Pricey car insurance policies test consumers
After a damaging winter, more may take the advice to shop around
Premiums for auto and homeowners insurance are on the rise in Massachusetts, and so are the complaints from consumers about the big bills. But for all of the pocketbook pain and the public grousing, a large share of customers are unlikely to do anything about it.
Even though insurance regulators, pro-athlete pitchmen, and a talking gecko urge consumers to compare prices, 1 in 3 policyholders have never shopped for insurance quotes, according to a survey. Americans are more than twice as loyal to their insurance company as to their employer, sticking with the same carrier for 12 years while hopping to another job in just under five years, according to the survey, by insuranceQuotes.com, a consumer website.
“Procrastination is one part of it,” said Laura Adams, a senior analyst at insuranceQuotes.com. “They’re not taking the initiative.”
That inertia may break this year after a deluge of home and auto repair bills from the winter’s record snowfall prompted many insurance companies to raise their prices, independent agents and insurance specialists said. Add to that frustrated customers still haggling with insurers over winter claims, and the circumstances might be right for a little comparison shopping.
“I am 100 percent sure that people are going to be looking around and doing more homework,” said Richard Tutwiler, an adjuster whose Florida firm represented about 100 Massachusetts residents who are trying to settle claims tied to the winter weather.
The 110.6 inches of snow that buried the Boston area caused millions of dollars in damage. Water leaked into homes after ice dams formed along gutters and blocked roofs from draining properly. Huge snowbanks and slick roads led to car accidents.
To recoup the costs of paying claims, some of the state’s largest home insurance companies, including Boston-based Safety Insurance Co. and Mapfre USA Corp., previously known as Commerce Insurance, plan to raise their average rates by about 9 percent. Others are likely to follow. Some auto insurers have raised average rates by as much as 6 percent.
Christopher Zona, 35, a car wash manager, said his insurance company paid him $50,000 for damages after ice dams caused leaks throughout his Hanover home. But if the company, which he has stuck with for five years, raises his annual $1,200 bill, he’ll look elsewhere.
“I will definitely be shopping if my rates increase,” he said. “I may have my agent quote me with another company or two when it comes time for renewal.”
Industry experts recommend checking prices at least once a year. Since Massachusetts deregulated its auto insurance industry in 2008, companies have set their own rates. Companies raise or lower rates depending on business needs, analysts said.
If they are eager to increase market share, they set rates below the competition’s; if they need to cushion reserves to cover future claims, they boost their rates.
“You definitely see certain carriers become more competitive when others are cranking up the rates,” said Seth Birnbaum, cofounder of EverQuote Inc., a comparison-shopping site for auto insurance based in Cambridge.
That is why it pays to shop. Several consumer websites offer price comparisons, but their lists of insurance companies aren’t always comprehensive, so it helps to check several services. Industry specialists said consumers should also call local agents, who have their own rosters of insurance companies for which they can compare prices.
David Bookbinder, 49, a serial auto insurance shopper, said it shouldn’t take getting walloped by winter storms to check out prices. Bookbinder, who owns a technology support firm in Peabody, said prices change routinely; he switched between four insurance companies in the past 10 years.
The last time, in 2014, to Allstate Insurance Co. from Liberty Mutual Insurance, he saved $600.
“The rates go up and down like gas prices,” said Bookbinder, who is spending $1,500 for Allstate to cover his family’s two cars.
Consumers also can save by tapping discounts and increasing their deductibles. Many companies offer 5 percent discounts for consumers who are members of various organizations, from college alumni groups to the state bar association to wholesale shopping clubs.
And bundling auto and home insurance can slice a consumer’s bill by 10 percent, analysts said.
By taking advantage of these two discounts, a Massachusetts consumer paying the average premium of $2,198 for car and home insurance could save nearly $330 annually.
Nancy P. James, an independent agent in Concord, recommends that her customers raise deductibles, if they can afford it, to take on more of the cost if they get into a car accident or have to pay a contractor to repair their roof.
By raising the deductible to $2,500 from $500, a consumer can save $255 on a $1,500 annual premium, James said.
When shopping, said William Suneson, chief executive of the Boston agency MassDrive Insurance Group LLC, consumers should make sure they are getting better policies, such as those with higher coverage levels. Before switching, they should also consider certain benefits, such as accident forgiveness and lower deductibles, that some companies offer longtime customers.
“It’s not always about rates,” he said. “Make sure you feel comfortable with the service and how they’ve treated you.”