Figuring out just how much car insurance you really need can be a challenge.
At minimum, you’ll want to make sure you have enough car insurance to meet the requirements of your state or the lender who’s financing your car. Beyond that, there’s coverage you might want to add to those required amounts. These policies will help ensure that you’re adequately protecting yourself, your family, and your assets. And then there’s the coverage that actually fits within your budget.
We know it may not be a fun topic to think about what would happen if you were involved in a car accident, but given that well over five million drivers are involved in one every year, it’s a priority to get coverage. Finding a car insurance policy that checks all those boxes may take a bit of research — and possibly some compromise. Here are some of the most important factors to consider.
How Much Car Insurance Is Required by Your State?
A good launching pad for researching how much car insurance you need is to check what your state requires by law. Only two states do not require a car owner to carry some amount of insurance: New Hampshire and Virginia. If you live elsewhere, find out how much and what types of coverage a policyholder must have. Typically, there are options available. Once you’ve found this information, consider it the bare minimum to purchase.
Types of Car Insurance Coverage
As you dig into the topic, you’ll hear a lot of different terms used to describe the various kinds of coverage that are offered. Let’s take a closer look here:
Most states require drivers to carry auto liability insurance. What it does: It helps pay the cost of damages to others involved in an accident if it’s determined you were at fault. Let’s say you were to cause an accident, whether that means rear-ending a car or backing into your neighbor’s fence while pulling out of a shared driveway. Your insurance would pay for the other driver’s repairs, medical bills, lost wages, and other related costs. What it wouldn’t pay for: Your costs or the costs relating to passengers in your car.
Each state sets its own minimum requirements for this liability coverage. For example, in California, drivers must carry at least $15,000 in coverage for the injury/death of one person, $30,000 for injury/death to more than one person, and $5,000 for damage to property. The shorthand for this, in terms of shopping for car insurance, would be that you have 15/30/5 coverage.
But in Maryland, the amounts are much higher: $30,000 in bodily injury liability per person, $60,000 in bodily injury liability per accident (if there are multiple injuries), and $15,000 in property damage liability per accident. (That would be 30/60/15 coverage.)
And some may want to go beyond what the state requires. If you carry $15,000 worth of property damage liability coverage, for example, and you get in an accident that causes $25,000 worth of damage to someone else’s car, your insurance company will only pay the $15,000 policy limit. You’d be expected to come up with the remaining $10,000.
Generally, recommendations suggest you purchase as much as you could lose if a lawsuit were filed against you and you lost. In California, some say that you may want 250/500/100 in coverage – much more than the 15/30/5 mandated by law.
Recommended: What Does Liability Auto Insurance Typically Cover?
Collision insurance pays to repair or replace your vehicle if it’s damaged in an accident with another car that was your fault. It will also help pay for repairs if, say, you hit an inanimate object, be it a fence, tree, guardrail, building, dumpster, pothole, or anything else.
If you have a car loan or lease, you’ll need collision coverage. If, however, your car is paid off or isn’t worth much, you may decide you don’t need collision coverage. For instance, if your car is old and its value is quite low, is it worth paying for this kind of premium, which can certainly add up over the years?
But if you depend on your vehicle and you can’t afford to replace it, or you can’t afford to pay out of pocket for damages, collision coverage may well be worth having. You also may want to keep your personal risk tolerance in mind when considering collision coverage. If the cost of even a minor fender bender makes you nervous, this kind of insurance could help you feel a lot more comfortable when you get behind the wheel.
When you drive, you know that unexpected events happen. A pebble can hit your windshield as you drive on the highway and cause a crack. A tree branch can go flying in a storm and put a major dent in your car. Comprehensive insurance covers these events and more. It’s a policy that pays for physical damage to your car that doesn’t happen in a collision, including theft, vandalism, a broken window, weather damage, or even hitting a deer or some other animal.
If you finance or lease your car, your lender will probably require it. But even if you own your car outright, you may want to consider comprehensive coverage. The cost of including it in your policy could be relatively small compared to what it would take to repair or replace your car if it’s damaged or stolen.
Personal Injury Protection and Medical Payments Coverage
Several states require Personal Injury Protection (PIP) or Medical Payments coverage (MedPay for short). This is typically part of the state’s no-fault auto insurance laws, which say that if a policyholder is injured in a crash, that person’s insurance pays for their medical care, regardless of who caused the accident.
