It can understandably feel like there’s some kind of mystical tea leaf-reading happening when insurance companies calculate your rates — you pour out buckets of information, it’s mixed up behind a curtain, then poof: a number you couldn’t have predicted and can’t necessarily explain.
Part of what I try to do, as an independent insurance agent in Nashville, is bring clarity to the process of finding the right insurance coverage, and outline how different factors can affect how insurers see you, your home and/or your car, in terms of risk and in terms of rate. There’s a bit of science and a bit of art that goes into their calculations, and different insurers approach things different ways, so one company’s policy might be a much better price — and much better fit — than another.
All that said, certain things do tend to make anyone’s insurance premiums go up; the specific figures will differ from company to company, but many insurers take them into consideration.
This week, I’m going to share a few factors that can feed into car insurance rate increases. Next week, I’ll focus on homeowners insurance.
Insurance companies rely on statistics when they set car insurance rates, and as statistics go, younger drivers and more seasoned drivers bring up the most flags. From the CDC: “The risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher among 16-19-year-olds than among any other age group,” and “involvement in fatal crashes, per mile traveled, begins increasing among drivers ages 70‒74 and are highest among drivers ages 85 and older.” You probably already expect to see an increase when your teen gets his or her license. But it’s not uncommon, even with those 70-and-older figures, for insurers to raise rates for drivers once they pass age 50. (Not all insurers do that, but some do, so if you’re seeing rate increases past that birthday, let’s talk.)
Yep, that piece of paper on your wall can make a difference too. From NASDAQ.com: “As controversial as it may be, the education level of drivers can be taken into account by auto insurance companies (if your state laws permit, and most do), and thus could result in someone with a high school diploma paying more for car insurance than a person with a college degree.” If you don’t have an advanced degree, don’t stress — the key is shopping around, and I’m here to help with that.
your marital status
Insurers consult studies for all this stuff. Many, many studies. Here’s one: a 2004 study found that “after taking age, sex, and other variables into account, never-married people had a substantially higher risk of driver injury than married people.” So, yes, sometimes insurers do hike the rates of single applicants based on numbers like that. Married couples also usually get a better price on a combined policy than they would with two separate ones. It’s a little like a cheaper cell-phone family plan. So if you’re married and haven’t combined insurance policies, there may be an opportunity for some real savings there (call me if you want to look into it). If you’re single... don’t run off and elope to shave a few bucks off your premium. We can spend a little time looking around at options, and likely find some savings.
your credit score
This isn’t true of all states, and it likely will continue to change, but right now, credit scores can affect all kinds of rates in some parts of the country, from car insurance to homeowners insurance. A low credit score can mean your auto insurance cranks up — a sample graph here shows a New York driver’s rate almost doubling between a 720-plus credit rating and one below 580. This is definitely true in Tennessee, too.
your zip code
This can be a huge one with both homeowners insurance and car insurance. A telling example from a Pew Research Center study: “A comparison of one company's rates at two Chicago homes shows that a 30-year-old man could pay 64 percent more, depending on which side of a ZIP code boundary line he resides. The distance between the addresses used to obtain the quotes? Three-tenths of a mile — or a five-minute walk from house to house.” That’s an extreme example, and companies say it’s not expressly the ZIP code, but the effect of statistics in your geographic area — frequency/cost of car accidents, incidents of theft and vandalism, etc. Zip code, credit score and claims history may be the three biggest factors affecting your rates, though which one is seen as most important is different for different carriers.
This is kind of just simple math: The more time you spend on the road, the more miles you travel, the more possible it is to have an incident. As more and more people move toward the work-from-home life, this one’s worth keeping in mind — letting your insurer know about dropping your commute could save you some money.
Beyond commute, if your job requires a lot of driving, it can affect your car insurance rates. On the other end of the spectrum, some jobs, like teaching, qualify you for discounts.
Your car insurance rate is part you, part where you are, part what you’re driving. Things that can make your rates drop: airbags, rear-view cameras and other safety enhancements. Things that can make your rates increase: cars with big and powerful engines, cars that perform poorly in safety tests, cars that are favorites among car thieves… This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy the car that steals your heart. It just means that you might pay a little more to insure it.
your driving record
This probably seems obvious, but moving violations on your driving record can feed into calculations of your risk factors (for other types of insurance, too, like life and health insurance). It’s the number one thing that puts you in either the “standard” or “non-standard” insurance market. Once you’re required to go non-standard, the rates you pay will be much higher — things like a DUI or too many speeding tickets will put you into this market. Most carriers look at a five-year driving record with an emphasis on the last three years. There’s no hiding this either — all carriers have access to your driving record when they’re quoting insurance.
Shopping around for insurance coverage has benefits — personal finance expert Laura Adams wrote in the Huffington Post, “If you’re not shopping car insurance at least once a year, you’re probably leaving money on the table.” I agree that shopping is smart, but constantly switching providers can have a downside too; some insurers respond with higher rates. On the flip side, others offer loyalty discounts for longtime customers. There’s a sweet spot with insurance shopping and swapping. I can help you stick to it.
your consistent coverage
Staying consistently covered, to an insurance company, says something about your responsibility, and thus, your risk factor. So having a lapse in car insurance of more than 30 days (that isn’t related to no longer having a car) can negatively affect your rate — it’s another thing that’ll put you in the “non-standard” market. That’s not the only reason to keep your car insurance current. It’s illegal not to (I wrote recently about a new law that went into effect in Tennessee that increases penalties for uninsured drivers, too). Saving money’s still a good reason, though.
None of this is meant to look like a standard equation — everything is a piece of data that gets compared to statistics, and added up into the insurers’ best educated guess at potential future claims. Some of it is what it is, but it’s worth knowing a little bit of what insurance companies look into, since putting attention toward the parts that you can affect, like your credit score and making sure you stay covered, might save you some cash. (People who have even a short lapse in coverage can easily end up paying 20 to 50 percent more for reinstated coverage. And switching providers doesn’t save you; all insurance companies share the same databases, so your lapses follow you. I can’t stress it enough: Don’t let your insurance lapse. If you need help, feel encouraged to call Tucker Coverage.)
Beyond all this, I strongly agree with Margot Gilman, money editor at Consumer Reports. She told The New York Times that an insurance shopper’s best bet is to check rates “broadly and frequently,” getting up to a dozen quotes. “It’s a pain in the neck,” she said. “But it’s worth it.”
Easier solution: Have me take on the “pain in the neck.” If you’re shopping for new rates — car insurance, homeowners insurance, renters insurance or anything else — call or email Tucker Coverage here in Nashville. I’d be glad to do the legwork.