4 hidden factors that help determine your auto insurance premiums

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In the continuation of a disturbing trend, your driving record is becoming less and less relevant to setting your auto insurance premiums.

For years, some auto insurers have been giving level of education and occupation greater weight in setting insurance premiums. They believe they can accurately predict, for example, that a person with a master’s degree who has had multiple claims will cost them less over time than somebody who never had an accident but only got a high school diploma.

Insurers also love to obsess over your credit score. A recent issue of Consumer Reports reported a real inequity in how a lot of insurers are pricing coverage. Many of them will charge a person with a DUI/DWI arrest a lower premium than a person with a perfect driving record who has a poor credit score. That’s just crazy.

4 hidden metrics that insurers use against you

Credit score

Some insurers are convinced they can better set premiums based on your credit score than on your driving record. Using a credit score to set insurance rates is legal in 47 states, though it varies widely by insurer as to who is doing it and who isn’t. If you’re paying more than you think you should be based on your driving record, this could be the reason why.

But it’s not a monolith; not all insurers are doing this classification and even those who do have big differences in how they factor info about education and occupation into a final premium quote. So shopping your coverage at renewal time becomes key.

Insurance should be a merit system. Sure, it’s reasonable for age to be factored in — think about the dangers of young drivers (and very old ones) behind the wheel. But over time, whether or not you have claims should determine what you pay.

Read more: What role does credit play in setting car insurance premiums?

Homeownership vs. renting

The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) has a report out that says good drivers can pay as much as 47% more for basic liability auto insurance if they rent instead of owning their home.

In fact, premiums averaged $112 more per year for renters vs. owners. Liberty Mutual was singled out as the worst insurer on this metric. They penalized renters with premium hikes averaging $307 per year, which was 19% more, for state mandated auto insurance coverage. See the full report here.

Education and job title

Both education level and job classification are key to what you pay for insurance. Again, these are both factors that have nothing to do with how you drive. Yet the average advanced degree holder will pay less even if they have tickets or at-faults than somebody who has a high school diploma and a clean driving record.


NYPIRG put some hard numbers to this. They took a theoretical 30-year-old woman and ran her numbers as a bank executive with an advanced degree vs. as a bank teller with a high school diploma. The mock bank teller paid 20% more in premiums on average. When they adjusted her profile from bank teller to working retail, the rates that came back were 40% higher!

Zip code

Finally, another recent CFA study finds many auto insurers are setting rates not based on driving record, but on your street address and neighborhood you live in. To see the full study done by the CFA, click here.

Have you considered these two insurers?

If you’re with a poorly ranked insurer, there’s no question: Shop the market to find a lower price and fire them! That’s a win-win. You can get higher quality at a lower price.

On the other hand, if you’re with the two elites of the insurance industry — Amica and USAA — Clark says you should consider staying with them even if it’s more costly. However, here’s the great news: Consumer Reports recently took a look at the insurance industry and determined these two top-ranked companies are cheaper than the competition!

In a 23-state survey, Consumer Reports found USAA was the lowest-cost insurer for the average person. However, USAA is only available to those in the military or affiliated with the military through direct family ties. For everyone else, there’s Amica Mutual. Surveyed in 10 states, Amica Mutual was the second-lowest cost insurer.

The other insurers — the ones you hear advertising all over the place — range to as much as nearly double in premium vs. USAA to 50% more than what average person pays with Amica Mutual!

If you do shop Amica Mutual, you should note that the first year of coverage with them is expensive. Because it is a mutual, that means there are no shareholders and you must buy in to this company. But most customers typically get an annual rebate from the company of 20% of what they paid in premiums — when they have a year with no claims.

So know that quality and low prices can both happen at the same time!

Read more: Best and worst home insurers

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