How do car insurance companies set their rates? This is simple question has a surprisingly complicated answer. Before we delve into factors that go into rate setting, we must emphasize that auto insurance companies are businesses, first and foremost. Car insurance companies lose money when they have to pay out on claims, and so they constantly adjust their risk calculations to essentially reward risk-free drivers and penalize drivers who they deem to be "overly risky."
Thus, on a fundamental level, anything that influences your perceived riskiness can influence your rates. And thus, in general, the "less risky" you make yourself, the more that car insurance companies will theoretically reward you. Having said that, let's now take a look at five crucial factors that carriers look at when they determine rates.
- Your Credit History: Most people know that auto insurance companies look at potential policyholders' driving records. But companies will also look at your credit report, score, and history. The better your history and the higher your score, the less likely you are to file a claim – and the more likely you are to make your premium payments on time.
- Your Driving Record: Car insurance companies have the right to review the driving record of anyone who applies for a policy. The company wants to determine whether you meet standards of insurability and to evaluate your risk potential. Each company has its own evaluation method, so points on your driving record may or may not have a big impact on your rate.
- The Type of Car You Drive: Sports cars, SUVs, and flashy, high performance vehicles generally cost more to insure. Auto insurance companies have statistically analyzed the driving behavior of people who drive sports cars and SUVs – and these drivers are typically more reckless and careless than are people who drive station wagons and sedans. Flashy sports cars also make more tempting targets for vandals and thieves.
The moral of the story: The safety rating of the car you drive (and other factors specific to your car's make and model) can influence your rates.
- Your Demographic: If you are a male teenage driver who just got his license, your rates will be much higher than if you are a 40-something female driver. Certain demographic groups are more reckless and careless than others. Young drivers, in particular, may be penalized. All that said, being a member of a special demographic class can have its pluses. If you are a senior over 65 years old, you can theoretically get a retiree discount of 10%. If you are a good student (A to B grade range), you can get a good student discount of around 10%. So you can balance this out.
- X Factors: The calculus that most car insurance companies use to determine rates can get incredibly complicated. In addition to all of the aforementioned factors, an insurance company may take into account the security of your vehicle (e.g. whether or not you have an alarm system and antitheft system installed), the neighborhood where you garage your car, the nature and quality of onboard safety features like airbags and antilock brakes, and a plethora of other factors. You cannot possibly anticipate how all of these X factors may interplay. So your best bet in terms of isolating great rates is literally to shop around to see what your rates might be if you bought today. Quote shopping allows you to "take the temperature" of car insurance companies.
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