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Insurers get low marks in poll

If you can't tolerate the home and auto insurance industry or don't understand the coverage, you have plenty of company.

Fewer than half of all Americans think favorably of home and auto insurers, according to a new industry survey. And about three in 10 questioned just flat out can't stand those companies.

The survey also found that more than eight in 10 Americans who buy homeowners or auto insurance don't fully comprehend the terms of their policies.

"Consumers have a negative attitude toward the industry because they think insurers are dishonest or untrustworthy," said Gordon Stewart, president of the Insurance Information Institute, an industry trade group.

"Such perceptions often stem from a misunderstanding of the policy and how insurance works," Stewart said.

Why are normally tight-lipped insurance companies touting such a critical survey? Insurers point to what they say is a silver lining: They're less despised now than in the past.

The percentage of Americans who think favorably about home and auto insurance companies rose to 45 percent this year. That's a four-point increase from last year and the highest favorable rating in a decade.

Yet the percentage of Americans who had unfavorable reactions to these insurers rose to 29 percent this year, a six-point increase over 1993. But things aren't that bad, insurers say, because their unfavorable rating is still lower than the 39 percent who couldn't stand the industry in 1992.

About 25 percent surveyed said they have a neutral opinion of home and auto insurers, and about 2 percent didn't know.

The study also found that the more educated and wealthy Americans are, the more they dislike home and auto insurers. The only industry held in lower esteem by Americans is consumer finance.

The biggest reason given for the unfavorable responses: high rates. The average American household spends about $950 annually on auto insurance and $420 for homeowners coverage, according to industry figures.

The survey, conducted in May by Cambridge Reports/Research International, involved telephone interviews with 1,250 Americans at least 18 years old. Chances are 19 of 20 that if all U.S. adults with telephones had been surveyed, the findings would differ from these poll results by no more than 2.8 percentage points.