Three Ways to Lower Your Car-Insurance Premium

Auto-insurance premiums dropped last year for the first time since 1999, but only by an average of 1 percent. So getting that lower rate might still mean work. We looked at how insurers are calculating premiums these days — even your credit score can matter — and compiled a few tips.

Shop Once a Year

A little research can go a long way. Bob Hunter of the Consumer Federation of America suggests checking price ranges on your state insurance commission's Web site. If you're working with an insurance agent, he adds, ask him to match online price quotes, which are typically lower. No-frills insurers are another good starting place; InsWeb.com lists some.

Fess Up

Late credit card payments and where you park your car can now boost your price. But insurers will factor in other details in your favor. Teens, for instance, get discounts off their usual sky-high rates if they maintain at least a B average or take a driving course. And savvy shoppers can remind agents of any professional associations, fraternities or alumni groups they belong to. At Geico card-carrying members of American Mensa, the American Dental Hygienists' Association and the William and Mary Alumni Association — as well as more than 200 other groups — get up to 27 percent off.

Pay for What You Use

Good news for second cars: Some companies now offer pay-as-you-go insurance, tied to how many miles a car-mounted Global Positioning System says a vehicle drives each year. GMAC, for one, offers a 54 percent discount to those who drive less than 2,500 miles annually. And if you trot out your tennis bracelet more often than your Mercedes-Benz, consider package deals. High-end insurer Chubb offers auto policies that pair up with jewelry or yacht insurance for discounts of 10 to 20 percent.

Test-Driving Rates

A reptile with an English accent. A hipster cartoon secret agent. And an actor who played the president on 24 pitching "safe driver" insurance. Which of these spokesbeings really offers the lowest auto-insurance rates these days? We took three staffers with different driving records and shopped for the best rates we could get in New York and New Jersey.

The results, of course, couldn't have been more varied: For six months of coverage, we got quotes ranging from $189 for a longtime road warrior to $1,190 for a currently uninsured driver. Allstate quoted us the highest figure for one of our staffers and refused to cover the uninsured one. (No other company declined us coverage.) Progressive did better, offering one of our drivers the lowest premium — $634 for six months — plus a $50 discount if we provided our email address.

Esurance offered the second-best rate twice. But the winner by far was the insurer with the clever commercials: Geico. It would have saved us over $790 and $1,200, respectively, for two of our drivers. And lizards don't lie: We got our quote in less than 15 minutes.

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