Auto insurance costs fall due to competition

The auto insurance market in South Carolina is very competitive -- so much so that premiums fell for the first time since 1999.

According to a recently released study by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, between 2004 and 2005, the average auto insurance premium in South Carolina fell to $752.56 a year, down from $763.35.

The conditions that led to the price drop in 2005 are still alive and well in today's auto insurance market, according to industry experts.

For instance, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., which has about a quarter of the state's auto insurance market, lowered overall rate levels by about 1 percent in January.

Bruce White, spokesman for State Farm, said prices have come down throughout the market because reforms passed by the legislature in 1999 have made South Carolina a better place to do business. That has led to an increase in the number of companies writing policies here.

Allison Dean Love, executive director of the South Carolina Insurance News Service, also credited safer cars and the state's crackdown on auto insurance fraud for reducing costs.

The auto insurance market is robust, with plenty of companies looking to write policies, said Connie Dolan, vice president of Coastal Plains Insurance on Hilton Head Island.

Insurance companies are happy with the rates the state has allowed them to charge and are making money on those policies. Also, some companies are using auto insurance as a source of revenue because they are still hesitant about writing property insurance in the coastal market, said Bill Thomas, president of BB&T Carswell Insurance Services.

In the National Association of Insurance Commissioners study, South Carolina was near the middle of the pack in terms of costs, but below the national average of $829.17 a year.

For some drivers the downward trend could end this year. In January, the state increased minimum required auto insurance coverage, which raised premiums for roughly 1.5 million drivers in the state.