Lowering your auto insurance payments can be easier than you think.
For drivers shopping for a new auto insurance policy or renewing their current policy, a quick conversation with an insurance agent about available discounts can lead to some significant savings.
For existing customers, simply signing up for another year of coverage may lead to a discount. But there are plenty more discounts to get, and they're often available only if you ask about them. An agent probably doesn't know the details of your life, so asking about some unique life events -- such as serving in the military -- can be worthwhile.
On their own, each discount that many auto insurersmay not look like much -- but they'll add up quickly if you have enough of them.
While not all insurersthe same deals, it's worth shopping around to see who the most discounts at the best coverage levels. Here are some auto insurance discounts worth asking about.
Bundle. Whether you havecars or home and auto policies with the same insurer, bundling discounts are offered because you're giving a company double the business. This should be the first discount offered.
Age. If you're 50 or older, taking the AARP Driver Safety Program can lead to a discount every three years you take the course. It teaches the effects of aging on driving behaviors and how to adjust.
Students. High school students who keep a B average can earn a "good driver" discount of as much as 25% off premiums they'd normally pay. Even without good grades in high school, just getting older and having a clean driving record often will result in lower rates for drivers when they turn 21 -- and a little more when they turn 25.
For college student drivers who are still on their parents' policy, the rates could drop hundreds of dollars if the student attends college 100 miles or more from home and doesn't bring a car to school. If they're an occasional driver and only use the car when home for school breaks, the parents may get a discount.
Sons or daughters? Parents of daughters may get a small rate break. Or parents with boys may get higher rates than girls, depending on how you look at it. Because male teen drivers are known to be more aggressive, their insurance rates tend to be 10% higher -- or more -- than for female teens.
Tracking. Insurance companies such as Progressive Insurance give discounts to drivers who allow tracking devices to be installed on their cars. The devices send information back to the company on how, when and how far they drive. The information typically can't be used to raise rates, but offers a discount to safe drivers.
Drive safely. Even without tracking devices, insurers know how safe of a driver you are by checking your driving records for accidents, tickets or claims in the last three to five years -- and sometimes even longer. This is one of the most common discounts and it's worth checking for every year.
Also, not having auto insurance claims sounds like an odd way to get a discount, but even filing small claims can show a history of not being a good driver, said Charlie Schein, who owns an independent insurance agency in Connecticut and recommends that his clients be careful about filing claims because companies look at claim frequency.
"I tell all of my clients to avoid putting in a claim for something minor," Schein wrote in an email. "Even the Towing and Labor coverage on your auto policy ($25 to $100 of coverage) counts as a claim. Calling the company to ask if something might be a claim shows up as claim activity. By the way, that does not happen if youyour independent agent to ask for advice."
Safety, anti-theft devices. Standard car safety features such as anti-lock brakes and airbags may not get you a discount anymore, but optional features such as rear-view cameras and blind-spot detectors may result in an insurance discount. Having features that prevent a car from being stolen can also lead to a discount, such as car alarms, Lojack and devices such as ignition cut-off switches that don't allow a thief to start a car.
Group memberships. Being in the military, a union or certain professions such as teaching or engineering can get you discounts -- as well as being a member of organizations such as AAA and AARP.
Prepaying or paying online. Paying the entire bill in one lump sum, or even a majority of it, can lead to a discount. So can going paperless and signing up for online bill statements. Not all insurerssuch discounts, but they're worth asking for if you can afford it and don't mind being billed online.
The Investing Answer: Ask, ask, ask. This is one of those cases when it never hurts to ask. Your insurance agent should be happy that you're so concerned and knowledgeable about your auto insurance -- it could be a sign that you're cautious and a good driver. Whether shopping for a new auto insurance policy or renewing a current one, these are discounts to ask for at least once a year. And if something changes in your life -- such as your daughter leaving home for college without a car -- then your agent and ask for the discount as soon as the change happens.
Aaron Crowe is a personal finance writer based in the San Francisco Bay area.