Unless you’re a whiz of the finance or technology variety, the concept of Bitcoin might still be mostly relegated to the outer edges of your attention. And even if you do know the general Bitcoin buzz, there are a lot of unanswered questions about this currency. But, after suffering early instability when it was created in 2009, Bitcoin has been steadily entering mainstream economics. How mainstream is the virtual currency, though? Can you purchase regular goods, or contribute to or withdraw from a Bitcoin account? And hey, since The Zebra is an insurance marketplace after all, we wondered: can you pay your insurance premium with bitcoin? We investigate.
If you’re still mystified by how to buy and sell the currency, or what it even is, don’t worry, you’re in good company. A quick explainer from the The Washington Post:
What is bitcoin?
Bitcoin functions much like conventional types of digital payment, like credit cards and even PayPal, but there are two key differences that make it unique.
- “No one owns or controls the Bitcoin network,” meaning it’s decentralized and not beholden to shareholders (unlike PayPal and credit card companies like Visa and American Express). Instead, hundreds of computers worldwide use a peer-to-peer structure to process transactions, and no one needs permission to create a Bitcoin service (in stark contrast to the way all other types of financial institutions run in the world). Because of this structure, there are no transaction fees associated with Bitcoin, and transactions can be conducted completely anonymously.
- Bitcoin transactions are conducted with a unique currency, also called Bitcoin. The actual value of Bitcoin varies based on market factors: in 2011, the currency’s value was $0.30, and today it’s worth over $800.
What can the average consumer use Bitcoin for?
Over 100,000 merchants now accept Bitcoin as payment for things like plants and private islands with companies like Microsoft and Expedia.
The following video asks: “Why would anyone want to accept bitcoins in the first place? After all, a bitcoin is just a bunch of numbers. What intrinsic value could it conceivably have?”
And it turn out, surprisingly, bitcoins actually have real-world value.
Can You Pay for Insurance with Bitcoin?
Unfortunately we haven’t found any U.S.-based auto insurance companies that accept Bitcoin as payment directly – yet.
However, digital forms of payment are now so mainstream that nearly every major insurer accepts at least one form, making transactions simpler and instantaneous. Here’s how you can pay digitally at the nation’s top insurance companies:
- Allstate: Credit and debit card, eCheck, with the app (but not using Apple Pay)
- American Family Insurance: Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) from a checking account, credit and debit card, with the app (but not using Apple Pay)
- Esurance: Payment options vary state to state, but most accept credit and debit cards, PayPal, and the app (but not with Apple Pay)
- Farmers Insurance: EFT, credit and debit card, with the app (but not with Apple Pay)
- GEICO: EFT, credit and debit card, with the app (but not with Apple Pay)
- Liberty Mutual: EFT, credit and debit card, with the app–including with Apple Pay
- Nationwide: EFT, credit and debit card, with the app (but not with Apple Pay)
- Progressive: PayPal, credit and debit card, online check, EFT, with the app (but not with Apple Pay yet, but they’re working on it)
- Travelers: EFT, credit and debit card, with the app (but not using Apple Pay)
- State Farm: EFT, credit and debit card, with the app–including with Apple Pay
- USAA: EFT, credit and debit card, with the app–including with Apple Pay
So, the top 10 auto insurance companies in the U.S. all accept credit and debit cards and electronic funds transfers from banks; two insurers currently accept PayPal; and three accept Apple Pay, meaning customers have a decent variety of options for payment.
A bonus of PayPal is that auto insurance customers can pay for their policies without a credit card (or a bank account), which is also one of the benefits of using Bitcoin.
Why Does It Matter If You Pay Your Insurance Company Electronically?
Insurance companies reward low-risk behavior, so not only does a good driving record lower your rates, but good financial habits can help, too.
According to The Zebra’s own State of Auto Insurance report, drivers save on average $28 each year for paying electronically, so consider signing up for EFT with your insurance carrier for a discount on your rate.
In fact, purchasing your policy at least 10 days before you need it activated, paying in full up front, and pay online can save you 10% on your car insurance policy – or more in certain states and with certain carriers. (More savings tips here.)
User-Friendly Services for Bitcoin and Other Digital Payments
Until quite recently there were certain (usually quite large) bills that simply couldn’t be paid with credit: mortgages, utilities, and car loans, among others. But now several online services allow people to make many of these payments with credit – for a fee. Using credit for large monthly bills is appealing for a couple of reasons:
- If you experience cash flow issues a credit card can save the day (but remember, most charge high interest rates, so if you’re not going to have the cash in hand come bill time, you should rethink your overall financial situation).
- Credit cards also, of course, offer points and rewards and the ability to take advantage of such perks is appealing. However, personal finance experts caution that fees associated with services that allow you to pay such large bills with credit usually end up being more than the cash value of whatever credit card points you might earn (so, for most people in most situations, the dream of earning points for paying your mortgage is rarely actually realized, unfortunately).
And how do these cash-for-credit services work? One company, Tio (formerly ChargeSmart), allows people to pay them with credit and they then pay your bills in cash. Tio charges a fee of between two and three percent for all transactions and accepts traditional credit cards and PayPal, but not Bitcoin. Other similar services, like Venmo, will perform the same type of service for a similar fee of around three percent.
As of now, it doesn’t appear that Bitcoin is accepted by banks and car dealerships, or even third-party bill payment companies like Tio and Venmo – at least not directly. However, you can get a BitPay credit card with which you could pay a third-party company like Tio or Venmo to then pay your bills. But whether or not arranging such a structure would be financially beneficial would be a personal decision based on the market rate of Bitcoin and associated fees.
So, while mainstream companies, including car insurance companies, aren’t yet accepting digital currency like Bitcoin as payment, digital forms of payment are now quite common, and the path seems paved for the future of digital currency.