South Carolina’s tort regulation and vast rural landscapes give it a wonderfully low average auto insurance premium of $110 a month, which is $20 less than the rest of the nation. And while that’s great news, the even better news is there’s still a chance residents can shave a few more dollars of their monthly bill. All it takes is a little patience and some shopping around. This list of the best four car insurance companies is ordered according to sample quotes for minimum coverage, with the cheapest, State Farm, at No. 1. But it might not be the cheapest for you. Rates are as unique as fingerprints, and there’s no one insurer that is best for everyone.
Compare Affordable Car Insurance Rates
Auto insurance companies look at a ton of factors when determining how much to charge you, including your age, credit score, driving history, vehicle and employment status. That said, your best chance at finding the cheapest premium is to get quotes from as many companies as you can. It’s a smart idea to get at least four.
This process doesn’t take too long, especially if you have your information handy. Online quotes usually take only about five or 10 minutes, and if you do need to make a call, expect to add another 15 or 20 minutes. But no matter how long it takes, just remember the name of the game is savings. And the more time you put in, the bigger those savings might be.
Our Top 4 Picks for the Best Cheap Car Insurance in South Carolina
Each of these four auto insurers was ranked by J.D. Power as having an above average or better score for customer service in the Southeast and passed financial stability testing by A.M. Best.
J.D. Power is a global leader in customer satisfaction studies. It is also important to know that your insurer is strong financially. A.M. Best evaluates each company’s solvency to make sure it can withstand the full brunt of paying insurance claims. When your auto insurer rates well for both criteria, you can be relieved.
The sample quotes had a whopping $830 gap between the highest and the lowest, which is quite a bit of pocket money. State Farm came in cheapest at $954; the next lowest, Progressive, landed at $1,084. That’s already over $250 in savings between the two cheapest providers. Next, Nationwide quoted $1,620, and Geico came in at with $1,784 per year.
South Carolina’s Minimum Coverage Requirements for 2020
Minimum coverage in South Carolina starts with liability and uninsured motorist coverage. Liability covers the damages you may cause if you’re at fault in a wreck. You must maintain $25,000 of bodily injury coverage per person, $50,000 for bodily injury per accident, and $25,000 for property damage (25/50/25). Uninsured motorist coverage will protect you in case you find yourself in an accident caused by an uninsured driver. Minimum uninsured motorist coverage must be $25,000 for bodily injury per person, $50,000 bodily injury per accident, and $25,000 for property damage (25/50/25).
Why are South Carolina’s rates the way they are?
Much like its neighbor to the north, South Carolina benefits from lower than average rates for a number of similar reasons. First, 92 percent of the state is rural, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Rural areas are considered less dangerous for automobile accidents and thefts, therefore they generally have lower premiums.
South Carolina drivers also benefit from being in a tort system state rather than no-fault. Simply put, no-fault states say that each person is responsible for paying his or her own damages and medical bills, regardless of who’s at fault in the accident. Drivers in these states also have to carry personal injury protection insurance, which adds to the premium burden.
But what about registered, uninsured drivers? That’s right, you could have an accident with a registered, uninsured driver. And, sorry to say, your uninsured motorist coverage won’t cover you at all.
In South Carolina you can legally apply to drive the roads as a registered uninsured motorist, but you must pay a yearly fee of $550 to the state and meet four strict qualifications:
- You must hold a valid driver’s license for three years or more.
- Every driver in your household must hold a valid license for three years or more.
- You must not be required to fill out SR-22 certifications or insurance (meaning your driver’s license has not been suspended for violations).
- You must not have been convicted of certain traffic violations.
In the event of a motor vehicle accident the registered, uninsured driver is required to pay any for damage caused by him or her out of pocket. If you, as an insured driver, sustain injuries from an accident of this nature, your uninsured motorist coverage will not kick in.
