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Does your credit score impact your car insurance rate? It’s a question you might have wondered about before — especially if you have a particularly spotty credit record. Unless you live in California, Hawaii or Massachusetts, the short answer is yes. The explanation of the relationship between credit scores and car insurance rate-setting is more complex, however.

What Factors Into a Car Insurance Rate?
Obviously, your driving record has an impact on the estimated risk your insurance company assumes by taking you on as a driver. There also are other risk elements that affect your car insurance, according to the Insurance Information Institute: where you park your car at night, your gender, your age and the kind of car you drive. Also relevant to your rate, according to insurance companies, is your credit score.

The practice of using credit scores in setting insurance rates has been around for at least 20 years. According to at least two studies, a 2003 study done at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin, and a 2007 study by the Federal Trade Commission, there is a statistical correlation between how much a consumer costs an insurance company and that customer’s credit score.

It’s also important to note that insurance companies don’t use traditional credit scores. They build their own scores based on FICO or Experian scores: Basically, companies take your score and use it in their own model.

Is This Fair?
According to J. Robert Hunter, director of insurance at the Consumer Federation of America, credit scoring was the first classification factor used by insurance companies that was not based on traditional actuarial research. Before this, he says, rate factors were determined by developing a thesis and then testing it by collecting data to determine if it was correct. For example: If the thesis was that drivers with a DUI conviction might have more claims in the following year, actuaries might look at statistical evidence to see if such a thesis was correct.

What You Can Do To Mitigate Your Costs
Regardless of whether the use of credit history is fair, it is legal in all but three states. So what can you do if your credit score is in less than perfect shape? As always, your best bet is to shop around for the best rate. For consumers who have difficulty finding coverage at all, in almost every state there is an assigned risk plan that helps high-risk drivers find coverage for a limited period of time. Finally, improve or maintain your credit history by paying your bills on time and not skipping payments. You also should check your credit report and keep an eye out for possible errors. Consider free credit monitoring with a company like CreditKarma and free annual credit-history reports from AnnualCreditReport.com.