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Why your credit score may matter more to auto insurers than your driving record

  • A two-car couple with poor credit would pay an extra $2,090 per year in premiums.
  • Experts recommend shopping for new auto coverage every two to three years to maximize savings.
  • Bundling an auto policy with homeowner's or renter's insurance saved $235 per year.

Not paying your bills on time can affect your auto insurance premiums more than having two DUIs.

A recent Consumer Reports analysis found that a two-car couple with poor credit would pay an extra $2,090 per year in premiums on average compared with a similar couple with excellent credit. That is more than the extra $1,750 annually a two-car couple would pay if they had two violations for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. (California and Massachusetts prohibit auto insurers from using credit scores when setting rates.)

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"Besides improving your credit score, it pays to shop around because the underwriting rules for every insurer are different," said Tobie Stanger, a senior editor at Consumer Reports.

Even if you like your insurer, you can save money by checking rates every two to three years. "The more quotes you get, the better," Stanger said.

"Car insurance is not a sexy topic and people don't like to spend a lot of time on it. But if you do your research, you can save a lot of money." -Neil Richardson, lead consumer advisor at The Zebra

Premiums are based on three basic questions, said Neil Richardson, lead consumer advisor at auto insurance comparison website The Zebra: Who are you? Where do you live? What do you drive?

Some of those factors you can change, others not so much. For example, that two-car couple in Consumer Reports' analysis lowered their annual premiums by an average of $535 by getting married. Owning a home helps, too, lowering rates for the average two-car couple by $110 each year.

"Car insurance is not a sexy topic and people don't like to spend a lot of time on it ," Richardson said. "But if you do your research, you can save a lot of money."

Here are five hassle-free ways you can save on your auto insurance:

Improve your credit score. Pay your bills on time, slash your credit card balances and keep your unused credit accounts open to raise your score quickly. You can keep tabs on your score, which ranges from 300 to 850, for free from several card issuers and websites. (The average American has a credit score of 699.)

Choose the right deductible. Consumer Reports found that a two-car couple could save $140 each year by raising their deductible from $500 to $1,000. Be careful, said Jennifer Fitzgerald, CEO of online insurance broker PolicyGenius. "You can't look at the deductible in isolation."

"Make sure you can afford a high deductible in the worst-case scenario where you have to pay both auto and health insurance deductibles," she added.

Consider bundling your insurance. Linking your auto coverage with your renter's or homeowner's insurance can produce an average of $235 per year in savings, according to Consumer Reports.

Try usage-based auto insurance. More than 30 percent of new policyholders now are opting for insurance where premiums are partially determined by how much you drive, according to data from financial services research firm Aite Group. Usage-based insurance can be more affordable for people who work close to home and those who don't drive much, Richardson said.

Drive a vehicle that is cheaper to insure. Premiums vary widely based on the car you drive. You can review data on collision, bodily injury and property damage liability by make and model at Highway Loss Data Institute.

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