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Gerri Willis Commentary:
Top Tips by Gerri Willis Column archive
Cut your car insurance costs
5 Tips: Paying for gas is bad enough -- here's how to keep your car insurance down as well.
By Gerri Willis, CNNMoney.com contributing columnist

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - Owning a car these days is becoming more expensive. Driving a car costs about $7,834 a year according to the Automobile Association of America.

We're not just talking about higher gas prices. Insurance alone costs drivers an average of $939 a year. In today's Five Tips we're going to tell you what you can do to cut these costs.

1. Get credit for driving less

High gas prices are encouraging more people to cut down on their driving. If you're one of those people, make sure your auto insurance company knows it. Bob Hunter of the Consumer Federation of America says you could save 10 to 15 percent if you stop driving to work, or join a carpool.

Find out from your insurer what the low mileage discount is. Generally if you drive less than 7,500 miles a year you'll qualify for a 5 percent discount. Driving less than 5,000 miles a year will give you 10 percent off your insurance.

2. Check your credit report

Your credit history may be influencing your auto insurance premiums. More than 90 percent of auto insurance companies use your credit information to determine how likely you are to file a claim on an insurance policy. If you don't pay your bills on time, you're going to pay higher premiums.

But make sure you're on the lookout. A 2004 survey found that 79 percent of credit histories contained some type of error. Your best bet is to get your free credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228. Then report any errors to the Federal Trade Commission. There is an online form letter at www.ftc.gov where you can dispute information on your credit report.

3. Get a professional discount

In some states large insurers like Allstate give discounts for people in certain low-risk professions. So if you're a mail carrier, a biologist, a vet, a speech therapist or an economist in Alabama, South Carolina or Idaho, you'll be able to get 10 percent off your insurance, according to Allstate. But if you're locksmith, an artist, a clergy member, an accountant or a teacher, you'll qualify for a 5 percent discount.

Why the discrepancy? Mike Siemienas of Allstate says some professions just have fewer losses. Horace Mann Insurance (which sells auto insurance in every state except Hawaii, New Jersey and New York) offers discounts to teachers who belong to state education associations or the National Education Association (NEA). Horace Mann's discounts start at 8 percent. For more information, go to www.horacemann.com.

4. Join the club

You may get discounts, not only on what you do, but how you spend your time. Some insurance companies offer discounts to young people who volunteer or join civic or community organizations, like the Eagle Scouts, says David Champion of Consumer Reports.

Other organizations, like the Automobile Association of America, will lower your rates. You should also check with your employer to see if there are any group insurance rates. If you're thinking about switching your insurance company, make sure you ask about these kinds of discounts.

5. Drop coverage on your old jalopy

If you have an old car, you may want to consider dropping collision and comprehensive coverage. That's because you'll probably pay as much in premiums over a few years as you'd pay to replace or repair the car. To gauge its current market value, look up used-car prices for your model at Kelley Blue Book at www.kbb.com. A good rule of thumb: if it's less than $2,000, forget the coverage.

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Gerri Willis is a personal finance editor for CNN Business News and the host for Open House. Send your questions, your comments and your own ideas to us at 5tips@cnn.comTop of page

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