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A Beginner’s Guide to Insurance Premiums

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What is a premium?

To benefit from insurance coverage, you’ll need to pay a premium. A premium is a payment to your insurer that keeps your coverage in place. Insurance companies determine your premium by deciding what the risk is to insure you. Here’s a breakdown of the basics to help you understand what a premium is, why you have to pay it, how it works and ways to reduce your costs.

What Is a Premium?

An insurance premium is effectively the cost of your insurance, whether for health, auto or life insurance. Most companies allow you to pay the annual premium via monthly installments. However, some companies may require you to pay your premium on an annual basis or a semi-annual basis. Some may even want the entire insurance premium up front. Companies often decide they want the insurance premium up front if you have previously had your insurance policy canceled for non-payment.

The price of a premium is usually decided by an actuary or underwriter who takes a base calculation. The base calculation determines what the risk is to insure you. After the base calculation, the company may discount it based on your health, driving record, location and other personal details. This is all based on the type of insurance you’re looking to secure, too.

Your premium may also be determined based on your insurance history. Every insurance company uses different criteria to determine premiums. Some companies use insurance scores based on personal factors like credit rating, car accident frequency, personal claims history and occupation. If your personal factors are attractive to certain companies, you may want to secure a plan with one of them. It could mean a lower cost premium.

You may also pay more money for higher amounts of coverage, whether you’re purchasing life insurance, car insurance, health insurance or any other kind of insurance.

The value and condition of what you are insuring can also change the amount of coverage you need. For example, if you’re a healthy 28-year-old with no kids, your life insurance premium may be very inexpensive because you might not need a large policy. However, the price could increase as you age and your health and family situations change because you may need more coverage.

How Can You Lower Your Rates?

What is a premium?

The type of coverage you purchase affects your premium. If you get more comprehensive coverage with your insurance policy, it may raise your insurance premium. For example, if you insure your vehicle for all risks, you may have to pay more than if you insured it with a policy that doesn’t include collision coverage.

Deductibles can reduce your insurance premiums, as well. An insurance deductible is the cost you pay before the insurance company pays anything. If your car is insured and you have a $1,000 deductible, you have to pay $1,000 before the insurance company will begin to cover any costs. If there are $3,000 in damages to your vehicle, you would have to pay $1,000 and the insurance company would pay the other $2,000. As a general rule, the higher your deductible, the lower your premiums.

In the case of health insurance, taking on a higher deductible, higher co-pays or longer waiting periods may lower your costs. However, if you can afford a plan with a lower deductible, you may want to take that. Lower deductible health plans offer customers more predictable prices for higher amounts of coverage.

Your homeowners insurance premium may be affected by the coverage limits you choose, your deductible amount, optional coverages you select, your home’s age and condition, your claims history and your credit rating.

Car insurance premiums may be affected by your age, your credit score, your driving record, the age of your car, the type of coverage you chose, coverage limits you select, where you live and drive, and how often you drive.

Your life insurance premium may be affected by the amount of life insurance coverage you buy, the type of life insurance policy you select, the length of your policy, and your age, health, and life expectancy.

Insurance Limits

Some companies, specific policies or types of coverage have insurance limits. An insurance limit is the maximum amount of money the company will pay. Typically, the higher your insurance limit, the higher your premium. It’s also the inverse of a deductible. You pay the part of the claim or claims that’s more than the limit on your policy.

Insurance limits can be on a per occurrence basis or on an aggregate basis. For example, a per occurrence basis could be a $20,000 insurance limit on bodily injuries per person, per car accident. An aggregate insurance limit might be a $100,000 limit on construction costs in the event of a natural disaster.

Car Insurance

Car insurance laws and policies typically list liabilities as a set of three numbers that stand for the coverage limits when you’re responsible for an accident. If your numbers were 22/66/15, your insurance would cover $22,000 for bodily injuries per person, $66,000 in total bodily injury coverage per accident and $15,000 for property damage per accident. For personal injury protection, collision and comprehensive coverage, the numbers are listed as a single amount for each type of coverage. Your state may have specific minimum limits for certain coverages, so make sure you’re getting a fair rate.

Health Insurance

Healthcare laws often change, and many lifetime and annual health insurance limits are illegal. However, some health insurance policies still list annual limits or limits on the number of times certain treatments will be covered, such as acupuncture, chiropractic services and orthotics. Companies may also place limits on prescription medication to keep costs down. There may be policies such as “step therapy,” which requires you to try less expensive drugs first, or quantity limits, such as only covering 30 pills in 30 days.

Homeowners Insurance

Your homeowners insurance policy will often list separate limit amounts for different types of coverage. The limit amounts for liability coverage in case you’re sued by someone for property damage or injuries that occur on your property may be different than the limit amount for damage to your home and personal property. Make sure you review all of your homeowners insurance coverage limits, such as the amount it may cost to rebuild your home (dwelling coverage), liability coverage and personal property coverage.

Shopping Around

What is a premium?

It’s important to shop around for insurance because different companies have different target clients. You may be the target client for one company, but not for another. That means your premium may be lower with one company than another. The price you pay for your insurance may include taxes or fees, as well. And these could differ from company to company. Before shopping around, call your insurance company and see if they’re willing to lower your premium.

In addition, insurance companies may decide to pursue a new market segment. That can lower rates on a temporary basis, or on a more permanent basis if that works for the company. In either case, you can get a better deal on your insurance if you are part of the demographic that insurance company wants to attract.

The best insurance company for you may not be the best insurance company for your parents or your best friend. It all depends on your age, location and many other factors.

The Bottom Line

Your insurance company will assess the financial risk of insuring you. The greater they perceive that risk to be, the more your premium will cost. It’s important to make sure you let your insurance company know all the ways in which you are a low-risk or lower risk client in order to get premium reductions. After shopping around, you’ll be able to find the insurance policies that are best for your financial situation.

Tips for Reducing Insurance Costs
  • Consider all of the insurance options available based on your individual circumstances. This can help you save money. A comprehensive budget calculator can help you understand which option is best.
  • If you need extra help weighing your insurance options, you might want to consider working with an expert. Finding the right financial advisor that fits your needs can be easy. SmartAsset’s free tool will match you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to learn about local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

Photo credit: iStock.com/skynesher, iStock.com/kate_sept2004, iStock.com/AndreyPopov

The post A Beginner’s Guide to Insurance Premiums appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

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