Save on Auto Insurance: Pay in Full!

I have noticed that many folks I know pay their auto insurance on a monthly basis. This seems as a convenient option, allowing for budgeting and spreading out your cost accross the year. They can also auto-deduct the amount from your account, so there are no bills to think about, checks to send or stamps to buy – as long as you have the available balance in your account, you’re good to go.

The question though is, does this make financial sense? While the terms may change from insurer to insurer, my auto policy is as follows: I can pay in full upfront, or get billed monthly for my premium plus a 16% APR interest charge. It’s this last piece that changes things – it’s a ridiculously high interest rate for anyone with a decent credit.  If you have the cash to pay for this upfront, do it. It’s unlikely that you can get a better after-tax return on you rmoney somewhere else.

If you don’t have the money to pay in full upfront, pay what you can as early as possible. You can consider getting a balance transfer, and pay much less in interest. For example, if your insurance premium is $1800, you can end up paying about $145 in interest.  A recent balance transfer offer I got was 0% APR for almost a year with a 4% balance transfer fee, resulting in an effective finance charge of $72. This is a quick way to save about $70 – by simply paying off your insurance bill with a balance transfer check, and then making the monthly payments to your credit card.

My advice is simple: pay off your highest interest debt first. Monthly insurance bills carrying a finance charge are no different than credit card bills, even though you’re technically paying as you go.

Saving on Auto Insurance

Every time I hear one of those Insurance ads claiming “people who switch to [..] on average save $x” I chuckle a little bit. Of course that people that do switch insurers save money – that’s why most people switch in first place! The statistic they provide is useless to most people, as you have no idea what your actual saving, if any, would be. What they’re telling you is that of all those people that get a quote from them, some (maybe a majority, maybe a small minority) will switch insurers, and on average save x amount of money. The only valuable piece of information that a consumer is getting here is that shopping around, be it for insurance or any other service or product, is usually a good idea, and you may find a cheaper provider.

I just find it funny how numbers are used in advertising to suggest things. The message that they are trying to imply is that if YOU switch to THEIR company, YOU will save money. Now, they can’t say this outright, as there will be some percentage of folks who won’t save by switching. What would be useful is if they provided a statistic, saying “20% of folks who call us switch, and save $400 on average”. Now I know that my expected “ROI” for calling them to get a quote, and spending 10-15 minutes with their agent is 20% x $400 = $80 / year. Assuming I don’t earn more than $320 / hour, this is now a valuable use of my time (for simplicity, I’m ignoring future years’ savings). However, if only 5% of people save the quoted amount, and I expect to spend 30 minutes for the quote, my expected ROI is only $20 / year – so $40 / hour of my time, ignoring future years’ savings. Not bad, especially if you assume future year savings, but not nearly as attractive as the first scenario.

Now, while the premium paid is likely the top concern to most folks when choosing an insurance company, I am almost concerned switching to a lower cost provider. While there is no guarantee that a higher cost company will provide me with a better service or value, I am curious to know how they can afford to charge me less. Where is it that they’re saving money on? They could have better actuaries, or at least be able to better assess your “risk level”. That said, they could also be undervaluing your risk level, and giving you a break by mistake. (This works for the individual consumer, as long as it’s not a widespread problem which would cause the insurer to default.) What I’m concerned with thought is that you just may be getting a worse value – and get short changed when an accident happens. How will the insurer treat you when you need them is just as important as what you pay upfront!