Auto Insurance 101: Part 2 ~ 10 Tips for Shopping Smart

The following information is not advice, it’s just my thoughts and opinions. I’m just a girl on the web, not currently licensed in insurance or anything else in any state. You should absolutely seek the counsel of an insurance agent licensed in your state before taking any action at all. Coverages and programs discussed may or may not be available in your state.

This is the second installment of a series of articles about Auto Insurance. You may want to read Auto Insurance 101: Part 1 ~ Before We Shop Let’s Understand What We Have before reading this article.

Now that you’ve read Auto Insurance 101: Part 1 ~ Before We Shop Let’s Understand What We Have and have spoken to or met with your insurance agent, you’re almost ready to shop.

Before you get on the phone or start surfing the web, here are some important things to remember when shopping for auto insurance:

1. Know who you’re talking to. Ask the agent you’re speaking with about their qualifications and experience. How long have they been selling insurance, and how long have they been licensed? What types of insurance are they licensed to sell? In all my years as an insurance agent no one ever asked me this, and it just shocks me. I will always ask this question of insurance agents, doctors, attorneys, etc. You want someone who knows what they’re talking about, don’t you? It takes at least a few years to become familiar enough with just about any vocation to be able to understand nuances, and to see the bigger picture of how one decision affects another. Don’t be embarrassed to ask to speak to someone with more experience.

2. Compare apples to apples, as closely as possible. This is probably the most important thing to remember. Spending our time calling around without getting the same quote for the same coverages will not help us make an accurate comparison, so it’s a massive waste of time. Sometimes companies may offer slight variations in the same type of coverage. Company A may offer Car Rental coverage of 80% of the daily rental up to $500 while company B offers $25 a day up to $400. Another example: in Florida insurers are required to waive the deductible for windshield replacement for those who carry Comprehensive coverage. My company extended the deductible waiver to any glass breakage (side windows, mirrors) while other companies did not. Make sure to ask about and note these differences.

3. They’re likely going to check your credit. No matter your feelings on the validity of the actuarial process, most insurers will factor in your credit rating when quoting insurance. People with better credit will get the batter rates, period. Another reason for fiscal responsibility. Be prepared to give your social security number, and try not to take it out on the agent. They don’t make the rules. Also know that while an insurance inquiry doesn’t have the same effect on your credit rating as a credit inquiry, it is still an inquiry. If it didn’t affect your credit rating at all, they would have told us to tell you that it had no effect. They didn’t.

4. Financial strength counts. Their fiscal responsibility counts, not just yours. A good balance sheet not only reassures you that they will be able to make claims, it also suggests that the company is managed well. Personally, I’d only go with a company rated A or better by a rating company such as AM Best.

5. Reputation counts, too. If a company has a bad reputation for either claims or customer service, don’t bother getting a quote. That’s just a headache waiting to happen. That said, no insurance company has only happy insureds. People get angry when their claims don’t get paid, even if the insurer is completely justified in not paying it. That’s another reason it’s so important to know your coverage.

6. Consider the advantages and disadvantages of the different ways you can buy insurance.

  • Captive Agents – sell policies for (usually) only one company, and usually a major insurer (State Farm, Allstate, etc.)
  • Local Insurance Brokers – sell policies for many different companies, some larger, some smaller (Progressive (also sells direct), Integon_
  • Direct Insurers – sell directly to the consumer (Geico, etc.)
  • Internet Brokers – gather your information and get quotes from several insurers at once, without having to speak to anyone (Insweb, etc.) Some captive agents’ companies and direct insurers also allow you to get quotes online.

Personally, I want an agent. I want someone I can go see if there’s a problem, and someone who can go to bat for me, if need be. Agents want to keep you happy. They only make money if you stay with them and pay the premiums. Often times an agent can get a claim paid, or get a cancellation rescinded. Last month my mother got a cancellation notice from her insurer, as she’d had 2 claims in a year. I called her agent and they were able to call the underwriter and get her another chance. Direct insurers can be great, but it’s hard to create a relationship with them. They are just a voice on the phone. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get a quote from them, but it’s something to keep in mind.

I’m going to do an entire article on the pros and cons of each of these, so look for it soon!

7. Know if the insurer is a stock company or a mutual company. Unlike a stock company, a mutual insurance company does not offer shares of stock on public exchanges. Rather, it is operated and maintained for the benefit of its members, or policyowners. All policyowners have the right to vote for the Company’s Board of Directors and to receive a fair share of the dividends declared by the Board each year. In a stock company, by contrast, any dividends are paid first to shareholders, and only after to policyholders. Not a huge deal, but having stockholders sure can affect a company’s policy decisions. And it’s always better to know than not to know.

