How to Find an Insurance Agent Who Specializes in Car Insurance
You spend a lot of time choosing the right car insurance company, but what about the agent? Not every agent understands car insurance well enough to do a good job recommending the right coverage for you. And some agents are downright dishonest. When it comes to getting the right coverage at a fair price, it can be just as important to research the agent as it is to research the company.
What You Need to Know About Car Insurance Agents
Most states do not require any special degrees, training or licensing in order to become a car insurance agent, which is fundamentally a sales position. In fact, most agents only have high school degrees. Yet, they’re advising you on a product that protects your financial future in a big way.
It takes years of practice writing auto insurance and solving problems for customers before an agent becomes the kind of professional you want helping you insure your car. But ‘noobs’ aren’t the only problem. Some agents are downright dishonest. They’ve been caught engaging in all manner of bad business practices and scams over the years:
- Marking up the policy and pocketing the difference – Agents will sometimes present customers with a bill that doesn’t break down the premium. They do this to hide the fact that they’re charging you a markup and pocketing the extra money.
- Misrepresenting the deductible – One way to make a policy look more attractive to a customer is to send a cheap quote showing a low deductible and then write the policy with a higher deductible that allowed them to give you a low quote in the first place.
- Signing on your behalf without written consent – Agents sometimes put endorsements that add charges without your signature.
- Charging agency fees – Agents have been known to tack agency fees onto policies. But only brokers can do that, and agents already make money from commissions paid by the insurance company.
- Selling phony policies – This is worse than a bad business practice. It’s downright criminal. Some individuals will misrepresent themselves as car insurance agents and quote an impossibly-low premium. Customers that fall for this are asked to write the check out to the agent instead of the insurance company. They pocket the money, issue a phony policy or no policy at all, leaving you uninsured and out of luck.
Avoiding Unethical Car Insurance Agents
Unethical agents don’t stay in business for long, so it’s important to choose a car insurance agent with a proven history. The agent should be able to give you a detailed accounting of where he has worked during the past few years, and what type of clients he usually works with. Use your state’s insurance department website to look up the agent before you hand over any money. Be suspicious of too-good-to-be-true quotes. Maybe the policy being quoted to you doesn’t have enough coverage to suit your needs, or maybe it doesn’t exist at all.
Finding Agents that Understand Car Insurance
Most agencies that sell homeowner’s insurance also offer car insurance. But you won’t know if you don’t ask. Unfortunately, it’s harder to find good information online about agents than it is to find information on the car insurance companies they write policies for. So interview the agent about his or her experience, and ask family or friends who have done business with the agency. Customer service from your car insurance agent is just as important as good service from your car insurance company, so it’s important to do the legwork.
Good car insurance agents focus on the right coverage before looking at price. They also have experience assisting with the claims process. Even better, they may actually have worked in a claims department before. They know how an accident will affect your car insurance premium and how long before premiums will go back to normal. They can give you good advice on dealing with a driving violation. You rarely get these services from a car insurance company’s customer service department.
One thing to remember about car insurance agents is that you will have to share with them some very personal information. Are you willing to tell just anyone about that embarrassing DUI last year? Do you want them to know about your speeding ticket? In a small town, finding an agent that respects your privacy is even more important.
You have certain legal protections for privacy when it comes to your car insurance agent. Just like with insurance companies, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) of 1999 requires that agents protect your private information. State insurance regulators enforce the provisions of the GLBA as it applies to that industry. States may impose stricter protections than those established by the GLBA as well. Ask any agent you are considering about your privacy rights. They should be well-versed in the law and its protections.
Why Use an Agent at All?
If car insurance agents don’t always understand car insurance, and are subject to the same privacy laws as insurance companies, then why should you bother with an agent at all? Well, some people don’t. They choose to go directly to the car insurance company. But they may find that getting good customer service with a large insurance company isn’t easy.
Agents are usually easier to reach when you need something, and they often have access to the same computer systems that the insurance companies use to look up your information. That means agents can solve smaller policy problems more quickly and efficiently for you.
Complex problems are likely to require direct contact with the insurance company. You could sit on hold, waiting to speak to an insurance company representative, or you can let your agent do it. Having an agent doesn’t cost you any more than going directly through the insurer, and you get many customer service benefits that a big insurance company might not be able to offer.
Finding a good agent is well worth the time it takes to sit down and talk about an agent’s experience and understanding of car insurance, claims and privacy laws. The few minutes you spend talking about these issues will be repaid tenfold in time saved from being spent on hold with the car insurance company.