Raising Deductibles to Save Money on Insurance: Does It Work?

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One common, painful bill that we all face is the insurance bill. Whether you’re talking renters insurance, home insurance, or car insurance, the bill feels painful because it’s not something we can often directly see the benefit from. It just comes in handy when something goes wrong.

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One of the most common tactics that you’ll see in cost-cutting articles is calling up your insurance company and requesting an increase in your deductible – the amount you have to pay before the insurance kicks in.

On the surface, this works well. If you increase your deductible, your premiums (the amount you pay each month/quarter/year) will go down, meaning your monthly bills are lower. You can chip hefty percentages from your insurance bill just by making this move.

One of my long-time readers, Jeanne, has been writing to me about insurance this week. She has considered doing this, but something is convincing her that it’s not the best move:

I understand that raising a deductible will lower your premiums. But why do we have insurance in the first place? Doesn’t raising the deductible through the roof defeat the purpose?

The first thing to note here is that the purpose of insurance is to insure that you’ll survive financially due to an unforeseen event. We don’t have homeowner’s insurance because it’s fun – we have it because it will help us start over with a new home should our house burn to the ground. Without it, most of us would financially sink. The same goes for renter’s insurance – it’d be tough to lose all of your possessions in a fire without any way to recover. Again, with automobile insurance – if you total your car without insurance, you might be sitting holding just a car loan and nothing to show for it.

Obviously, if you have a ton of money, insurance on smaller things is a lot less important. People with huge bankrolls have no need to carry full insurance on their cars – they just cover the parts that might worry them or that they’re legally required to cover.

Saving money by raising a deductible assumes that you have the cash on hand to cover the deductible in such a situation. If you raise your auto deductible from $200 to $1,000, you’ll see a big drop in your bill, but if something goes wrong with your car, you’re going to need that $1,000. If you don’t have that $1,000 in an easy-to-access place, then you’re in real trouble.

The solution is simple: if you have a well-funded emergency fund in a savings account somewhere, you can raise your deductibles some without worry. A well-funded emergency fund means a minimum of a couple months’ worth of living expenses, plus more if you have dependents. If you have that kind of cash that can be accessed with ease, then by all means, raise your deductibles.

Won’t this cost me more in the long run? Many people who consider this ask themselves whether such a move will cost them more in the long run. After all, if they’re having to come up with a lot more money on each claim, are they really saving money overall?

The average homeowner makes an insurance claim once every nine years. If you raise your deductible on your homeowners’ insurance by $1,000, you only need to save about $120 a year in your premiums in order to create a net savings on average – and, likely, you’ll save a lot more than that.

Similar math exists for other types of insurance. The claims made are so infrequent that you only have to save a little bit on each insurance payment to make up for the additional cost on the deductible.

The key, though, is making sure you have the emergency savings to handle that higher deductible. If you don’t have that, make it a priority before you consider making changes to your insurance policies.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.