You have another story about financial disparities between rich and poor?
I do, and this time it comes from the auto insurance industry. According to a recent study by ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative news agency, and Consumer Reports, there is evidence to suggest auto insurers charge more for auto insurance for those living in minority neighborhoods. Based on car insurance information available from four states, the study found that car owners living in some neighborhoods of color paid more for their insurance than drivers in mostly white areas, even when the average risk of a claim was similar.
How did the study find this pattern, and what is driving it?
The authors of the study examined quotes for liability insurance across four states – California, Illinois, Missouri and Texas. Liability insurance is mandatory in most states, covering bodily injury and property damage, and therefore fairness is important. The study also looked at average claims paid out by neighborhood in years past.
The authors believe this is the first time payout data has been used to examine racial disparities in car insurance premiums. They determined that the difference in insurance prices being charged in minority communities and white communities could not be attributed to risk assessment alone. According to the report, in some cases major insurers charged premiums that were on average 30 percent higher in minority zip codes than in comparable non-minority neighborhoods.
In terms of what is driving this, there are a number of possibilities. The report suggests that this could amount to a “subtler form of redlining,” a vestige of a time when companies regularly discriminated on race. It is also possible that the algorithms that companies use inadvertently result in racial disparities in insurance costs because they take into account factors that are not directly related to driver risk.
Is there a way to achieve more fairness in insurance?
Fairness is really important when it comes to auto insurance because auto insurance is mandatory in most states and most people need their cars for their livelihood. Thankfully, there are ways that companies can improve fairness. As I mentioned, there are concerns that the algorithms many companies use take into account non-driving criteria, such as education level and occupation, when they are setting auto insurance rates, while ignoring more relevant indicators such as average mileage driven per month.
Because minority communities tend to have, on average, fewer years of education completed and lower overall incomes, these algorithms can mean higher rates for entire communities. Pushing for regulators and companies to reexamine whether these are actually predictors of driver risk is a first step. And obviously, insurance regulators in each state need to place greater emphasis on racial disparities in insurance costs and payouts.
What can we do to get more affordable coverage?
Right now, the best way to ensure you are getting the best rate is to comparison shop. There are tools available to drivers that allow you to compare more than a dozen insurers. Consumer Reports suggests using thezebra.com. And do not be afraid to regularly reevaluate your insurance provider. While it may seem easy to stick with what you have, you may end up paying more. You can also consider lowering your premium by increasing your deductible, as long as you are willing to pay for more of the repair costs if you do get into an accident.
Finally, I mentioned mileage driven earlier. There are also some insurers that are starting to take that path seriously. If you don’t drive much, you might be able to get a lower cost insurance plans. A company called Metromile has plans that charges you a monthly base premium, plus an additional rate based on the number of miles you drive each month, but tracking your mileage with a device installed in your car.
Mellody is President of Ariel investments, a Chicago-based money management firm that serves individual investors and retirement plans through its no-load mutual funds and separate accounts. Additionally, she is a regular financial contributor and analyst for CBS News.
Money Mondays: Why You Are Paying More For Car Insurance was originally published on blackamericaweb.com