insurance

How to shop for a car insurance agent

Car insurance
Highlights
  • When looking for a car insurance agent, ask friends and family first.
  • Beware of agents who simply want to give you the cheapest car insurance.
  • An insurance agent can come in handy after you're in a car accident.

The Internet has revolutionized shopping for everything from cars to clothes. But what works for wares may be trickier when conducting more sophisticated transactions, like buying car insurance. That's why there's still a case to be made for old-fashioned insurance agents.

As you search for a new auto insurance agent, these tips from Bankrate will help you find the right person for your needs.

Finding an agent

When looking for an insurance agent, the best place to start is with people you know. Ask friends and family for referrals to good local car insurance agents.

Still, the transaction doesn't have to be completely offline. The Internet does offer some easy ways of finding a local agent beyond the listings in the phone directory. Sites such as InsureMe.com help consumers through the application process and refer them to agents and discount program representatives.

The search for a good insurance agent is similar to the hunt for a financial adviser or doctor. They need to be trustworthy and you should feel comfortable talking to them.

"Talk to them for a few minutes and find out if you think you can work with them. They're going to be finding out very private things about you in some cases. The trust factor is huge," says Mike Coleman, an insurance agent with State Farm in Lineville, Ala.

Other tips for finding an insurance agent

Chad Bitterlich, vice president of Navion Insurance Associates in Anaheim Hills, Calif., has these tips for consumers on searching for a car insurance agent:
  • Seek out agents that have auto insurance experience outside of sales, such as underwriting or claims.
  • Beware of agents who simply want to give you the cheapest car insurance price. They should be more concerned that you have the needed coverage.
  • Check your state's insurance department to ensure that your agent has a license in good standing.
  • Keep copies of all quotes, proposals, applications and other documents you receive.

Shop multiple insurance carriers in one stop

Some agents are known as "captive" agents and work only for one carrier, says Charlie Schein, owner of Star-Schein LLC in Hartford, Conn.

On the other hand, independent insurance agents sometimes represent multiple insurance carriers, offering a selection of carriers and giving consumers the chance to shop for the best price and coverage available to them.

"I have 10 (carriers) available to me and they cover the gamut of people," Schein says.

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Get the coverage you need

Though it's not hard to determine how much coverage your situation warrants, agents can make sure you're aware of the risks and liabilities of not having enough coverage and can potentially save you money.

"The customer can do it themselves but they need to take the time to become educated about what they are buying and whether there is coverage that they need or don't need," says Bitterlich.

For instance, someone driving a 25-year-old beater might be able to skip coverage for damage to the car because the cost of the car insurance could be more than the car itself was worth.

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