What Is a Car Insurance Surcharge?

Last Updated on September 4, 2021

If you recently checked your car insurance paperwork, then you may have noticed a car insurance surcharge.

Sometimes, insurers add a fee or penalty to your premium. This is called a surcharge. In most cases, insurers charge a surcharge because of a recent violation – like an at-fault accident or speeding ticket.

What Is a Car Insurance Surcharge?Today, we’ll explain how car insurance surcharges work, how long you need to pay the surcharge and everything else you need to know about car insurance surcharges.

About Car Insurance Surcharges

A surcharge is a fee your insurer adds to your ordinary monthly premiums.

Your car insurance company might need to temporarily increase your monthly premiums due to risk. To do this, the insurer adds a surcharge.

Instead of paying $100 per month for car insurance, for example, you might pay $120 per month with a surcharge of $20.

Why Do Insurers Add a Surcharge?

Insurers typically add a surcharge because of something the driver did. Typically, you (or someone on your policy) caused an accident, committed a traffic violation, or was caught committing some other offense.

Some insurers add a surcharge to your policy after an excessive number of claims in a short period. If you have made three claims for serious accidents in the past five years, for example, then your insurer may trigger a surcharge.

Surcharges help insurers manage risk.

If you commit multiple violations within a short period, then you’re a higher risk driver to insure. You have committed multiple violations in your recent history, so your insurer believes you are more likely to commit more violations in the near future.

Some insurers are more strict with surcharges. They might add a surcharge after just two speeding tickets in a three year period, for example. The insurer believes you’re a higher risk driver to insure, so they charge higher rates.

Common Reasons for a Car Insurance Surcharge

If you’ve spotted a surcharge on your premium, then it could be related to the following reasons:

Lapse in Coverage: If you let your car insurance expire, or if you fail to pay premiums on time, then you could have a lapse in coverage. A lapse in coverage is associated with high risk driving behavior. If you let insurance lapse and continue to drive, then you are personally liable for any damage you cause, which could mean paying thousands out of pocket for medical bills or vehicle damage. If you have one or more lapses in coverage in recent years, then your insurer could add a surcharge.

Late Payment: Do you frequently pay your car insurance late? An insurer may not cancel coverage if you pay premiums a few days late. Most insurers have a grace period of 10 to 20 days. However, the insurer could add a surcharge for making late payments.

Traffic Violations: Speeding tickets, reckless driving convictions, and other citations could all lead to a surcharge. Typically, insurers ignore one or two traffic violations, but more traffic violations can increase the risk of a surcharge.

DUI/DWI Convictions: Some insurers cancel your policy after a DUI or DWI conviction. Others add a surcharge. If this is your first DUI/DWI on an otherwise clean record, then you may only need to pay a surcharge.

Multiple At-Fault Accidents: A single accident raises insurance premiums by 40% to 60%. If you have a history of at-fault accidents, then you will pay higher insurance premiums.

Other Reasons for a Surcharge

We listed the most common reasons for a surcharge above. However, you might pay a surcharge for any number of reasons:

Adding a Teenage Driver: If you recently added a teenage driver to your policy, then your insurer may add a surcharge to your policy. Adding a young, inexperienced driver to your policy significantly increases rates.

Life Changes: Maybe you got divorced and no longer qualify for a marriage-based discount. Maybe you unbundled policies, or maybe you moved to a new ZIP code. A life change could lead to a car insurance surcharge.

State Penalties: In some cases, your state adds a surcharge to your insurance. This surcharge is tracked by the state – say, your state’s DMV or equivalent organization. You must legally pay this surcharge to continue driving.

How to Avoid a Car Insurance Surcharge

Car insurance surcharges are annoying and expensive. If your insurer has already added a surcharge to your invoice, then it’s unlikely you can remove it.

You could call your insurer to verify the reason for your surcharge. It could have been added to your bill erroneously. In most cases, however, the insurer adds the surcharge soon after an incident, and it’s obvious why you’re paying the surcharge.

To avoid a car insurance surcharge in the future, practice the following tips:

Avoid Traffic Violations: Speeding tickets, reckless driving citations, DUIs, and other incidents can all lead to car insurance surcharges.

Pay Out of Pocket for Smaller Accidents: It’s not always worth it to file an insurance claim. If it’s a smaller accident with minimal damage and no injuries, it may be smarter to pay out of pocket instead of filing a claim with your insurer.

Pay Premiums On Time: If you frequently pay car insurance premiums late, then your insurer could add a surcharge to your invoice. It also increases the chances of a lapse in coverage. Pay premiums on time to avoid a surcharge, a lapse in coverage, or other auto insurance issues.

Drive More Carefully: If you already have a traffic violation, speeding ticket, or at-fault accident on your record, then you should drive more carefully to avoid a car insurance surcharge.

How Long Does a Surcharge Last?

A surcharge lasts several months to several years, depending on the type of surcharge.

A surcharge for a severe incident – like a DUI conviction or at-fault accident – could last several years, depending on state laws and your insurer’s policies.

A surcharge for a less severe incident, like a traffic violation or lapse in coverage, may only last a few months.

Some insurers temporarily add a surcharge before adding a rate hike. They might raise your rates temporarily until they verify your driving history at a later date. That means your surcharge could become permanent, raising insurance rates in the future.

Contact your insurer or the DMV to verify how long your car insurance surcharge will last. Your insurance company should be able to easily explain how your surcharge works.

Am I Required to Pay My Car Insurance Surcharge?

If your insurer has added a surcharge to your account, then you are required to pay that surcharge to maintain coverage with that company.

However, you are not required to stick with any insurance company. You can cancel your policy, get a refund on premiums, and switch to a new provider at any time.

In fact, many insurance experts recommend comparing quotes after an at-fault accident or another incident. Some insurers treat a single at-fault accident seriously and immediately add a surcharge. Other insurers ignore a single accident and continue to charge competitive rates.

Similarly, if the state has added a surcharge to your auto insurance policy, then you are legally required to pay that surcharge. The DMV may track this surcharge, which means you pay the surcharge even if you switch to a new insurer.

Don’t want to pay your surcharge? Unhappy with your current insurance company? There’s never a better time to make a switch to a new provider.

Final Word on Car Insurance Surcharges

Surcharges are extra fees that your insurer adds to your monthly premiums. Insurers use surcharges to cover the extra costs of handling your policy.

If you have recently committed multiple traffic violations, caused multiple at-fault accidents, or engaged in other high-risk behavior, then your insurer could add a surcharge to your policy.

To learn the specific reason for your surcharge, contact your insurer.

James Shaffer
James Shaffer James Shaffer is a writer for InsurancePanda.com and a well-seasoned auto insurance industry veteran. He has a deep knowledge of insurance rules and regulations and is passionate about helping drivers save money on auto insurance. He is responsible for researching and writing about anything auto insurance-related. He holds a bachelor's degree from Bentley University and his work has been quoted by NBC News, CNN, and The Washington Post.
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