Reduce Your Insurance Costs…Beware of Bad Advice!

Reduce Your Insurance Costs…Beware of Bad Advice!



Many Americans are struggling financially in the current economy, particularly those struck by lay-offs, and are faced with tough decisions about how to reduce expenses. As a result, much has been written in recent months about how to reduce insurance premiums as one aspect of a belt-tightening strategy. Unfortunately, too much of this advice has been BAD and much of this bad advice comes from consumer web sites and publications that have little understanding of insurance and risk management. The purpose of this article is to identify some of the bad advice being bandied about and to reinforce some of the good advice


The first myth we want to dispel is that all policies are alike, the difference only being the price. Insurance policies are legal contracts and, aside from some industry standards, each insurer’s policy is unique. Some cover far more or less than others. For example, some auto policies do not cover nonowner autos. Do you ever drive someone else’s car? Some auto policies do not cover business use. Do you ever run by Office Depot, the post office, or the bank on behalf of your employer? Some auto policies exclude undisclosed household residents. Is it possible that a child might move back home for economic reasons and you forget to tell your insurance agent? Might you drive that resident child’s car after they move in? Did you know that some auto policies won’t cover you while driving a resident family member’s car? Has a family member taken on a second job delivering pizzas to make ends meet? Some auto policies cover this, some don’t.


These are all very real examples of coverage shortcomings that the “low cost” auto insurance advertisers don’t tell you about. In fact, if you ask to see their policies before buying, chances are you won’t get a copy. Consumers shop for most things based on value, not just price. The same should be true for insurance which is far too often portrayed as some sort of homogenous commodity.  So, the next time you see a cute or clever sales pitch from a lizard, cave man, or giggling Walmart-like “pick your price” aisle clerk, ask what you’re buying. The amount of coverage you need depends on your exposure to loss and what assets and income you need to protect today and, in the future, not what you’d like to pay.


A second myth is that you can rely on insurance advice from consumer web sites and publications. Sadly, consumers often accept insurance advice from attorneys, plumbers, roofers, cops, and accountants before they’ll listen to their own insurance agent. A major national publication included advice from a “consumer expert” that recommended dropping replacement cost coverage for “actual cash value” coverage, something that is likely to save the insured little in exchange for much in the way of lesser coverage. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Charles Givens made a name for himself, in part, by recommending that consumers drop various kinds of insurance. Lawsuits ensued when consumers who followed his advice suffered catastrophic uninsured losses.


One popular consumer insurance web site recommends that consumers consider dropping their physical damage and uninsured motorists’ coverage completely while reducing their liability coverage to the state minimum requirements. At a time when consumer assets are at their greatest peril, now is not the time to be reducing or eliminating critical coverages that protect you from catastrophic loss. The article shows that, by dropping your liability limits from 100/300/50 to 25/50/10 and eliminating the physical damage and uninsured motorists’ coverages on your auto, you can reduce your total premium by just over 50% on average.


What they don’t show is that the average values of the autos they used in the examples ranged from $12,000 to $22,000 according to Kelly’s Blue Book. How many economically depressed or out-of-work families can afford even a $12,000 loss, much less a 6- or 7-figure liability claim? Auto liability limits of 25/50/10 mean that each person you negligently injure in an auto accident gets no more than $25,000 ($50,000 total for all injuries) and any property damage you cause, such as damage to the other vehicle, is limited to $10,000. Is it possible that a hospital bill might exceed $25,000? Is it likely that the other vehicle you total is worth more than $10,000? Of course, particularly considering that all of the autos they used in their examples of how you can save money by dropping physical damage coverage were worth more than that!


According to the Insurance Research Council, 1 in 6 drivers may be driving uninsured by 2010. With the number of uninsured drivers already over 25% in some states, what happens when a family member is permanently disabled by an uninsured driver and the family has dropped its uninsured motorists’ coverage? A much better recommendation would be to begin cost-cutting measures by eliminating the purchase of pizza, cigarettes and beer instead of critical insurance coverages.


A third myth is that you can drop some coverages because others exist to pay in their absence. For example, so-called financial experts may recommend dropping uninsured motorists and medical payments coverage on an auto policy if you have health or workers compensation insurance. Uninsured motorists insurance covers much more than just medical expenses. Given the growing number of uninsured motorists, removing or reducing this coverage can expose you, your family members, and passengers to catastrophic loss.


In the case of business insurance, many business owners are looking, if the law permits, to drop workers compensation insurance or have officers with strong health insurance plans exempt themselves. Workers compensation typically pays UNLIMITED medical benefits, plus disability, rehabilitation and even burial benefits. In addition, some health insurance plans exclude work-related injuries or work injuries that could have been covered by workers compensation. Some businesses are considering eliminating business interruption insurance even though studies have shown that few businesses survive a major loss long enough to be able to reopen their doors.


A fourth myth is that you should insure the market value of your home or business building. Market value is based not only on the cost to rebuild but also on the value of the location and land value. It’s also a function of how much someone is willing or able to pay for your property based on their financial position and the ability to obtain a loan. Your insurance limit is based almost exclusively on the cost to repair or replace the building. The market value can be significantly higher or lower and, just because the market value of your home or business building has declined doesn’t mean you should reduce your insurance limit.


These are just a few examples of what consumers and business owners are doing to reduce their insurance costs, many of these approaches coming from extraordinarily bad advice from consumer writers and others who lack the knowledge to understand what they are suggesting. Attorneys, for example, often suggest that youthful drivers be placed on their own minimum-limits policies (and their vehicle titled in their name if possible) in order to insulate the parents’ assets from a lawsuit. Many, if not most, auto policies have an exclusion that would result in the parents having NO coverage under their own policy for some claims, an unintended consequence that arises from advice given by someone who lacks the intimate understanding of the insurance contract necessary to provide sound insurance advice.


As always, we ask you to call the office (585) 589-6236 if you have concerns about your coverage.


Much of the information used in this blog were provided by the Insurance Agents & Brokers of America.