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Who Should (and Shouldn’t) Get Online Auto Insurance Quotes

May 1, 2015
Auto Insurance, Insurance
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The Internet has made getting auto insurance quotes a lot easier. Rate-comparison websites let you see quotes from dozens of companies within minutes, or, with a bit more time, you can get rates directly from insurer websites.

But just because it’s easy to get an online auto insurance quote doesn’t mean you should skip an appointment with an agent. Online quotes have their place, but some shoppers may be better off working face to face with an insurance agent.

Have few assets? Online quoting is OK

The less complicated your insurance needs, the more likely it is that online quoting will be sufficient.

Who has less complicated insurance needs? “The single, young … or mortgageless,” says Chris Michaut of Jeff Williamson Insurance in Lebanon, Ohio.

If the most expensive thing you own is your vehicle, getting quotes and buying online will get you a reasonable policy, Michaut adds.

Buying online also is well suited to very price-sensitive insurance shoppers. “We have certain people call in … that are literally only looking for state minimum coverage. They are perfect candidates for online shopping,” says Scott Grimm of PPI West Insurance Services in Newport Beach, California.

Own a home? Talk to an agent

However, as you accumulate more assets, you may want to buy through an agent, says Scott Johnson of Marindependent Insurance Services in Mill Valley, California.

Buying your first home is a good time to consider using an insurance agent, and as you build up assets, an agent’s services become more crucial. “Ever try running a quote online with six autos, two of which are used for business, one primary home, one vacation home and a $4 million umbrella [policy]?” Johnson asks.

A quote that combines homeowners insurance, car insurance and umbrella coverage can be tough to manage correctly without an agent’s help. “As your net worth grows, the reasons multiply for you to be sued,” Johnson says.

“Once you have equity, savings, stocks, bonds and money in checking, an accident can wipe it all out! That’s when an agent can be of the most use to assess your need,” Michaut says.

Don’t have many assets? There are still reasons you might want to buy through an agent. Maybe you’re a little fuzzy on insurance terms, or maybe your situation is complex. If you have multiple tickets or claims, or use your vehicle for work, an agent can help you choose the best car insurance, Johnson says.

Shop smart when buying insurance online

Rate-comparison sites and and direct-to-consumer insurers, like Geico, can still be useful, even for homeowners. “It’s a great idea for everyone to shop around to make sure they’re getting a good deal,” Grimm says.

But it’s important to keep that information in perspective. You can buy the right coverage online, Michaut says, but the key is knowing how much you need — and an agent can help with that.

If you decide to get car insurance quotes online, know that saving on car insurance isn’t always the most important goal. Buying sufficient coverage — which often means buying more than the state minimums — is important. Michaut recommends liability limits of at least “50/100/50” — that is, a policy that covers $50,000 worth of bodily injury per person in one accident, a total of $100,000 worth of bodily injury per accident, and $50,000 worth of property damage liability.

And know that the cheapest quote may be misleading. “People should have their existing coverages in front of them to compare every line item,” Grimm says. If your new quote is based on a much higher deductible or lower coverage amounts, you might be fooled into thinking it’s a better deal.

“Don’t believe lowball numbers until [they’re] written in a bindable quote,” Johnson suggests. Shoppers can also help themselves by asking about additional fees and charges — for example, whether it costs more to pay premiums monthly rather than annually or semiannually. And “don’t use your car until you receive documents that say you are … covered,” he adds.

Alice Holbrook is a staff writer covering insurance and investing for NerdWallet. Follow her on Twitter @alicenerdwallet and on Google+.

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