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California low-cost auto insurance: What to know about the CLCA program

California traffic in San Diego.

California’s Low Cost Auto Insurance (CLCA) program was established in 1999 to provide car insurance to low-income individuals who cannot otherwise afford coverage. However, eligibility requirements are strict, and not all drivers will qualify. If you’re a resident of the Golden State looking for an alternative way to meet the state’s insurance requirements, a CLCA policy could be the right fit. Below, Bankrate breaks down what potential applicants need to know, from coverage limits to eligibility requirements to estimated costs.

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The California Low Cost Auto Insurance program

Drivers who cannot afford car insurance in the private market might qualify for the California Low Cost Auto Insurance program. While the coverage offered is less substantial than a minimum insurance policy purchased through a typical insurer, a policy through CLCA still satisfies the state’s financial responsibility laws.

Base CLCA policies provide liability-only coverage with the following policy limits:

  • $10,000 of bodily injury or death liability per person
  • $20,000 of bodily injury or death liability per accident
  • $3,000 property damage liability per accident

Unlike a regular auto insurance policy, a CLCA policy is not very customizable. Comprehensive and collision coverage are not available through this program; drivers seeking these types of insurance would need to purchase them from a separate provider. However, CLCA policyholders may add the following coverage to their policies for an added cost:

  • $1,000 of medical payments coverage per person
  • $10,000 of uninsured motorist bodily injury per person
  • $20,000 of uninsured motorist bodily injury per accident

Who is eligible for low-income car insurance in CA?

The CLCA insurance program is not meant for those who are simply looking for cheap insurance in California. It is strictly for motorists whose income is below the federal poverty level and who need affordable auto insurance. Because this is not a regular insurance policy, eligibility restrictions apply and customers do not have much flexibility in terms of coverage. Also, only a few insurance companies are permitted to sell these policies, and customers cannot choose the provider.

To be eligible for the program, you must:

  • Have a valid California driver’s license
  • Own a vehicle worth no more than $25,000
  • Be at least 16 years old
  • Meet income eligibility requirements
  • Have a good driving record

The CLCA defines a “good driver” as someone who has held a license for three consecutive years, has no felonies or misdemeanors on their record and has earned no more than one point on their driving record in the past three years.

Income eligibility requirements vary based on the size of your household. Per the CLCA website, these are:

  • $36,450 or less per year for a one-person household
  • $49,300 or less per year for a two-person household
  • $62,150 or less per year for a three-person household
  • $75,000 or less per year for a four-person household
  • $87,850  or less per year for a five-person household

For households larger than five people, total annual household income must be at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty level in order to qualify. To prove income, you may provide a W-2 form, 1099 form, payroll stub, pension letter or another qualifying form. A full list of accepted documents can be found on the CLCA website.

There are also restrictions on how many vehicles you may insure through the California Low Cost Auto Insurance program. Only two vehicles and two policies are allowed per person, and the program does not extend to commercial vehicles or motorcycles. Additionally, all cars in the household must be insured under CLCA in order to qualify.

How to apply for CLCA

When applying for the CLCA insurance program, the process is different from buying other insurance policies. You don’t get to compare quotes or even choose the provider. To determine your eligibility, you need to either visit the CLCA website and fill out the questionnaire, or get in touch with a CLCA agent.

The process of enrollment is straightforward. All you have to do is click the “Apply Online” button on the website, choose to select an agent and submit the required information. In case of problems or disputes, applicants are advised to contact the California Department of Insurance helpline at 1-866-602-8861.

Cost of the CLCA insurance program

Expectedly, car insurance costs for the CLCA program are calculated differently than they are for private policies. Standard insurance companies determine the annual cost of a policy based on a number of factors, from the type of vehicle to the driver’s ZIP code. However, when enrolling for the CLCA insurance program, there is no comparison shopping like you might see when shopping for the best car insurance policies. Instead, there are set rates.

Because CLCA offers only basic liability coverage, each county within California has a different base price. Your base price could change depending on your age and driving experience. Drivers between the ages of 19 and 24 see a 30 percent surcharge on their base rates, while teen drivers between 16 and 18 pay double the base price. If you’re an adult driver who has held a license for less than three years, your policy will be 40 percent more expensive than your county’s base price.

There are two optional coverage types offered: medical payments and uninsured motorist protection. The prices for each are fixed and are added to the base cost of the policy. The following table illustrates the base cost by county, the cost of optional coverage by county and the different surcharged rates.