While these two types of medical coverage help pay for medical expenses that you and any passengers in your car sustain in an accident, there is a difference. MedPay pays for medical expenses only, and is often available only in small increments, up to $5,000. PIP may also cover loss of income, funeral expenses, and other costs. The amount required varies hugely depending on where you live. For instance, in Utah, it’s $3,000 per person coverage; in New York, it’s $50,000 per person.
Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage
Despite the fact that the vast majority of states require car insurance, there are lots of uninsured drivers out there. The number of them on the road can range from one in eight to one in five! In addition, there are people on the road who have the bare minimum of coverage, which may not be adequate when accidents occur.
For these reasons, you may want to take out Uninsured Motorist (UM) or Underinsured Motorist (UIM) coverage Many states require these policies, which are designed to protect you if you’re in an accident with a motorist who has little or no insurance. In states that require this type of coverage, the minimums are generally set at about $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident. But the exact amounts vary from state to state. And you may choose to carry this coverage even if it isn’t required in your state.
If you’re seriously injured in an accident caused by a driver who doesn’t carry liability car insurance, uninsured motorist coverage could help you and your passengers avoid paying some scary-high medical bills.
Let’s take a quick look at some terms you may see if you shop for this kind of coverage:
Uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage (UMBI)
This kind of policy covers your medical bills, lost wages, as well as pain and suffering after an accident when the other driver is not insured. Additionally, it provides coverage for those costs if any passengers were in your vehicle when the accident occurred.
Uninsured motorist property damage coverage (UMPD)
With this kind of policy, your insurer will pay for repairs to your car plus other property if someone who doesn’t carry insurance is responsible for an accident. Some policies in certain states may also provide coverage if you’re involved in a hit-and-run incident.
Underinsured motorist coverage (UIM)
Let’s say you and a passenger get into an accident that’s the other driver’s fault, and the medical bills total $20,000…but the person responsible is only insured for $15,000. A UIM policy would step in and pay the difference to help you out.
Recommended: How to Pay for Medical Bills You Can’t Afford
Guaranteed Auto Protection (GAP) Insurance
Here’s another kind of insurance to consider: GAP insurance, which recognizes that cars can quickly depreciate in value and helps you manage that. For example, if your car were stolen or totaled in an accident (though we hope that never happens), GAP coverage will pay the difference between what its actual value is (say, $5,000) and what you still owe on your auto loan or lease (for example, $10,000).
GAP insurance is optional and generally requires that you add it onto a full coverage auto insurance policy. In some instances, this coverage may be rolled in with an auto lease.
You may think you don’t need car insurance if you don’t own a car. (Maybe you take public transportation or ride your bike most of the time.) But if you still plan to drive occasionally — when you travel and rent a car, for example, or you sometimes borrow a friend’s car — a non-owner policy can provide liability coverage for any bodily injury or property damage you cause.
The insurance policy on the car you’re driving will probably be considered the “primary” coverage, which means it will kick in first. Then your non-owner policy could be used for costs that are over the limits of the primary policy.
If you drive for a ridesharing service like Uber or Lyft, you may want to consider adding rideshare coverage to your personal automobile policy.
Rideshare companies are required by law in some states to provide commercial insurance for drivers who are using their personal cars — but that coverage could be limited. (For example, it may not cover the time when a driver is waiting for a ride request but hasn’t actually picked up a passenger.) This coverage could fill the gaps between your personal insurance policy and any insurance provided by the ridesharing service. Whether you are behind the wheel occasionally or full-time, it’s probably worth exploring.
Recommended: Which Insurance Types Do You Really Need?
Why You Need Car Insurance
Car insurance is an important layer of protection; it helps safeguard your financial wellbeing in the case of an accident. Given how much most Americans drive – around 14,000 miles or more a year – it’s likely a valuable investment.
What If You Don’t Have Car Insurance?
There can be serious penalties for driving a car without valid insurance. Let’s take a look at a few scenarios: If an officer pulls you over and you can’t prove you have the minimum coverage required in your state, you could get a ticket. Your license could be suspended. What’s more, the officer might have your car towed away from the scene.
That’s a relatively minor inconvenience. Consider that if you’re in a car accident, the penalties for driving without insurance could be far more significant. If you caused the incident, you may be held personally responsible for paying any damages to others involved; one recent report found the average bodily injury claim totaled more than $20,000. And even if you didn’t cause the accident, the amount you can recover from the at-fault driver may be restricted.
If that convinces you of the value of auto insurance (and we hope it does), you may see big discrepancies in the amounts of coverage. For example, there may be a tremendous difference between the amount you have to have, how much you think you should have to feel secure, and what you can afford.
