If you are looking to buy insurance for the first time or wondering if you have enough coverage to protect your assets, all of a sudden you can find yourself feeling lost or overwhelmed by the vast amount of information you find online, the countless advertisements from insurance companies competing for your business, and from varying anecdotes you hear from friends and family. For most consumers, an agent will be your best resource for all of your insurance questions and needs. However, before you can even talk to an agent, you need to know how to select one that will meet your needs. So, before you pick an agent based upon the humor of its advertising campaign or promises of low rates, read below for a general understanding of insurance and how you can have it best meet your needs.
What Is Insurance? What Type of Protection Can It Provide?
Insurance coverage is available for almost every circumstance. There’s homeowner’s, renter’s, medical, commercial/business, automobile, boat, RV, special event, life, pet health, earthquakes, floods, professional liability, disability and so on. There is even insurance that is designed to cover you beyond the limits or fill in the gaps of your basic insurance called umbrella insurance. These various coverages allow you to transfer a set amount of liability onto an insurance company for a premium. The types of insurance you need and how much coverage you should buy is ultimately up to you.
Meeting Your State or Lender’s Insurance Requirements Is Often Just the Start
Some aspects of insurance are non-negotiable, such as the minimum insurance requirements determined by your state or bank/lender. Your state’s Department of Insurance website usually outlines your legal responsibilities as a driver, homeowner or employer/business owner, and provides helpful toolkits and trustworthy resources for a myriad of insurance-related topics. Additionally, if you recently committed to a car or home loan, you likely agreed to secure a certain amount of insurance. These insurance requirements are intended to reduce the financial risk of others. However, sticking to these minimum insurance requirements generally won’t do much to protect you from financial hardship in the event of a major accident, lawsuit or disaster. Obtaining the necessary insurance required by your state or bank/lender should be viewed as just a starting point.
Insurance Needs to be Customized to Fit Your Specific Circumstances
Beyond the insurance required by law, only you can determine how much you will want to spend on insurance and what level of risk you are comfortable with. Think carefully about your assets and how much risk you are comfortable with. Consider what would happen in the event of a major loss: can you afford to pay for repairs or even a large deductible? What if you are sued for negligence or an accident on your property? Are you prepared to handle the costs of a lawsuit? Writing down a list of the assets you wish to protect is a great way to start a conversation with an agent who can inform you of your options. They can also compare pricing and benefits between different insurance providers, as well as discounts you may qualify for if you purchase multiple policies through the same company. Most importantly, your agent should be interested in taking the time necessary to personalize your policy to fit your specific needs and circumstances.
Selecting an Insurance Company or Agent
Almost every insurance company will tell you that you need to buy a policy from them for their low rates, excellent benefits and quality service. So, how do you differentiate between several highly rated insurance companies? Often, if you are comparison shopping, working with a local, licensed insurance agent that represents multiple insurance companies will be your best bet. If you already feel strongly about a particular insurance company because of personal experience or referrals, then a captive agent will likely serve you better.
Captive agents have agreed to represent only one insurance company, but are generally experts in the insurance products offered by that company. Independent agents are able to represent multiple insurance carriers but have a stronger incentive to make the customer happy. They can compare multiple policies for you, help you change carriers and continuously ensure that you are getting the best rates for your needs. In both cases, it never hurts to check the state’s insurance site to verify their license, check the Better Business Bureau for complaints, and look on Yelp or Angie’s List for recommendations. At the end of the day, you want to be able to have open and honest communication with your agent without ever feeling bothersome. There are many agents out there so feel free to shop around just like you do for insurance carriers.
Plan to Revisit Your Insurance Policy Annually
Once you buy a policy, you will want to remain diligent. Review your written policy once it arrives in the mail and make sure you understand what is included and excluded. Have your agent clarify any aspects that are unclear. Sometimes there are supplemental coverages you can buy to help fill in those gaps or limits caused by exclusions. You can always adjust your limits or deductible if your circumstances change. Additionally, you will want to revisit your policies with your agent annually or any time there is a major change in your life, such as a change in your marital status, family expansion, and relocating to a new area.