How you and your behavior affect your car insurance rates

(BPT) - The average American driver pays more than $1,300 per year for car insurance, but some pay a third of that average while others pay nearly 30 times that amount, according to research by The Zebra, an auto insurance search engine. High prices, wide disparity in rates and a number of misunderstandings could be why a survey by the same company found nearly 61 percent of Americans think their auto insurance is too expensive, and nearly 29 percent think it’s an outright scam.

“Many people don’t understand how insurance companies arrive at the rates they charge,” says Neil Richardson, a licensed insurance agent with The Zebra, which has created the first and only Insurability Score(TM) to help drivers understand the risk factors that affect their car insurance rates. “Just as credit rating companies consider a number of factors in determining your credit score, car insurers look at multiple factors in establishing insurance rates. Those risk factors are all aimed at assessing how likely a person is to not cost the company money, that is, whether they’re more likely to file a claim.”

Learning about auto insurance risk factors can help drivers understand the formula behind rates offered by insurance companies, and allow them to make changes to their behavior to avoid higher premiums, Richardson advises.

Here are four controllable factors that can influence your car insurance rates:

* How you drive — Just one DUI on your record can raise your rates by more than $1,000 per year, The Zebra found. Safe drivers who obey the rules of the road and have no traffic violations generally pay less for insurance than similar drivers who have violations. Practice safe driving habits. Hang up the phone, and don’t speed, drive recklessly or drink and drive — all those behaviors can lead to violations that will significantly increase your annual premium.

* Continuous coverage — Keeping consistent insurance coverage without a lapse. One, three and five years of being continuously insured are major milestones to most insurance companies and you should potentially see a rate decrease after each of those. You don’t have to be insured with the same company continuously — just have the coverage without any gaps.

* Your credit score — Car insurance companies use credit scoring information to further assess a driver’s likelihood of a claim. Drivers with higher credit scores tend to have access to the best auto insurance rates, while those whose scores are lower often pay higher rates. Taking steps to increase your credit score by just one tier could save you as much as 17 percent on your auto insurance. (However, if you live in California, Hawaii and Massachusetts, credit score is not considered in your rate.)

* Whether you rent or own your home — While improving your auto insurance rates may not be top-of-mind when you’re thinking of buying a home, auto insurers generally charge lower rates to people who own their homes versus those who rent.

Additionally, these factors can influence car insurance rates. Even though you may not be able to control these factors, knowing them can help you understand how much you’re likely to pay for car insurance:

* Where you live — Insurance laws and costs vary from state to state. For example, The Zebra found drivers in Ohio have the lowest average annual premiums ($764), while those in Michigan have the highest average ($2,087). Location even matters at the ZIP code level because insurance companies consider the crime rates, weather trends, population density and other factors of where you live to predict the risk of you filing a claim.

* How old you are — Statistically, age is an indicator of how likely a driver is to have an accident resulting in a claim. That’s why teen drivers pay the most (about $5,000 per year), drivers between the ages of 50-59 pay the least (less than $1,000 per year) and rates start to rise again after you pass 60.

* Your marital status — Married people typically pay less for car insurance than those who are single, divorced or widowed.

* How you use your car — Auto insurers look at whether you use your car to drive for business, to and from work, to and from school, or only for pleasure.

The Zebra recently launched Insurability Score(TM), the first-and-only-of-its-kind score that can help drivers understand the risk factors that affect their individual car insurance rates, and what they can do about it. The company provides the free score and helpful advice on how to improve it only to consumers as an informational tool; insurance companies don’t use the score to set rates. Visit www.thezebra.com to get your free Insurability Score and comparison shop auto insurance policies through their powerful, independent and unbiased comparison engine.

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