It’s common knowledge that, in most states, one of the data points insurance carriers use to determine your premium is your credit score. The companies say lower scores are correlated with higher risk, which justifies charging higher rates; consumer advocates like the Consumer Federation of America contend that the practice is unfair and inflicts an onerous burden on low-income Americans.
What many people might not know, though, is that a similar link between credit and pricing exists in the homeowners’ insurance market—and if your credit is poor, you could take a serious financial hit.
A new survey from InsuranceQuotes.com finds that, on average, people with poor credit pay double what people with good credit pay for their homeowners’ insurance. That’s bad news, but what’s worse is that insurance companies in most states are relying even more heavily on credit scores today than they did in the past.
As in the car insurance market, only the states of California, Massachusetts and Maryland prohibit carriers from factoring in credit when they develop their underwriting formulas. (And Florida residents luck out; although the practice is allowed there, InsuranceQuotes finds that insurers there don’t really use it.)
In other states, it’s pretty much a crapshoot. While residents of New York with poor credit only pay 37% more, West Virginia homeowners with poor credit pay an eye-popping 202% more. In Washington, D.C., poor credit earns you a 185% premium hike, on average, which adds up to nearly $3,150 a year. By contrast, D.C. homeowners with good credit pay an average of $1,100 a year. In terms of dollar amounts, Texans with bad credit pay the most: more than $4,350 a year, on average.
Even the discrepancy among people with great and just-OK credit can be significant. While the average across the country is a 32% premium for mid-tier credit, that can climb to as high as 66% for Montana residents.
“They’ve done studies and found that consumers with low credit file more claims, so there is a statistical relationship,” says Laura Adams, InsuranceQuotes’s senior analyst. She acknowledges, though, that many people find the practice controversial, especially as insurance companies are weighting credit more heavily today. The survey found that 29 states, plus Washington, D.C., place more emphasis on credit now than they did a year ago.
Homeowners are caught in a bind, since mortgage lenders typically require homeowners to carry insurance, even though filing a claim can also increase the likelihood that your rate will rise, regardless of your credit.
“I think the takeaway here with consumers is to just get familiar with it, and do everything you can to improve your credit,” Adams says. If your credit has improved, ask your insurance carrier to re-rate you, she suggests. A higher score could mean a lower rate.