A reporter recently asked Edmunds about the kinds of personal information that can affect the cost of car insurance. She also wanted to know whether people could do anything to address personal factors that were keeping their car insurance rates high.
They're good questions, and Edmunds was happy to help answer them. During the research it became clear that when it comes to car insurance, there's hardly anything that isn't personal. Here are five all-about-you factors that can affect your car insurance premium:
1) Your driving profile. Such factors as the number of miles you drive annually and your accident and ticket history are major elements in setting your insurance rate. The less you drive, the less risk of an accident and a claim. Safer driving — meaning a history free of accidents and moving violations — also points to someone who's less likely to file a claim.
2) The car you drive. Car insurance premiums are based in part on the car's sticker price, the cost to repair it, its overall safety record and the likelihood of theft, according to the Insurance Information Institute. The cost of fixing a brand-new $225,000 2010 Ferrari 458 Italia is going to be a lot more than the repair costs for a used $17,000 Nissan Altima. The premium will reflect this.
3) Your essential personal information, including your age, occupation and where you live. Each of these things factors into the process of setting your insurance rate because insurance companies base their premiums on actuarial information about drivers. They look for patterns of claims activity among people like you. A teenage boy is likely to have a higher insurance rate than a middle-aged driver, because statistically, teenage boys have more accidents than do 40-year-olds.
Your occupation can play a role if it affects how much driving you do. Work that involves lots of miles on the road, such as an outside sales job, can affect rates. From the insurance company's point of view, the more miles you drive means more risk of an accident.
Insurance companies also look at where you live. They track local trends of accidents, car thefts, lawsuits and the cost of medical care and car repair, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
4) The coverage you choose. The more coverage you elect and the lower the deductible you set, the more you'll pay.
5) Your credit score. Some insurance companies use credit scores as a factor in setting rates. This practice is coming under attack, however, with seven states in 2010 passing regulations regarding the use of credit information in insurance. In 2011, several other state legislatures introduced bills to regulate the practice.
Actuarial studies show that how a person manages his or her financial affairs is an accurate predictor of the number and size of insurance claims he or she might file, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
If you want to lower your insurance costs, you can't change your age, or easily change your job or hometown. But there are some personal changes you can make:
1) Consider pay-as-you-drive insurance. It's a paradox, but the more personal you get, the better your rates might be. Pay-as-you-drive programs offer better rates because they're tailored to how you personally drive — as opposed to the people who are similar to you in terms of age or other unchangeable factors.
This means that a teenager who is an excellent driver — who doesn't speed, doesn't drive at night and doesn't drive many miles — can get a better rate than the average teenager, whose actuarial profile pegs him as a greater risk, based on the accident history for people his age.
Pay-as-you-drive plans have different configurations, depending on the insurance company and state. Some require that you install a telematics device that transmits information about your actual driving (such as speed, mileage and braking patterns) to the insurance company. Others, such as plans permitted in California, only are based on the number of miles you drive, not how you drive.
2) Be a calmer, more careful driver. If you've had speeding tickets in the past, resolve to change from being a speedy, aggressive driver to a calm one. A side benefit is that you'll save money on gasoline. Edmunds testing has also shown that a calm driving style gets you 35 percent better fuel economy.
3) Choose a car with a lower cost of ownership. Edmunds has a True Cost to Own ® (TCO) tool that lets you size up cars when you're shopping. It takes into account eight components — depreciation, interest on financing, taxes and fees, insurance premiums, fuel, maintenance, repairs and any federal tax credit that may be available — and tells you what your cost would be over five years. It's a way to get a preview of what your insurance premiums might be. Also, talk to your insurance company when you're car shopping to get a quote on how your choice will affect your insurance. If you wait until the deal is done, you've lost a chance to manage your costs.
4) Change your coverage. Don't go for every bell and whistle in an auto insurance policy. If you're willing to pay a slightly higher deductible, you can wind up saving big on your rates. Going from a $250 to a $1,000 deductible could save you 25-40 percent on your policy. Set aside a portion of these funds to cover your costs in the event of a claim.
If you have an older car with comprehensive and collision coverage, you might find yourself paying more in insurance than the car is worth. One tip: Take your comprehensive and collision premiums and add those up. Multiply by 10. If your car is worth less than that amount, don't buy the coverage. If you're worried about being left overexposed, consider this: The typical policyholder makes a claim only once every 11 years, and reports a total loss only once every 50 years.
5) Explore discounts for which you might be qualified. The options available include discounts for low-mileage drivers, for seniors and for cars with anti-theft devices and certain safety devices. It's a lengthy list — just ask your insurer about any discounts, and go from there.
6) Clean up your credit. Keep it in good shape by paying bills on time and by regularly checking that there are no items on your history that do not belong to you. You can get free annual credit report checks here.
Is there personal information that doesn't matter? Gender, one expert told us. Insurance companies don't care if you're female or male as long as you're a safe driver. And it's a myth that red cars have higher insurance rates than those sporting more sedate shades, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Ultimately, insurance companies care about how likely it is that a particular driver would end up making or causing a pricey claim against them. Green is the only color that matters.
To find a dealership that knows how to treat shoppers right, please visit Edmunds.com's Dealer Ratings and Reviews.