You might know that a less-than-stellar credit score can limit your ability to buy or lease a car. But did you also know that your credit score is one of the factors that can affect your car insurance premium? If you want to better understand what goes into the pricing of your car insurance and how you can lower it, you need to be aware of the relationship between your credit score and your car insurance rate.
Why Your Credit Score Matters
Insurers first started using credit scores to help determine premium rates in the mid-1990s. They realized that there was a significant relationship between a customer’s credit score and how likely they were to file a claim. Those with lower credit scores were more likely to file a claim and those with higher credit scores were less likely to file a claim. At least two studies have supported this observation: a 2003 study by the McCombs School of Business and a 2007 study by the Federal Trade Commission.
Although this connection exists and is well-known among insurance underwriters, the reason for it isn’t clear. Some speculate that drivers who pay their bills on time are more likely to be responsible in general, and thus, less likely to be involved in an accident. Note that the use of credit scores to determine insurance rates is prohibited in California, Hawaii, and Massachusetts.
Credit Score vs. Insurance Score
When calculating your rate, insurers use your credit score to derive something called an insurance score or a credit-based insurance score. To calculate your insurance score, the insurer uses your credit score, as well as your accident and claim history. The latter information can be accessed via one of two databases: the Automated Property Loss Underwriting System (A-PLUS) and the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (CLUE).
Each insurance company has its own formula that determines how much weight is placed on insurance score when calculating rate. This is why your rate may vary from insurer to insurer.
Like credit scores, insurance scores are three-digit numbers. They range from a low of 200 to a high of 997. In general, scores below 500 are considered poor and scores above 770 are considered good.
Drivers who wish to know their insurance score may order a report from LexisNexis or contact their insurance carrier.
Concerns About Credit and Insurance Scores
Although the use of credit and insurance scores is widespread, some consumer protection groups worry about the fairness of using them to determine auto insurance premiums.
Prior to the use of credit and insurance scores, insurance companies based their rate decisions on traditional actuarial research only. This was a lengthy process that involved developing a theory about driver behavior and collecting data to determine whether it was correct. For example, one theory might be that drivers with a DUI conviction will file more insurance claims in the year following the DUI. Actuaries would then examine the statistical evidence to determine whether that theory could be supported.
Not only was this method for evaluating risk slow, but by itself, it wasn’t very accurate. However, insurers have found that using credit and insurance scores as a factor in their decisions has helped to better align drivers with appropriate insurance rates. Lower-risk drivers pay less for their insurance premiums and higher-risk drivers are charged at a rate that is fair relative to their risk level.
How to Improve Your Credit Score
If you’re concerned about your insurance premium, there’s good news: Improving your credit score can improve your insurance score and possibly, lower your premiums. Consumer Reports found that for a driver with an excellent credit score, a single moving violation might increase their premium by $122 per year. For a driver with a good score, their rate would go up by $233. And for a driver with a poor score, their rate would go up by $1,301—and that was for the same violation.
There are several things you can do to raise your credit score. These three steps will give you the biggest return on the investment:
1. Address errors on your credit report. According to the FTC, one in four people have errors on their credit reports, and about 5 percent of people have mistakes that are substantial enough to significantly lower their credit score. If you’re in that situation, you can have the errors corrected. Periodically review your credit report and dispute any mistakes that you come across.
2. Pay your bills on time, every time. On-time payment is one of the biggest factors that influence your credit score. Even paying a bill a few days late can negatively affect your credit. Set up automatic bill pay or add payment reminders to your calendar to help you develop the habit of paying your bills on time.
3. Reduce the amount of debt you have. Other than payment history, what will have the biggest impact on your credit score is your credit utilization—that is, how much you owe on your credit cards compared to their credit limits. If you consistently max out your cards, then it will negatively affect your credit score. To avoid maxing out your cards, make a budget, track your spending, and if necessary, speak to an expert about your finances.
Disclaimer: This article is intended to be informational in nature, may not be current, and is subject to change without notice. Please contact your agent or carrier for your specific coverage implications.