You probably know that banks use information in your credit report to determine if they'll extend credit. But did you know that in most states, insurance companies also consider your credit history? Good or bad, your credit history may affect which companies will sell you homeowners or auto insurance coverage and will often determine the price you'll pay.
Late credit card payments or not having a credit history at all will often affect your rates. Here are two examples:
What's the score here?
Insurance companies have always used various criteria to determine who to insure and at what rates. For example, auto insurance rates are based on your age, driving record, make and model of your car, and how many insurance claims you've filed in the past. In states where it is permitted by law, insurance companies also use credit information as an additional factor to help predict which drivers represent more risk. Insurers believe that the more stable your credit history, the less likely you are to have an accident or file a claim against your auto or homeowners insurance policy. And the more likely you are to pay your insurance premium payments.
If your credit history (along with other factors considered) suggests that you are likely to be a responsible driver, you may be offered a lower premium. But if your credit history is tarnished—or if you have little or no credit history—you may pay higher premiums for the coverage you're offered. You may even be denied coverage altogether.
How you can improve the score
If your rate changes or you are denied insurance coverage because of your credit history, the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act allows you to order a free copy of your credit report from the bureau used by the auto insurance company. If you feel the information provided to the credit bureau is incorrect, you can dispute it. Every insurance company is required to disclose whether you rate was affected by your credit report, and other consumer reports, such as your motor vehicle report.
If you've been turned down for insurance, this may feel like too little, too late. But if your credit history is affecting your ability to get auto or homeowners insurance (or the premiums you're charged for it), here are a few things you can do:
For now, the use of credit reports is an industry standard. Make your credit work for you by watching it closely. In most cases, you may be rewarded with lower premiums if you do so.
Looking for different information? Have questions or comments? Please let us know.
Originally posted September 10, 2004.
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