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Things to Remember When Shopping for Car Insurance

Things to Remember When Shopping for Car Insurance

Like your real neighbor, State Farm is there to make money. All those shiny geckos, cavemen, jokes, and jingles are in your head because Warren Buffet’s Geico pays a LOT of their hard-earned money to put them there. When you buy a car, the law requires certain levels of insurance, and, depending on who, how, when, what, and where you are, you will pay different amounts for this insurance. It’s all so confusing and annoying–can’t we just pay someone to figure that out for us?

You actually do, and that’s all rolled into the price of your insurance (along with marketing money, operations, etc). A lot goes into determining your insurance premium, and, lucky for you, I spent the majority of my 20s working in at insurance tracking company, and I’m happy to teach you all the ins and outs they don’t want you to know behind the curtains of Oz. Here are a few things to remember when shopping for car insurance.

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We all live in a yellow submarine. A yellow submarine? A yellow submarine...

    We all live in a yellow submarine. A yellow submarine? A yellow submarine…

    If You Have a Loan, You Need Insurance

    Anytime you take out a collateral loan (house, car, RV, boat, motorcycle, etc), you have to buy insurance on it. It’s called Collateral Protection Insurance, and it’s not much different than a store or phone warranty. If you don’t voluntarily purchase insurance, you’ll be saddled with the bank’s inflated Force-Placed Insurance. Assurant (a company also owned by Warren Buffet) ironically has subsidiaries that underwrite both Force-Placed Insurance and cell phone insurance (which is why you’ve never heard of them, despite probably paying money to them).

    Liability insurance is usually standard (meaning the accident’s your fault) for any vehicle. If you don’t own the vehicle, the banks will require certain levels of collateral and collision insurance. Some states are beginning to pull this market-share from the banks, so who’s forcing you to pay varies by state, but you’re paying it either way.

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    Force-Placed Insurance Ruins Lives

    While we’re speaking of the dark underbelly of insurance, it’s important to know that the high price of force-placed insurance is largely responsible for the majority of repossessions and foreclosures nationwide. Basically what happens when you run into financial trouble is you stop paying on your insurance to keep up your rent/mortgage/car/utility/food payments.

    When you avoid that $100-$1000 bill, your bank punishes you by backdating a more expensive policy (4-10x more expensive), and forcing you to prepay the next year’s premium as well. In addition, an analysis will be performed on your loan, and your car or mortgage payments will double or triple. That’s all it takes to push many honest and hardworking people to lose their home and their car within a year. Even if you recover, it’ll take years, as your credit will be ruined, and it’ll take more and more money to get back above water.

    Avoid all of this by keeping up on your insurance, and, when the banks erroneously accuse you of not having insurance, just because you were price-shopping online and the insurance company mailed them a letter to let them know, be vigilant and stern in correcting their mistake immediately. Hold them accountable. Speaking of which—

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    Insurance Agents Are Everywhere–Price Shop

    There’s no reason not to price shop. If you’ve ever travelled on an airline, you know you can use aggregate services like Priceline or Hotwire to get basic prices, but the best deals are always on the airline’s actual site. This works the same way in insurance—no matter how honest a company seems, they really want you to use their service. They may sometimes show a competitor is cheaper, but they’re there to make money as well, and you’re not a part of their family. The very least you can do for yourself is check every company’s website, no matter how many times you’re forced to enter all your info again.

    You May Already Have Insurance

    A lot of insurance companies, such as Erie, Traveler’s, Lloyd’s of London, etc. offer umbrella policies, which can cover your home, vehicles, recreational vehicles, and more. When looking for insurance, check with the company you already have. It doesn’t even have to be a full umbrella policy, car insurance sometimes covers the driver, so you can drive other cars you don’t own without paying extra. Some provide car rentals in case of an accident and/or cover damage to the rental car itself. See what you have before you buy more.

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    Whenever you don't trust a cop, take a picture...

