Should I Wait for My Insurance Renewal Date to Avoid a Cancellation Penalty?

Why Paying a Penalty Might Be Worth It

Insurance Penalty is Worth Paying When it Saves You Money
Is it worth paying a penalty to cancel your insurance? Definitely, when it saves you money. Photo Credit: Paul Bradbury / Collection:OJO Images / Getty Images.

One of the oldest tactics of insurers to encourage people to stay insured and not cancel their policy is the threat of the cancellation "penalty." Having been in the industry for many years, I've seen this tactic used by some to keep their clients until "renewal" because in general, people don't understand the financial implication of the "penalty," and who wants to have to pay more...right?

The truth of the matter is, staying with your insurance company just to avoid a penalty may not make sense, depending on the reasons you want to change insurance company.

Before you allow this threat of additional cost to alter your decisions, here are some factors for you to consider.

Here is a checklist of items that will help you make the best decision for your circumstances.

  1. Ask for the specific cost of the "penalty." You may be surprised how many representatives are citing a penalty and haven't even calculated the penalty rate. You might be talking about a $20 penalty or a $500 penalty. This makes a huge difference in your decision. Tip: The longer a policy has been in force the smaller the penalty is to cancel.
  2. Compare the annual cost of the new policy to the annual cost of the policy you want to cancel. If the price difference is under 10% per year, you may try and get your current insurer to match the new price before changing company. 10% is not a big deal to an insurance company if your account is in good standing, and you have several policies with them. If they don't match the price, then calculate for yourself if you end up ahead once you have paid your "penalty." If you end up about even, you have to decide if the new policy is worth the effort. Do what is convenient for you. You are the client and it is your money.
  1. Compare the policy advantages and coverages from the new policy to your old policy. Your current representative should be able to help you highlight the top features. You can then decide if the features are valuable to you.
  2. Determine if there will be consequences on other policies as a result of canceling the one you are looking it. It often happens that people find cheaper car insurance with a new insurance company, and decide to switch, but leave the home with the original insurer. Then they get an awful surprise when their rate increases because they have lost a multi-policy discount, or special policy enhancements or advantages. Always evaluate your entire personal insurance portfolio. Get all the facts before you make a decision. Will changing one policy affect your cost or coverage on the other?
  1. Do you like the services or the interaction with the new company better? What advantages are they giving you? If a new insurance company is going to offer you service that meets your needs better or policy features that are valuable to you, it may be worth paying more to switch to someone you feel you can work with. Sometimes dealing with a pleasant representative, or a company with a good culture makes the entire experience worthwhile. Insurance is difficult enough, it may be worth paying more and dealing with people who make it easy.

Paying a Penalty On Your Insurance May Save You Money

Once you have calculated all the factors, you may be far better off paying a one-time penalty of let's say $50 to get better service, better coverages or better rates. Every month you stay with an insurance company that you do not like, or that is too expensive, or that has lesser coverage puts you at risk. Remember your insurance is there to pay out in the event of a claim. You don't know if the claim will happen before your next renewal, or after - maybe never. Depending on the reasons you want to change, remember paying a penalty may save you a lot of money in the long run.

What Other Things Should I Consider Before Canceling a Policy to Avoid Surprises?

Always be cautious if you get an insurance rate that is significantly lower than your current rate.

Before committing to the new policy, or canceling the old policy, it is worth waiting to see the new policy issued, and make sure it represented all of your needs. In automobile insurance, for example, it is not uncommon to forget claims, or traffic violations when applying for new insurance. At the point a new company quotes you, they may not have necessarily run all the checks on your personal information. These checks are usually reserved to when a policy is actually required, or being issued. Many times, it is only then that you will receive a call or notice advising you the new price is actually higher due to newly found information.

Insurance companies are businesses, and like any other business, if you have all your policies with the company, or have been with a company for many years, it makes your relationship stronger. On a day to day basis, this may not seem important, however, if there is ever a difficult time, like for example you are threatened to be canceled, or you have too many claims, it is then that the value of having been with one company for many years may become evident. This also allows your representative to let you know about new opportunities that you might be eligible for and helps them keep an eye out for your best interests.

Insurance is not all about price.

A final consideration, beyond coverage, relationships and price, is the final payment for your canceled policy and the new payment for your new policy. You may pay both of these at about the same time. If you were on a payment plan, calculate into your decision the amount you will have to pay your new insurer to begin the new relationship on a payment plan as well.

How Do Payment Plans Work With Insurance Companies?

Insurance companies have strict guidelines on payment policies. In general, the payment of an insurance policy is due when the policy comes into force. So if you have not paid your premium by the due date of the policy (the renewal date, or the date the policy comes into effect), then your payment is already past due! The exception is when you have made a payment arrangement or payment plan. The payment plan helps divide the annual cost of the insurance over a term of your choice, with a payment method of your choice. Each insurance company is different, so part of your evaluation of which insurance company you will work with should involve understanding their payment terms and making sure they are convenient for you. Many insurance companies may take 2/12ths of the premium on the first installment. Find out all the details before you sign on, to make sure you will not have a payment problem or get canceled.

Why Do I Owe the Insurance Company Money, Even Though I Have Been Paying Monthly?

People often misunderstand the payment plan concept of an insurance policy. They think that it is like a gym membership or other monthly pay-per-use plan. The insurance company is financing a policy for the term of one year. If the term of the policy is respected, then the monthly payments will cover the total cost of the policy by the end of the term. However, unlike services or products you might buy in a store, the cost of insurance changes if the term is reduced to less than the original contract term. This is why when you ask to cancel a policy mid-term, you may pay a “penalty”, or have your refund for the portion of the term not used calculated on a short-rate instead of a pro-rated basis. So the moment the rate goes up, due to the fact the term was cut short, your monthly payments no longer meet the schedule. You may end up owing money, even after your policy is canceled because of the short rate cancellation, and/or any other fees that would have been added due to your failure of respecting the agreement.