  • County Base policy 19 to 24-year-old driver surcharge Inexperienced driver surcharge 16 to 18-year-old driver surcharge Uninsured motorist bodily injury Medical payments
    Alameda $293 $381 $410 $586 $39 $22
    Alpine $281 $365 $393 $562 $35 $19
    Amador $281 $365 $393 $562 $35 $19
    Butte $239 $311 $335 $478 $19 $18
    Calaveras $281 $365 $393 $562 $35 $19
    Colusa $239 $311 $335 $478 $19 $18
    Contra Costa $293 $381 $410 $586 $39 $22
    Del Norte $239 $311 $335 $478 $19 $18
    El Dorado $281 $365 $393 $562 $35 $19
    Fresno $232 $302 $325 $464 $32 $20
    Glenn $239 $311 $335 $478 $19 $18
    Humboldt $239 $311 $335 $478 $19 $18
    Imperial $281 $365 $393 $562 $35 $19
    Inyo $281 $365 $393 $562 $35 $19
    Kern $281 $365 $393 $562 $32 $19
    Kings $232 $302 $325 $464 $32 $20
    Lake $239 $311 $335 $478 $19 $18
    Lassen $239 $311 $335 $478 $19 $18
    Los Angeles $466 $606 $652 $932 $72 $35
    Madera $232 $302 $325 $464 $32 $20
    Marin $293 $381 $410 $586 $39 $22
    Mariposa $281 $365 $393 $562 $35 $19
    Mendocino $239 $311 $335 $478 $19 $18
    Merced $232 $302 $325 $464 $32 $20
    Modoc $239 $311 $335 $478 $19 $18
    Mono $281 $365 $393 $562 $35 $19
    Monterey $232 $302 $325 $464 $32 $20
    Napa $239 $311 $335 $478 $19 $18
    Nevada $281 $365 $393 $562 $19 $19
    Orange $466 $606 $652 $932 $72 $35
    Placer $281 $365 $393 $562 $35 $19
    Plumas $239 $311 $335 $478 $19 $18
    Riverside $281 $365 $393 $562 $35 $19
    Sacramento $293 $381 $410 $586 $39 $22
    San Benito $232 $302 $325 $464 $32 $20
    San Bernardino $281 $365 $393 $562 $35 $19
    San Diego $281 $365 $393 $562 $35 $19
    San Francisco $293 $381 $410 $586 $39 $22
    San Joaquin $293 $381 $410 $586 $39 $22
    San Luis Obispo $232 $302 $325 $464 $32 $20
    San Mateo $293 $381 $410 $586 $39 $22
    Santa Barbara $232 $302 $325 $464 $32 $20
    Santa Clara $293 $381 $410 $586 $32 $22
    Santa Cruz $232 $302 $325 $464 $32 $32
    Shasta $239 $311 $335 $478 $19 $18
    Sierra $281 $365 $393 $562 $35 $19
    Siskiyou $239 $311 $335 $478 $19 $18
    Solano $239 $311 $335 $478 $19 $18
    Sonoma $239 $311 $335 $478 $19 $18
    Stanislaus $293 $381 $410 $586 $39 $22
    Sutter $293 $381 $410 $586 $39 $22
    Tehama $239 $311 $335 $478 $19 $18
    Trinity $239 $311 $335 $478 $19 $18
    Tulare $232 $302 $325 $464 $32 $20
    Tuolumne $281 $365 $393 $562 $35 $19
    Ventura $281 $365 $393 $562 $35 $19
    Yolo $281 $311 $368 $526 $19 $18
    Yuba $281 $365 $393 $562 $35 $19

Frequently asked questions

    • To find out if you are eligible for the California Low Cost Auto Insurance program, you can visit the website and complete a questionnaire.
    • The California Low Cost Auto Insurance (CLCA) program could be one of the best car insurance providers for good drivers with income levels below the federal poverty level. The coverage limits of a CLCA policy are lower than the insurance requirements mandated by California law, but they are enough to satisfy the financial responsibility requirements in the state. Applicants must not only meet the income criteria to qualify but must also maintain clean motor vehicle records to be eligible.
    • The California Low Cost Auto Insurance program offers a very cheap option for car insurance. Rates are determined based on your age, the county you live in, your driving experience and whether or not you choose to add uninsured motorist and medical payments coverage to your policy. Prices range from $232 to up to $1,039 per year.

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