“I canceled my insurance policy and never missed a payment – why is the company still sending me a bill?”

This is a common question, and one in which there is no fault in asking. The answer is more than likely what is referred to as short rate cancellation.

Short rate cancellation is a financial penalty incurred when the insured cancels an insurance contract prior to the expiration date of the contract. This allows the insurer to keep a percentage of unearned premium to cover costs, as outlined in the language of Part F of the NC auto policy.

The key word to remember there is contract – that’s what an insurance policy is. When you break a contract early in any walk of life, there is usually a penalty. A simple comparison to make is when you are signed up with a cell phone company and try to switch over to a new company. There is usually a fee that must be paid to the current provider to get out of that plan.

There is no specified penalty for this method of cancellation – it all depends on how far along into the policy term you are when you request the cancellation. When using the short rate method, it basically means that more of the premium becomes owed at the beginning of the policy term and is not divided out evenly among the days you had coverage. A rough approximation of the penalty is usually akin to one month’s premium early on in the term, though this decreases the further along you get in the term.

If you are ever thinking about cancelling a policy early and are curious to know what your short rate penalty will be, you can get an estimate by using this calculator:

That calculator is just an informational tool, however. The official penalty amount is ultimately calculated by the insurance company (not the agent!). On the flip side, they also calculate any refund you may be due if you happened to have paid ahead or in full.

Certain companies, like National General, have exceptions to the short rate method when cancelling early. For example, if the reason for cancelling is that you are moving out of state, being deployed by the military, or your vehicle is deemed a total loss due to an accident, the policy will cancel on a more traditional method known as pro rata. This means that the refund and/or premium due is calculated on a proportional basis – any premium you may have paid in advance will be fully refunded based on the days you had coverage.

It’s also worth pointing out that if an insurance company cancels your policy for any reason – even for unpaid bills – it will be on a pro rata basis. There is no penalty in that case, other than the fact that you no longer have insurance. There are also no penalties for cancelling at the renewal date.

So what is the moral of the story? Make sure you shop around, and that you are happy with the insurance policy before signing the contract. It’s not like a pair of pants that don’t fit – you can’t just exchange it for a new pair. We are always here to help at Brown-Phillips, so don’t hesitate to ask.