The Times West Virginian

August 26, 2012

ZIP code plays role in consumers’ automobile insurance rates

By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — When it comes to automobile insurance rates, ZIP code is one of the elements in the equation.

CarInsurance.com gives people the “chance to be a nosy neighbor” and find out what people in other ZIP codes are paying for their annual premiums on average. It shows the average yearly rates as $1,571 in Clarksburg, $1,569 in Fairmont and $1,556 in Morgantown.

Farmington is recorded at $1,606; Worthington at $1,603; Mannington and Fairview are each at $1,602; Barrackville at $1,577; Grant Town at $1,575; and Rivesville at $1,567.

The website reports that the priciest neighborhoods in West Virginia for car insurance are Red Jacket, North Matewan, Matewan and Varney in Mingo County, each at $2,189. The cheapest are Hedgesville, Martinsburg, Gerrardstown and Inwood in Berkeley County, each at $1,479.

Adam Reeves has been operating his Allstate Insurance agency, located on Fairmont Avenue in Fairmont, for six years. Around 75 percent of his customers reside in Marion County, and the rest come from other areas.

Reeves said the city or town where a person lives matters to her annual car insurance premium for a couple reasons. The history of overall insurance claims and speeding tickets in that ZIP code are taken into account.

“It boils down to the risk of the actual drivers in that ZIP code,” he said.

But Reeves said additional factors play a part in determining what a consumer pays for auto insurance, such as the individual’s amount of previous claims, driving history for the past five years, time with a prior insurance carrier and prior liability limits.

“Credit is extremely important,” he said.

Within Marion County, all the cities with different ZIP codes have rates that vary somewhat. Morgantown tends to be a little cheaper than Fairmont, Reeves said.

Of course, the premiums also differ according to the insurance companies, which have various ratings, he said.

Reeves encouraged people who may be shopping for auto insurance to look for a reputable company and work with an agent they trust.

Dick Moore Insurance Agency, which is primarily with Nationwide Insurance, just celebrated its 35th year in business in Fairmont. The company, also found on Fairmont Avenue, mainly serves people in Marion County, but also helps clients in surrounding counties and is licensed to do business in both West Virginia and Pennsylvania, said Rodney Stewart, sales representative.

From his experiences, he said there’s not a significant jump in the average premiums between Marion, Monongalia and Harrison counties.

While insurance companies do take a look at the claims history from the area where the customer lives, that ZIP code is just one small component in setting the premium. Several other elements have more weight in the process, Stewart said.

He said the person’s driving history, including any tickets or accidents and the severity of those incidents, is most important. Credit score, age, gender and marital status also play a part, and young drivers can often take advantage of a good student discount.

While some people just carry the state minimum in terms of car insurance coverage, which makes them legal, they should talk to their agent about how to better protect themselves and discuss any life changes, Stewart said.

“Make sure you’re continuously insured,” he said. “Make sure you sit down with your agent and go over those coverages.”

For the Bailey Agency, on White Hall Boulevard in White Hall, about 90 percent of business comes from Marion County, and its remaining clients live nearby in Taylor or Harrison counties, said State Farm agent Rick Bailey. He has been working with State Farm for 16 years, and his father Richard Bailey has been an agent since 1972.

Rick explained that insurance companies basically use statistics from particular ZIP codes to determine the number and frequency of accidents there. If a ZIP code has more accidents than others, its car insurance rate is typically higher.

“Morgantown is definitely the most affordable area in North Central West Virginia,” he said of car insurance premiums. “It’s actually considerably cheaper. My experience has been Clarksburg is cheaper than Fairmont, and Fairmont is the least affordable of the three ZIP codes.”

However, Fairmont’s rates aren’t as bad off as some other counties or ZIP codes. In terms of homeowners insurance rates, Fairmont is probably more affordable than Morgantown and Clarksburg, Rick said.

The type of car, amount of coverage and any deductibles are incorporated into a consumer’s auto insurance premium, and the driving history of household members is also a big key, he said. In addition, applicable discounts that the person may earn — like good driving, good student or others — are factored in.

When people are shopping for a new car, they should remember that vehicles that are known to be safe generally have cheaper insurance. If they are trying to choose between different vehicles, they can call their agent to find out which one typically provides better insurance rates and get advice before making that decision. Many newer cars can also get safety discounts, Rick said.

“Take advantage of all the discounts that are out there,” he said. “Call your local agent and talk to them. That’s what they’re there for.”

Email Jessica Borders at jborders@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.