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Credit score ban faces tough road

Thu., Jan. 21, 2010

Insurers not keen on commissioner’s proposal

OLYMPIA – A credit score should not be used to help determine how much a person pays for home or auto insurance premiums, State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler told a legislative panel Wednesday evening.

Factors that affect credit scores can discriminate against low-income and minority populations, Kreidler said as he lobbied for one of his top priorities: to ban the practice in Washington state.

“Responsible people get laid off. They consolidate their debt. They shouldn’t have to pay more for insurance because of that,” Kreidler said.

But representatives of the insurance industry told the House Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee that a credit score does help predict good and bad insurance risks and should remain one of many factors the companies can use to set a customer’s rates.

“It’s not magic or voodoo; it’s science,” said Kenton Brine, a representative of the Property Casualty Insurers Association. “It’s actuarially sound.”

Nearly all states allow the use of credit scores, said Alex Hageli, another representative of the association. There are different theories as to why that is, but no definitive answer. The law doesn’t require companies to explain why credit scores work; they just have to be predictive.

People with good or average credit scores either save money or aren’t affected by putting that into the mix of factors, Robert Detlefsen, a researcher for the insurance industry, said: “There is no way you can use a credit score to identify a person on the basis of race or ethnicity.”

Washington state started allowing the use of credit scores 10 years ago and tried to stop it in 2002, Kreidler said. Instead, the state compromised with some restrictions that he says aren’t working. He wants the practice banned and insurance companies to use factors like driving records and accidents for auto insurance or number of claims for homeowners insurance.

“I’m not talking predictability; I’m talking fairness,” he said.

Similar bans have been proposed the last two years but have stalled in the Legislature.

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