In what many experts have called the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, millions of people have begun questioning whether their auto insurance companies are stable. They’re wondering if their insurers will have the financial resources available to pay claims. The economy continues to roil; headlines are splashed with news of high-profile bailouts. Drivers’ concerns are understandable. However, most of that concern is unwarranted.
There is a support structure in place that all but guarantees that claims will be paid. Below, we’ll provide a quick overview of the auto insurance regulatory structure. We’ll also explain how your insurer’s financial stability affects you and when you might want to make the decision to switch carriers.
Separating Fact From Fear
A lot of drivers are worried that the current financial crisis places their car insurance policies at risk. They’re afraid that carriers won’t be able to pay a claim in the event of a traffic accident. Some of this fear comes from the memory of property insurance companies being decimated in the wake of Florida hurricanes years ago. But, that situation was completely different. The equivalent for the auto insurance industry would require that every driver be involved in a catastrophic collision on the same day. In effect, an impossible scenario.
Auto Insurance Regulatory Structure
The underpinnings of the auto insurance industry are founded upon a strict regulatory structure. State regulators work closely with the industry in general as well as with each individual carrier. They do so to ensure that resources are always available to pay policyholders’ claims, even in the case of an economic and financial crisis.
Every auto insurance company is required by the state to set aside a given level of loss reserves. The purpose of these reserves is to pay claims. Insurers are also required to annually report their financial viability to the state insurance department. That way, state regulators can review the potential risk assumed by policyholders in light of each carrier’s financial status.
In the event that your carrier becomes insolvent or files for bankruptcy, the loss reserves remain available to pay immediate claims.
The Next Level Of Consumer Protection
Because an insolvent auto insurance company represents a potentially severe economic impact to a state, regulators have created another level of protection for consumers: state insurance guaranty funds. Car insurers are required to contribute funds to the pool. If a carrier becomes insolvent and its loss reserves are insufficient for paying its policyholders’ claims, the guaranty funds are used.
Should You Switch Auto Insurers?
Even though there is a regulatory structure in place to protect policyholders, it’s still worthwhile to review your auto insurer’s financial stability. If your carrier shows signs of impending insolvency, consider switching to a new insurance company. It’s also important to review your policy once or twice each year. Consider the rates you’re paying, the coverage you’re enjoying, the service you’ve received, and your current needs.
If your auto insurer is habitually late in paying claims or worse, refuses to pay many of them, it may be time to switch. You can often find lower rates with better coverage at insurers who are willing to compete for your business. If you decide to change car insurance companies, remember to keep your current policy in effect until you have signed a new policy. Then, cancel your old policy in writing.
The current financial crisis is unlikely to expose you to the risk of not having your claims paid. But, there may still be reasons to consider making a change.