Paying for your policy

Looking around the US economy right now, all you see is the wreckage of dreams. Homes have been foreclosed, bankruptcy looms on private debts and the retirement 401ks have taken a serious hit. Life as we knew it has been turned upside down without anything in place to catch us as we fell. So how did we get into this mess? The economists tell us we have been living beyond our means. Credit was cheap and, with banks and credit card companies raising their borrowing limits, there seemed to be nothing we could not afford. There was no need for savings. Everything could be charged. If the limit was reached, the housing equity could be released as cash. Over a period of about twenty years, we switched from a country that saves to a country that spends on credit. In the period just after World War II, we had "prudence". People mostly paid cash for what they wanted and, if they did not have enough, they saved. It was a revolution when, suddenly, everything could be paid for in affordable monthly instalments. In one sense, this is the easiest way to get into serious debt without noticing. When you only pay a few hundred dollars every month, it hardly registers the total debt is tens of thousands.

Insurance companies were the last of the hold-outs. For years, they insisted everyone should pay them a lump sum once a year. Then, slowly, there was a cave. First it slipped to every six months, then quarterly. Now almost every company across the nation accepts monthly. What's the problem for the insurance companies? Well, they estimate the likely total cost of the claims they will have to pay over the next twelve months and divide that amount between all the policy holders as the premium. If the company has done its sums properly and everyone pays once a year, the company always has the cash in the bank to pay out on all the claims. If people pay monthly, they can easily change to another insurer. They can miss one month's payment when the family budget is under pressure. That means the insurer may not have enough money to pay the claims. So, to encourage all you people with some savings (or some slack on your credit cards), they offer discounts if you agree to pay every six or twelve months. It gives them more security and saves you some money. Paying monthly costs you the most.

That said, paying monthly gives you flexibility. You can use the online search engines to find auto insurance quotes at the lowest price. Then for just one month's premium, you can be driving. In effect, this becomes a monthly policy. You can keep shopping around for new premium offers from different insurers. If you find a better monthly rate, you can transfer at the end of the month. But if you pay once or twice a year, the insurer will hit you with high cancellation charges to lock you in. Whatever you might save disappears. Worse, if you change the make and model of your vehicle during the longer policy term, it can be too expensive to move the policy to a cheaper company. You end up paying the higher premium until the six or twelve months end. So make a wise decision. Auto insurance is never cheap. Avoid making it too expensive.

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