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Car insurance is a necessity -- and in most states, it's the law. Let's face it, getting into an accident is bad enough. You don't want to go bankrupt because you didn't carry insurance. But paying for a necessity shouldn't put you in the red.

Here are some tips on finding cheap auto insurance, or at least lowering the cost of your current insurance policy.

Switch insurance carriers

Changing companies is a viable option if you've got a glowing credit report. However, if you have bad credit, you're likely better off sticking with your current insurance company rather than shopping for cheap auto insurance. Consumers with bad credit pay 20% to 50% more in premiums than those with good credit.

If you're thinking about switching auto insurance carriers, carefully evaluate other companies. Talk to friends or relatives about their experiences with different companies. Ask them if they've ever had to file a claim and, if so, how it went.

Find out if your state logs complaints against insurance carriers. If it does, research potential insurance companies. If a company has a high complaint ratio, that should be a red flag. There's no sense in paying for cheap auto insurance from a company that will hassle you over a claim.

Take advantage of discounts

While it's true that switching carriers can save you hundreds of dollars, there are advantages to staying with your current insurer.

Some insurance companies, for instance, give loyalty discounts to customers who stay for a year or more. They also offer discounts for having a clean driving record; for driving a car with special safety equipment; or if you're an older driver, for completing a safe-driving course. You can also qualify for discounts if the teens on your policy get good grades or have taken driver's education training.

Raise your deductible

It's true that raising your deductible will lower your insurance costs. But don't do it unless you know you'll have the money to pay the deductible when you need to file a claim. Set aside money for the deductible in a separate savings account, and don't use it for any other purpose. Once you know you can afford the higher deductible, go ahead and raise it.

Drop some coverage

If the car you drive has high mileage or is more than five years old, it's not a bad idea to consider dropping collision and comprehensive coverage, because you might be paying more in premiums than the car is actually worth.

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However, if your car gets stolen, you'll get nothing. And you'll have to pay 100% of any repairs to your car if you're in an accident where you're at fault. Cheap auto insurance is good for long-term savings, but don't take uncalculated risks that might hurt you financially.

This article was reported by Clark Palmer for Bankrate.com.