Lying to get cheaper car insurance can end up costing you

(NerdWallet) - Lying on an insurance application can seem like an easy work-around to soften the burn of today’s rising auto insurance rates. But the practice can end up costing drivers more than it stands to save them.

There are no small lies

Knowingly lying on an insurance application to gain a benefit is fraudulent and illegal. While it might get drivers a lower premium, it can cost them their payout if they file a claim, lead to the cancellation of their coverage, and could even result in legal consequences.

According to Stothard Deal, vice president of strategic planning for TransUnion's insurance business, things like lying about where you live or the number of drivers in your household, failing to add a teenage driver to your policy, or not disclosing any preexisting issues with your vehicle fall under material misrepresentation.

It’s important for drivers to get these facts right on their car insurance application, because a seemingly minor detail could potentially leave them paying out of pocket for costs their insurance would typically cover.

Still, about a fifth of Americans (21%) admit to having misrepresented their information on insurance applications, according to a recent NerdWallet survey. Among Gen Z adults, 42% admitted to lying on an insurance application, making this demographic the most likely to say they’ve done so, compared to 28% of millennials, 17% of Gen Xers and 6% of baby boomers.

Why is lying on an insurance application such a big deal?

Providing false information to your insurer can lead you to lose the coverage you’ve been paying for.

“If you're lying about where you live and the insurance company finds out, they're not going to pay your claim,” says Breanne Armstrong, director of insurance intelligence at J.D. Power, a consumer insights provider. “Essentially, you paid all this money to have insurance for this exact reason, and now you've lost it because of giving fraudulent information.”

While forfeiting coverage that would pay for damage to your own car may seem bad enough, the prospect of being denied the liability car insurance coverage you paid for because you gave false information to your insurer can be much worse.

Armstrong warns that you face not only paying out of pocket for your own expenses, but you could end up having to directly pay for others’ property and bodily injury claims, too.

“I would be terrified if I was providing the wrong information and then tried to file a claim,” she says.

The costs for paying out of pocket can be staggeringly high, not to mention the possibility of lawsuits, which can go well into five or six figures.

An insurance policy is a two-way agreement: In exchange for the premium set based on the driver’s (hopefully accurate) information, an insurer agrees to pay for covered expenses.

“It kind of goes both ways, right? You wouldn't want your insurance company to be essentially lying to you about what they're going to pay,” Armstrong says.

How you can legally save on auto insurance

Having to provide your real information does not mean you're stuck paying a sky-high premium. Here are some ways to cut your car insurance bill without resorting to lying to your insurer and risking your coverage:

NerdWallet recommends comparing auto insurance rates at least once a year to ensure you’re getting the best deal for your coverage. To start, take a look at the cheapest car insurance companies. Ask your insurer about any discounts you might qualify for. Pay for six months or a year of coverage upfront or sign up for paperless billing to get a special rate on your policy. Bundle your auto insurance with other policies, such as home or renters insurance. When you’re looking for a new ride, factor the cost of insuring a car into your shopping process. You can save by opting for a car that’s cheap to insure. Get quotes for usage-based insurance if you don’t drive frequently, and consider opting for a telematics program where an insurer would track your driving and potentially reward you for safe practices.

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