Minimizing Insurance Sticker Shock

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

It's October, and with Halloween right around the corner, we're used to being spooked by ghosts, goblins, ghouls and the armies of Frozen princesses and Captain Americas trick-or-treating in the neighborhood.

If you really want a fright, try getting car insurance for a new teenage driver. If you're about to have a teen driving in your household, prepare for sticker shock. Although actual increases will vary, families should expect their "auto insurance premiums to double" when adding a teen to the policy, said Mary Bonelli, spokeswoman for the Ohio Insurance Institute, an industry trade group.

Why the 100 percent jump in premiums? Teen drivers get in a lot of accidents. New drivers are inexperienced, making the "chances of being involved in a crash high," Bonelli said. "Companies base teen auto premiums on the risk."

Teens ages 16-19 are three times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident than older drivers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And, according to the Ohio Department of Public Safety, the highest percentage of at-fault accidents in Ohio in 2015 was caused by 16- to 20-year-olds. They caused 8.1 percent of crashes that year. Overall, males were about 10 percent more likely to be involved in an accident than females. That's why it'll cost more to insure a teen son than a daughter.

But take heart. There are ways to shave a little bit off the cost of your teen's auto insurance. First, ask your insurance company if it offers incentives. Many insurers, including State Farm, Progressive, Nationwide and Geico, offer good student discounts for maintaining at least a B average.

Some companies offer discounts to teens who take a driver's education course, either independently or through the insurance company. Some will cut a few bucks off the policy if the vehicle your teen drives has certain safety features. And, although it pays to shop around, it usually is less expensive to add a teen to your family policy than it is to insure him or her separately.

If the cost of adding your teen to your policy is giving you heart palpitations, consider asking a handful of other companies for quotes. Insurers calculate costs and risk for teen drivers differently, so you may be able to save money by switching companies.

While you're getting quotes, be sure to ask insurers how they assign drivers to vehicles. Some companies assign the driver who is most expensive to insure (usually the teen) to the car that's the most expensive to insure, according to the Insurance Information Institute, a national industry trade group.

To save money, you can ask to have your teen assigned to the least valuable car. (Make your teen drive the clunker, not the decked-out sports coupe.) But, that means he can only drive that vehicle, even if it's an emergency. If he's in an accident in a different car, you'll be hit with stiff penalties.

You might also consider increasing your liability coverage. In Ohio, drivers must have a minimum of $25,000 for bodily injury liability per person per accident, $50,000 for all people injured in one accident, plus $25,000 in property damage liability coverage. This usually isn't enough to cover possible damage caused in accidents, so it's worth upping coverage, particularly if you own a home or have other assets that might be at risk if you're hit with a liability lawsuit.

Raising your deductible, or the amount you'd pay out of pocket per accident, can help offset the extra cost of greater liability coverage.

-Denise Trowbridge is a self-professed money geek who writes about personal finance, banking and insurance for The Columbus Dispatch, and