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Millions of Americans feeling the financial burden of unemployment are trying to make ends meet by reducing their expenses.
When evaluating your budget, you will likely cut out non-essential expenses like entertainment. One expense you should never cut is your car insurance.
Driving without car insurance is against the law and comes with serious financial and legal repercussions.
If you’re thinking about driving without car insurance because you can’t afford the premiums, there are alternative ways to lower your car costs.
Alternatives to Driving Uninsured
There are ways to reduce the overall cost of a car without skipping insurance.
Ask About Discounts
It’s possible there are discounts available you weren’t aware of when you signed up. Some insurance providers offer discounts for:
- Military members
- Students with positive grades
- Credit score
- Positive payment history
- Satisfactory driving history
Many insurance companies are also giving out low-mileage use discounts since more people are working from home or spending less time on the road. If you’re driving less often than you were when you bought your policy, see if you can adjust your mileage use down and save.
Spend time making calls and shopping around for better pricing. Each insurance company uses its own pricing formula, which means some providers will offer better rates than others. Also, many providers give discounts for different types of insurance together. For example, Nationwide offers a 20% discount for customers who bundle home and auto insurance together.
One way to lower your premium is to change or reduce your coverage. Reducing your coverage poses a financial risk, but it’s certainly better than driving without insurance entirely.
- You can raise your deductible, which can lower your overall premium. The deductible is the out-of-pocket fee before your insurance coverage kicks in.
- Remove coverage such as comprehensive, collision, and uninsured motorist coverage. Yes, these are important coverages to have to mitigate your financial responsibilities in the event of a claim. But they are not always legally required. Some states have minimum coverage requirements so be sure to check what’s required in your state.
Negotiate With Your Insurance Company
Try calling your insurance company and asking for a lower premium. Explain your financial situation and demonstrate that you’ve been a good customer in the past. Your provider may be inclined to keep you as a customer, so you don’t shop elsewhere. It also can’t hurt to come with a quote from a competitor in hand. It’s important to have these conversations before you fall behind on any premium payments, experts say.
Ask your provider what discounts they offer. Some insurance providers offer discounts for military members, students with positive grades, credit score, positive payment history, and good driving history.
Get a less expensive car. If you’re driving an expensive car, your insurance premium will be higher. A cheaper car also means a lower car payment freeing up some space in your budget for insurance. Research suggests that minivans are typically the cheapest cars to insure.
Evaluate if you need more than one car. If you’re working from home for an extended period and no longer need multiple vehicles, consider reducing to one car.
It’s Illegal to Drive Without Car Insurance
In most places, drivers who own a registered vehicle must carry a certain amount of car insurance to legally get behind the wheel. Each state has its own minimum coverage requirements drivers are expected to follow.
Driving without auto insurance is illegal in 48 states.
The 48 states that mandate car insurance require personal liability insurance, including bodily injury and property damage coverage. Some states also require uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, and in no-fault states, drivers need Personal Injury Protection (PIP).
There are only two states that do not mandate car insurance—New Hampshire and Virginia. But even in these two states, drivers aren’t completely off the hook.
Drivers in Virginia must pay an uninsured motorist fee of $500 if they choose not to purchase car insurance. In New Hampshire, drivers who decline car insurance agree to assume 100% of the financial responsibility for any damages they cause in an at-fault accident.
Penalties for Driving Without Car Insurance
“The penalties for driving without car insurance vary from state to state,” says Falen Cox, legal partner at Cox, Rodman & Middleton. “In addition to possible arrest, jail time, fines, and impound fees for lack of car insurance, the state may suspend the registration of cars without insurance,” adds Cox.
Drivers will also have to pay sky-high insurance rates when they eventually purchase a policy.
“If a driver is caught operating a vehicle without adequate insurance, he or she is unlikely to find affordable insurance rates in the future,” says David Clark, personal injury lawyer at The Clark Law Office in Michigan. Drivers who have a lapse in insurance coverage are viewed as high-risk and pay higher insurance premiums because of it.
