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Underwriting: The Rules of Auto Insurance

Written by W. Lane Startin. Posted in Definitions, Research Last Updated: 08/18/2011

What underwriting is, why statistics drive it, how computerized underwriting streamlines the auto insurance buying process, and why underwriting fosters auto insurance competition.

Let computers do the underwriting. Life is less stressful. Really.

As with everything else, auto insurance has rules. One has to follow those rules in order to get the right policy issued to the right driver and the right vehicle to ensure both proper coverage and to keep the insurance company in the black at the same time.

But what are the rules?

This is a question that can confound even the sharpest of minds. Fortunately there is a method to know how the game is played: underwriting.

In a general sense, underwriting refers to the qualifying and pricing rules insurance goes by. Underwriters work in all forms of insurance: homeowners insurance, life insurance, renter’s insurance, commercial general liability insurance, you name it.

For auto insurance underwriting is dependent on literally thousands of variables regarding the auto, the driver and the conditions the auto is driven under, such as miles driven to work each day. All of these factors and more can not only determine if the auto and driver qualify for a policy to begin with, but also how much the premium will be.

Statistics Rule in Underwriting

Auto insurance underwriting is driven by statistics. The basic premise behind auto insurance pricing is that groups which cause the most accidents should pay the most in premium, while safer groups should pay less.

These experiences vary from company to company, but for the most part insurance companies agree that teenage drivers cost more than their older counterparts. Also,  Women are slightly less expensive to insure than men and people with tickets and claims cost more to insure than those with clean records. Insurance companies employ actuaries to crunch the numbers and back these claims up with hard facts.

Underwriting Goes Digital

Despite often complex variables, many auto insurance carriers are moving away from human underwriters and relying more and more on automated underwriting to allow for quicker policy issuance. In the past agents temporarily bound coverage when an application was written with final approval, or policy issuance, coming only when the policy was approved by an underwriter at the home office.

Today many auto insurance companies will issue a policy on the spot thanks to computerized underwriting systems, sending an application to an underwriter at home office only if a particularly unusual circumstance is encountered.

Computerized auto insurance underwriting takes the guesswork out of auto insurance applications, which saves both insurance agents and customers a lot of grief. Customers know that their policy is issued and in force before they walk out the agent’s office, and agents don’t have to go back days or even weeks later to tell a customer their policy was turned down by underwriting, something agents dread more than just about anything in the business. If there are problems, it’s known right away.

Different Companies Use Different Underwriting

Not all insurance companies are created equal, and some companies look at the business with very different mindsets. For example, a standard insurance company will underwrite very differently than a high-risk insurance company, and a specialty car insurance company will underwrite even more differently than their mainstream counterparts.

This is why price can vary widely for the same driver and the same car from company to company; different companies consider different things in their underwriting. Because underwriting is by no means uniform across the industry, it pays to shop around.

The Story of Property and Casualty

Written by W. Lane Startin. Posted in Definitions, Research Last Updated: 08/18/2011

What property and casualty insurance is, the history of property and casualty insurance in general and auto insurance in particular, and how it all ties in to save you money.

Benjamin Franklin. Your Founding Father ... of insurance!

Your local auto insurance agent is probably what’s referred to in the insurance industry as a “property and casualty,” “P&C,” or “multi-line” agent. What does that mean, anyway?

Well, it means that he or she sells and services more than just auto insurance. While there’s plenty to write about auto insurance (and believe us, we’ve proven it), it’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the larger insurance realm.

Auto insurance is part of a larger group of insurance types, or “lines” as they’re known in the industry, known as property and casualty or P&C. Other forms of property and casualty insurance include homeowners, renters and most commercial and general liability insurances.

Most states require a special type of insurance license to sell and service property and casualty insurance. Because most large auto insurance carriers are multi-line companies, they require their agents to be property and casualty generalists as opposed to auto insurance specialists.

A Short History of Property and Casualty

Crude forms of property and casualty insurance can be traced all the way back to Hammurabi’s Code in ancient Babylonia. Actuary tables developed by Blaise Pascal were in use in Europe in the 1600s. Property and casualty insurance in America can be traced back to 1752 Philadelphia, when a group of property owners banded together to form the Philadelphia Contributionship for the Insurance of Houses from Loss by Fire. The prime mover in this organization? None other than Benjamin Franklin, who later had a hand in forming the first life insurance company in America as well.