That’s why it can help to know what your state and your lender might require as a starting point. Keep in mind that having car insurance isn’t just about getting your car — or someone else’s — fixed or replaced. (Although that — and the fact that it’s illegal to not have insurance — may be motivation enough to at least get basic coverage.)
Having the appropriate levels of coverage can also help you protect all your other assets — your home, business, savings, etc. — if you’re in a catastrophic accident and the other parties involved decide to sue you to pay their bills. And let us emphasize: Your state’s minimum liability requirements may not be enough to cover those costs — and you could end up paying the difference out of pocket, which could have a huge impact on your finances.
Finding the Best Car Insurance for You
If you’re convinced of the value of getting car insurance, the next step is to decide on the right policy for you. Often, the question on people’s minds is, “How can I balance getting the right coverage at an affordable price?”
What’s the Right Amount of Car Insurance Coverage for You?
To get a ballpark figure in mind, consider these numbers:
|Type of Coverage||Basic||Good||Excellent|
|Liability||Your state’s minimum||• $100,000/person for bodily injury liability
◦ $300,000/ accident for bodily injury liability
◦ $100,000 for property damage
|• $250,000/person for bodily injury liability
◦ $500,000/ accident for bodily injury liability
◦ $250,000 for property damage
|Personal Injury Protection (PIP)||Your state’s minimum||$40,000||Your state’s maximum|
|Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist (UM, UIM) Coverage||Your state’s minimum||• $100,000/person for bodily injury liability
◦ $300,000/ accident for bodily injury liability
|• $250,000/person for bodily injury liability
◦ $500,000/ accident for bodily injury liability
Here are some points to consider that will help you get the best policy for you.
Designing a Policy that Works for You
Your insurance company will probably offer several coverage options, and you may be able to build a policy around what you need based on your lifestyle. For example, if your car is paid off and worth only a few thousand dollars, you may choose to opt out of collision insurance in order to get more liability coverage.
Choosing a Deductible
Your deductible is the amount you might have to pay out personally before your insurance company begins paying any damages. Let’s say your car insurance policy has a $500 deductible, and you hit a guardrail on the highway when you swerve to avoid a collision. If the damage was $2,500, you would pay the $500 deductible and your insurer would pay for the other $2,000 in repairs. (Worth noting: You may have two different deductibles when you hold an auto insurance policy — one for comprehensive coverage and one for collision.)
Just as with your health insurance, your insurance company will likely offer you a lower premium if you choose to go with a higher deductible ($1,000 instead of $500, for example). Also, you typically pay this deductible every time you file a claim. It’s not like the situation with some health insurance policies, in which you satisfy a deductible once a year.
If you have savings or some other source of money you could use for repairs, you might be able to go with a higher deductible and save on your insurance payments. But if you aren’t sure where the money would come from in a pinch, it may make sense to opt for a lower deductible.
Recommended: Different Types of Insurance Deductibles
Checking the Costs of Added Coverage
As you assess how much coverage to get, here’s some good news: Buying twice as much liability coverage won’t necessarily double the price of your premium. You may be able to manage more coverage than you think. Before settling for a bare-bones policy, it can help to check on what it might cost to increase your coverage. This information is often easily available online, via calculator tools, rather than by spending time on the phone with a salesperson.
Finding Discounts that Could Help You Save
Some insurers (including SoFi Protect) reward safe drivers or “good drivers” with lower premiums. If you have a clean driving record, free of accidents and claims, you are a low risk for your insurer and they may extend you a discount.
Another way to save: Bundling car and home insurance is another way to cut costs. Look for any discounts or packages that would help you save.
Buying car insurance is an important step in protecting yourself in case of an accident or theft. It’s not just about repairing or replacing your vehicle. It’s also about ensuring that medical fees and lost wages are protected – and securing your assets if there were ever a lawsuit filed against you. These are potentially life-altering situations, so it’s worth spending a bit of time on the few key steps that will help you get the right coverage at the right price. It begins with knowing what your state or your car-loan lender requires. Then, you’ll review the different kinds of policies and premiums available. Put these pieces together, and you’ll find the insurance that best suits your needs and budget.
A Simple Way to Get Great Car Insurance
Feeling uncertain about how much auto insurance you really need or what kind of premium you might have to pay to get what you want? Check out SoFi Protect, which uses the Root mobile app to measure your driving habits. The better you drive, the more you can save.
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