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Apr 25, 2021 09:56 AM EDT

College Auto Insurance 101

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College Auto Insurance 101

What do you sacrifice when you go to college? Students will be only too quick to tell you: Sleep. Free time. Discretionary income.

But if your college career includes having a vehicle, one thing you can't sacrifice is vehicle insurance. Auto insurance is required in all but two states, and those two - Virginia and New Hampshire - require financial responsibility to drive a vehicle.

There's so much to take care of when you go to college, but at least when it comes to insuring your ride, we'll make it easy.

We'll compare auto insurance for a student living away from home, auto insurance if you're staying at home while attending college, and auto insurance if you want your own policy while attending college. And we'll share information on discounts to help with those high premiums that insurance companies place on college-aged drivers.

Auto Insurance Options for the College Years

Parents and students will find that staying the course with auto insurance is the most convenient, affordable, and safest way to go.

Coverage for Students Living Away from Home

If you're planning to live on campus and you're taking a vehicle, you can usually remain covered on your parents' auto insurance policy if your primary address is the parents' house, even if the college is out of state.

But if you're attending college out of state, you need to make sure the policy meets the minimum auto insurance requirements for that state. While most states require bodily injury liability insurance and property damage liability insurance, those minimums vary.

And roughly half of the states require uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance. Some states even require personal injury protection insurance.

The benefits of keeping a student on an auto insurance policy are insurance protection when the student is driving a friend's vehicle while away and that vehicle isn't adequately insured. The student will also be protected if they're hit by a vehicle while walking or bicycling, or while being a passenger in somebody else's vehicle.

And keeping a college student on an auto policy maintains continuous insurance coverage, which can be beneficial when it's a good time for them to apply for their own auto insurance.

Another big benefit of being on your parents' or guardian's auto insurance is they can utilize multi-vehicle discounts and lower premiums, so the cost to keep you on their insurance or to add you to their insurance will be lower than what you would pay for your own policy - even if coverage needs to be modified for minimum insurance requirements of another state.

The insurance company also needs to be notified about the new garage address. This could actually lower the premium if the vehicle is parked at a college that is in a less populated area than your home address.

Coverage for Students Living at Home

This option is simple: As long as you live at the same address as your parents and you don't own the vehicle, you can stay on their auto insurance plan, just like in high school. And there is no age cutoff.

Coverage for Students on Their Own

Unless you're over age 25 and have a perfect driving record, it will be more affordable for you to just stay on your parents' policy. 

But if you own your own vehicle and hold the title, you need to have your own auto insurance policy.

Unfortunately, if you're the typical age of a college student, auto insurance companies see you as high risk. Why? To them, anyone with less than five years of driving experience is high risk. And young drivers are statistically more likely to engage in dangerous behavior behind the wheel.

That includes distracted driving, and this doesn't just mean texting while driving. Distracted driving also includes talking to others in the vehicle, looking for an object in the vehicle, reading directions or putting on makeup while driving, and eating and drinking while driving.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 11 percent of drivers under the age of 20 who were involved in a fatal auto accident were engaged in distracted behavior during the crash.

All of this is why young drivers can pay up to double or more for auto insurance than average rates.

The minimum age to get auto insurance is 18, so you can do it, but it will be costly. The best way to find the lowest rate is to treat acquiring auto insurance like a research project: Investigate and compare at least three companies. Rates can vary wildly among insurance companies, from $3,100 to $10,400 annually, with the average being $7,100.

Geico is well-known for having the most affordable rates for college students, followed by USAA for those in ROTC. Additionally, Allstate is recommended for its online and mobile tools, State Farm for its discounts, and Amica for its coverages, but these three are all more expensive.

You'll be happy to know that the cost, while still high, does go down every year. For example, that $7,100 at age 18 becomes $6,000 at age 19, and so on. You have a little more experience under your belt, so insurance companies figure you're a bit lower of a risk to them. 

Also read on about other ways you can decrease what you pay.

If you can handle the cost, getting auto insurance on your own means you're the decision maker on your policy, and you'll get real-world experience in learning to work with insurance providers, creating a budget, and managing your bills.

Coverage for Students During the Pandemic

College Auto Insurance 101

The above scenarios are for typical situations; of course, 2020 has been anything but typical. There have been all manners of scheduling, including the switch to online learning, attempts at holding classes, and hybrid versions.

You can't even use your vehicle to tailgate: Most colleges have outright banned college football tailgating or are discouraging it.

And the situation continues to evolve with no set deadline. It's an ongoing challenge to manage student life during today's new normal.

So how do you deal with auto insurance? Your best bet is for you, or your parents if they're the policy holders, to contact your insurance company for any change in your status and ask about options.

The most likely change is that you're driving less, whether you're living on campus or commuting. And this means the possibility of a low-mileage discount, especially if you're driving under 7,500 miles per year.

You can save on your insurance premium anywhere from 5 percent on the lower end to up to 40 percent on the higher end. Every little bit counts, so take the time to look into this possibility.  

Auto Insurance Discounts for College Students 

Outside of the coronavirus situation, auto insurance companies already had in place a few discounts for college students.

Insurance Discounts for Good Grades

College Auto Insurance 101

You have one more reason to get good grades in college: The Good Student Discount on auto insurance.

If you're going to school full time, you're under age 25, and you have at least a B (3.0) average, you could be eligible for a discount of 10 to 15 percent. If your grades are even better and you're on the Honors List or the Dean's List, the savings could be 20-35 percent.

Every major auto insurance company offers this good student discount. The amount of discount and the eligibility varies among insurance carriers and states, but since you could save hundreds of dollars a year on your insurance rate, ask about the details. 

And note: To receive it, you will need to verify your grades and continue to do that each time the insurance policy is renewed.

Insurance Discounts Based on College Distance

There's a discount not directly related to taking a vehicle with you to college, but it's still good to know: The Distant Student Discount.

If your school is at least 100 miles away from home, you're going to school full-time, you're under age 24, and you don't have access to the vehicle on your parents' insurance policy while you're at school - only on vacation, breaks, and the summer - your parents could save up to 35 percent on their insurance premium.

Some insurance companies even offer a "deferred driver" policy modification, allowing a student to be taken off of the policy while away at school, which can save even more money. Just remember to be added back onto the policy when you're home so you're properly covered.

Requirements on this discount, including the distance, can also differ by carrier, so this is another situation to pursue with your family's insurance company.

Tips to Lower College Student Auto Insurance

You can also do yourself - or your parents - a favor by having auto insurance companies look favorably upon you by acing these factors that go into determining your rate:

  • If your short driving record has few or no accidents and no traffic violations, you'll likely get a break on your premium.
  • Drive a less expensive vehicle, which has less of a risk of being stolen, broken into, or having a hefty price tag for repairs, compared to luxury and sports vehicles.
  • Driving a vehicle with safety features will help get you a lower rate since it reduces the chances of an accident and keeps damages to a minimum.
  • If you live within walking distance of your campus and you're only using your vehicle on weekends or for errands, ask the insurance company about a low-mileage discount. You could save 5 to 10 percent for driving less.
  • Beyond the low-mileage discount, ask if your insurance company offers usage-based insurance (UBI): You can use a mobile app or plug-in device to measure your mileage and your driving behavior, and your rate is based on those measurements. You can save from 5 to 40 percent on your rate if you're an infrequent and safe driver.

We hope this overview has helped you navigate auto insurance while you're in college, so you have one less worry during this extra-stressful time.

College Auto Insurance 101

Karen Condor is an insurance expert who writes and researches for the auto insurance comparison site, AutoInsurance.org.

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