Friday, April 16, 2010

The easiest way to understand how an insurance policy works is to think about gambling. You are about to drive your vehicle out on to the public roads and you make a bet with the insurance company. If you can do this without having an accident, you lose the premium. If you have an accident, the insurance company pays your losses. So, as with a field of horse about to set off round the track, the bookmakers check the records of each horse. How many times has it run and placed. This gives them a basis on which to set the odds. In theory, everyone has access to the same information so you decide whether to place the wager depending on the fairness of the odds quoted. Well, it's exactly the same with drivers. The insurers make a risk assessment of you as a driver. What make and model are you driving? How many miles a year do you drive? How many years of experience? How many tickets and claims? This profiling gives them the odds of an accident and the company sets the premium rate to quote you. You also know your own track record and have a good basis on which to decide whether to pay the premium.

Unlike a conventional bet, you can decide to self-insure a part of the potential liabilities. This is done through the so-called deductible where you pay the nominated amount before the insurer has to contribute. So if the claim against you is for $800 and you have a deductible of $1,000, you pay the whole of the $800. But if the claim is for $1 million, you only pay $1,000 and the insurance company loves you like a brother. The majority of traffic accidents are minor fender benders and the repair costs are usually low. If no-one is injured, self-insurance is a cost-effective option, i.e. the amount you save on the premium covers the likely payments of claims. But you should consider the issues carefully before accepting the maximum deductibles. Suppose you have a bad run of luck and, in the space of a year, you are involved in three accidents where the claims exceed the deductible. Now you have to find the deductible multiplied by three as a cash sum and your premiums will go up because you have proved yourself a bad risk. Can you afford the pay this lump sum without breaking the bank? Given your premiums are going to rise, do you still want to pay the maximum deductibles in the future?

Planning is all about the worst case scenarios and hoping for the best. There are good discounts for increasing the deductible. There are also good discounts for insuring more than one vehicle or combining both auto insurance with home insurance. Because you cannot guarantee you will never have accidents, you should decide what discounts you can find and how much you are prepared to pay if the worst happens. Do not simply buy the cheapest auto insurance you can find. In many cases, these policies do not give a good value-for-money cover against liabilities. Shop around and buy the policy that gives you the best protection at a price you can afford.


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