In addition to forming the precursor to homeowners insurance and therefore the beginnings of property and casualty insurance in America, the Philadelphia Contributionship also pioneered underwriting techniques by refusing to insure houses that were considered unacceptable fire risks (and in 18th Century Philadelphia, there were a lot of those) as well as ushered in some of the country’s first zoning ordinances and building codes.

The History of Auto Insurance

Auto insurance, of course, came a bit later in our history with the advent of the automobile itself. The first recorded auto insurance policy was written by Travelers in 1897 for Dayton, Ohio, resident Gilbert J. Loomis. Loomis paid a cool $1,000 – a fortune in 1897 – for a policy that covered only property damage, bodily injury or accidental death. In other words, a liability only policy.

Auto insurance began to assume its modern form in the 1920s with the formation of companies like State Farm in Illinois and Farmers in California, both founded on the premise that farmers were safer drivers than the general population. Although harder statistical data is used today, the same basic concept that some groups are cheaper to insure than others remains a central tenet of auto insurance marketing and pricing.

How It’s Related

Underwriting in all property and casualty lines is driven by statistics. What’s more, auto insurance discounts are often available by purchasing other property and casualty products from the same company. These “package discounts” are often a great way to get cheaper car insurance. Ask your agent for more details.

Does a Driver not living in the Home Have to Have Their Own Insurance?

Written by Michele Wilmonen. Posted in Ask An Insurance Question, Research Last Updated: 08/15/2011

To be able to drive each state requires that you carry liability insurance on your vehicle, but what if you don’t own a vehicle?

In insurance, each state has their own set of rules and regulations that insurance companies and drivers have to abide by. One rule that is the same in every state is that you have to carry at least liability insurance on your vehicle in order to be able to drive.

Not everyone that has a driver’s license owns a vehicle though and these drivers are handled differently state by state.

Specifically, in the state of Ohio you have to have insurance to drive, whether you own a vehicle or not. In addition, it is illegal to allow anyone that does not have insurance or is not listed on your insurance policy to operate your vehicle (Ohio Financial Responsibility Law).

If you are concerned about insurance coverage for a driver that does not own their own vehicle, contact a local insurance agent in your state.

How Long Does an Insurance Company Have to Refund Unearned Premium?

Written by Michele Wilmonen. Posted in Ask An Insurance Question, Research Last Updated: 08/15/2011

Premium that you have overpaid to an insurance company is not theirs and should be returned immediately.

When you pay for your insurance, the insurance company generally makes you pay for the coverage in advance. It doesn’t matter what payment plan you are on, they want to make sure that they get their money before they provide you with insurance coverage. This is to make sure that if you have a claim and cancel your policy that you have already paid for your coverage for the day of the accident.

On the consumer side, when you cancel your insurance policy and you have paid premium for coverage that you have not used yet; you are owed a refund immediately. There is no specific timeframe that an insurance premium has to be returned, but insurance companies are expected to process refunds in a “reasonable amount of time”.

If you have not received your refund, contact the insurance company to find out why you don’t have it yet. Second, if they claim that you are not owed a refund demand (nicely) to be sent a billing breakdown showing how much your pro-rated premium was each day and how many days you paid for.

If the breakdown shows that you are owed a refund and the insurance company still won’t pay, file a complaint with your state Insurance Commissioner. In the state of Washington the Insurance Commissioner has fined insurance companies and agents for not refunding unearned insurance premiums to former customers within a reasonable amount of time.

Are Broken Windshields Countable Losses?

Written by Michele Wilmonen. Posted in Ask An Insurance Question, Research Last Updated: 08/15/2011

Any damage that an insurance company pays out for you is considered a claim, but each type of claim can affect your policy differently.

Everyone that drives knows that you can lose your insurance coverage with a company if you have too many accidents or driving violations. Insurance companies are in business to turn a profit and if they are paying out one claim after another for you, they are losing money.

But what about claims that aren’t your fault, like broken windshields?

Glass claims are generally not counted by insurance companies as claims that stack up to a policy cancellation or non-renewal. But, like all things in the insurance industry it completely depends on your insurance company. Best thing to do is to contact your agent or insurance company and ask what their policy is in regards to this.

In the state of Massachusetts, an insurance company cannot cancel your policy in the middle of a term for too many claims. If they decide to not renew your policy they have to give you 45 days notice before they stop your coverage. In the case that you feel this is an unjust non-renewal, contact your own state’s Department of Insurance or Insurance Commissioner’s office.

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