umbrellaWhether it's for your boat, car, home or life, insurance is a necessary evil. But since its main job is to protect you in the event of a crisis, your insurance policies are probably facets of your budget you don't pay a lot of attention to or consider when you're trying to trim some financial fat.

Make this the year you save money on your insurance. These easy-to-implement tips will help you slash your premiums in 2010.



The basics
Before deploying any unusual tactics, experts suggest starting at the beginning with some time-honored "tricks" any savvy shopper should keep in their money-saving arsenal. When it's time to shop for, or renew, a policy, Frank N. Darras, one of Americas' top insurance lawyers, says these will help you hang on to your hard-earned bucks.

  • Determine the limits you want on your policy, then get multiple quotes. To ensure you're comparing apples to apples, ask the agents to give you quotes based on the same or similar deductibles, coverages, etc.
  • Consider purchasing your homeowner, auto and umbrella insurance with the same company, so a multi-coverage discount will apply.
  • Tell your agent about smoke and anti-theft alarms, sprinkler systems and other safety features of your home or auto. These could translate into bigger discounts.
  • Ask for a quote that would pay to replace your belongings or vehicle, rather than pay you based on their depreciated value.
  • Ask your agent what documentation you need to substantiate a claim, in case of damage, theft or fire.
Audit annually
While you don't want to go through an IRS audit once a year -- or once in your lifetime -- Byron Udell, chartered life underwriter, certified financial planner and founder of AccuQuote.com, says you should audit your insurance needs annually. "As your needs change, so should your life insurance." For instance, if you had a new baby, bought a house or even if you're getting ready for retirement this year, you should talk to your agent to get an insurance-needs analysis.

Cue into qualifiers
If you live in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Maine or Vermont, you live in a "Guaranteed Issue" state, which means you can't be denied medical coverage for pre-existing health conditions. If you don't live in a Guaranteed Issue state, Sam Gibbs, senior vice president of consumer affairs at eHealthInsurance.com, says you need to be aware of how any pre-existing health conditions could affect your ability to qualify for coverage.

Read the fine print
Experts agree consumers should do their homework. "Be clear on what you need and make sure the plan you're purchasing (or purchased) will cover it," says Gibbs. Assuming that everything is covered could wind up costing you big bucks in the long run.

Avoid gaps in coverage
Gibbs also suggests making sure you're always covered. "If you have a gap in coverage, you may not be able to qualify for coverage when re-applying for insurance." That can lead to higher payments when you sign with a new-to-you insurer.

Know your policy
"Always read the policy when you receive it and ask your agent to slowly and carefully explain any provisions you don't understand," says Darras. Not understanding the fine print can result in you shelling out more than you need to.

Assess your agent
Be sure to work with agents who have experience and an expanded knowledge base. W.D. (Bill) Mills III, vice president of SIA Group, a full-service insurance agency throughout North Carolina, says that might mean looking beyond the big names. "Shop with an independent agent. Independent agents work with many carriers and can shop for three or four prices quickly and easily compared to an agent locked in with one carrier."

When interviewing a potential agent, ask how often they go to classes to keep up with the changing market and how often they obtain new certifications, which shows they're interested in learning more to help their clients. It's also smart to ask how many companies they will shop with to get you the best options.

Pay up
Many carriers offer discounts of up to $72 a year if you pay your entire premium up front. Some will even slash prices if you go "green" and get your statements online instead of via snail mail.

Beware
Cheap isn't always cost-effective. Kevin Bock, president of Integrity Estate Advisors & The Financial Wellness Centers, says companies that offer minimum coverage on TV can have maximum premiums. "They just seem lower because of the lower protection they offer. Plus, the minimum coverage could open you up to maximum liability if you're in an accident."


Gina Roberts-Grey is a freelance journalist specializing in health, celebrity and consumer issues.

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