6 Things to Know About Credit Insurance Scores

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Insurance credit scores factor into auto insurance rates, Bills.com says.

Insurance companies use certain credit-related criteria to evaluate which drivers are most likely to have accidents -- and Bills.com president Ethan Ewing explains to consumers how insurance credit scores work.

Three major credit reporting agencies - Equifax, Experian and TransUnion - each report consumer credit scores, generally based on a formula designed by the Fair Isaac Corporation. Credit scores, which range between 300 and 850, are calculated using mathematical methods that incorporate credit history, amount of credit used and available, number of late and on-time payments, whether any payments due are in default, and other variables.

Insurance companies use a variant of credit scoring, developed specifically for their industry, to help predict an individual's likelihood of filing an insurance claim.

In underwriting auto insurance, driving history remains the key factor to setting rates, but insurance credit scores play an important role as well. "Several studies have shown that credit information can indicate how a person manages financial risk. People who manage their finances responsibly also tend to have fewer accidents, which translates into lower costs for insurers," Ewing said. "Those people, in turn, can receive lower rates on insurance premiums because they are less likely to incur costs for insurers."

With credit scores figuring heavily into insurance credit scoring, the insurance industry maintains that insurance scoring benefits a majority of consumers, because most people have good credit scores. The median credit score is 723, according to Fair Isaac. About 45 percent of consumers have a score between 700 and 799, and another 13 percent score above 800.

Here are Ewing's points to help consumers understand insurance credit scores -- and how to improve those scores.

1.    Insurance scores take debt, payments into consideration. Insurance scores examine debts, payments, credit history, bankruptcies and new applications for credit. "If you have a number of new credit cards or carry high balances, those behaviors might count against you, even if your income is high," cautioned Ewing. Solution: Use credit cards judiciously, make sure to pay off balances in full monthly and think twice before opening new accounts.

2.    Insurance credit scores are based on credit information. Insurance credit scores operate under federal laws that prohibit discrimination against consumers for reasons of ethnicity, religion, gender, marital status and birthplace. Therefore, insurance credit scoring is based solely on credit information, not on personal information.

3.    Nearly all states permit insurance scoring. Only Hawaii prohibits insurance scoring to rate auto insurance policies. Several states do have restrictions on the books that limit how insurance scores can be used.

4.    Insurance scoring is research-based. The industry has used credit information in making rating decisions since 1970. Several studies have affirmed the connection between credit history and the likelihood of a person filing an insurance claim.

5.    Negative issues diminish from the score as time passes. More recent credit activities have a greater impact on the insurance credit score than do older behaviors. Solution: Work to pay bills on time and keep credit usage manageable to improve a less-than-perfect score.

6.    You will be notified of score-based rates. If insurance rates increase because of an insurance credit score, most companies are required to notify the customer. The notification -- called an adverse-action letter -- will include information on how to learn more about the score. Solution: Check your credit report regularly, Ewing said, since your insurance credit score will be based in large part on your regular credit score. "If you see any inaccurate information, take steps immediately to correct the information. Also tell your insurance underwriter about any inaccuracies so that the insurer can choose to evaluate your rates differently."

"Overall, the insurance industry maintains that insurance scores help most people pay less for their insurance," Ewing concluded. "The scores also are said to help assign costs of coverage fairly to consumers, based on their risk profiles, and to provide fair tools for insurers to make decisions. One thing is for sure: Insurance scores are here to stay, and so they create another reason to be smart about managing your money and credit."

About Bills.com (http://www.bills.com):
Based in San Mateo, Calif., Bills.com is a free one-stop portal where consumers can educate themselves about complex personal finance issues and comparison shop for products and services including credit cards, debt relief assistance, insurance, mortgages and other loans. As the online portal to Freedom Financial Network, LLC, the company has served more than 50,000 customers nationwide since 2002 while managing more than $1 billion in consumer debt. Its RSS feed is available at http://www.bills.com/news_releases/.

Bills.com holds the No. 257 spot on the Inc. 500 list for 2008, and the No. 3 spot on Entrepreneur Magazine's Hot 100 list of the fastest-growing U.S. companies. Company co-founders and co-CEOs Andrew Housser and Brad Stroh were named to the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal's "40 Under 40" list in 2008, and were recipients of the Northern California Ernst & Young 2008 Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

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Aimee Bennett

Ethan Ewing
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