"We had Hurricane Irene, the Joplin tornado that was the single biggest insurance event in Missouri history, and widespread winter storms, tornadoes and flooding in interior states like Minnesota," he notes. "While homeowners rates don't move significantly in just one year, when you look at how some of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history have all occurred in the last decade, this is not a surprise."
J. Robert Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America, has a different prime suspect for the cost increase.
"It's probably health insurance," he says. "That's one that people recognize because a lot of times it comes through their employer, so they have an opportunity to look at various options and think about that policy a little more."
In Hunter's view, the percentage of survey respondents who actually faced higher insurance bills last year was probably higher than the survey shows.
"I'd guess more than half probably had premium increases and just don't realize it," he says. "Consumers are buying insurance in six-month pieces instead of annually, and insurance companies have taken advantage of that. Instead of raising rates 10 percent every two years, they raise them 2.5 percent every six months, and people don't notice that."
Inertia could cost you
Hunter says insurance companies know we dislike shopping for insurance, don't understand our policies, and so are prone to park ourselves with one carrier.
"There's a huge inertia in insurance," he says. "People are afraid if they move from a company after 20 years and then have an accident, the company might cancel them, so they pay the occasional $50 (increase) and stay put."
Now that insurers have the technology to identify those inert clients through online buying and other behaviors, chances are if you appear willing to spend a little more, you probably will, Hunter says.
How can you rein in your overall insurance costs?
"Shopping is the key," says Hunter. "When I was insurance commissioner in Texas, we got 25 regular people to bring in their auto policies and 25 their home insurance policies, gave them our buyers guide and a telephone. In one hour, the average person saved $125 per car and $85 on home insurance. We called it the $100 hour."
Barry, of the Insurance Information Institute, offers these tips to save on insurance without unduly sacrificing on coverage:
- Increase your homeowners deductible. "A lot of people can achieve double-digit percentage decreases in their homeowners insurance premiums by going from a $500 to a $1,000 deductible, if you're in the position to pay the first $1,000 out of pocket," he says.
- Adjust your auto policy options. To trim your auto insurance bill, ditch collision coverage rather than comprehensive, especially if you drive an older vehicle. "Collision should be the first to go because it's the most expensive," Barry says. "I would recommend keeping the comprehensive coverage because it covers so many events such as a tree falling on a car or the car being flooded."
- Bump up your auto deductibles. As with your homeowners, it may make sense to increase your auto insurance deductibles, depending on how much risk you're willing to assume. "That will almost certainly result in premium savings," Barry says.
- Bundle home and auto policies. Most insurers offer a discount to customers who purchase more than one type of policy with them.
- Consider a new term life insurance policy. Premiums for term life policies have dropped significantly in recent years. If you currently own a waning term policy, you may be able to purchase the same or better coverage for less by shopping around.