Risky Borrowers May Be Treated Worse Than Drunks by Insurers

A customer’s credit score may matter more than a drunken-driving conviction for auto insurers setting premiums, Consumer Reports said, citing a review of price quotes in the U.S. from more than 700 firms.

A hypothetical group of adult drivers with clean driving records and poor credit paid $1,552 more on average in Florida than the same drivers with excellent credit and a drunk-driving offense, the consumer advocate said Thursday in a statement. Throughout the U.S., people with “good” credit paid $68 to $526 more than those with the best scores, the group said.

“If a car-insurance company calculates that a consumer’s credit score isn’t up to its highest standard, it often charges a higher premium -- even if the customer had never had an accident,” Consumer Reports said in its statement. “Consumers have a right to expect that their car-insurance premiums are based on meaningful behavior such as their driving record.”

Consumer Reports, a non-profit organization, said it analyzed more than 2 billion quotes from U.S. insurers including Allstate Corp., Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s Geico, Progressive Corp. and State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.

Single, divorced or widowed people often pay more for auto policies than married couples, according to a Consumer Federation of America report published this week. In a previous study, the CFA found that the largest U.S. auto insurers weigh occupation and education levels more than driving records to set rates for low-income customers.

“The fact that insurance-based credit scores are an important part of setting rates is nothing new,” Robert Hartwig, president of the Insurance Information Institute, said in a phone interview. “It is strongly predictive of loss, and that’s a net benefit to consumers.”

California, Hawaii and Massachusetts are the only states that prohibit insurers from using credit scores to set prices, according to Consumer Reports. The complete study is published in the Consumer Reports magazine September issue.

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