Why get insurance? I mean, other than the fact that you can’t drive legally in New York without it. For starters, an accident may make you liable for the damage to others’ cars, or worse, their health. And the possibility of a lawsuit, or incurred repair or medical expenses, could scar you for more than that second it took you to crash into each other. Without insurance, anything you own, including your home, savings and even future wages and assets may be forcibly taken to pay for the losses. The gecko in the Geico advertisement is not so annoying now, is he?

Now that you have decided to get insurance, the first step is to familiarize yourself with the law.

New York requires a minimum level of auto insurance protection in each of three categories. The first type is the ‘no-fault’ personal injury protection. In 1973, New York passed legislation requiring all New York State drivers to be covered for up to $50,000 in medical expenses in the event of an auto accident, regardless of who was at fault. Because of this ‘no-fault’ law, lawsuits can only be brought in instances where economic losses exceed the maximum $50,000 coverage and for non-economic damage, such as pain and suffering, when ‘serious injury’ is sustained. No-fault coverage protects you when driving anywhere in the U.S. and Canada. It also covers passengers who are New York state residents.

The second type, minimum liability coverage, protects you (and anyone driving your car with your permission) in the event that your car injures or kills another person or damages another person’s property, and a claim is made against you for being negligent or otherwise at fault. In addition, liability insurance covers the cost of legal defense if such a claim is made against you. If you, a member of your family, or an occupant of your car is injured in a hit-and-run accident or by an uninsured motorist, you can get compensation under New York law. You will be eligible for a minimum of $10,000. There is also an optional coverage, the underinsured motorist insurance, which will pay for your ‘pain and suffering’ claims after the other driver’s coverage has been exhausted.

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Of course, as a college student, I empathize with the size of your wallet. If you are in that position, go for the minimum insurance. Just make sure you take every precaution to safeguard your locks (even if it means investing $10 for the wheel lock) and don’t over blow your engine by street racing (as much fun as it is) with your car. The important thing is your safety, and you can’t bargain with it. So, going for the most comprehensive (regrettably, most expensive) plan might be in your best interest.

The next step ‘- where to get your insurance. Any ‘experienced driver’ out there will tell you that you will spend around $300 for claim-free adult drivers, over $650 if you have made a claim, more than $1300 for a family with a young driver (unfortunately, the category I fall into) and up to more than $1700 for a young driver alone (often the case with most independent college students).

The good news is that once you find the lowest insurance quote, you can save even further. You can also get up to 70% discount if you sign up for a no-claim bonus (NCB). Just beware that you will need up to six claim-free years to be entitled to the maximum NCB. You can also nominate drivers and/or restrict the use of your car to drivers over a certain age, preferably over 25. So, do involve your parents. If your car has an immobilizer or if you have another policy with the same company (such as homeowners) then you can get more discounts.

Another significant way to reduce your auto insurance cost is to buy policies with higher deductibles. A deductible means that you agree to pay for a designated portion of the cost of repair to your auto. For example, if you incur $5,000 in damages on your car and you have a physical damage policy with a $250 deductible, you receive from your insurance company payment for everything after the first $250 – in this case, $4,750.

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Often, companies will offer discounts for low-mileage, good credit report, senior citizen and car pool discounts. New York requires reductions in auto insurance costs for drivers who have successfully completed driver education courses. Insurance companies are required to provide discounts to drivers who have participated in driver education courses, or have anti-lock brakes, automatic seat belts, airbags and other safety devices installed in their automobiles. Also, grades matter. Being on the Dean’s List actually gets you a discount from major insurance vendors, such as Geico.

Finally, your safety is not guaranteed even after you have gotten the perfect insurance. Claim outcomes are sometimes unsatisfactory. That doesn’t mean you can’t fight it. First complain to the company. The issue will usually be resolved at that step. If not, you have the option to contact the General Insurance Enquiries and Complaints Scheme (IEC).

I wish you a safe and inexpensive drive.

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