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When shopping for a new car insurance policy, you may need a hand getting quotes and deciding how much coverage you need. That’s where car insurance agents can help. But what exactly do these insurance professionals do, and when is the right time to seek one out?
Here’s what to know about working with car insurance agents.
What is a car insurance agent?
A car insurance agent functions as a bridge between auto insurers and drivers shopping for coverage. They may represent one or multiple insurers and can help you sift through different coverage options to build an auto policy that best fits your needs. Insurance agents work for the companies they represent, not for you, the buyer. Agents receive a commission whenever they sell a policy, typically a percentage of the policy premium.
There are two types of car insurance agents:
Captive agents work directly with one insurance company and sell policies from that insurer only.
Independent agents sell insurance from a variety of companies, which means they can help you shop around beyond one insurer’s offerings to find the best car insurance policy for your circumstances.
The benefit of buying a policy through a captive agent, compared with directly from the insurer, is getting personalized help when trying to understand the different coverage options available through that specific company — though they can’t help you shop around.
While independent agents can give you a more complete browsing experience, they only have contracts with a specific set of insurers and can offer you insurance products from those companies only. That’s why it’s important to incorporate your own online research into the shopping process to make sure you buy the best auto insurance policy for you.
Do I need to work with an agent to get car insurance?
You don’t need to purchase insurance through an agent — you can buy a policy directly from many insurers, whether that’s online or over the phone. However, comparing policies on your own tends to require more time and effort. Having an agent’s assistance can be helpful for those seeking a more personalized customer service experience and for those with unique insurance situations.
One thing to look out for is the possibility of an agent upselling you on coverage you don’t really need. Because car insurance agents work on commission, the more expensive a policy is, the more agents stand to earn.
However, it’s also in an agent’s best interest to make a customer happy to keep their business. So chances are one can find car insurance options that fit your needs, and assist with any hiccups that might come up once you’re a policyholder. Plus, insurance agents are often familiar with the different discounts and bundling options available from the insurers they work with.
When it comes to a complex topic like auto insurance, it’s helpful to have someone you can go to directly to discuss claims, changes to your coverage or concerns around your policy. Instead of having to call an insurer’s customer service line, you can call, email or visit your agent, who is already familiar with your policy and specific circumstances.
When should I work with an independent car insurance agent?
Because independent car insurance agents can offer quotes from several different insurers, they’re a good resource if you’re not set on buying a policy through a specific company. They can help you find the best car insurance in their network, including from a company you might not have considered, because independent agents typically work with smaller, regional companies you might not have looked at or heard of otherwise. These companies can sometimes be cheaper than larger insurers and tend to offer better customer service.
Unlike an insurance broker, an independent agent gets paid only by insurance companies, while brokers often charge a fee to the person shopping for a new policy. Working with an independent agent won’t cost you extra because their commissions are rolled into the price of a policy.
However, since an independent agent can only offer policies from companies they work with, your options may be limited. For example, they can’t offer policies for some of the largest insurers in the country, such as Allstate and State Farm. Instead, policies must be purchased directly from the company or a captive agent, and direct buyers may be assigned an agent.
If you choose to work with an agent, consider shopping around on your own to get a broader picture of insurers available in your area. You can use NerdWallet's car insurance comparison tool to help get started.
Aim to compare car insurance quotes from multiple insurers at least once a year to get the best deal.
Advantages and disadvantages of working with a car insurance agent
Specialized knowledge of available discounts, bundling options and insurance requirements specific to your location and circumstances.
Policy options available only from companies an agent works with.
Personalized customer experience if you need to file a claim, change coverage or ask questions about your policy.
May upsell you on coverage you don’t need.
Can introduce you to small insurance companies you wouldn’t have looked at otherwise.
How can I find a car insurance agent near me?
Here are some tips on how to find an independent agent:
Ask for referrals from friends or family in your area.
Search online for an independent insurance agent in your area.
Look for a local agent on the website of a national network of independent agents.
To find an agent for a specific company, visit the company's website to find an agent closest to you. The larger the company is, the more agents they’ll probably have, so you’ll get to pick who you’d like to work with.
Getting in touch with a car insurance agent doesn't bind you to purchase a policy through them. If you think you might benefit from their help, don’t be afraid to give them a call to start shopping and comparing different auto insurance policies and rates.