Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Think your driving habits are the basis for your insurance rates? Think again

Consumer Reports recently reported on auto insurance premiums and rates, and is doing a social media campaign to raise awareness of the issue. They found that auto insurers use factors like your credit score, shopping habits and a loyalty penalty –your tolerance for rate hikes--when setting your insurance rates. The publication is urging consumers to contact state insurance regulators like Commissioner Kreidler to voice their support for premiums that are based on driving behavior.

Kreidler has long advocated for abolishing credit scoring, which is the practice of using consumers’ credit scores to set rates. In 2002, it was his top legislative priority; the state Legislature did not support a complete ban on credit scoring but it did restrict the use of consumers’ credit history in personal insurance rates. However, the use of credit history by insurers is not illegal and was in fact authorized by the federal government in the 1970 Fair Credit Reporting Act.

More recently, Kreidler issued an advisory to insurance companies about price optimization, which he calls a loyalty penalty because it penalizes consumers who don’t shop around for lower rates. “This practice discriminates against people who don’t shop around, and discriminatory pricing is against state law,” said Kreidler. “It’s hard to root out loyalty penalty pricing, but our actuaries are actively watching for it.”

We’ve also seen reports that insurers are using consumers’ social media posts as a factor in setting rates. The practice is called social media risk scoring and it looks at things like if you post vacation plans, thereby leaving your home vacant and primed for burglary. But why stop there, who’s to say pictures of happy hour at the bar won’t result in higher premiums for your auto insurance? Or photos of you smoking while skydiving won’t result in increased life insurance premiums?

Our consumer experts have fielded more calls on this topic since the Consumer Reports information was posted, and we encourage people to keep contacting us. Our advice on this topic is to shop around. That’s really consumers’ best option until state and federal lawmakers take on credit scoring and other factors that are not directly related to consumers’ rates.

Do you have questions about this? Contact our insurance experts: