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In South Carolina, traffic tickets might cost more than the fine

If you receive a traffic citation in South Carolina or throughout the United States, be prepared to watch your car insurance payments rise.

Insurance companies generally place a surcharge on car insurance premiums at the time of their renewal if the driver has gotten a ticket during the year. The amount of that surcharge and the amount of time for which it will be assessed depends both on the driver's insurance company and state of residence, as state laws differ.

The amount of the surcharge also depends on the seriousness of the violation as some states do not allow a surcharge for minor infractions. It isn't uncommon for the surcharge to last three years unless state laws require a different length of time. Frequently, the surcharge will decrease after the first year if the driver receives no additional citations.

Shedding the surcharge isn't easy. It can't be done, for instance, by changing insurance carriers. A policy with a different company also will carry a surcharge until the time allowed by state law for the extra fee expires.

Aside from the surcharge issue, that infraction also could keep a company from accepting a new policy holder. One insurance professional said some insurance companies will look at driving records for beyond the typical three-year surcharge period, especially if the violation is a major one.

Still, once the surcharges expire, rates will go down, and there are other ways to save on car insurance, even with a spotty driving history. They include:

  • Asking for a discount for driving low miles each year.
  • Performing a thorough cost comparison among auto insurance carriers, with them taking the driving record into account.
  • Taking a defensive-driving class, which can reduce points on a license and thereby lessen insurance costs.
  • Asking the insurer if it offers discounts for having a car with an anti-theft device or for owning a hybrid or electric car.

By obeying traffic laws, and going to traffic court to fight unjust citations, drivers can save themselves money and the legal troubles that traffic citations might bring.

Source: Fox Business, "Got a Ticket? You Could be Paying for it for Years," Michele Lerner, Aug. 13, 2012

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