When you buy a home, the seller's or previous owners' history of insurance claims could come back to haunt you in the form of higher homeowners insurance rates.
Yet, 75 percent of Americans remain unaware of that fact, according to a new survey commissioned by insuranceQuotes.com.
Perhaps even more surprising, 51 percent of respondents don't realize their rate could rise after they file their own homeowners insurance claim.
The survey underscores how little Americans know about one of the most important factors in setting insurance rates: the CLUE database.
CLUEless: What is a CLUE report?
CLUE, which stands for Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange, is one of the most commonly used databases that insurance companies use to report and check losses related to your home or vehicle.
Information in a CLUE report includes:
- The date of a loss.
- The type of claim the policyholder made.
- How much the insurance company paid out.
An individual CLUE report covers the past seven years of claims on a home or vehicle. Insurance companies use information in the report when setting your rate for home or auto insurance.
"Each insurer weighs CLUE information differently when setting rates. It's one factor that's used among many," says Loretta Worters, a vice president at the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute (III).
Most Americans remain largely ignorant of CLUE and its impact on what they pay for insurance. Others mistakenly believe CLUE has a more far-reaching impact than it does in reality.
Among the survey findings:
- Eighty-two percent have never heard of the CLUE database or the reports associated with it. Just 17 percent had heard of CLUE, while a mere 1 percent said they were "very familiar" with CLUE.
- Thirty percent believe their insurer can raise their home insurance rate if they miss a single mortgage payment. That isn't true, although a hit to your credit score could eventually cause your rate to climb.
- Thirty-three percent of Americans mistakenly believe making a claim on their auto insurance can result in a higher home insurance rate.
Report highlights by demographic
- Millennials (ages 18 to 29) were the most forgiving of insurers' pricing policies. Only 75 percent of millennials thought the practice of raising rates after a consumer simply speaks to an insurer about specific damage caused to a vehicle or home was unfair. In comparison, 85 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds and 89 percent of people over 65 thought this was unfair.
- The segment of people over 65 was most unsure about whether insurers can raise your rate if you make a home insurance claim. (Insurers can.) Sixty-seven percent of people over 65 believed this wouldn't affect their rate, compared to 47 percent of millennials and 44 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds.
- Most survey respondents had never heard of the CLUE database (82 percent). This is despite the fact that the majority of respondents (53 percent) were homeowners.
Why ignoring your CLUE report can cost you
Failing to understand how insurers can use your claims history can have serious financial repercussions for consumers.
For example, most auto or home claims will cause your rate to rise at the next policy renewal, says Laura Adams, senior analyst for insuranceQuotes.com.
For that reason, consumers need to carefully weigh whether making a claim is in their best interests in the long run. For example, a person who experiences $600 in storm damages and has a deductible of $500 may find making a claim isn’t worth his or her while.
"The best way to keep rates as low as possible is to make claims only when absolutely necessary," Adams says.
A lack of awareness of CLUE can be especially damaging in certain specific situations -- such as when shopping for a new home.
For example, 83 percent of survey respondents say that before purchasing their current home, they didn't request a copy of the property's insurance claim history.
Worters says that aside from insurers, only homeowners can request a CLUE report so you have to ask the home seller to obtain a copy for you.
The fact that homebuyers don’t routinely make this request should come as no surprise, given that three-quarters of homeowners don't know that claims made by previous owners can affect their own home insurance rate.
If you don't check your new home's claims history, you may end up paying higher rates for home insurance than you might expect.
For example, if your house has a history of water-damage claims, insurers may view it as a higher risk for more claims in the future and charge higher rates, Worters says.
How much can filing a claim cost you?
In addition, consumers who are unaware of the impact of CLUE may not realize that filing just one claim on your homeowners insurance can raise your premium by a national average of 9 percent, according to an October 2014 insuranceQuotes.com study.
The situation can be considerably worse in some states. For example, in Wyoming, one claim can cause a 32 percent premium jump.
Meanwhile, a single auto insurance claim can cause your rates to soar by a national average of 38 percent, according to a 2013 study commissioned by insuranceQuotes.com.
Once homeowners are informed about CLUE, they generally don't like what they hear.
For example, simply talking to an insurance company about specific damage to your auto or home can result in a notation in your CLUE report, which could result in higher rates.
That's true even if you do not file a claim, says Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy for the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit consumer education and advocacy organization in San Diego.
He says the fact that you inquired about loss -- even if you don't file the claim -- is an indication that a loss occurred.
According to the survey, 84 percent of respondents believe it's unfair that insurers can note a conversation in a consumer's claim history even if a claim never was filed.
How to check your CLUE report
Fair or not, though, CLUE is a fact of life. Still, that doesn't mean you can't fight back.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act grants consumers the right to a free annual copy of their CLUE report. You can request it from LexisNexis Risk Solutions, the company that issues CLUE reports.
Homeowners should look at these reports annually and dispute any errors, in the same way they should check their credit report, Stephens says.
Such errors can range from a simple mistake in data entry to fraudulent claims made by someone posing as you.
If you find an error in your CLUE report, LexisNexis has up to 30 days to investigate the matter and will notify you of the results within five days of completing its inquiry.
If the matter isn't resolved to your satisfaction, you have the right to add a statement summarizing the nature of the dispute, which will appear in future CLUE reports.
And if your home has a history of claims related to poor plumbing or electrical systems, you can wipe out any damaging CLUE report information by replacing or upgrading them, and reporting that information to your insurer.
"Once the items have been repaired or improved upon, your rates could actually be better," Worters says.
View the press release here.
The PSRAI November 2014 Omnibus Week 2 obtained telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults living in the continental United States. Telephone interviews were conducted by landline (500) and cell phone (500, including 294 without a landline phone). The survey was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International (PSRAI). Interviews were done in English and Spanish by Princeton Data Source from November 13-16, 2014. Statistical results are weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies. The margin of sampling error for the complete set of weighted data is ± 3.6 percentage points.