      Whenever you don’t trust a cop, take a picture…

      Extreme Couponing

      Every insurance company has discounts that can be obtained in different ways. Remember your agent is just a sales person. No matter how local they seem, their policies are underwritten by someone bigger than they are, who in turn is underwritten by someone bigger until you get to one of the big guys. If you’re not insured by that structure, you’re borrowing from a legitimate loan shark/bookie/drug dealer, and you’ll probably be brutally killed for not making your payments.

      Because they’re salespeople, agents offer discounts for good grades, reaching a certain age, being born a certain sex, and things like that. They’re not offering these discounts—a billion dollar research project analyzed consumer data and determined how much to charge you to make as much profit as possible while still undercutting the competition. The real deals your agent is offering you are discounts for watching a video, taking a class, or some other menial task—they do that because they’re good sales people, and know it’s subsidized by the government to make the streets safer. Since the government is run by taxes, ultimately, you’re always footing the bill.

      It’s About Who You Know

      If you work in the government, you can get a great deal with USAA. Like credit unions, many insurance companies started as coops. Even Geico stands for Government Employees Insurance Company. By the time you heard of them, they were already huge. That’s the thing about insurance companies—despite what you think from their public face, they hide in the shadows making money. If you’re a teacher, work for a non-profit or tech firm, you may be able to obtain cheap insurance from your occupation. Look into it.

      Long-time customers are valued in any business, so whoever you do pick to insure your car, stick with them as long as you can. They may experience ups and downs, but they’ll appreciate you sticking with them in the long run, and you’ll often be surprised at how much local agents will go out of their way to help long-term customers. Don’t shop for insurance by the flashy ads or from whoever’s offering the best deal up front. Look into their track record, check to see if loss ratios are in line with the competition. Ask friends and family how their company and agency treats them. With a little elbow grease, you can find the right car insurance for you.

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      Published on September 17, 2018

      How Being Smart With Your Money Leads to Financial Success

      How Being Smart With Your Money Leads to Financial Success

      Achieving financial success is not something that just happens. Maybe if you win the lottery or something, but for the average person like you or me, it comes from a series of small steps you take over a long period of time.

      With each step, you form a new smart money habit. And with each smart money habit, you build towards financial independence.

      So what sort of habits can you form to get on that path? Let’s take a look at smart money habits you can start today to get you closer to a financially independent future.

      1. Avoid being “penny wise but pound foolish”

      It’s tempting to try saving a couple cents here and there when buying small items. However, that’s not where the real money is saved. You’re putting in extra effort for something that doesn’t move the needle.

      You get the most bang when you’re able to cut down on your bigger bills. For example, finding a lower interest rate for your mortgage could save you $50+ per month. And cutting your transportation bill by purchasing a cheaper car or taking public transportation can provide large gains as well.

      So, look at your recurring expenses such as housing, transportation, and insurance, and see where there’s wiggle room. It’s a much better use of your time than trying to pinch pennies here and there on smaller purchases.

      2. When you want something big, wait

      Impulsivity can get you in trouble in most aspects of life. Finances are no different.

      It’s human nature to see something and want it right then and there. It starts as a kid in the checkout line at the grocery store, and it continues on through adulthood.

      We get an idea in our head of something we want, and it’s hard not to go out and get it right then.

      A good example is wanting a new car. Perhaps you’ve had your car for several years. It’s crossed the 100k mile mark. Maybe maintenance is due, and you’re annoyed that you need to replace the timing belt or purchase new tires.

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      So, you get the itch.

      You start digging around online, and you realize you could trade in your current car for something newer and more exciting… all for a few hundred bucks a month. Then you get obsessed.

      Here’s where you have to take a step back.

      Your newfound obsession is clouding your judgement. Rather than giving into the impulse, wait it out.

      Set a timeframe for yourself. Maybe you come back to the decision three months down the road. See if the obsession lasts.

      It might, but often, a funny thing happens. Often, you forget about it. And often, you find that the new car wasn’t a need at all.

      The impulse faded. And you just saved yourself a ton of money.

