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Spotty Driving Record? How to Get the Best Auto Insurance Rates Possible

June 18, 2015
Auto Insurance, Insurance
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Getting a traffic ticket isn’t the end of the world. Most of us have received one. But if you’ve received a few tickets in a short amount of time, you might have a hard time getting the best auto insurance rates.

Take heart, though: High premiums because of driving mistakes aren’t a life sentence, and you can take steps in the meantime to minimize your car insurance rate increases after a ticket.

How much it will hurt

Don’t freak out if you’ve gotten your first ticket. Not every offense will boost your premiums.

Your Department of Motor Vehicles will assign penalty “points” to your license if you’re guilty of certain moving violations — but not all violations. For example, parking tickets usually don’t add points to your driving record and may not affect your insurance rates, depending on your state and insurance company.

The number of points you’ll receive for a particular ticket also varies by state, but generally, the more serious the violation, the more points it carries. In Virginia, for instance, improper passing is a three-point violation, and passing when it’s unsafe to do so puts four points on your record.

Typically, the more points you have on your record, the higher your car insurance premium. Your insurer will adjust your rates at renewal time, so you won’t see a spike as soon as you get a ticket.

One ticket for a relatively minor infraction — driving 10 mph over the speed limit, for instance — might not affect your premiums at all. Many drivers only see an increase after two tickets, Progressive Insurance says on its website.

The impact of a ticket on rates depends on your insurer, so the extent of your financial pain is hard to predict.

“A longtime driver with a good driving history may see no increase or a slight hike in premium after a speeding ticket, while younger drivers or those with a history of moving violations may experience a heftier increase,” according to Esurance’s website. “It really depends on your specific circumstances and your insurer’s specific pricing factors.”

It also depends on whether you were getting a good driver discount before you ran into trouble. If so, you could face a double whammy — a surcharge on your rates for the ticket (that’s insurer lingo for premium increase) and the loss of your discount.

After a ticket

Go to traffic school if you can. In some instances, an infraction won’t go on your record if you attend a state-approved driving safety course. You’ll still have to pay your ticket, as well as a fee for the course, but the time and expense are usually worth it to keep your insurance rates down. Plus you can learn how to avoid future tickets.

Understand that each insurance company has its own approach to setting premiums. That’s why it’s so important to get car insurance quotes from several carriers, whether your driving record is clean or spotty.

How long will your insurance company count a ticket against you?

That depends on how long your state leaves points on your record — usually between 12 and 36 months, says Esurance. But even after your points are removed, your offense can show up on your DMV record and tip off insurers.

Tips to keep car insurance premiums low

While you’re waiting for your points to drop off your record, follow these steps to get the best auto insurance rates possible:

  • Drive safely, so that you don’t rack up more moving violations.
  • Compare car insurance quotes at least once a year to make sure that you’re getting the best deal.
  • Use credit responsibly. Most states let insurance companies consider customers’ credit when setting premiums. A good credit standing will help you get better rates. Pay your loan and credit card bills on time, and keep your credit card balances low.
  • Raise the deductible on your collision and comprehensive insurance in order to lower your premium. But make sure you have enough set aside in an emergency fund to pay it, if necessary.
  • Study hard if you’re still in school. Most insurance companies give good student discounts to high school and college students who earn at least a B average.

NerdWallet’s car insurance comparison tool can help you find the best rates no matter what your driving record looks like.

Barbara Marquand is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: [email protected]. Twitter: @barbaramarquand.

Image via iStock.