This is where the tort system, as opposed to the no-fault system, comes into play. Tort is the legal term for civil court cases that include a plaintiff charging the defendant with financial responsibility for damages. Should you be involved in an accident with a registered, uninsured motorist who cannot meet the legal requirement of paying out of pocket for said damages, you’ll be left with no other choice but to employ the tort system in civil court. If the defendant is found guilty of owing you more than he can pay, bankruptcy may be his only recourse, and you may still never receive all that you are owed.
Is it really worth it to buy more than the minimum coverage?
When thinking about buying minimum coverage, it is important to consider the costs that may come with it. Picture this:
- Statistically speaking, the average driver will have an accident every 17.9 years.
- The average cost of a disabling, nonfatal accident is about $93,800, according to the National Safety Council.
By maintaining only minimum coverage in a tort state like South Carolina, you could be found responsible for damages well exceeding your minimums. If the courts said you were liable for the full $80,000 in our hypothetical accident, where would the extra $55,000 come from? Out of your pocket.
If you chose to upgrade your coverage to the most popular package (usually 50/100/50), you could end up saving yourself from full-fledged bankruptcy. Protection of this caliber might still leave a gap between your coverage and damages in the worst-case scenario, but it is certainly a major improvement from the minimum.
You might think an upgrade like this would cost an astronomical amount more than minimum coverage, but that’s not true. In many cases, you can purchase higher protection from your insurance company for a relatively small sum per year, as little as $60 dollars annually. If you measure that out to the average number of years before you get in a wreck, that’s just over $1,000. Over 18 years, that’s nothing compared with the huge bills that could land on your head if you carry only minimum coverage.
What happens if I’m caught without insurance?
Let’s say you’re in the mood to push your luck. You want to test the waters of driving uninsured in a tort system state. Let’s also assume you do not want to become a registered, uninsured driver of South Carolina. Here are your consequences:
- Suspension of your driver’s license and registration until you pay a reinstatement fee.
- $550 reinstatement fee.
- Filing an SR-22 every year for three years after the violation.
None of these things will endear you to the insurance companies, and your rates will surely suffer.
If you have decided to drive uninsured due to denials for coverage by auto insurers in South Carolina, you still have a final recourse. The Associated Auto Insurers Plan of South Carolina is a non-profit management company for certified South Carolina insurers. If you can prove that you have been denied coverage within the past 60 days, the AIPSC will assign you an insurer that must offer you coverage.
Even If You’re Happy, It’s Best to Shop for a New Policy Every Couple of Years
Ever heard of price optimization? It’s a technique used by about half of all large insurance companies to understand how likely an individual might be to search out the best price of something. Essentially, an insurer uses your personal data to estimate how flexible you are concerning your premiums. If it feels that a 5 percent increase in your yearly rate won’t scare you off, then it won’t feel bad slowly bumping up your premiums.
This should be a great motivator to shop for a new policy, even if you don’t intend to switch providers. When insurance companies can see that you’re out there searching for the best deals available, they will be less likely to test the limits of your budget.
In the past few years, 15 states have declared price optimization illegal or it’s under investigation. Unfortunately, South Carolina has not addressed it formally. For now, the safety of your hard-earned cash is in your hands. The best offense is a good defense, so defend your right to low rates and shop the insurance market. You might find great savings, and even if you don’t, it should deter your current provider from any unfair price increases.
Asking your current insurer to reassess your premium according to your current driving record can also get you a lower premium. If you’ve had traffic violations that happened from three to five years ago and you didn’t get any new ones since then, you could qualify for a good driver discount. If you’ve been diligently working to improve your credit score and have been bumping up your number, you might also nab a lower rate. If you’re a young driver or you’ve had one on your policy, shop around to see who’s offering the best deal for that age bracket. And once he or she passes their 25th birthday, they can generally expect to see their rates start to come down.
Even if car insurance prices in your state are better than the national average, there are still plenty of savings out there waiting to be found. All it takes is the determination and legwork to look for as many quotes as you can. And when you do ask for quotes, be sure to consider more than the minimum coverage. Cheap car insurance isn’t always going to be the best car insurance. And unless you have about $100,000 lying around in an auto emergencyfund, you’ll find yourself in a massive financial bind should you ever have a serious accident.