It doesn’t matter if you have a perfect driving record. If you’re poor, you’ll pay significantly more for basic car insurance, a consumer advocacy group said Monday.
In its new report, the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) analyzed price quotes for minimum liability coverage and found that lower-income drivers with perfect driving records were quoted premiums costing an average of 59 percent, or about $681, more than those for drivers with higher incomes.
The Washington, D.C.-based consumer watchdog group said it’s unfair for insurance companies to consider motorists’ education, occupation, marital status and housing in deciding how much they should pay for car insurance.
One of the greatest disparities popped up in Minneapolis, one of 15 cities where insurance quotes were analyzed. GEICO charged a lower-income female in Minneapolis 300 percent more than a similar female driver with a higher socioeconomic status, the group said.
Robert Hunter, the Consumer Federation’s director of insurance, called the disparities “intolerable.”
Insurers quickly shot back on the group’s findings.
“Balderdash,” said James Lynch, chief actuary for the Insurance Information Institute, which represents property and casualty insurance companies.
Lynch disputed the notion that insurers are gouging the poor. Variables such as education level and homeownership may not be related to driving, he said, but they are linked to risk and are commonly used.
“They are all very good predictors of whether or not a person is going to be in an accident,” Lynch said. “Are insurance companies supposed to ignore information that’s staring them in the face?”
Lynch faulted the report for its small sample size, using quotes for 280 drivers.
GEICO spokeswoman Christine Tasher said its prices are based on “actuarially justified costs.”
“We work hard to provide low rates and savings to all consumers,” Tasher said.
The report focused on prices quoted online by the country’s top auto insurers — Allstate, Farmers, GEICO, Progressive and State Farm — for a hypothetical driver.
Minnesota law prohibits using race, status as a renter or employment status in setting rates for car insurance, but it does not explicitly prohibit the use of income, according to the Minnesota Department of Commerce.
In many states, however, insurance companies aren’t supposed to use income in setting car insurance rates, said Doug Heller, insurance consultant at the Consumer Federation. They get around that, Heller and Hunter said, by using other nondriving factors.
The hypothetical drivers
The hypothetical driver was 30, licensed for 14 years with no accidents or violations, and driving a 2006 Toyota Camry. For each city, all drivers had the same address.
Incomes weren’t directly used. One female applicant was presented as a married bank executive with a master’s degree who owned a home and who had car insurance for three years. The other was a single bank teller with a high school diploma who rents and who didn’t previously have car insurance for six months because she didn’t have a car. Similarly, the male applicant was either a manufacturing executive or a factory worker.
State Farm showed the smallest disparity in prices for lower-income vs. higher-income drivers; GEICO showed the greatest. On average GEICO charged low-income drivers 92 percent more.
Of the cities, the Queens borough of New York City had the greatest disparity in price quotes, with a difference of 97 percent, while Los Angeles showed the least, with a difference of just 9 percent. Minneapolis was in the middle at 56 percent.
The report attributed the Los Angeles results to the fact that California has for years banned the use of nondriving factors in auto insurance pricing, with a few exceptions such as gender, smoking habits, marital status and ZIP code.
Rate setting in auto insurance has drawn scrutiny in recent years following challenges by organizations such as Consumer Reports, which analyzed 2 billion car insurance quotes. The magazine reported in 2015 that insurers judge drivers less on driving habits and increasingly on socioeconomic factors.
Earlier this year, the state Commerce Department proposed the Minnesota Fair and Affordable Auto Insurance Act to require insurers to consider only driving risk — not socioeconomic status or other nondriving factors — in setting rates. Insurers actively opposed it, and the bill was not voted on in committee.
Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman said he would propose a similar bill next year.
“It’s not only common sense, but also a basic matter of fairness — that people should be charged rates based only on their actual driving risks, not their level of education, occupation, marital status or irrelevant socioeconomic factors,” he said in a statement to the Star Tribune. “What you are charged for auto insurance should reflect how you drive, not who you are.”