It can happen to any of us – we get busy, something unexpected comes up and, oops, we forget to pay our auto insurance. Now what? Well, in most cases, you’ve inadvertently allowed your policy to lapse…and, that’s not good. And, it’s even more so, if it’s been some time since it lapsed and you’re just realizing it. That means you’ve been driving around without coverage of any kind…and, that’s worse.

The first thing you should do is contact your insurance company immediately. It’s important to keep in mind that the amount of time a driver goes without being covered by a valid auto insurance policy will determine available options. As an example, drivers who go without coverage for just a few days due to an oversight of paying their bill are often reinstated by their auto insurance carrier. Also, depending on your past payment history and driving record, with longer lapses, you may still possibly be eligible for reinstatement at the discretion of your insurance company.

However, your insurer may decide to deny you coverage for any variety of reasons, including the fact that they now consider you an increased risk of missing future payments, requiring you to search for auto insurance coverage elsewhere. This is a situation you want to avoid by keeping a close eye on monthly policy payments.

More times than not, the majority of auto insurance companies understand that an overlooked payment is usually unintentional and they’ll most likely extend coverage to you again once the bill has been paid. But, insurance providers are not required to reinstate coverage and no law mandates they do. On the other hand, customers who have been insured by the same insurance company for some time and whose driving record is clean, will have a far greater chance of being reinstated.

Some of the procedures auto insurers use to reinstate a policyholder following a lapse, unintentional or otherwise, can differ from one company to the next. Your insurance company may simply renew your previous policy or they may require you to reapply for new…and, possibly more costly coverage.

They may also offer you several payment options as a condition for reinstatement. These may include using a credit card, ATM card or banking account information on file for automatic withdrawal each month so that your past payment oversights don’t occur again. By agreeing to any of these forms of payment, you’re more likely to get your coverage back, quickly – and, eliminate the risk of future lapses…not to mention give you peace of mind.

The cold, hard fact is – during the time your policy expires and the date when your policy is officially reinstated by your insurance company – you’re not covered – for any damage, injuries or deaths you cause. Not only that – you’re driving illegally and could face major legal consequences, including having to pay for all court costs and fines, losing your driver’s license, and be looking at jail time, should you get caught driving without auto insurance…all from overlooking a payment.

How will they know, you ask? Simple – all auto insurance companies are required to notify the state Department of Motor Vehicles of your lapse in coverage. Once notified, the DMV will send you a form asking for details about the lapse and require proof of insurance within a stated period of time…during which you may want to be extra nice to your former insurance company or search for a new one.

While forgetting to pay a common bill can cost you a late fee…letting your auto insurance lapse because of a missed payment can cost you a great deal more than that.

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