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Why 2 families pay $15,000+ for car insurance

Des Toups

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CarInsurance.com

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Who's paying $15,000 a year for car insurance? It's not some guy with three DUIs and a Maserati.

It's tax-paying, home-owning, law-abiding Camry drivers.

As we did some digging in our own insurance quote database, wondering who wound up with the most expensive policies, two quotes really stuck out.

Meet the 52851233s

They are real people, but let's call him Jeff. He's 55. His wife, Mary, is 52 and has a recent speeding ticket. Son Bob, 20, and daughter Elizabeth, 17, live at home. They own their New Orleans home and have four cars. Their old luxury sedan, newer pickup and Honda Accord are paid for, and they are still making payments on the newest, a Toyota Camry. Jeff has a credit score of 735, just below the point where "good" becomes "excellent."

They've got full coverage including comprehensive and collision, with $1,000 deductibles, on each of their cars. Pricey, but they have a lot to protect. And they've had a few dings over the years: a minor parking-lot scrape, an at-fault accident with injuries.

They're probably not unlike your own family -- only they're paying $15,280 a year. (And probably relieved to do so: Other quotes returned were as high as $27,844.)

Then there are our ultimate insurance machines, the 55315623s. Let's call him Mark. He's 48 and loves BMWs. He really, really, really loves BMWs.

He's got a new, $48,000 5-Series for himself, a smaller sedan for his wife, Christine, 47, and an older one for his son, Carl, 21. They've even got a spare, a sport-utility, for weekends touring the beaches near their Miami home.

The 55315623s keep their cars immaculate, but their credit has a few dings. Their FICO score of 557 is below average.

And when they write checks, the one to the insurance company is a whopper: $15,652.

That's gotta hurt

All we can go by are the facts, and the facts are killing our New Orleans drivers: An urban address in a city that sports the nation's second-highest rates. Four cars, three fairly new, all with full coverage. Accidents. A speeding ticket. And two drivers under 25.

Ouch.

Time will be the biggest factor in improving the 52851233s' situation, says CarInsurance.com expert Penny Gusner. Tickets will age; accidents will fall off; and two young drivers will leave the nest.

Until then, Gusner says, a family with four cars does not need rental coverage. And its 10-year-old luxury car costs more to insure with comprehensive and collision coverage than it would to replace. Louisiana offers a 5 percent discount on comprehensive premiums if a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is etched onto its glass - something an owner can do herself with a kit that costs about $25.

But the smartest thing to do, Gusner says, might be to cut their 20-year-old son loose and put that old land yacht in his name, with just liability coverage.

Ditch the Bimmers

Our Miami family has leased itself into a corner, Gusner points out.

While "leasing is simply not a rating factor at all," she says, it does typically allow drivers to choose a more expensive car than if they had bought it outright; a BMW will be more expensive to insure than a Ford. Leased cars must be fully insured, like any financed car, but leasing companies can and do insist on low deductibles as well.

The family's poor credit has jacked up the interest rate used to calculate their lease payments. Their insurance rates are affected, too.

The smart thing for the 55315623s to do would be to drive different cars, but leases are notoriously difficult to unwind. They can't drop any coverage. They live in an expensive city for insurance, Miami, but with a big investment in a home, they're unlikely to move anytime soon.

Many of us looking to save money on car insurance problems just like those of our insurance-strapped families: We qualify for small discounts and can make small adjustments that save a few dollars a month. But the big savings come only by making big changes in your policy, or by switching carriers altogether.

It's not a math problem

Because your car insurer doesn't know the real you, it has to make judgments based on the details it can verify. Each of those details represents some kind of perceived risk to an insurer, whose job is to attract as many customers as possible while paying out the fewest claims it can.

Every insurer decides on its own how much risk to take, and how much to charge for it. It's a balancing act. To attract more customers, an insurer might decide to lower the rate it charges for drivers with a DUI conviction. It will write more policies, almost certainly, but will it pay less in future claims than it takes in from new premiums?

You will not get a lower insurance rate just by asking. Threats to leave won't help. Nor, unfortunately, will tears. Instead, you must change at least one of your big risk factors, or switch to a company that prices your risks in a different way.

What are those factors? Your credit, your address, how much you drive, how many violations and accidents you've got, your vehicle, your coverage limits and the fellow drivers on your policy.

If you've got life changes coming up - new drivers, fewer drivers, different cars, a new house or job - there is no better time to fiddle with your policy, or to begin flirting with new insurers.

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