The calculations that go into home insurance and car insurance rates in Nashville (and everywhere else) are complex — a wide array of figures and facts compiled and crunched to predict the future.
Among the important details for just about all kinds of insurance: your credit score.
There’s no across-the-board statistic that’ll show exactly how much your credit score affects your insurance costs — different insurance companies use that information in different ways, and weigh it out to different extents. But in most cases, it’s a significant part of how companies suss out where you fall on the risk spectrum.
Statistically, credit history tends to ride alongside other arbiters of responsibility, like a clean driving record and lower numbers of insurance claims. Explains why insurance companies eyeball it.
The good thing is, if your credit score is, at the moment, lower than you’d like it to be, there are things you can do to tweak it. (Scores under 600 aren’t looked at as optimal.)
Below, a few tips culled from credit reporting agencies that can help you on the path to a higher credit score. There’s no quick fix — your credit score is a reflection of a trend, so it takes time to establish and to reroute. But taking steps to improve it can get you on the right path (and, in time, help save you money on insurance).
Check your credit reports
It’s hard to plot a new path when you don’t know where you are. So it’s always smart to start by gathering information. By law, we can all access one free copy of our credit report annually, from each of the three major credit reporting companies.
With your report, you can check to make sure the information lenders/credit agencies are seeing is accurate, and that your score reflects your actual history. (I can’t tell you how many Juniors I’ve seen get their credit scores knocked down by their dads’ financial mishaps, and vice versa).
When you’re aware of errors on your report, you can get them corrected. It can be a hassle, but it’s certainly worth it.
Pay consistently, pay on time
Seems obvious, but it’s the big driver of your score — even a small number of delinquent accounts for a small amount of time can knock you down. In the days of automatic bill-pay, setting the stage for consistency should be simple, and doable. Make sure at least the minimum is paid, by the due date, every single month. The longer that pattern continues, the more your credit score slides up.
If you’re struggling, ask for help
For those who see the above and legitimately can’t seem to make it happen: Don’t get hopeless, get proactive. Contacting your creditors and/or talking with a credit counselor can put you on a path to retooling your debts in a way you can manage consistently. Working with a credit counseling service doesn’t hurt your score; falling behind does.
Be conservative with your balances
One of the things credit reporting services look at: credit utilization ratio. In essence: how much of your available credit is taken up by debt.
The sweet spot, agencies say, is under 30 percent. Use that as a guideline, and aim to keep your overall balance below that line.
Keep your credit card collection small
The above point might make you think it’s a good idea to open a bunch of “revolving credit” accounts (like credit cards) to boost your available credit and shrink your ratio. Credit agencies say it’s not.
Having balances on a lot of revolving accounts tends to look risky. Ideally, for the best score, you’ll have a small number of open accounts, with a long history and low balances.
If you’re carrying a balance on a slew of cards, agencies recommend streamlining — even the same overall balance held on a smaller number of accounts can lower scores. Applying for a bunch of new credit cards can actually hurt more than help — each one means a “hard inquiry,” and those can negatively impact your score. (And they stay on your credit report for two years.)
Respect your history
Another reason not to open a bunch of new accounts, especially if you’re younger and still building a credit history: It’ll dilute your average account age, and a longer credit history contributes to higher scores. Having only two or three credit cards open for a long period of time generally helps your financial cause way more than a wallet full of store credit cards you applied for to save 10 percent at the register.
Overall, credit reporting agencies say that a blitz of new accounts can hurt credit scores, especially for people with a shorter credit history. So, as Henry David Thoreau said, “Simplify, simplify.”
Focus your credit shopping
While credit agencies give a thumbs down to opening a bunch of new accounts in quick succession, they give two thumbs up to keeping your credit shopping confined to a focused timeframe.
Think in terms of looking for a mortgage or a car loan — you might approach a list of lenders to see who can offer the best rates, and all will ding your credit as they’re calculating quotes. When similar inquiries are clustered together, time-wise, credit reporting agencies recognize them as a search for one specific loan, and not a new-credit free-for-all.
Hope those bits of information prove helpful.
If you’re planning on shopping for car insurance, home insurance, small business insurance or life insurance in Nashville, please let me know if I can help find you the right coverage at the right price.
Any other insurance-related topics you’d like to see me tackle on the Tucker Coverage blog? Reach out; I’m always eager for feedback.