street?
  • Drive information: Include the name of driver(s) to be insured, age, driver’s license number(s) and state of issue
  • Driving history: Have you (or any other person on your policy) ever been issued a ticket or had a suspended license?

Other factors can also impact your pricing, including discounts for which you’re eligible. The best car insurance companies ombine excellent service with discounts that reward their customers for loyalty and good driving. Common discounts include:

  • Having a good driving record
  • Driving a low number of miles per year
  • Getting good grades if you’re a student.
  • Taking a driver’s education course
  • Bundling your auto insurance with your home insurance

5. Contact your current carrier

If your insurance company values you as a customer, they may be willing to fight hard to keep your business. Talk to your agent and let them know that you’re in the market for a better deal. It could convince your existing insurer to match or beat rival car insurance quotes to keep you from switching car insurance.

You can also find out whether you’re missing out on any discounts with your current insurer. “Living a low-risk lifestyle can pay off — literally,” says Demora. “Maintaining a good driving record, attending refresher driving courses and young drivers who get good grades are just some of the discounts your insurer can offer to help keep your premium low.”

If the first person that helps you cannot offer you a better deal, try contacting them again later or with multiple competitor quotes. You may reach a different agent who is willing to reduce your premiums.

6. Research the new company

Check out an insurer thoroughly before signing on. Most state insurance offices monitor carriers’ customer complaint ratios, which is the number of complaints for every $1 million in premiums collected. A high ratio warns you that the company’s current customers aren’t very happy.

Before committing to a new insurer, read online reviews and look at their ratings from the Better Business Bureau (BBB). You can also call the carrier to get a feel for what their customer service is like. If you find that they’re impossible to get ahold of or are not helpful, continue your search.

Think twice before signing up with an insurer just because they offer the lowest car insurance quotes. Although some companies offer great rates, they may be difficult to deal with during the claims process.

7. Avoid a lapse in coverage

“When changing insurance, it’s best to plan on doing so just before your current policy expires,” says Demora. “Switching early prevents you from having a gap in your coverage.”

A lapse in insurance coverage could lead to serious legal and financial challenges, especially if you become involved in an accident while uninsured. Specifically, your old insurer could report your terminated policy to the state. If there isn’t a clear overlap or smooth transition from one policy to another, you could be penalized or find your driver’s license suspended.

It also could cause insurance companies to charge you higher premiums down the road because they may perceive you as a “high-risk” driver. Your new insurer should be able to time the new policy so that it begins exactly as your old coverage ends.

8. Make sure your old policy is canceled

If you’re switching car insurance to a new insurer, there are a few things you need to do to confirm that your current policy is truly terminated. Don’t assume that if you stop paying premiums your policy is automatically canceled. If you signed up for auto-renewal, your current provider could report you to credit bureaus for non-payment. Instead, take the following steps to terminate your old policy and preserve your credit worthiness.

  • Contact your current insurance agent and notify them that you are terminating your policy. This will prevent them from billing you for future coverage.
  • If you signed up for auto-payment, you may need to log into an online account and cancel the auto-withdrawals.
  • Let your agent know that you want the termination confirmed in writing. It gives you proof that you canceled the policy if you continue to get billed or see a negative remark on your credit report. You can dispute the charges or credit report entry.

9. Print out your new car insurance ID cards

Once you’ve officially canceled your old policy and switched to a new one, switch out your old insurance ID card for an updated one in your vehicle or wallet. If you get stopped by the police or become involved in an accident, you’ll need proof of coverage under your new provider.

“Most insurers allow you to access your ID card online through your smartphone, but it’s best to have a hard copy in case you’re stopped in an area without cell service,” explains Demora.

Frequently asked questions for switching your car insurance

How often should I shop for a new car insurance policy?

Evaluate your rates and options at least once a year. As your financial situation and driving history change, the rates that insurance companies offer you can change too. It’s easy to shop and compare car insurance quotes online, and you’ll know that you aren’t leaving any savings on the table.

Do car insurance companies offer discounts?

Car insurance companies offer a range of discounts for different driver profiles. To explore cheap car insurance options, look for car insurance discounts for students, teachers, young drivers, safe drivers and military personnel if those categories apply to you.

Can I switch car insurance while I have an open claim?

Switching car insurance companies is possible while you have an open insurance claim. Your current insurer will resolve the existing claim along with any necessary payouts with no penalty.

Do car insurance companies refund premiums I already paid?

It depends on your car insurance company’s refund policy. Call them to understand their insurance cancellation policy. In many cases, you are eligible for a refund when you cancel your car insurance.

It makes financial sense to get into the habit of reviewing your car insurance policy on a regular basis. After all, the driving situation in your household is likely to change from time to time and may affect the price of your premiums. Taking the time to perform some research by reviewing car insurance quotes may help you land the best possible price and reduce the overall cost of car ownership.