Sunday, October 11, 2009

What You Don't Know About Auto Insurance

auto insurance

That talking lizard may be on to something. Auto-insurance prices are based on many different factors, so shopping around really could help you save hundreds of dollars.

Your driving record will matter, as well as what car you drive, how many miles you travel each year, the coverage you want and where you drive.

Here are some other factors to consider before you start comparing:

Nearly all insurers look at your credit record because it has proven a strong indicator of how likely you are to file a claim. (In California, such use of credit scores isn't allowed).

Make sure your record is accurate by checking your credit report at (one report a year from each of the three major credit-reporting companies is free). At, you can get a free copy once a year of your CLUE auto report, which lists the insurance claims you have filed over the past seven years.

If your insurer raises your rates or penalizes you for your credit score, it should tell you so and give some explanation for the change.

Compare prices both with insurers that sell directly and those that sell through agents. Though agents receive a commission, they aren't always more expensive. In fact, Progressive sells both directly and through agents, and the company says one isn't always cheaper than the other.

Loyalty cuts both ways. Insurance companies want to win new customers, but they also reward you for staying put. You'll benefit if you've been with the same company for five years or more. That's because loyal customers tend to have fewer claims.

Discounts are in the details. Many companies offer discounts for going paperless, setting up direct deductions from your checking account or paying in full instead of monthly. You might get an early-signing discount of as much as 10% if you agree to switch companies a couple weeks before your current insurance expires.

Service matters. Once you identify the best deal, research the company's reputation. Both Consumer Reports and J.D. Power & Associates rank customer satisfaction with insurers. And you can look up complaint ratios at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, at

-- Karen Blumenthal, The Wall Street Journal
Help School, Help Your Kids

Cash-strapped schools are leaning hard on parents for help this fall. Some 53% of parents plan to volunteer at their children's schools, up from 44% last year, according to a poll of 1,086 parents by Harris Interactive and GreatSchools, a nonprofit parent-involvement group.

Sometimes it's best to volunteer where a school needs you most. But for parents with limited time and energy, which roles deliver the biggest benefit for your kids? And how does the answer to that question change as a student grows up?

Here's what research and experts say:

Elementary School: Volunteer where your kids can see you. "The idea that 'My parent is at school, my parent cares about me,' is so valuable," says Kathy Hoover-Dempsey, associate professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University. Parent volunteers can get to know teachers, share information, observe the classroom and reinforce lessons at home.

Volunteering outside the classroom -- on the school board or as a PTA officer -- while helpful to the school, has indirect benefits. For small children, Dr. Hoover-Dempsey says, such activities are "going to be out-of-sight and out-of-mind."

Middle School: At this stage, volunteer tasks become more remote from the classroom. And although teens and pre-teens still want their parents involved, their horror at Mom or Dad appearing in the school hallway may lead many volunteers to drop out.

Research suggests that volunteering in middle school helps parents fill the all-important coaching role, guiding kids in picking the right classes and managing big projects. A 2001 study found that children of parents who volunteered in eighth grade were more likely to tackle a tough academic program in high school.

High School: By this stage, kids see school as their territory, not parents'. Research shows parent volunteering has little direct impact on high-schoolers' grades. But staying involved fortifies parent-teen relationships. Running the refreshment stand at football games shows a student that what he or she is doing is worth a parent's time, Dr. Hoover-Dempsey says.

-- Sue Shellenbarger, The Wall Street Journal
What's Not for Dinner?

As business continues to drag at many restaurants, some are creatively cutting costs.

Here are a few tactics to watch out for:

Shrinking snacks: A bowl of nuts at a bar may be complimentary, but don't be shy about requesting refills. Some efficiency consultants say bar operators reduce costs by switching to smaller snack bowls.

Turning off the tap: More restaurants are holding back the tap water, hoping that patrons will pony up for cocktails or other pricey beverages.

Switching ingredients: One restaurant chain swapped pricey scallops with cod on an otherwise shellfish-laden skewer.

Unsweetening: Many eateries try to goose margins by cutting the syrup in their soda machines.

Tea, no twist: A glass of iced tea costs a restaurant less than a nickel, but at about 10 cents a slice, lemons cost more than the drink itself.

-- Neil Parmar,