There’s no single best car insurance company out there for everyone. Car insurance is regulated on a state level and coverage costs can vary based on where you live.
As a result, all else being equal, a friend or family member who has the same insurer and coverage in a different state may pay more or less than you. To ensure that you get the best coverage for your needs, here are some tips.
Shop around every year or two.
Contrary to popular belief, car insurance companies don’t just calculate rates on risk alone. It goes much deeper than that. Many insurers use what’s called “price optimization,” which is the practice of setting rates based upon how much insurers think customers are comfortable paying.
Large insurance companies analyze a huge amount of customers’ personal data, such as social media posts, credit scores, and even your web shopping habits. Then, they churn the data through a proprietary algorithm that estimates how likely you are to shop around or just renew your existing policy each year. By doing so, they can increase your premium just enough to raise their profit margins without attracting your attention and prompting you to shop for a new policy.
The Washington Post found that auto insurance rates have climbed 20% since ten years ago, due in part to price optimization.
The best way to prevent falling victim to this practice is to shop for a new policy every one to two years. Even if you like your current car insurance company, they’re likely aware of your online activity, so the more quotes you get, the less likely you are to be tagged as someone who won’t jump ship for a better deal.
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Decide whether to use an insurance agent or go online.
Depending on which companies you consider, you’ll have to decide whether to do business with an insurance agent or to purchase a policy online. If you value face-to-face relationships and personal service, it’s hard to beat an agent.
But all agents aren’t created equal. Some are “captive,” meaning they sell car insurance for only one company. Others are “independent” and can sell car insurance for multiple companies. Here are a few things you should consider for each scenario.
Captive agents: The biggest benefit of captive agents is that many aren’t primarily motivated by commission. That means they have less of a reason to “sell you” and more of a reason to spend quality time educating you.
That said, going with a captive agent makes sense if you’re already committed to a particular company. These agents will know their company’s policies and coverages from top to bottom, but won’t help you compare rates with other insurers.
Independent agents: Independent agents have special access with several companies and help you to find the best rate available. However, some companies pay higher commissions than others, and that means you may face pressure to choose a particular company or coverage plan.
During our research, we interacted with several independent agents who refused to give us a single detail about higher-priced plans. Despite our persistence, we were repeatedly asked, “Why would you want to consider something that costs more?” and we did not get the information we wanted.
On the flip side, if your rates go up after committing to a policy, independent agents are best-suited to help you negotiate a lower price.
Shopping online: Some companies allow customers to do business directly online. If you’re a self-starter, this could very well be the most convenient option. In some cases, it will be the cheapest option.
The biggest downside to buying a policy on your own is the risk of underinsuring yourself. Buying the wrong policy or a policy that doesn’t have state-mandated coverage levels could cost you quite a bit of money should the worst should happen.
Helpful Tips for Keeping Insurance Costs Down
Selecting the right car insurance company for you doesn’t mean your work is done. There are still some steps you can take to keep insurance costs down.
Some are obvious, such as shopping around and comparing insurance costs before purchasing a car. But here are a few others to consider:
- Take advantage of employer and affinity discounts: Working for a certain employer or belonging to certain organizations can lead to lower costs. Some insurance companies, such as Liberty Mutual, specialize in collective discounts for members of various groups, from college alumni to Subaru owners.
- Keep all your insurance under one roof: Some companies offer discounts to drivers who bundle multiple policy types, such as auto, renters, and homeowners insurance. You may even get a discount if you have more than one car insured with them. This isn’t a guarantee, but it doesn’t hurt to find out if the option is available.
- Request a higher deductible: Selecting a higher deductible can lower coverage costs anywhere from 15% to 20%, depending on your deductible amount. Keep in mind, though, that you’ll want to make sure you have enough finances saved to cover the deductible if you get in an accident.
- Keep an eye on your credit score: Maintaining a solid credit score is recommended no matter what, but it’s especially important when your score is being referenced to develop your auto insurance policy. Just as you investigate a car’s accident history before purchasing, insurers in most states use a credit-based insurance score to help determine rates. The higher the risk, the higher the policy costs.
The Bottom Line
When it comes to auto insurance companies, the best ones are the most versatile in their coverage options and services. While price is the single most important factor for a lot of car insurance shoppers, look at other factors as well, such as coverage types and levels, discounts, and customer satisfaction. In the end, you’ll need to determine your exact needs when it comes to coverage and then shop for an affordable policy.