by Ed Sneineh

Insurance companies use different criteria to rate their auto insurance customers. The main criteria used are the following:

1. Credit Score. Credit score rating is used by certain preferred and standard companies. People with higher credit score will have lower premiums. Actually some companies may sharply increase premiums for auto and home polices with bad credit score, or may even decline insuring them if the applicant was in bankruptcy in the past few years, for example. Insurance companies believe that people with better credit are more responsible, hence they will be more responsible too in their behavior on the road and  more responsible in the filing of  their claims, if any.

Many people think that credit score pricing is unfair. The truth is that the entire insurance industry can be understood like (legally unfair), an industry that does price discrimination because of applicant's financial credit, gender, marital status, and age. Discriminating against people and charging them different prices because of their age, gender, marital status is perfectly legal in the insurance business.

Many auto insurance companies that are credit score oriented have created parallel programs to insure people without using their credit score. To cope with the  extra risk for not checking their credit, those companies did set a lower liability limits (close to the state minimum) as a maximum for any policy they issue without checking the credit and offered these products with a little higher premiums.

2. Demographics of the Market. Some demographic factors are more important than others in determining the price. This includes age, sex, marital status, ages of certain household, geographic location (ZIP), and occupation.

Youthful drivers (widely defined as someone under age 25) and old drivers (over 70 years) pay more money than others. Males under age 25 also pay higher than females of similar age. Married people pay less also. Certain companies may prohibit certain classes of occupations like bar tenders, musicians, entertainers, etc. Driving record, prior insurance history/ experience will also affect the price (people with accidents/ moving violations pay more.) People in particular  ZIP codes pay more than others because of bad claim experience for the insurance companies in those ZIP codes.

3. Premium Rating System: There are two widely accepted premium rating systems: Rating by Vehicle Symbol and Rating by Actual Cash Value.

In the event that you are buying a new policy or replacing an existing vehicle with a newly acquired vehicle the result of the transaction may be high  or low premiums depending on your company's way of rating , the symbol of your vehicle and the actual cash value of your automobile.

A Vehicle Symbol is a number assigned by the Insurance Service Office (ISO) to each vehicle. The symbol is determined based on certain factors such as loss experience for that particular vehicle, vehicle size/ weight, wheelbase, body construction, and horsepower. Vehicles with higher symbols have higher insurance premiums. Some companies that utilize their rating based on the Symbol of the vehicle will charge you more if the vehicle has higher Symbol, and less if vehicle has lower symbol. Notice here that a vehicle with a value  (ACV) of $15,000 and symbol of 14 will have higher premiums than another vehicle with a symbol of 7 and a value (ACV) of $20,000.

Actual Cash Value method is dissimilar. The insurance premium is usually based on the Actual Cash Value of the automobile (ACV = automobile replacement minus depreciation) . The ACV of the automobile is based on the fair market worth of an average automobile of the same year, make & model sold in the area. When there is a total loss the insurance company will use that dollar value to pay for the claim, but may modify the amount of  claim according to given facts like authentic mileage and the physical conditions of the automobile before the loss (automobiles that have double mileage as the average automobiles will have values smaller amount than the ACV.) So for two automobiles that have ACVs of $15,000 and $20,000 the insured will pay more for comprehensive & collision with the 2nd automobile, but liability premiums remain unchanged!
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