How Long Does an Accident Stay on Your Insurance?

When insurance shopping, ask your agent about the accident surcharge before you buy.

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Even an accident that doesn't leave you or your car seriously damaged can lead to your insurer upping your rates. It's not inevitable: Your insurer may overlook a minor accident if you have a history of safe driving. In many cases, though, your rates will go up, and they'll stay up for three years.

Factors in Play

Accidents and drivers aren't all alike. Neither is the way your insurer treats you after the accident. If the accident isn't your fault, you may not suffer a rate increase. Some insurers will cut you some slack if you've been with them a few years and never had an accident before. If, however, you've had some accidents in the recent past, sooner or later another accident is going to send your rates up.

The Insurance Surchage

If the insurance company does crack down, it's usually in the form of a surcharge. Your insurer's surcharge might be a 20 percent increase to your rates, or 10 percent, or 10 percent followed by 45 percent if you have a second accident. Insurers usually apply the surcharge to the base rate -- what your premium would be if you weren't getting any discounts or special breaks. If you were receiving any discounts, you'll probably lose them, too, adding to your costs.

The Surcharge Schedule

The difference between different insurers' surcharge schedules can be significant. Sometimes it's big enough it might influence your choice of insurer. Unfortunately, it's not something your agent's likely to volunteer -- you'll have to ask and may have to insist on a copy. Even if you get it, it's one of those documents where the figures and formulas are often hard to understand. suggests you ask your agent flat out how much your rate would increase after an accident and push until you get an answer.

Surcharge Time

In many states, the law compels insurers to lower the surcharge gradually over three years until your rates are back to normal. If you have another accident, your rate is going to go back up, possibly even higher. The surcharge doesn't prevent increases for other reasons as well, such as buying a new, more-expensive car that requires more insurance. Buying a less-expensive, older car that requires less insurance may lower your rates though.