Has your car insurance premium increased in the past few years?

The rate you are charged can depend on where you live, and even your job and credit score, according to a new national study.

The study from The Zebra found that auto insurance prices have risen nationally about 20 percent since 2011. The study used the example of a single 30-year-old male driver with a good driving record and very good credit.

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The 2018 State of Auto Insurance Report also found that rates varied dramatically from state to state. According to The Zebra’s analysis, released Tuesday, rates are up 37 to 44 percent in California, Florida, Illinois, and Texas since 2011, and down 10 to 13 percent in Connecticut and New York.

The study helps pull back the curtain on how car insurance premiums are set and how nondriving variables can play a role in assessing risk and setting rates.  

Consumer Reports’ 2015 investigation of car insurance premiums also examined how nondriving factors can end up costing some consumers more than others. For example, our report found that excellent drivers with clean driving records but with poor credit paid higher premiums than drivers with a drunken driving conviction and an excellent credit history, depending on the state. 

“The Zebra study appears to reflect what other research has demonstrated: that use of nondriving factors leads to unfair pricing outcomes for consumers,” says Christina Tetreault, senior staff attorney at Consumers Union, the advocacy division of Consumer Reports.

The Zebra is a price-comparison website that draws on comprehensive nationwide price-shopping data. It has been recommended by Consumer Reports in the past.

The Zebra’s methodology for its study is similar to the one Consumer Reports used in 2015 and 2017 investigations of car insurance pricing.

The study tracked how rates changed by adding and subtracting various factors, such as a speeding ticket, to measure how the overall premium was affected. The Zebra looked at 53 million quotes from insurers coast to coast.

Here are some money savers and surprises from the the study.

Money Savers

1. More insurers now penalize drivers caught texting while driving with an average $227, or 16 percent, premium hike. Compare that with a $315 penalty for running a red light (a 22 percent premium hike). The impact of texting while driving on premiums was next to nothing only a couple of years ago. James Lynch, vice president of research and education for the Insurance Information Institute, attributes the recent increase to more states now imposing penalties for distracted driving.

Save by avoiding a ticket and insurance penalty: Keep your phone out of reach while driving, and consider using an aftermarket Bluetooth hands-free system if you must field calls while behind the wheel.

2. It’s not easy—or cheaper—being green. Green cars, like the Toyota Prius and Nissan Leaf, cost more to insure than less green trucks and SUVs. The average annual premium for green cars was $1,654 vs. $1,579 for SUVs and $1,535 for trucks.

Save money while saving the planet by working your other premium cutters when you buy a green car. Bundle your car insurance with your renters, condo, or homeowners insurance, and raise the deductibles on your collision and comprehensive coverage.

3. How you pay affects your premium. When The Zebra study’s model driver paid his premium in full, instead of in monthly installments, he cut his annual price by 5 percent, or $67 per year. Paying an insurer in full is “an indicator of responsibility,” says Adam Lyons, founder and executive chairman of The Zebra.  

Save by asking for this discount and making that payment up front. Then “pay” monthly installments to your own savings account, so you already have the money to pay in full next time your premium comes due.

4. Older teen drivers and girls cost less. No surprise that adding a teen to your car insurance policy boosts the premium. But the financial hit decreases as a boy matures from 16 ($3,022 average annual premium) to 19 ($2,339). Teen girls cost your premium less across the teenage years; they increased the family premium 59 to 106 percent, vs. the boys’ 78 to 130 percent.

Save by shopping around after you learn what your current insurer wants to charge for your new teen driver, because our own pricing study, which examined premiums by company name, found that some car insurers charged significantly less for a new teen driver than others.

5. Don’t bother with automatic monthly electronic payments. The study’s driver saved only 1.5 percent by agreeing to have his monthly premium payments automatically deducted from his checking account.

Save by avoiding possible other penalties that could be caused by automatic e-payments. Such “pull” payments give control of your checking account to the payee, which could result in costly overdraft penalties. “The juice isn’t worth the squeeze,” Tetreault says.

Surprises

6. Almost no discounts for safety technology. The Zebra’s example driver got no break on his premium for having safety features on his car, including driver alertness monitoring, lane-departure warning, collision preparation system, or blind-spot warning. Electronic stability control did cut his premium—but by only $7.

At the same time, replacing parts with the embedded technology can be more expensive, Lynch says. He cited the example of a bumper replacement cost on an entry-level luxury car, which has jumped from $1,500 to $3,800. The new-tech bumper “has a camera and sensors and additional labor charges to calibrate that camera after repair,” Lynch says.

7. Driving less may not save much more. When the model driver logged 7,500 to 10,000 miles per year, vs. 15,000, he saved only $22 per year in premium. In California, however, where miles driven per year are a primary rating factor by law, the savings were much bigger: $283 for the same mileage difference listed above.

8. Extreme weather can raise your rates. After severe hailstorms hit the Denver area and Fort Worth, Arlington, San Antonio, and other Texas cities in 2016, car insurance rates rose $44 to $64 per year in those areas in 2017. “Hail does a tremendous amount of damage to autos,” Lynch says.

The study did not have data showing how hurricanes Harvey and Irma or the wildfires in California last year impacted premiums because it takes carriers on average anywhere from six to 12 months to adjust their prices, Lyons says.

9. Nondriving factors can raise or lower your rates. The study quantified the cost of nondriving factors. When the driver didn’t have a high school diploma, he paid $44 more per year for insurance than when he had a Ph.D. As a civil servant he paid $35 more than a medical doctor. And as a driver with a “fair” credit score of 580 to 669, he paid $696 more per year in premiums than when he had a “very good” score of 740 to 799.

“These factors are used because they’re effective predictors of the probability of being in an accident,” says Lynch, of the Insurance Information institute.

But when the New York Department of Financial Services asked car insurers to show how education and occupation are measures of risk, “the companies failed to provide evidence or data to support the use of these factors,” says Chuck Bell, programs director at Consumers Union. In December 2017, New York prohibited the use of education and occupation as ratings factors for pricing auto insurance unless insurers can show they’re not unfairly discriminatory.