Personal Finance

Auto insurers are offering discounts amid the pandemic. What you need to know

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Key Points
  • With fewer people on the road, auto insurers are offering customers discounts. 
  • However, consumer advocates say they could be doing more.  
  • Here's what you need to know. 
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With most Americans under stay-at-home orders due to the coronavirus outbreak, the roads are quieter – and safer – than usual. So why should you keep paying your regular auto insurance premium? 

Many insurers have a perhaps surprising answer to that question: You shouldn't. 

Allstate announced this week that it would slash April and May's premiums for its customers by 15%. 

"They can have it on their credit card or they can put it in their checking account," Allstate CEO Thomas Wilson told CNBC on Tuesday. Meanwhile, American Family Insurance said it will return $50 to its customers, per vehicle. 

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"It's growing by the minute," said Douglas Heller, an insurance expert at the Consumer Federation of America, about the announcements on discounts from insurers.  

Liberty Mutual said it will give its customers a 15% discount on their auto premiums for the next two months. And Geico is offering a credit in the same amount for customers who renew their policies before Oct.7, or on any newly purchased policies. USAA said its auto insurance holders will get a 20% credit on two months of premiums. 

Progressive is also granting a 20% discount for customers in April and May, and Nationwide is refunding customers $50 per vehicle. 

Heller said he was glad to hear the announcements. For weeks, he's been trying to get insurers to readjust their costs to reflect the current environment. "People aren't driving," he said.

VIDEO7:1707:17
Allstate CEO Thomas Wilson on paying back customers

"The math on this is not complicated," he added. "When our risk changes, our premiums should reflect that." 

Still, Dan Karr, CEO of ValChoice, a data analytics company that acts as a watchdog on the insurance industry, said the companies are still charging customers, many of whom are suddenly unemployed and financially struggling, too much during the global health crisis. (People driving to and from work make up close to a third of all vehicle miles, according to the Federal Highway Administration.) 

With so many Americans staying inside, Karr calculates that reduced accidents could push insurance claims down by more than 85%. As a result, insurance companies could save $100 billion, he said. 

"Profits are just going to go through the roof," Karr said. 

Right now, people are struggling and they shouldn't be paying too much for auto insurance.
Douglas Heller
insurance expert at the Consumer Federation of Americ

What's more, some of auto insurers in the country haven't offered any discounts yet. 

"It's embarrassing for them," Heller said. "Right now, people are struggling and they shouldn't be paying too much for auto insurance, while the companies are sitting on a growing hoard of money because they're not paying out claims like they used to."

If you haven't been offered a discount by your insurer, or are dissatisfied with the one you have been handed, Heller recommends calling the company and explaining that you're driving very little, if at all, these days.

Ethan Myerson | E+ | Getty Images

Doing so can prove fruitful: He said he's heard from one man who cut his premium by $700. 

Even though your car might be gathering dust during the pandemic, experts say you should resist the temptation to cancel your policy altogether. That's because some insurers charge more to those who've had a lapse in coverage. 

And you want to be safe should something go awry when you do get behind the wheel, say, to go to the supermarket or doctor. 

"You don't want to compound this crisis by having an uninsured accident," Heller said.