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Consider Self-Insurance Against Calamities

Posted By Jim On 03/09/2010 @ 7:06 am In Insurance | 18 Comments

Last week, as I was research the “catch” on a return of premium life insurance policy [3], I wondered if it was possible for you to self-insure your life. The idea behind self insuring is that you take a lower level of insurance protection and save the difference into an account. With auto insurance, you could take away comprehensive insurance coverage, rental car coverage, or raise your deductible and put the savings into a high interest savings account [4].

I do this today with my auto insurance. For my Acura Integra, I didn’t carry comprehensive insurance and was able to saving hundreds of dollars a year. When it was totaled, through no fault of my own, I rolled the savings over to do the same thing with my current car, a Toyota Celica. As I’ve gotten older and the premium on excluding comprehensive insurance decreases, I’m tempted to add comprehensive again and pay for it with the fund. I’m able to because of good driving and good fortune, but I think that self-insurance is something everyone should consider.

The General Idea

The general idea behind self-insuring is that you want to reduce your level of coverage and put the difference in savings. The obvious benefit of this is that by having the difference in savings, you earn interest. The not so obvious benefit is that when the more dangerous accumulation period is over, that is the time it takes for your savings to grow large enough to cover potential problems, the benefits accelerate.

It’s like buying a car (self-insuring) and leasing a car (not self-insuring). The first few years of ownership or leasing are pretty much a wash, which is why leasing is appealing to businesses. However, there comes a point several years down the road where the car is basically “free,” excluding some maintenance, after you pay off the car loan. I see self-insurance in the same way, as long as you can avoid calamities for the dangerous accumulation period, you can get ahead by self-insuring where it makes sense.

Where this makes most sense is where the potential catastrophes are relatively small, to whatever benchmark you feel comfortable with (net worth, savings, etc.), and the savings you could get by downgrading coverage is great. There aren’t many cases where this is possible but there are a few notable ones.

Auto Insurance

This example is cleanest with auto insurance because it’s easy to see the savings. If you’re able to save $50 a month by raising your deductible from $500 to $1000, then after ten months you’ll have saved enough to cover the difference in the event of an accident. In this case, by raising your deductible you are exposing yourself to $500 of risk. If you can save $50 a month, then the accumulation period is 10 months… so avoid accidents for 10 months.

On auto insurance, like with many insurances, you have a lot of options:

  • Comprehensive insurance
  • Rental car coverage
  • Deductibles

Homeowners Insurance

With homeowners you may be required by your mortgage lender to keep a certain level of insurance coverage but you may have options picking the deductible you want. Again, like auto insurance, compare the prices to see if it makes sense for you to increase the deductible and put the savings away to cover potential problems.

I’m hesitant to offer up removing flood insurance and guesstimating how much it would cost to repair “typical” flood damage, though those riders are certainly worth considering.

Life Insurance

Is this possible with life insurance? This is really the scenario that prompted this post in the first place. When I started thinking about it, what are we really insuring against? Ultimately I settled on the idea that life insurance exists to do one of two things:

  • Insure against a future income stream – this risk is most obvious for a single income family where the death of the breadwinner really puts the family in a bind. If the spouse hasn’t worked in a long time, it’ll be difficult, especially now, it won’t be easy restarting.
  • Insure against current debts – this is the risk that probably affects more families and it’s because of the mortgage. If either spouse dies, the survivor is still responsible for the debt. If it’s the breadwinner who dies, that makes the situation even worse because you have both the loss of income and the demands of a loan.

I ran some numbers and it doesn’t seem feasible to self-insure for this sort of thing. If you assume 8% APY on your savings, which puts it into investing terrible (rather than savings account territory), you need to save $71 a month to reach $100,000 in thirty years. $213 a month if you want to reach $300,000. If those issues are concerns for you, I don’t think self-insuring makes financial sense.

Final Thoughts

Remember that you’re up against actuaries, with years of training and tons of statistical data, so self-insurance can be a risky proposition. Even if you’ve had a lifetime of safe driving, you never know when you’ll run into a string of bad luck that saps your self-insurance fund of all its money. It takes a certain time of person, who isn’t afraid of assuming this level of risk, and careful financial calculation.

Do you self-insure? If so, what do you self-insure?

(Photo: ej_imageries [5])


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[4] high interest savings account: http://www.bargaineering.com/articles/top-5-online-banks-savings-or-checking-accounts.html

[5] ej_imageries: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ej_imageries/2933639713/sizes/m/

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