When you’re shopping for car insurance, it pays to be honest.
Applying for car insurance usually involves sharing a good amount of personal information — your age, your address, your driving history — all of which goes into calculating your monthly premiums.
It can be tempting to omit some details or stretch the truth to get the best rate possible, but any falsehoods in your application, even accidental ones, will probably just lead to you paying more for car insurance down the line. And intentionally misrepresenting anything in the application would be insurance fraud, which can be very serious.
We chatted with Policygenius expert Fabio Faschi, our property and casualty team lead and an insurance agent with years of industry experience, about some of the most common things buyers exaggerate, omit or just lie about when applying for insurance — and why they can come back to bite you.
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According to Faschi, this one comes up a lot. When you apply for car insurance, you have to tell providers where your car is garaged, meaning where it’s actually kept. Often, this is the same as your home address, but some drivers keep their car somewhere else. That’s totally fine — the issue is when you list an address for your car that isn’t actually where it lives, in hopes of getting a lower premium.
A driver might say, for example, that their car is garaged at their residence in Pennsylvania, Faschi said, when it’s actually garaged in New York, where they spend most of their time. “It’s hard for insurance companies to find out right away” if you obscure the truth like this, Faschi said, “but a lot of them do eventually find out,” especially if you have an accident and need to file a claim.
The insurance company will ask where you were driving, and if you were driving to or from work, or to pick up a child from school, they’ll figure out pretty quickly that your car is actually garaged in the city. And once your insurance provider figures out the garaged address is different from where you originally said it was, your premiums might increase.
“What will typically happen is they’ll adjust your coverage,” Faschi said. That means you’ll pay your increased premiums going forward and likely pay retroactively for all the past payments you made at what’s now the wrong rate.
“Typically, most carriers, when they write your auto insurance policy, they need to know all the drivers in the household, regardless of whether or not they’ll be driving the car,” Faschi said. They can be listed as an excluded driver, meaning they won’t be driving it, or as a driver insured elsewhere, meaning they have their own insurance, but if they live with you and have access to the car they need to be listed on the policy.
Faschi said that many applicants just don’t know that every driver in the household should be listed on a policy, so accidentally leaving people off is a common mistake. But if you fail to list a spouse or child, or even a roommate, and then they get in an accident while driving your car, they won’t be covered by insurance and will be liable for any damage they cause.
“Accident history is the obvious one,” Faschi said. “But really, you're only hurting yourself, because that is something insurance companies don’t really take at face value.” Meaning car insurance companies will look up your accident history no matter what. If you say your record is spotless, you may be quoted a low rate.
But if you decide to purchase that policy, the provider will look up your accident history and find any accidents or violations — and you’ll wind up with a higher premium than what you were quoted initially. Or, if your accident history is really bad, you might find out you’re not eligible at all.
If you’re upfront and honest about your accident history, and you work with a broker like Policygenius, which shows you final rates instead of teaser rates, then you’ll get quotes that represent what you’ll actually be paying each month. That will help you choose the policy that’s best for your needs (and your wallet).
There are some common discounts that most major car insurance companies offer, but they’ll require you to show proof that you qualify. “One of the common discounts that a lot of carriers offer is a defensive driving course discount,” Faschi said. “But every carrier I know of requires proof, they need a certificate saying the you've taken the defensive driving course in the last three years.”
So, for example, if you fudge things and say you’ve taken the course but never provide the certificate as proof, or if you were misremembering when you took the course, your provider will catch on and essentially take back the discount, leaving you with higher premiums.
Parents of college-aged drivers can also usually get a discount if their child is away at school and isn’t using the family car, Faschi said. But if you lie for an “away at school” discount, and the insurance company realizes that your college kid is actually driving that car at school, or they’re using it all the time at home, you’ll wind up with increased rates, and you could have to pay retroactively too.
“Some people don’t like to tell us what they’re paying currently, or what their renewal policy looks like,” Faschi said. If your current provider is raising your rates, it might be tempting to tell your broker your old rates, not your new, higher ones. But that probably isn't in your best interests.
“For us, it makes it more difficult to advise and shop around if we don’t know the actual situation as to why you're reshopping,” Faschi said. Being honest about what you’re currently paying for car insurance will help you get a better range of rates, and will help a broker understand your needs and why you’re looking for new car insurance.
At the end of the day, Faschi said, it’s in your best interests to be as honest and upfront as possible when applying for car insurance. That way you’ll be able to accurately compare rates for you, not rates for some abstract ideal driver, and that will ensure you’re getting the best coverage for you.
Anna Swartz is a Managing Editor at Policygenius in New York City, and an expert in auto insurance. Previously, she was a senior staff writer at Mic, writing about news and culture. Her work has appeared in The Dodo, AOL, HuffPost, Salon and Heeb.
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