drivers beware. If you don't shop carefully for auto
insurance, you might have a major surcharge added onto your
insurance premium simply because you are not married.
unless you live in Massachusetts, many auto insurers penalize
unmarried drivers with hefty penalties simply because they are
single, divorced, or widowed. Apparently, under
Massachusetts law a driver's marital status may not be used to
set prices for auto insurance.
But in the
other 49 states, the law does not prohibit such discrimination.
The federal government takes a "hands off" approach on auto
insurance, leaving it to the various states to regulate the
Last week I
received a passionate letter from a woman in upstate New York.
"Katie" was upset to learn that although she is in her mid-50s,
and has a clean driving record, she has been charged a much
higher rate for car insurance simply because she is single.
A friend of a similar age, driving record, and same type of car,
paid GEICO about $300 less per year in premiums than Katie did
-- all because the friend was married.
with her own mother who lives in California to see if the
marital status penalty was being applied to widows, or only to
never married drivers such as Katie. To her surprise,
Century Insurance was imposing a marital status surcharge on her
started to call other insurance companies in New York state to
search for one that did not penalize single drivers. All
the companies she contacted asked about Katie's marital status.
When an agent
from Response Insurance posed the same question, Katie asked why
that was relevant. Katie said the agent snickered and
replied "married folks get a lot better deal."
So Katie kept
shopping. Since she was a member of AARP, Katie checked
with Hartford Insurance company which offers discounted rates
for AARP members. Although she got a quote which was
tempting, Katie soon discovered that even the Hartford imposed a
marital status penalty on unmarried seniors.
Hartford's agent told Katie, "everyone does this, it's an
industry wide practice."
exaggeration. Although marital status discrimination is
prevalent among auto insurance companies, it is not an industry
years ago, I served on the Anti-Discrimination Task Force of the
California Insurance Commissioner and headed up the panel's
Marital Status Workgroup. By surveying many auto insurance
companies in California, I learned that a few companies, such as
AAA of Southern California, did not use marital status in
setting auto insurance rates.
ago, I decided to conduct an experiment to see whether such
discrimination was still pervasive. I went on the Internet
to a website which offered to give drivers six quotes for auto
I typed in
the relevant information, indicating that I was single, and
received my first set of six quotes. Then I typed in the
same information, only this time saying that I was divorced.
Then I did it again, stating that I was widowed. Then I
indicated I was married.
that four of the six companies charged substantially higher
rates to all three unmarried categories -- single, divorced, and
widowed -- than to a married driver with the same type of car
and driving history.
though marital status discrimination is quite common, it is not
universal. That is why unmarried drivers need to spend the
time to shop around to find a good rate that does not hinge on
their marital status.
Laura Peet, a
marketing consultant in New York city, knows first hand that
marital status discrimination is not limited to the
never-married or the widowed. Laura, who is divorced, was
interviewed by the Christian Science Monitor two years ago for a
story about "The Power of 1."
"Having been single most of my
professional career, there have been times when I've felt I was
carrying the weight of people with families," Peet told the
"When I was married, my car
insurance was a certain level, and when I got divorced it went
up," Peet complained. "Married people were regarded as more
responsible. Clearly that needs to change."
But until the law prohibits
marital status discrimination in automobile insurance rates --
which won't be anytime soon -- single people really need to shop
and compare, purchasing insurance from companies which don't
penalize unmarried drivers.
comparison research may be time consuming, but shopping around
can save you up to $500 or more per year if your unmarried,
making those funds available for other good purposes. In
fact, a recent consumer survey estimates that the average
unmarried American will spend about $545 this holiday season on
gifts for family members and friends.
it. Spending a few hours obtaining and comparing insurance
quotes could save you a bundle if you are unmarried.
That's not a bad way to come up with the dough to pay off the
credit cards you are using to purchase those holiday gifts.
Unmarried America 2005
Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an
attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family
diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.
Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried
firstname.lastname@example.org. Unmarried America is a nonprofit
information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and