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Written by:
Shivani Gite
Contributing Writer
Shivani Gite is a personal finance and insurance writer with a degree in journalism and mass communication. She is passionate about making insurance topics easy to understand for people and helping them make better financial decisions. When not writing, you can find her reading a book or watching anime.
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Reviewed by:
Laura Longero
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Executive Editor
Laura is an award-winning editor with experience in content and communications covering auto insurance and personal finance. She has written for several media outlets, including the USA Today Network. She most recently worked in the public sector for the Nevada Department of Transportation.

A surcharge is an extra charge applied by your insurer that will raise your total premium; it’s usually because you have demonstrated some behavior that shows you to be more of a risk to your car insurance company

A surcharge is the opposite of a discount, which helps lower car insurance rates. Both surcharges and discounts should be listed on the declarations page of your car insurance policy.

For car insurance, a surcharge will normally be applied for items such as:

  • Accidents
  • Moving violations, such as speeding tickets
  • Risks not handled by normal rating factors

The most common surcharges result from something you’ve done as a driver.  Having an at-fault accident, being involved in auto accidents or making several car insurance claims are all events that typically may be surcharged by car insurance companies.

Traffic violation convictions, from speeding to a DUI, can also be surcharged. The severity of the violation will determine the severity of your surcharge. 

For example, some insurance companies levy a surcharge on brand-new drivers or drivers with fewer than 10 years of experience.

Surchargeable or chargeable accidents 

You’ll often hear surcharges being discussed in how they relate to accidents. When an insurance company determines you’re at fault for an accident, it calls that a “chargeable accident” and will tack a surcharge onto your rate, meaning it increases what you pay.

In some states, a chargeable accident is defined by the claim amount. In Massachusetts, for example, a surcharge applies if you are more than 50% at fault and the accident claim is over $1,000 for:

  • damage to someone else’s property
  • a collision with another driver
  • bodily injury to others

Car insurance surcharges don’t last forever

The good news is that if you receive a surcharge, it doesn’t last forever. Surcharges can only affect your rates for a limited number of years. The number of years varies according to state law. Or, if the state doesn’t dictate the time period, it’s decided by the internal guidelines of the individual car insurance company. 

Many car insurance companies will surcharge you for only three years. However, if the state allows, there are auto insurers that will continue a surcharge for five to seven years. 

The surcharge amount may stay the same or be reduced over time.

For example, one company may charge you a 60% surcharge for a major violation the first year, 30% the second and 15% the third and final year of the surcharge. Another car insurance company may charge you a 40% surcharge for all three years.

Car insurance companies’ surcharges shouldn’t be excessive. To protect consumers against unreasonable surcharges, auto insurers must file their surcharge schedules with the state’s insurance regulator for approval.

In some states, your surcharge schedule must accompany your policy; however, in many states, you must request a copy from your insurance company.  

— Penny Gusner contributed to this story.

Laura Longero

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Laura Longero

Executive Editor

Laura is an award-winning editor with experience in content and communications covering auto insurance and personal finance. She has written for several media outlets, including the USA Today Network. She most recently worked in the public sector for the Nevada Department of Transportation.

John McCormick

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John McCormick

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John is the editorial director for CarInsurance.com, Insurance.com and Insure.com. Before joining QuinStreet, John was a deputy editor at The Wall Street Journal and had been an editor and reporter at a number of other media outlets where he covered insurance, personal finance, and technology.

Leslie Kasperowicz

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Leslie Kasperowicz

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Leslie Kasperowicz is an insurance educator and content creation professional with nearly two decades of experience first directly in the insurance industry at Farmers Insurance and then as a writer, researcher, and educator for insurance shoppers writing for sites like ExpertInsuranceReviews.com and InsuranceHotline.com and managing content, now at CarInsurance.com.

Nupur Gambhir

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Nupur Gambhir

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Nupur Gambhir is a content editor and licensed life, health, and disability insurance expert. She has extensive experience bringing brands to life and has built award-nominated campaigns for travel and tech. Her insurance expertise has been featured in Bloomberg News, Forbes Advisor, CNET, Fortune, Slate, Real Simple, Lifehacker, The Financial Gym, and the end-of-life planning service.

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author image
Contributing Writer

Shivani Gite is a personal finance and insurance writer with a degree in journalism and mass communication. She is passionate about making insurance topics easy to understand for people and helping them make better financial decisions. When not writing, you can find her reading a book or watching anime.