If you're single, a renter, out of work or haven't owned a car in a while -- even your perfect driving record won't be enough to get a good auto insurance rate.
It’s no secret that auto insurers consider a lot more than just your driving record when they calculate your premium. New customers are routinely asked to provide personal details, such as whether they’re married or single, renters or homeowners, unemployed or employed, college- or high school-educated.
It is how you answer these personal questions — not your driving record — that can result in higher premiums, a consumer advocacy group argues in a new report.
In a study of five of the leading auto insurers in the U.S., the Consumer Federation of America found drivers with a good driving record pay 59% more — or $681 per year on average — when their answers to these personal questions point to a lower income status (e.g.: people who answer that they are single, out of work, or have only a high school education). The CFA has long studied how economic status can be tied to higher auto insurance premiums.
For this report, they used the online quote features at Geico, State Farm, Farmers, Progressive, and All State. They created four driver profiles to test — two men and two women, each pair including a high and low socioeconomic status — and requested quotes from each insurer in 15 major cities.
All four drivers shared characteristics in common. They each had a stellar driving record, with no prior accidents or traffic violations. They were each listed as 30 years old living at the same address in each city tested.
Where the two test groups (we’ll call them Group A and Group B, for simplicity’s sake) differed was in how they answered the personal questions on each quote request. In group A, one woman and one man were married homeowners with executive level jobs, a master’s degree and three years with the same insurance company. In group B, the man and woman were single renters with high school degrees, and neither had owned a car in the last six months.
When the insurance quotes rolled in, an obvious trend emerged: across the board, Group B drivers were hit with higher premiums. On average, Group B drivers were quoted an average annual premium of $1,825. On the other hand, the married, home-owning, college-educated drivers from group A were quoted $1,144 per year.
GEICO and Progressive turned out to be the most costly option for drivers in Group B, charging premiums that were 92 percent and 80 percent more expensive, respectively, than premiums for Group A. In one extreme case from the report, GEICO quoted a man living in Minneapolis, Minn. from Group B two and a half times as much as the man from Group A – $1,840 per year compared to $528. The difference between premiums GEICO quoted for a low-economic status and high-economic status woman in Minneapolis was even more staggering — $2,158 vs. $528, amounting to a 300% upcharge.
MagnifyMoney reached out to all five insurers included in this report for comment. Each declined to comment.
James Lynch, senior actuary for the Institute, which represents the interests of insurers in the U.S., said insurers use personal information like marital status and education for a simple reason: they are highly predictive of whether a potential customer will cost the insurer in the future.
“Driving record is an important factor but it’s not the only predictor,” he added, noting insurers use upwards of 20 different factors to assess rates.
Get the best auto insurance rate possible
Short of state regulator intervention, auto insurers will be able to assess risk in their customers however they see fit. It’s up to drivers to do their due diligence in order to get the best rate possible. Even then,
Start with your state’s insurance department website. Since insurance is regulated at the state level, Hunter recommends checking your state’s office of insurance website to find out what average premiums are like in your area. This website should also list a number of reputable insurers you can contact for quotes. Take those names and check them out on the National Association of Insurance Commission’s database, which maintains a history of service issues and complaints.
Never accept your first offer. Asking several different insurers for auto insurance quotes is an important yet often overlooked part of the shopping process. As the CFA found in this report (among others), premiums can vary widely by state by state and insurer by insurer.
Let your good driving speak for you. Some auto insurers today offer usage-based tracking technology that allows them to see just how often and how well (or, how poorly) you drive. This technology can be a boon to good drivers who have low annual mileage and aren’t hit with any traffic violations. You’ll likely qualify for insurance discounts. It is entirely optional to allow your insurers to track you, as it obviously requires you to forfeit some privacy while on the road.
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