Unexpected ways to save money on car insurance

Mark Henricks

Many insurance consumers know they can get discounts from an insurer if they have a good driving record or if they bundle insurance policies.

But some insurers offer discounts that aren't on many people's radar screens.

For example, if you're engaged to be married, you might save money on your car insurance with Country Financial. Join your local Farm Bureau and - whether you're a farmer or not - Nationwide will cut your premium by up to 7 percent in some states. MetLife gives car insurance discounts to members of United States Power Squadrons, a boating organization.

The reasons that insurers offer these unusual discounts vary. The reason consumers want to take advantage of them is simple - to save money.

The size of the typical oddball discount can climb as high as 25 percent. The size and availability of discounts varies from state to state, even for similar drivers who are with the same insurance company, says Mark Toohey, a spokesman for Farmers Insurance.

The breakdown on price breaks

Many car insurance discounts aren't out of the ordinary. The Insurance Information Institute says 32 states and the District of Columbia mandate lower premiums for all motorists over a certain age, usually 55. Thirteen states require discounts for antitheft devices such as alarm systems. Meanwhile, policyholders in nine states earn discounts if their cars have air bags and seat belts.

Toohey says fierce competition in the car insurance business has prompted companies to offer unusual discounts. "You're always trying to do things that separate you from the pack," he says. For instance, Farmers' discount for hybrid vehicles was the first of its kind in the U.S.

Other out-of-the-ordinary discounts are tied to what's called affinity marketing. MetLife's discounts for members of the United States Power Squadron is an example of this. One well-known affinity discount is extended by insurers to members of college and university alumni groups. Liberty Mutual offers auto and home insurance discounts to employees and members of more than 14,000 companies, associations and other affinity groups, spokesman Glenn Greenberg says.

Insurers can't just randomly hand out affinity discounts, though. State insurance regulators must approve them - and only if insurers can prove that members of an affinity group are less risky than other drivers. "The actual data has to back it up," says Bill Davis, a spokesman for the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute.

How to score an offbeat discount

Getting an off-the-beaten-path discount requires some luck, persistence and shopping smarts.

Insurers' websites typically list available discounts but may skimp on the details. Also, not all discounts are available in every state. Country Financial's engagement discount, for instance, isn't valid in Georgia. On top of that, you've got to be at least 21 years old to take advantage of the engagement deal.

Toohey stresses that a knowledgeable insurance agent will be aware of special discounts and how to earn them. Insurers regularly introduce new discounts, so consumers should occasionally check with an agent or insurer to see what's new on the discount menu.