Ease the pain of auto insurance shopping

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Auto insurers spend billions on advertising every year, with seemingly little result, since the vast majority of us don’t bother shopping around, let alone switching insurers. That’s too bad, because the 11 percent or so who do switch each year save a pile of cash.

Shopping for insurance may not be fun, but smart consumers still make the effort. Here’s how to make it less painful.

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Carve out some time. Filling out the forms on an insurance quote site typically takes 10 minutes or less. But you’ll need time to deal with follow-up emails and calls. Some insurers want you to chat with an agent, while others may want to fine-tune your quote. Set aside at least 30 minutes.

Dust off your current policy. You’ll find your coverage limits on what’s called the declarations page. Use those figures to shop for quotes to get an apples-to-apples comparison with what you’re paying now. (But after the first round of shopping, consider boosting your liability limits if, like many people, you’re underinsured. Liability coverage is what your insurer will pay if you get sued, and it should at least equal your net worth.)

Decide on deductibles. Again, use your current deductibles to shop, but consider raising them to save more. Higher deductibles — what you have to pay out of pocket before your insurance kicks in — translate into lower premiums. If you live paycheck to paycheck and can’t come up with the extra cash, though, a high deductible may not be a smart choice.

Consider their reputation. You want a good deal on insurance, but if you have a claim you also want the company to pay what it’s promised you without a lot of hassle. Some insurers have much better reputations and customer service than others. Check to see if your state insurance department has a complaint survey that shows how insurers stack up. J.D. Power and Associates has an annual survey that ranks customer satisfaction with many of the largest insurers.

Rinse and repeat. If your shopping doesn’t turn up any compelling reason to change, then you’re done for this year. But try to repeat this exercise at least once a year to stay on top of the ever-changing auto insurance market.

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