Your Job Can Boost Your Auto Insurance Premiums

As he has for more than two decades, Jesus Lopez spent a recent workday tidying up The English Center, a public school near Coconut Grove where he is head custodian.

He realizes some outside the school may not hold his occupation in high esteem, but he can deal with that.

"They think it’s easy to do, but it’s not easy. A lot of people coming in and out and we have to make sure all these bathrooms are clean," he said.

But told that some insurance companies will charge custodians like him higher rates simply because of their occupation, Lopez is at a loss.

"To be honest with you, I don’t know why, but I think they should change things around so everyone...pays the same," Lopez said.

To put auto insurance companies to the test, the NBC 6 Investigators went online to get quotes for two men of identical age, address, car make and model, driving record, claim history and other factors the insurers required and sought the same levels of coverage for both.

The only difference: one applicant was a surgeon, the other a janitor.

GEICO’s online application produced a six-month premium of $623 for the surgeon.

But, with all other factors being equal, the janitor got a quote of $851 – 37 percent higher.

Same pattern for Progressive Insurance: $1,071 for the surgeon; $1,317 for the janitor – 23 percent higher.

We showed the quotes to Lopez.

"Wow," he said. "It's horrendous. I don’t understand why, but that’s how it is."

To find out why, we were referred by GEICO to the industry trade group, the Insurance Information Institute and Tallahassee-based consultant Lynne McChristian.

She said rates must be set for "an actuarial reason" – meaning based on what expected losses will be for a given insurance applicant.

But if you think companies can charge janitors more because they have more crashes, on average, than surgeons – think again.

A 2004 study by an insurance services company found medical doctors were 14 percent more likely than manual laborers to crash.

But insurance companies are allowed to charge laborers more because premiums are not based on who crashes more – they’re based on who is more likely to file a claim after a crash.

If well-heeled doctors are "in a minor accident and have the lower deductible, they may be more inclined to pay out of pocket than use their insurance," compared to laborer working paycheck to paycheck, McChristian said.

"If the data give an accurate view into the future of what the costs are - so insurance companies have the money to pay those claims - then it is fair, because it reinforces the insurance companies’ ability to pay what is owed for future losses," she said.

Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty agrees the companies that use occupation as factor are not violating law.

"Oftentimes the doctor will cover their own deductibles," McCarty said. "So while they may have more frequent accidents...the company actually pays out less."

Still the commissioner and the head custodian agree on one point.

"I think it’s fundamentally unfair," McCarty said.

Yet, he added, "It’s up to the legislature to make the public policy decision whether - even if there is actuarial support for a rate differentiation between a plumber and a physician - whether as a matter of public policy that we should do that."

McCarty and McChristian noted not all companies use occupation as a factor – so they advise prospective insurance customers shop around for the best deal.

Allstate is one of the companies that do not consider occupation in setting rates, said Larry Dudkiewicz, head of an Allstate office in Aventura.

"With the assumption all the criteria is the same, the pricing would be exactly the same," he said, adding, one applicant being a custodian and one being a surgeon "would not matter."

Fortunately for Lopez, he is insured by State Farm, which like Allstate does not use occupation in its premium calculation.

But he still feels for his colleagues who may be paying more simply because of their occupation.

"I think it should be fair for everybody," he said. "If I have a good record, why should I be penalized?"

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