Credit Based Insurance Scores and How Insurance Companies Use Them
I am frequently asked why insurance companies use so-called "credit scores in determining insurance premiums. The following is a brief synopsis on why and how these scores are used.
A credit-based insurance score uses information from your credit report to help predict how often you are likely to file claims, and/or how expensive those claims will be. Studies by federal and state regulators, universities, independent auditors and insurance companies have proven that credit characteristics are predictive of certain outcomes, such as insurance loss. The way you handle your credit says a lot about how responsible you are. Insurance companies want to reward responsible people by making sure you don’t pay more than you should. That’s why insurance scores are so useful.
It is important to understand that an insurance score is not the same thing as a credit score. Both are derived from data found in your credit report, but they predict very different things. A credit score predicts how likely you are to repay a loan or other credit obligation. When you are applying for a loan for example, the bank will consider your credit history as well as other factors, such as income - which insurers do not consider - in determining whether
you are likely to repay your debt.
When you apply for insurance, the insurance company orders credit information from one or more of the three major U.S. credit bureaus. This information is entered into a computer program that generates an insurance score. Most of these programs, or “models,” look at things like payment
history, collections, credit utilization and bankruptcies. For example, if you have never been late paying your mortgage, you will probably have a better score than a person who pays late. If you have “maxed out” credit cards, that will negatively affect your score. I was just reading about the way crooks use social media to steal information about users that they then use for crimes like identity theft. It's alarming how easy it is -- mainly because users unwittingly give away so much information about themselves.
What does my credit history have to do with how I drive my car?
Research has shown that consumers with better insurance scores generally file fewer claims and have lower insurance losses. That is not to say that all people with low insurance scores are higher risks. For instance, if you add a 17-year-old driver to your auto policy, your premiums will likely increase. This is because, as a group, younger drivers have more claims and losses than those with more experience. That does not mean that all 17-year-olds are bad drivers but research shows that drivers in that age group are more likely to have losses, so they pay more in premiums. It’s the same with insurance scores – research shows that people with certain patterns of behavior in their credit history are more likely to result in losses for the insurance company. As a result, they may pay higher premiums, or, in extreme cases, they might have trouble getting insurance from some companies. A Federal Trade Commission (FTC) study of insurance scores released in July 2007 found: “credit-based insurance scores are effective predictors of risk under automobile policies. They are predictive of the number of claims consumers file and the total cost of those claims.”
Additionally, the FTC study found that such scores may make the insurance process “quicker and cheaper” with “costs savings that may be passed on to consumers in the form of lower premiums.” Also, a 2007 Federal Reserve study found credit information has similar riskpredictive and objective value for banks and other financial services companies.
What kinds of things affect my insurance score?
Insurance scores are based on information like payment history, bankruptcies, collections, outstanding debt and length of credit history. For example, regular, on-time credit card and mortgage payments affect a score positively, while late payments affect a score negatively.
Any time someone looks at your credit report, the credit bureaus record this activity as an “inquiry.” The number of inquiries on your record can also affect your insurance score. There are several types of inquiries, but under the models used by most insurance companies, the only inquiries that affect your insurance score are those you initiate when seeking new credit products, such as a new car loan or “easy financing” on new bedroom furniture.
One way to improve your insurance score is to limit the number of self-initiated inquiries in your credit report. This can be done by only applying for credit when you really need it. For example, an unsolicited “pre-approved” credit card notice in the mail would not affect your score, because you did not initiate the offer. If you fill out the form and send it back, though, you are applying for new credit. An inquiry will then be posted in your credit history, which may have an effect on your score. There is no one formula to get a “perfect” score because your credit report is ever changing as time elapses and new payment history is added, accounts are closed or opened, etc. The key to a “good” score is using credit wisely - paying bills on time and exercising common sense in credit related activities.
Do credit-based insurance scores discriminate against certain ethnic or income groups?
No. Insurance companies DO NOT consider the following information in the calculation of your credit-based insurance score:
Public Assistance Sources of Income
The FTC’s comprehensive study found that insurance scores are objective and “blind” to things such as race or gender, saying they “have little effect as a ‘proxy’ for membership in racial and ethnic groups in decisions related to insurance.”
Can my insurance score help me save money on insurance?
Yes. Credit-based insurance scores allow companies to charge lower premiums to customers who are better risks. For example, people with better insurance scores and a good driving record could qualify for a better auto insurance rate.
Do I have any rights if I am denied insurance based on my credit history?
Absolutely. If an insurance company takes an “adverse action” against you (such as denying you coverage) as the result of information contained in your credit report, you may obtain a copy of your credit report free of charge from the credit bureau that provided the information. If you believe there are errors in the report, you should immediately notify the credit bureau – they must promptly correct errors. In recent years, some states have enacted legislation addressing insurance scores. This information is available from each state’s insurance department.
Can I get a copy of my credit report before I apply for insurance?
Since December 1, 2004, consumers have been entitled to one free credit report a year (visit ww.annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228 for more information). At other times, for a small fee, each of the three major credit reporting bureaus will send you an updated copy of your credit report. If you believe there are errors in the report, you should immediately notify the credit bureau. Again, if the information is incorrect, the bureau is required by law to promptly correct any errors.