HOUSTON - Auto insurance rates are expected to climb 5% this year, according to Insurify. But a consumer group says many insurance companies still owe drivers refunds for driving less during the 2020 pandemic shutdown.
"We have changed insurance companies probably three times. Four years and no accidents, so we’re like, Why is it so high?" wonder drivers Patrick and Lisa Bennett.
In 2020, when most people worked from home, some auto insurance companies refunded some premiums to customers. But not all of them.
"Yes, I think some people did, and we didn’t," said Lisa Bennett.
"If you look at the 12 months period from March 2020 through February 2021, there were almost 120,000 fewer car crashes in Texas. That’s an 18% drop," said Douglas Heller, a nationally recognized insurance expert with the Consumer Federation of America.
Consumer Federation issued a report saying insurers collected $42 billion in excess premiums in 2020 but only returned $13 billion. The report says that Texans are owed $2.6 billion.
"These insurance companies made huge profits because they were not required to give back the excess premiums they took from us during the pandemic," said Heller.
California and Michigan now require some insurers to refund some premiums. Michigan drivers will receive $400 per vehicle this year.
We asked the Texas Department of Insurance if it will require refunds, too. It sent us this statement:
"TDI has the authority to order refunds if an insurer is charging rates that are excessive or unfairly discriminatory. State law defines an excessive rate as one that is "likely to produce a long-term profit that is unreasonably high in relation to the insurance coverage provided. We evaluate claims data as it becomes available and review company rate filings to ensure rates are not excessive. Any action would require a company-by-company review, with the opportunity for a hearing for any insurer ordered to provide refunds."
Consumers can file complaints or requests here.
"This is the message that I think any Texans would want to give to the Department of Insurance, is, 'Why aren’t you doing for us what they did out there in California?'" said Heller.
"Yes, I would like to have that money back. It would help for sure," said Lisa Bennett.
The Insurance Council of Texas sent us a statement in response to the Consumer Federation's report, reading:
"Insurance companies have given back to its customers in the form of rebates, dividends, and account credits nearly $14 billion since the beginning of the pandemic. The industry will continue to monitor the situation and do what is right by their customers and their business practices. However, the industry also watches for future risks to make sure they are accounting for the rise in costs to repair and replace vehicles and monitor driving habits of their customers nationwide and in Texas to ensure they are pricing accordingly to the risk they incur."
We asked Richard Johnson with the Insurance Council of Texas for ways drivers can reduce their premiums.
His first suggestion, if you are still working from home or driving fewer miles a year, you can ask your insurer for a discounted rate. Many insurers also offer telematics for discounted rates, which are apps or device that go into the vehicle and track your driving.
"There are different companies out there that also do it, that specialize in what we call BBI or Behavior Based Insurance, where you either download an app or plug in a device in your car that tracks your mileage, how you brake, your speed. If you're a good driver, your rates go down," explained Johnson.
Johnson says it can save drivers 15% to 25%.
The Zebra offers a diagram to help drivers determine whether telematics might save them money.
Johnson also recommends shopping around by getting quotes from several insurers. TDI lets drivers compare different insurance plans at HelpInsure.com.
Here are some other tips:
- Drivers can also increase their deductibles, as long as they can afford to cover the cost of repairs.
- Shop for insurance after you've paid down debt and boosted your credit score. Auto insurance rates are impacted by your credit score.
- You can take a defensive driving course to reduce your rates.
- Look for affiliate discounts, such as an alumni association that may have a deal with an insurance company.
- Bundling your auto insurance with a homeowner's or renter's insurance policy can result in an overall discount.
- If you have an older vehicle, you may not need to pay for full coverage, if the cost to repair it is more than the vehicle's value.
- And if you're adding a teen driver to a policy, students that get good grades can receive a good student discount.