Insurance companies earn investment profits on "float". Float, or available reserve, is the amount of money on hand at any given moment that an insurer has collected in insurance premiums but has not paid out in claims. Insurers start investing insurance premiums as soon as they are collected and continue to earn interest or other income on them until claims are paid out. The Association of British Insurers (gathering 400 insurance companies and 94% of UK insurance services) has almost 20% of the investments in the London Stock Exchange. In 2007, U.S. industry profits from float totaled $58 billion. In a 2009 letter to investors, Warren Buffett wrote, "we were paid $2.8 billion to hold our float in 2008."
An insurance underwriter's job is to evaluate a given risk as to the likelihood that a loss will occur. Any factor that causes a greater likelihood of loss should theoretically be charged a higher rate. This basic principle of insurance must be followed if insurance companies are to remain solvent. Thus, "discrimination" against (i.e., negative differential treatment of) potential insureds in the risk evaluation and premium-setting process is a necessary by-product of the fundamentals of insurance underwriting. For instance, insurers charge older people significantly higher premiums than they charge younger people for term life insurance. Older people are thus treated differently from younger people (i.e., a distinction is made, discrimination occurs). The rationale for the differential treatment goes to the heart of the risk a life insurer takes: Old people are likely to die sooner than young people, so the risk of loss (the insured's death) is greater in any given period of time and therefore the risk premium must be higher to cover the greater risk. However, treating insureds differently when there is no actuarially sound reason for doing so is unlawful discrimination.
Collision coverage has a deductible, which is the amount you pay before your coverage helps pay for your claim. You can typically choose the amount of your deductible when you buy coverage. So, if you choose a $1,000 deductible and your car is later damaged in a covered accident, you'd have to pay $1,000 toward repair costs. Your collision coverage would help pay the rest, up to your coverage limit.
Please note that this website provides only a summary of auto insurance, written to illustrate in general terms how auto insurance works. Your insurance policy is the legal contract that contains the terms and limitations of your coverage. You should carefully review the contents of your policy. All products and coverages are subject to availability and limitations. Whether an accident or other loss is covered is subject to the terms and conditions of your insurance policy.