7. Rates are cyclical. Even assuming nothing changes in your driving or claim record, rates go up and down. That’s because rates are also affected by what all insureds are doing, not just you. Insurance is all about sharing the risk, so if there’s lots of claims in your area you may see a spike in rates. And if they have a good year you may see the savings via rate reductions or dividends. I’ve gotten dividends on my auto policy many times from my mutual insurer.

8. Don’t assume that the big, “preferred” companies will have the more expensive policies. And don’t assume that the smaller ones do. You may be surprised.

9. If they won’t sell you the policy you want, call another agent. Some agents set “agency minimums”, setting a policy that they won’t sell any auto policy that doesn’t  have, for example, at least 100/300/100 liability limits. Whether they can/should or cannot/should not do this is a matter for someone else to debate. If you want lower limits than what they’re willing to write, ask if that’s an agency policy or a company policy. Or just call another agent.

10. Two quotes from different agents from the same company for the same coverages with the same deductibles should always be exactly the same. To the penny. If it’s not then something is wrong. Perhaps one person has mis-classified how you use the vehicle, perhaps they rated you in the wrong territory. You need to find out what.

Also, if you have a child that will be driving in the next few years you may want to get some quotes for adding them to the policy when the time comes. Few people are really prepared for the sticker shock of adding a teen driver to the policy. Sure, the rates will change, but it gives you an idea. The more time you have to prepare the better.

Okay, you’re almost ready. Before you begin, make sure you have your Declarations Page (which lists all of your current coverages) in front of you. Also have the quotes for different coverage and deductible options that you may have gotten from your current insurer, and any notes you may have taken while speaking with your agent.

Once you’ve got all the quotes, check out Auto Insurance 101: Part 3 ~ What to Do With The Quotes Now That You Have Them, to be published tomorrow. And good luck!

If you liked this article check out the rest of the Auto Insurance 101 Series, and check out ways to Stretch Your Dollar.


10 Responses to “Auto Insurance 101: Part 2 ~ 10 Tips for Shopping Smart”

  1. Good Fountain Says:

    That’s very informative. I haven’t done a great job of getting quotes it seems. Thanks for putting this together.

  2. Lisa Says:

    Another benefit of an agent:

    I am insured with one of the “big” companies. When we moved to another state, I called their central customer service over the phone to have the policy switched (I moved to a cheaper state and wanted to do it ASAP). They told me how much it would be, and I signed up with a new agent based on a referral.

    Then I had to go into the agent’s office to finish the paperwork. The woman helping me looked at how the insurance was set up and she said, “oh, let’s see what we can do about this rate,” and I watched as she entered a defensive driving course I hadn’t taken and reduced the mileage of my and my husband’s commutes, and reduced the amount I had to pay by about $125 per six months.

    I doubt anyone at Geico is going to pull anything like that for you.

  3. Auto Insurance 101: Part 3 ~ What to Do With The Quotes Now That You Have Them « Are You Going To Be This Way The Rest of The Time I Know You? Says:

    […] want to read Auto Insurance 101: Part 1 ~ Before We Shop Let’s Understand What We Have and Auto Insurance 101: Part 2 ~ 10 Tips for Shopping Smart before reading this […]

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    […] You Going To Be This Way The Rest of the Time I Know You? provides Auto Insurance 101 Part 2: Ten Tips For Shopping Smart. Read this for essential tips on how to shop for auto insurance, most of which I didn’t […]

  5. Festival Of Frugality Superbowl | Says:

    […] Auto Insurance 101: Part 2 – 10 Tips for Shopping Smart at Are You Going to Be This Way the Rest of the Time I Know You.  Be This Way suggests some ways to make sure you get the best deal on auto insurance. […]

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    […] The inaugural event pits the finesse of the Team Frugal at the Festival Of Frugality against the speed of Team Finance at the Festival of Personal Finance, both of which included the same article by me, Auto Insurance 101 Part 2: Ten Tips For Shopping Smart. […]

  7. Brandon Says:

    @ Lisa:
    Everyone wants to pay lower insurance premiums. But if you’ve got an agent who won’t stick to ethical standards, are you sure you want to do business with them?

  8. A More Reasonable Round of Carnivals « Are You Going To Be This Way The Rest of The Time I Know You? Says:

    […] also wanted to thank KCLau for including my post Auto Insurance 101: Part 2 ~ 10 Tips for Shopping Smart in hisPersonal Finance Money Tips – February 9, 2008 […]

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