The purpose of this disclosure is to explain how we make money without charging you for our content.
Our mission is to help people at any stage of life make smart financial decisions through research, reporting, reviews, recommendations, and tools.
Earning your trust is essential to our success, and we believe transparency is critical to creating that trust. To that end, you should know that many or all of the companies featured here are partners who advertise with us.
Our content is free because our partners pay us a referral fee if you click on links or call any of the phone numbers on our site. If you choose to interact with the content on our site, we will likely receive compensation. If you don't, we will not be compensated. Ultimately the choice is yours.
Opinions are our own and our editors and staff writers are instructed to maintain editorial integrity, but compensation along with in-depth research will determine where, how, and in what order they appear on the page.
To find out more about our editorial process and how we make money, click here.
When searching for an auto insurance policy, there are things we expect will impact our rates: demographic details like age, home address, even credit score. But in the world of car insurance, there are still surprises, believe it or not. Below, you’ll find the top seven most surprising things that can impact your car insurance rates, taken straight from a comprehensive research report on the state of the auto insurance industry compiled by The Zebra.
1. Your History of Car Insurance—or Lack Thereof—Can Mean Big-Dollar Differences on Your Rate
If you’ve had a long history of insurance coverage, and if you’ve chosen policies with better coverage, you’ll pay less for your auto insurance. For example, in the case that you cause a collision that results in injury to another person, but you have higher coverage limits, that leads insurance companies to believe that you’re a more responsible person than someone else with a history of choosing the lowest possible coverage.
So what level of coverage do you need in order to see savings? The Zebra’s research shows that people with a five-year history of carrying $100,000 of bodily injury coverage per person and $300,000 per collision (often designated as “BI 100/300” in insurance documents) can expect to pay an average of $184 less per year for the same new insurance policy as someone with no history of insurance coverage.
Further, if you have any lapse in auto insurance coverage (even a few days), that can also cost you big time, as it indicates high-risk behavior to insurers.
Note: The only exception is for residents of California, which is the only state that doesn’t consider insurance history when determining average annual auto insurance premiums.
2. Insurance Companies Care Why You Drive
Do you drive solely to get to and from work? Do you use your car for business or to haul stuff around your farm? When you apply for your car insurance policy, the agent will ask how you use your vehicle, and your answer could have a big impact on your insurance rate. The Zebra found that prices can vary up to 18% depending on how a person uses their vehicle, even when every other detail stays the same.
People who use their vehicles on a farm will pay the least, while those who use their cars for business will pay the most for car insurance — up to $227 more each year. You can’t lie about what you use your car for, lest you risk a canceled policy, but you can make sure you tell the agent how you use your car when shopping for a policy to ensure you get the best rate (especially if you’re insuring a farm vehicle!).
3. Lying During the Application Process Can Cost You
It could spell trouble if you don’t disclose accidents and other violations when applying for insurance, The Zebra’s licensed insurance agent and expert Neil Richardson says. “Insurance companies don’t like dishonesty, so many times they will charge more for non-disclosed incidents. It pays to be honest about your driving history when you’re applying for your policy.”
4. Insurance Companies Care Whether You’re Coupled Up — & if You Aren’t, They Care Why
You might already know that married people pay less for their auto insurance policies than single folks (especially married men — a family makes men better drivers, it seems). But the rate differences became interesting when The Zebra looked at divorced and widowed people.
When a single person gets married, his or her rate will drop $74 a year, on average. Get divorced, and the rate goes right back to where it was. But if you’re married and your spouse passes away, your rates will also climb a little higher, though not as high as if you’d gotten divorced. It might not seem fair, but it’s all based on risk according to insurance company calculations.
Note: If you live in Hawaii, Massachusetts or Montana, insurers do not take marital status into consideration when calculating average annual premiums, so your policy won’t change because of it.
5. Not All Violations Are Created Equal When it Comes to Auto Insurance
Insurance companies don’t spell out exactly why there’s such a discrepancy among rates for each violation, but The Zebra’s research shows common violations vary widely — and vary among states. For example, speeding, causing a collision (“at-fault accident”), driving recklessly, racing or driving under the influence of alcohol will all raise car insurance rates at least a couple hundred bucks — and as much as several thousand. A DUI will raise rates more than 100% in seven states, more than 200% in Hawaii and more than 350% in North Carolina. And although DUIs increase average annual premiums the most nationally, 23 states cite racing as the costliest violation.
Further, penalties for various violations don’t appear to correlate closely with safety risk. Texting and driving can be as dangerous as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, but you’ll pay a lot more for your auto insurance if you’re caught doing the latter. The Zebra’s research found that a DUI will make a driver’s car insurance rate 3,200% higher than a texting-while-driving violation would.
6. Insurance Companies Factor Your Highest Level of Education Into Your Rate
The Zebra averaged savings across all 50 U.S. states and Washington, D.C., and found that, nationally, people with a bachelor’s degree save $32 more each year than people without a high school diploma. Keep in mind that this is an average, though, so depending on where you live, your degrees could have an even greater impact. In Delaware, for instance, a person with a PhD will pay $131 less than someone without a high school diploma, all else being equal.
Richardson says that customers are often surprised, and sometimes even offended, when asked about the highest level of education they’ve achieved, and some would choose not to disclose the information. But, says Richardson, “choosing not to disclose your education level can cause your rate to be higher because the default option for education level would be the lowest tier — a designation of ‘no high school or diploma.’”
7. How Long You’ve Had Your License Will Affect Your Insurance Rate
The length of time you been licensed to drive can also impact your rates, says Richardson, because this is a strong indicator of the amount of driving experience you’ve had. If you have been licensed for fewer than three years you will most likely pay higher rates than someone the same age who has been licensed for more than three years.
You might feel frustrated that many of the factors that determine your auto insurance policy rate are beyond your control (you can’t — or shouldn’t — get married just to save a few dollars on your auto insurance, for example). But it’s still important to know the details of how your insurer might determine your rate. This way, you can always make sure to ask the agent to consider every factor that might lower your rate when you’re shopping around (which you should do about every six months to a year).