New York Auto Insurers Allegedly Using Unfair Rating Factors

By DAVID KLEPPER | April 7, 2014

New York’s largest auto insurers factor in a motorist’s education level and occupation when calculating policy rates, charging blue-collar workers more than college-educated professionals, a consumer watchdog group reported Thursday.

The analysis by the New York Public Interest Research Group analyzed online insurance quotes from GEICO, Progressive and Liberty Mutual and found that prices ranged by hundreds of dollars depending on the education and occupation of the potential policyholder.

Using these factors to set rates disadvantages minorities, who are statistically less likely to have a college degree or a management-level or professional occupation, according to Andy Morrison, a consumer advocate at NYPIRG. The group has asked the state’s Department of Financial Services to review the practice to see if it violates state insurance regulations, which prohibit discriminatory rate practices.

“They’re considering factors that have nothing to do with your ability to drive,” Morrison said in an interview. “In many cases, it increases rates for those who can least afford it.”

Education and occupation are among “a wide variety of proven factors” used to determine rates, according to a statement from Jim Whittle, assistant general counsel at the American Insurance Association, an insurance trade organization.

“The use of factors such as continuity of coverage, location of the vehicle, credit-based insurance scoring, driver experience, education and occupation helps insurers to more accurately price risk,” Whittle said.

NYPIRG researchers reviewed online quotes for a 30-year-old single woman. The researchers adjusted the hypothetical woman’s education and occupation to gauge the effect on quoted rates. They also repeated the experiment for seven different communities in different regions of the state.

The analysis found that both GEICO and Progressive would charge 19 percent more on average for a bank teller with a high school education than for a bank executive with a college degree. Liberty Mutual did not use occupation as a factor, but would charge someone with a high school education 25 percent more than a college graduate.

NYPIRG found that a fourth insurer included in the analysis – State Farm – did not adjust rates based on occupation or education.

Messages left with the insurance companies were not immediately returned Thursday.

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