8 Questions Your Auto Insurer Will Ask

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When you buy auto insurance you need to be prepared to answer a few questions. Some of the questions will be personal and somewhat intrusive. But the questions, and your answers, will affect how much you pay in insurance premiums. (You can compare auto insurance premiums here.)

Here are few questions (and ideal answers) that auto insurers may ask you, according to SmartMoney.com:

Are You Married?

Good Answer: Yes (at least if you're 29 or younger).

Bad Answer: No.

In the insurance world, if you're 25 and married, you're as safe as a 50-year-old. If you're not, reach for your wallet: Young singles typically pay at least 10 percent more for car insurance than their married peers. Being freshly divorced also hurts. One Ohio insurer, Westfield, views divorced people with suspicion until two years after their divorce is final.

What Do You Do for a Living?

Good Answer: Librarian.

Bad Answer: Cellist.

On the theory that what you do says a lot about how you drive, Geico and other insurers keep detailed occupational data. They guard that information jealously, but a study by the Texas Public Insurance Council found 19 occupations that insurers associate with above-average risk, including social workers, professional athletes, musicians, military personnel and longshoremen. J. Robert Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America, swears he knows of one car insurer that will insure professional musicians, but only if they play classical music for a living. Rockers need not apply.

Do You Have Any Roommates?

Good Answer: No.

Bad Answer: Yes, and boy can she party!

This is a common question asked by carriers when they're dealing with a single person who rents. The companies are attempting to ferret out those people who have roommates who might drive their car. "A woman living alone in a single-family home is a better risk than someone who's living in a group, because we're at risk if someone drives her car," explains IDS actuary Bill Kocken.

How Many Miles a Year Do You Drive?

Good Answer: Under 7,500.

Bad Answer: Anything more than 15,000.

The answer to this question will have a big impact on your rates. Actuarial research shows that people who drive more than 7,500 miles a year, or more than about 30 miles to and from work each day, are more likely to get in accidents. That's why Allstate gives a 15 percent to 20 percent discount to people who rack up less than 7,500 miles a year. If you own two cars, you can probably get the low-mileage discount for the car you drive the least. Make sure to ask.

Have You Had Any At-Fault Accidents or Moving Violations in the Past Five Years?

Good Answer: Just one.

Better Answer: None.

Bad Answer: I got a speeding ticket six years ago.

The companies are looking to rate you for your driving history, and the penalties are stiff. At State Farm, you pay a 10 percent surcharge for the first accident, 20 percent for the second if it's within three years of the first, and a stiff 50 percent for the third, again if it's within three years of the first. But if you're accident-free for nine years, State Farm gives you one "free" accident.

Speeding is another story. In general, companies don't like to see tickets at all. "Speeding tickets are a good indicator of future accidents," says Ken Ciak, president of American Express Property/Casualty Cos. But a company might let one ticket slide, depending on how fast you were going. One thing to remember is that insurers consider a five-year history. If you had a ticket -- or several tickets -- six or more years ago, you might as well keep quiet about them.

Have You Made Other Damage Claims Other Than an Accident?

Good Answer: No.

Bad Answer: Only after those two break-ins.

Insurers are increasingly wary of people who frequently make claims for glass breakage or other small bits of vandalism to their car. And they know about every claim. Most insurance companies report to Equifax's CLUE (Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange) service, which keeps a database of all claims. When you apply for a new policy, a company will order a CLUE report to check out your record. Three or more qualify you as a bad risk.

Do You Own a Radar Detector?

Good Answer: No.

Bad Answer: Sure! Why do you think I only have one ticket?

How Much Coverage Do You Want?

Bad Answer: The bare minimum.

Good Answer: Enough to protect my assets and my family, but hold the fancy trimmings, please.

Most auto policies have eight parts, but only three are mandatory in every state: liability per person, liability per accident and liability for someone else's vehicle.

Most states require drivers to take $20,000 to $30,000 of liability per person in an accident, with a cap of $40,000 to $60,000 per accident. But that's not enough for most people. If you have more than $100,000 in assets, you should raise your coverage to $100,000 of liability per person and $300,000 per accident, plus $100,000 for property damage.

If you have over $200,000 in assets, you need an umbrella policy that covers anyone injured in your house or car up to $1 million. Chances are you don't need coverage such as medical payment, rental car insurance and emergency replacement. Such costly "bells and whistles" coverage is often redundant. And while many insurers offer these extras, many will drop you if you make a claim on such coverage after an accident.

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