      3. Live smaller than you can afford

      You finally get that big raise. And you want to celebrate – and why not?

      You’ve been looking forward to this forever. And after all, it was all due to your hard work.

      That’s fine, splurge a little. However, make it a one-time deal and be done.

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      Don’t get caught in the trap that just because you’re now making more money, you should spend more.

      Too often, people get more money and feel like they that gives them the means to buy a bigger house, a bigger car… you know the drill. Resist.

      The fact is that living smaller than what you can afford is one of the fastest ways to build savings.

      But if you constantly upgrade as you begin to make more, then you’ll never get ahead. You’ll just build up more debt along the way and have just as little wiggle room as before.

      4. Practice smart grocery shopping

      Food… it’s one of the biggest portions of any budget. And if you’re not careful, it can be one of the biggest drains on your wallet.

      But luckily, there are a few things you can do to ensure that you stay smart with your money when buying groceries.

      Create a grocery budget

      Set a strict weekly grocery budget. When you know how much you can spend on groceries, you can then plan your weekly menu around it.

      Once you know what all you need, you can go shopping and keep a running tally as you shop to ensure you’re on track.

      I tend to do this in my head, rounding for each item. However, writing it down as you go would probably work best for most people.

      Make a list… and never deviate

      Never go to the grocery store without a list. If you go to the store with a ballpark idea in mind, you don’t have a true ide of what you need.

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      You’re not well-researched. You don’t know what the sales are. As a result, you’re going to make decisions on the fly.

      These impulse decisions will lead to overspending, which will derail your grocery budget.

      Eat before going grocery shopping

      It’s also important to eat prior to going to the grocery store. Hunger is a powerful force.

      If you’re shopping on an empty stomach, everything is going to look good. In particular, you may find a lot of ready-made, processed snacks will look enticing.

      After all, you’re hungry now and that food is easily available. So subconsciously, you may lean towards those items.

      Unfortunately, not only are those items typically less healthy, but they’re likely more expensive. You pay for convenience.

      However, when you eat prior to shopping, then you’ll shop with a clear mind. Your hunger won’t cloud your judgement, influencing you to make poor decisions like a cartoon devil resting on your shoulder whispering in your ear.

      This makes it much easier to stick to your grocery plan.

      5. Cancel your gym membership

      Now that you’re all set on your food, it’s time to get smart about managing your budget in terms of physical fitness. And let’s begin by avoiding the gym. The gym bill, that is.

      The average gym membership costs around $60 per month. That’s $720 a year.

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      Yet, two out of three gym memberships go unused. That means two-thirds of people who have a gym membership are literally giving away almost a thousand bucks a year. It’s crazy!

      I recommend seeking an alternative. One good alternative is to look into fitness streaming services.

      Streaming services allow you to stream hundreds of workouts like Insanity and p90x, right in your own home for around $10-20 a month. That’s $40-50 less a month than the average gym membership.

      Of course, then there’s the free option. The internet is full of free workouts that you can do on your own with minimal or no equipment.

      For example, there’s the Couch to 5K program, that I personally used a decade ago to ease myself from couch potato to running my first 5K race. If I could do it, anyone could.

      Then there are free resources like reddit that have limitless information on workouts. The Fitness subreddit has done all the research for you, populating workout tips and detailed workout routines for anyone to use in their wiki.

      There are several routines that require no equipment. And you can join in on the subreddit to become part of the community, making it easier for those seeking comraderie and encouragement in their fitness goals. All for free.

      It’s baby steps… And baby steps can start now!

      I’ve never met anyone that can’t stand to be a bit smarter with their money. And on the flip side, anyone can get smarter with their money. But remember, it doesn’t happen all at once.

      Begin by fighting your impulses. Prepare for the week and be smart at the store. And cut monthly expenses like gym memberships that are overpriced and you probably aren’t getting your money’s worth out of anyway.

      The devil is in the details. And the details can change your lifestyle and prep you for a financially independent future.

      Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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