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.
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.
“The insurance company is going to err on the conservative side and ask you to carry it when it may not be feasible or make sense. An agent can guide you effectively,” says Bitterlich.
On the other side, not having enough car insurance coverage can also be costly. Coleman says many people opt to go with the state minimums for liability because it’s much cheaper.
“If you get into an accident and it’s your fault and you get a $300,000 judgment against you, a lot of people think the insurance company is going to pay that. But it’s just going to pay up to the liability limit and then you’re on the hook for the rest,” says insurance agent Coleman.
Consumers can make the same choices whether they go to an agent or go online, but being informed in person may sway your opinion.
Working with an insurance agent can also be beneficial for changing car insurance needs such as when you have children, buy a new house or retire. But when big life changes occur, re-evaluating car insurance might not be at the top of your to-do list.
“When you’re young, your insurance needs will be different than when you have a family, a home and a substantial amount of assets. You have to increase your insurance accordingly, but a lot of people aren’t aware that they need to increase their limits,” says Bitterlich.
Another situation when having a relationship with an agent can come in handy is in a car accident. Coleman says whether it’s your fault or not, the incident will need to be reported to your insurance carrier and it can be useful to know your agent can guide you through the process.
“The agent can often advise what will happen next and answer questions the insured often has,” he says.
Even without filing any car insurance claims, some people just prefer doing business in person.
“In the rural South where I live, face-to-face is a big thing. Sometimes, people just want to come in and look me in the eye,” Coleman says.