Insurance tips: Credit scores and insurance scores

Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Many insurers use a credit-based "insurance score" as a factor -- a major factor, often -- in setting your rates. It's a quick way of quoting you a price, and insurers maintain that there's a correlation between these credit-based scores and a person's claims history.

Washington state limits how insurers can use these scores, and Commissioner Kreidler has repeatedly pushed for legislation to ban their use completely.

In Washington, insurers cannot hold the following things against you:
  • The number of credit inquiries
  • Collection accounts identified as medical bills
  • A loan if it's the initial purchase or finance of a vehicle or home.
In Washington, insurers must also tell you if you didn't get the best rate due to your score. If this happens, you're entitled to a free copy of your credit report from the credit agency that your insurer used.

What goes into an insurance score? Here's the breakdown of a score from FICO, one of the biggest companies generating these scores for insurers:

• Payment History (40%) – How well you have made payments on your outstanding debt in the past

• Outstanding Debt (30%) – How much debt you currently have

• Credit History Length (15%) – How long you have had a line of credit

• Pursuit of New Credit (10%) – If you have applied for new lines of credit recently

• Credit Mix (5%) – The types of credit you have (credit card, mortgage, auto loans, etc.)

How can you improve your score? The same way you'd improve your credit score: make payments (bills, taxes, fines, etc.) on time. Keep credit card balances as low as possible. Think carefully before opening new lines of credit, such as a department store charge card, just to get a discount.
You can check your credit reports from the three nationwide consumer credit reporting companies annually at If you find errors, contact the credit reporting company to have them corrected.

Insurance and vintage or antique cars

Monday, June 11, 2012
Q: I'm rebuilding my antique car and my grandfather's one-seater vintage biplane in my garage. Will my homeowners policy cover all the parts if they are stolen?

A: Probably not. Most homeowners policies exclude autos, aircraft, other motorized vehicles and their parts. You might have coverage for, say, a riding lawn mower or golf cart, but you'd be wise to talk to your agent and insurer about separate coverage that may be available for the parts during the rebuild process and after completion. Most antique cars and plans can be covered on specialized policies designed for their generally limited and unique use.

Note: This is one of a series of common -- or in some cases, particularly unusual -- questions received by our consumer advocacy staff, who answer questions from consumers.
Got a question or insurance problem of your own? If you live in Washington, feel free to give us a call, toll-free at 1-800-562-6900. We'll do our best to help. (And if you live in another state or territory, here's a handy map that lists the contact info for your local insurance regulatory office.)

Coming this fall: Agents and brokers in WA can submit fingerprints electronically

Friday, June 8, 2012
In Washington, as in most states, we require insurance agents and brokers to submit their fingerprints for the required background check.

For years, this has been done on paper cards, on which a worker rolls the applicant's inked fingers. It's messy, but more importantly, it's difficult to get good, usable prints. In fact, there's a 30 percent rejection rate by the State Patrol, meaning that the applicant has to go through the whole process again. We know it can be a pain, but we haven't had a good alternative.

So, good news: Starting late this summer or early fall, we will begin accepting electronically submitted fingerprints. We strongly encourage our resident applicants to use the service.


For one thing, the rejection rate is much lower. Instead of 30 percent, it's less than 3 percent.

It will also cost less. It now costs $42.50 to submit a paper fingerprint card. It will cost $32.50 to do it electronically.

It takes less time. In fact, in some cases, it could mean getting your license issued weeks earlier than with a paper card.

And there's probably a location close to you. More than 30 locations in Washington state can provide the fingerprinting service. Pearson Vue exam centers offer the service when applicants take the insurance exam, and the company also has a third-party vendor, Morpho Trust, that offers fingerprinting at several additional locations. You can find links to both on our new web page about electronic fingerprinting for insurance licensees.

Lastly, a question I know we'll get: Are electronic fingerprints required? No, not at this point. But we intend to require them starting during the first half of 2013.