You buckle up, your hands can be found dutifully at ten and two o’clock on the steering wheel and the needle never climbs a hair above the speed limit. You’re a good driver, so clearly you should get low car insurance rates, right? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
A new study commissioned by insuranceQuotes.com and conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International found a great deal of confusion over the factors insurance companies consider when calculating rates. For instance, the study found that 57 percent of respondents think employment status can affect your coverage rates when, in fact, employment is never considered. Income and retirement savings don’t play a roll, either, but significant percentages of Americans think that they do (43 percent and 22 percent, respectively).
What factors, then, do insurance companies consider when coming up with a quote?
Most Americans know age plays a factor in what you pay for car insurance. It’s a big one. Drivers aged 16 to 19 are three times more likely than drivers 20 or older to be involved in a fatal crash, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, so they are much more expensive to insure. Rates vary from state to state, but, on average, adding a teen can bump up your annual premium by 84 percent. The best way to keep rates down for teens is to keep an eye out for discounts.
Car insurance rates for both men and women fall each year until age 60. After that, premiums start to rise a small amount. InsuranceQuotes.com found that a 25-year-old single male pays an average of almost 50 percent less for car insurance than a 20-year-old, and a 25-year-old single woman pays 39 percent less than a 20-year-old.
While 43 percent of those surveyed think charging men higher car insurance counts as age discrimination, men have proven to be the more costly to insure. In 2008, the fatal crash involvement rate per 100,000 people was almost 3 times higher for male drivers than for females, according to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration. Males also accounted for 71 percent of all traffic fatalities, 70 percent of all pedestrian fatalities and 87 percent of all cyclist fatalities in 2008.
Because of these risk factors, the average single 20-year-old woman pays 23 percent less than a single 20-year-old man for the same policy. This discrepancy shrinks the older drivers get. At age 25, women pay about four percent less, and from ages 35 to 65, women actually pay about one percent more than men.
Researchers found that 66 percent of drivers recognize that their credit history might be a factor in their premiums. Insurance companies calculate a credit-based insurance score, though, which is different from a regular credit score. The insurance company takes 20 to 30 different aspects of your financial history into account, such as any outstanding debt you may have, the length of your credit history, bankruptcies and late payments. The actual calculation is a closely guarded secret and it can vary wildly from company to company. On average, drivers with a poor score pay 91 percent more for insurance than those with an excellent score. Those with a median score pay 24 percent more. Three states – California, Massachusetts and Hawaii – don’t permit insurers to use credit as a factor in car insurance rates
Over 37 percent of respondents don’t think marriage status affects insurance rates, but the average married 20-year-old female pays 28 percent less than a single female of the same age. The gap is about the same for men. The discrepancy between married and single drivers shrinks considerably by age 25, however, and continues to do so as they age.
Insurers also look at where you live to determine rates, and everything from the weather to local laws can have an affect on what you pay. Louisiana is the most expensive state to insure a vehicle because the state sees the highest rates of bodily harm claims in the nation. Cars are also often lost to natural disasters, and judges often favor the plaintiff over insurance companies when doling out damages. Detroit, Michigan is the most expensive city to insure a car, due to the high crime rate, crumbling infrastructure and no-fault insurance laws. Insurance is so high in the Motor City that 19 percent of residents forego it altogether. This leads to higher rates for those who do insure their car.
Conversely, Maine is the least expensive state for auto insurance because most people drive on un-crowded rural roads and have become accustomed to driving in bad weather conditions. Maine is also very strict when it comes to teenage drivers. Young drivers have to complete a state-approved driver education course before they can apply for a learner’s permit and then must complete a three-step graduated licensing system, which lets them get driving experience in lower-risk conditions.
Type of car driven
Expensive cars cost a lot more to insure, which makes sense, but the style of car you drive can also affect rates. The car’s safety record and the rate at which a type of car is stolen can also affect the insurance rates, so performance cars can be costly, as they tend to be less safe and targets for thieves.
Think education doesn’t affect your insurance rate? You’re not alone. More than half of those surveyed said they don’t believe education level affects your rate, when, in fact, it can, depending on the state and the insurer.
The new study didn’t ask respondents about driving history; probably because insurance companies taking your driving record into account is not surprising. What is surprising is how high minor violations, such as going 1-15 mph over the speed limit, can raise insurance premiums.
Speeding raises rates an average 21 percent per year. DUIs result in the most serious price hike, with 93 percent higher insurance costs. Seemingly minor infractions are much more costly than one might expect. For instance, improper passing will increase insurance 21 percent on average, tailgating and failure to yield will raise rates 19 percent and driving in the carpool lane can lead to an increase of 18 percent.