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You May Have Gotten Shortchanged By $125 On That COVID Rebate For Your Car

A school bus drives down a street on the first day of school reopening on December 7, 2020 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.
A school bus drives down a street on the first day of school reopening on December 7, 2020 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

If you had auto insurance during the pandemic, you may have received a refund from your insurance company.

According to two consumer groups, you got shortchanged.

The Consumer Federation of America and the Center for Economic Justice estimate that the auto insurance industry pocketed about $30 billion in revenue that should have gone back to policyholders when driving slowed last year.

An analysis released by the groups last month found that auto insurance companies raked in $42 billion in "excess premiums" in 2020, but only provided $13 billion in relief to drivers.

"In virtually every state, auto insurance premiums – by law – cannot be excessive," said J. Robert Hunter, the Consumer Federation of America's director of insurance. "The inability or unwillingness of almost all state insurance regulators to enforce the law and protect consumers raises serious questions."

As pressure mounts on insurers over whether the payments were adequate, a major trade association for auto insurance companies called the analysis "wrong on just about everything."

Overcharges amount to $125 per vehicle

When people were told to stay home in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, driving came to a sudden stop for many.

Fewer cars on the road meant fewer accidents and less money required to pay insurance claims.

In response, auto insurers gave back some of the money drivers had spent on their policies and returned 15-25% of premium payments to policyholders, according to AARP.

But consumer advocacy groups now say it wasn't enough.

Drivers should have gotten back an additional $125 for every insured vehicle last year, according to the CFA/CEJ analysis.

The groups added that state-level insurance regulators haven't done enough to make sure that auto insurance companies are returning an adequate amount of premiums to drivers and aren't overcharging them.

Trade group says insurers did nothing wrong

But the American Property Casualty Insurance Association, a major trade group for insurers, said the consumer groups' analysis is flawed.

The association said that what the advocates call "profit" is mostly money used to "handle claims, sell and service policies and pay taxes and regulatory fees."

Auto insurance company profits are less than 2 cents for every premium dollar, according to APCIA .

The association also noted that driving conditions have changed since the early days of the pandemic in the spring of 2020.

Miles driven have returned to pre-pandemic levels and an uptick in speeding has made crashes more severe, according to APCIA.

"Had unjustified premium cuts been ordered last year, it would simply have put additional upward pressure on rates this year because of the rapid increases in miles driven and the greater rate of crashes and losses," said David Snyder, APCIA vice president, international and counsel, in a statement.

"[The consumer groups'] unwarranted discount demands are both unfounded and potentially dangerous to the financial health and competitiveness of the insurance system," he added.

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