How long does auto insurance last?

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Jessica Sautter is a Content Writer for CarInsuranceCompanies.com with a Bachelor’s Degree from Eastern Michigan University in Elementary Education with a Major in Reading and a Minor in...

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Chris Harrigan has an economy degree from Limestone College and an MBA from Clemson University. He previously managed auto insurance claims for Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Currently, he is using his business and insurance expertise...

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Reviewed byChris Harrigan
Former Insurance Claims Managerhttps://res.cloudinary.com/quotellc/image/upload/insurance-site-images/cicompaniescom-live/1f43458a-chris-harrigan23.jpg

UPDATED: Oct 19, 2017

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Key takeaways...
  • Most auto insurance policies cover you for either a six-month or 12-month term
  • Your rate is locked for the entirety of the term, even if you have an accident or moving violation
  • Toward the end of your policy’s term, the insurance company reassesses you as a driver and may raise or lower your premium for the subsequent term
  • Certain insurance companies offer short-term policies, such as one month, that cover you in special situations
  • If your driving record worsens during your policy’s term and the company decides not to renew your policy, the company will let you know before your current term ends

You have a lot to consider when you shop around for an auto insurance policy. If you’re like most drivers, the price is your top consideration when comparing one policy to another.

Since auto insurance is a purchase that doesn’t offer immediate tangible benefits, it can be hard to stomach shelling out more money each month than necessary.

The amount of coverage you’re receiving, whether your policy is comprehensive or protects against liability only, and the presence of additional perks such as uninsured motorist coverage give you additional things to consider.

One factor that often gets overlooked in the shopping process is the policy’s term length.

The most common term lengths you’ll find on the market are six months and 12 months. Both offer benefits and drawbacks, and which is a better fit depends on you and your personal situation.

Keep reading to discover how auto insurance terms work and what you need to know about them when deciding on a policy.

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What is an auto insurance term?

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The term of an auto insurance policy represents how long it lasts in its current form. Suppose your policy calls for $50,000 of liability coverage at a premium of $75 per month, and the term length is 12 months.

As long as you pay your premiums on time each month (or each quarter or annum, depending on your policy’s provisions), neither the price nor the coverage level can change during the 12 months of the policy’s term.

Your policy’s term matters because your rate and coverage level are locked in for the duration of the term.

Returning to the policy example above, you could have an accident or moving violation the week after your policy goes into effect, but as long as you pay the premiums on time, the insurance company cannot raise your rates for 12 months.

Toward the end of your term, the company underwrites your policy again before providing a rate quote for a subsequent term.

Let’s say you’re involved in one at-fault accident and also receive a speeding violation during your 12-month term.

The insurance company might agree to keep you as a customer for a subsequent 12-month term but raise your monthly premium to $125.

The shorter your policy’s term, the more often it gets underwritten, and the less time you have with a guaranteed rate and coverage level.

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Six-Month Term Advantages

Six months represents the most common policy term for auto insurance. Insurance companies often prefer six-month terms over 12-month terms because they can reassess you twice as often and make adjustments to your premiums based on what they find.

If you have an accident or moving violation, or if your credit score declines, the insurance company only has to wait six months instead of 12 to start charging you a higher rate.

But it isn’t only the insurance company that can benefit from a six-month auto insurance term. Here are a few potential advantages of a six-month policy for you, the driver:

  • If your insurance company requires a lump-sum payment and doesn’t let you pay monthly, the cash outlay is less for a six-month policy.
  • If your driving record or credit score improves, a six-month policy lets you petition for a lower rate sooner.
  • With a six-month policy, you aren’t locked in with one company for as long and can shop around for a better deal more often.

Six-Month Term Disadvantages

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Opting for a six-month term isn’t always in your best interest. Here are a few drawbacks presented by a six-month auto insurance term:

  • Your premiums rise faster if you have an at-fault accident or moving violation.
  • Insurance companies are more likely to require you to pay for the policy in full up front rather than monthly.
  • You are guaranteed coverage for a shorter period, and the insurance company can elect to decline you for a subsequent term once your policy ends.

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12-Month Term Advantages and Disadvantages

The advantages of a 12-month auto insurance term relate to having a longer guarantee and more security that your premiums won’t change.

Also, if you have a moving violation or accident at some point during your policy and thus know your premiums are likely to rise, you have more time to prepare and save for the increased cost.

The main disadvantage to this policy is if your personal factors improve, you won’t see a lower price from your insurer until your term is up.

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Short-Term Auto Insurance Policies

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Let’s say you live in a place such as Manhattan or San Francisco where a car isn’t required but you’re planning a month-long business trip to car-centric Los Angeles.

You’ll be driving while you’re there, but it doesn’t make sense to pay for a six-month or 12-month policy when you only need auto insurance for a month.

Fortunately, many carriers offer short-term or temporary auto insurance policies for situations such as these. These policies offer coverage for a shorter period than a standard auto insurance term.

You can find short-term policies that cover everything from liability to collision to uninsured motorist protection.

The premiums and coverage amount depend on factors such as your driving record and location.

Nonrenewal of Auto Insurance Policy

Unfortunately, a rate increase isn’t the worst thing that can happen if your driving record worsens during your auto insurance policy term.

As mentioned, toward the end of your term, the insurance company reassesses your driving record. If your record hasn’t changed, then the policy you’ll be offered for the subsequent term is probably similar to your current policy as far as rate and coverage are concerned.

But if you’ve had accidents or tickets, or, in some cases, if your credit score has declined, the insurance company may place you in a higher risk class.

Because of the elevated risk, the insurance company may elect to increase your premiums, or it might decide against renewing your policy at all.

If the insurance company declines to renew your policy, it must send you something called a nonrenewal notice before your current policy’s term ends. The number of days of notice the company is required to give you varies based on your state, but in most states, it is 30 days.

Upon receipt of a nonrenewal notice, you know that your current company no longer wishes to have you as a customer, and you can get to work on finding a suitable replacement policy.

Don’t forget about term length when you’re comparing different auto insurance policies side by side.

Just like price and coverage level, how long your policy remains in force is an important factor to consider when making your decision. Whether a six-month, 12-month or short-term policy fits your needs best, it is crucial to understand how these terms differ.

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