Drivers who get caught without insurance may also need to purchase a special certificate, called SR-22 insurance, which proves you meet the minimum insurance requirement in your state. SR-22s sound harmless, but in reality, they can wreak havoc on your insurance premium.
Getting Into an Accident Without Insurance
Getting into an accident without insurance is a serious offense, and you’re going to face both legal and financial repercussions.
“If the accident was your fault, then someone is going to be expecting you to pay,” says Scholnick. “Most people have a provision in their auto insurance policy called uninsured motorist coverage, which allows a party who is not at fault to collect from their insurer. But if you are at fault and uninsured, the other party’s insurance will attempt to collect from you the amount they paid out.”
If you get into an accident and you don’t have insurance, you’re going to pay a large fine, your vehicle will get towed, and you could lose your license, among other things. It’s also very likely you will end up in court, which means you should obtain legal counsel.
After getting into an accident, your first instinct may be to purchase a car insurance policy right away. It’s a smart move, but it won’t lessen your punishment. Car insurance only protects you while the policy is active. So if you get into an accident on Monday morning and purchase a policy on Monday night, you won’t be retroactively covered.
How Much Insurance Coverage You Need
Every driver has different car insurance needs. In most states, drivers must carry a minimum amount of personal liability insurance, which pays for another driver’s medical bills and property damage if they cause an accident.
But the truth is, minimum coverage insurance usually doesn’t provide adequate protection. Insurance companies recommend drivers upgrade to a full coverage policy with optional coverages like collision and comprehensive insurance, which pay to repair or replace your vehicle after a covered loss.
“How much car insurance you should have is determined by how much you have to lose,” adds Scholnick. “If you do not have a lot of personal financial assets, you can get away with a lower amount. But if you have a lot of assets to protect, don’t skimp on coverage.”
You’ll want to consider factors like your location when deciding how much coverage to buy.
“For instance, a person who frequently drives in Beverly Hills will probably need more property damage coverage than the $5,000 minimum that California requires,” says Cox. “If the driver causes an accident with a Bentley, $5,000 is unlikely to make a dent, pun intended, in repair costs.”
The bottom line is, “while bare minimum coverage is the floor and is legally adequate, if a driver can afford more coverage, they should get more coverage,” concludes Cox.
If You’re Stopped For Driving Without Insurance
Driving without car insurance is illegal and something we do not encourage. If you choose to drive uninsured and get stopped by law enforcement, it’s important to know what to do in the situation.
“The first thing you should do, if it’s safe, is to call and let someone know that you’ve been stopped in case you are arrested,” says Cox. “If you are asked whether you have valid insurance, be honest. Some states require insurance companies to report when car insurance has lapsed, so the officer may already know that your vehicle is uninsured.”
Getting pulled over can be scary, especially if you are knowingly breaking the law. But no matter what happens, it’s important to follow the officer’s instructions. “Even if a driver is arrested for not having insurance, he or she will have an opportunity to dispute the charges in court,” adds Cox.
You’re Insured But Don’t Have Proof in Your Vehicle
If you have car insurance but are without proof of insurance when you get stopped, the consequences are less severe.
“In most states, not having proof of insurance is a minor traffic offense,” says Jeffrey Scholnick, personal injury lawyer at Silverman Thompson. “It’s possible that you may not even get a ticket for this, as long as the officer can use your tag and registration to verify your insurance.”
If you get into an accident and can’t provide proof of insurance, it’s a similar situation. The police will be able to verify your insurance coverage at the scene. You can also call your insurance company to get your policy number and coverage information.
Needless to say, if you don’t keep proof of insurance on hand, you should put the proper documentation in your car as soon as possible.
Many major insurance companies have a mobile app that allows you to download and view your ID cards right from your phone. In most states, electronic proof of insurance is acceptable if law enforcement requests it.