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Soaring insurance rates send more people shopping for deals

Costly hail storms and other disasters have contributed to a sharp rise in home and auto insurance premiums. A growing number of frustrated insurance customers are now shopping around in search of more affordable policies.
Patrick T. Fallon
Costly hail storms and other disasters have contributed to a sharp rise in home and auto insurance premiums. A growing number of frustrated insurance customers are now shopping around in search of more affordable policies.

Soaring insurance premiums are causing policyholders to do something they ordinarily don't: shop around.

Insurance customers typically stay with the same carrier year after year. But double-digit price hikes have done what billions of dollars in advertising could not—prompt people to search for better deals. And they do exist.

Here are four things to know about the home and auto insurance market.

Insurance prices have risen rapidly

The average cost of car insurance has jumped more than 20% in the last year, according to government inflation data. Home insurance premiums are also climbing at double-digit rates, although that may not be as obvious because the cost of home insurance is often lumped into monthly mortgage payments.

Insurance companies say a variety of factors are driving the price increases, including the rising cost of home and auto repairs and increased storm damage tied to climate change. The price increases are hitting policyholders throughout the country, not just in traditionally disaster-prone states like Florida and California.

Andy Palen lives outside Milwaukee. The cost of his homeowners' insurance policy jumped by $500 last year.

"We hadn't had any claims or anything like that," Palen says. "It was a little bit eye-popping."

Prices vary widely among different insurance carriers

Palen switched to a different insurance carrier after finding he could save several hundred dollars a year.

That's not unusual. While insurance premiums in general are rising, there is wide variation from one company to another. Customers may end up paying two or three times as much as others in the same zip code, depending on which company they choose.

"It is incredible the difference in pricing between different carriers," says Kate Ferri Dawson, an independent insurance broker in Murrysville, Pa. "One client alone, we saved $500 a month."

It pays to shop around, even if customers generally don't

Typically, once people sign up with an insurance company, inertia sets in, and they don't switch carriers easily.

"We often, I think, are suckered into the belief that if we change insurance, we might lose our so-called 'loyalty discount,'" says Doug Heller, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America. "Or we've bought this insurance but we've never had a claim, so we feel like the insurance company wins if we don't stick with them."

In fact, he says, "the insurance company wins if we do stick with them and don't shop around."

With today's high premiums, more people are taking that advice. A record 42% of auto insurance customers explored switching carriers in the last twelve months, according to data compiled by LexisNexis Risk Solutions. There's been a similar rise in shopping for homeowners' insurance.

"People who'd been with a carrier for 20, 30 years, all of a sudden they're saying, 'This has gone up so much, I don't know if I can really afford this.' And they're getting off the couch and shopping," says Chris Rice, vice president of strategic business intelligence at the firm, which acts as a clearinghouse for the insurance industry.

Heller says when shopping for insurance, people should be careful to compare policies with the same coverage and deductibles. Otherwise, there's not much difference between the various insurers.

"It's kind of a plain vanilla product for most of us," Heller says.

Shopping works, even if you wind up staying put

Comparing policies from different insurance companies can be a good idea, even if you don't wind up switching carriers.

"Even if you determine you're with the right company, shopping around helps establish that you're a shopper," Heller says, adding that insurance companies are likely to be less aggressive about raising your premium if they think you're inclined to walk away.

Companies may know you're thinking of leaving them even before you tell them. That's because insurers can tap a wide variety of information about policyholders' shopping habits to determine how price-sensitive they are, including data from third-party vendors about whether someone has gotten competitive insurance quotes. Some states have warned insurers that rates should be based only on policyholders' risk factors — not how likely they are to take their business elsewhere.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.