ALBANY — New York consumers who have had no accidents or driving violations often find they nonetheless have to pay high car insurance premiums.
The reason, according to consumer experts, is that New York allows the insurance industry to take into account a customer’s personal credit history to compute the score determining the insurance premium.
It’s a system that some lawmakers questioned Tuesday at a state Assembly hearing examining the accuracy and effectiveness of consumer credit reports.
Christopher D’Angelo, chief deputy attorney general of the consumer frauds bureau, said credit reports were initially used to assess the ability of consumers to repay loans, but now have a much broader role. They are used in screening applicants for jobs and housing, and are relied upon by insurance companies to set rates, he noted.
“The failures of our credit reporting system cause significant harm to consumers and serve as an impediment to their ability to achieve financial success,” D’Angelo told lawmakers
“The system is set up without sufficient accountability to consumers and in a manner that disproportionately distributes harm to low income New Yorkers and communities of color,” he added.
Federal government action, D’Angelo said, is needed to address what he called “inequities” baked into how credit reports are used.
The nation’s three major credit reporting companies — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — have amassed credit reports on more than 200 million Americans, he pointed out.
The two lawmakers overseeing the hearing, Assemblywomen Nily Rozic, D-Queens, and Patricia Fahy, D-Albany, pointed to Federal Trade Commission studies showing that one in four consumers may have erroneous information in their credit report.
This can end up in consumers being penalized or denied credit or turned down for a mortgage, resulting in great frustration for those who are so impacted, they said.
In the coming legislative session, lawmakers are expected to consider proposals that would direct state regulators to craft rules barring insurance companies from using credit histories to set insurance rates.
California, Hawaii, Maryland and Massachusetts are the states that now restrict the use of credit information in insurance.
“We believe New York should do that as well,” said Chuck Bell, a consumer advocate with Consumer Reports.
Bell said financial problems experienced by many people “would go away overnight” if the insurance rating system was transformed into one that is based more on driving records than credit scores.
The insurance industry contends credit reports help provide a window into the likelihood that a consumer will file future claims and that credit-based scores are preferable to driving records, which can undergo revisions.
Bell also said there are problems when credit scores are used for employment screening because the credit reports are “riddled with errors,” preventing people from getting the jobs that would help them pay off debts they’ve incurred.
He noted New York City already has a law on the books banning the use of credit scores in employment background checks.