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Plan Well, Retire Well

Saving and investing your money
Shopping for insurance

My Insurance Shopping Adventure


Last summer, Sasha gave tips for shopping for car insurance. I have had shopping for insurance on my To Do list for months, maybe years. Her post encouraged me to actually do it. Since I'm trying to get my financial house in order, now seemed like a good time to tackle this task.

I learned a several things from the process and decided to share my experience with you.

I was shopping for both auto and homeowners insurance, which meant getting quotes for each. I dreaded calling and talking to agents from different companies and having to repeat the same information over and over. I also expected they would try really hard to close the deal while they had me on the phone. And I don't operate like that. I'll collect all the information, think it over, and then I'll contact the company I've chosen.

So I was relieved when I read an article on the Consumer Reports website that mentioned thezebra.com, an online service where I could get quotes from several auto insurance companies at the same time. Consumer Reports' independent research suggested two top contenders for auto insurance, based on scores for claims service and price. But they still recommended that you check several other providers because results will vary based on your individual situation. (Anyone can access the article I read, but you have to be an online subscriber to see Consumer Reports ratings of insurance companies and other tools. I was able to access that additional information through my library's subscription, from my home computer.)

Online Comparisons of Auto Insurance Rates

I was happy that I could do this online in one fell swoop instead of making phone calls. I just wish there was a similar tool for homeowners insurance.

At thezebra.com, I entered my zip code plus the make, model, and year of my car to get initial quotes. It did not ask for any contact information or anything that I believed could identify me personally (i.e., birth date but not Social Security number, zip code but not street address.) According to an interview on StartupBeat.com, TheZebra "make(s) money when a user purchases their policy through TheZebra.com from the carriers we partner with."

As I entered information about the drivers and second car, the quotes updated. I wasn't able to get a quote that exactly matched my current coverage. They only offered four pre-set coverages to choose from, each with a set deductible, but this still gave a pretty good idea of how these company's prices compared with what I'm currently paying and the other individual quotes I sought next.

Results from several insurance companies were displayed on the screen with a button to click if I was interested. Some of the companies were familiar to me. Others I had had never heard of. From lowest to highest, the rates varied by 100%. But for me, the main problem was that two companies I particularly wanted to get quotes from were not listed at all. The name of another was listed but with a button that said "Get quote" instead of a price. I clicked, thinking that I simply had to go to the company's website to get the quote. Actually, I had to start from scratch on the company's website. None of the information I had entered transferred. And then, I still couldn't get the quote without speaking to an agent, which I chose not to do.

Getting Auto and Homeowner Quotes on Insurance Company Websites

Then I went to the websites of the two other companies I wanted to compare. I also used their quote tools for homeowners insurance. I had to enter a lot of personal information. They know who I am – no anonymity here!

Since they had information about me including my address, these insurance company websites pulled information about the cars that are registered at my address, saving me entering that information. I could pick the ones I wanted to insure. For homeowners insurance, they displayed information about my house that appeared to come from the local assessor's office.

Using the quote tools wasn't as straightforward as you would think.

  • What is my work status: full time, part time, retired, unemployed, self-employed? I needed an option that said "All of the above."
  • Is my basement finished? Part of it has a suspended ceiling, drywall, and vinyl squares stuck directly onto the concrete floor. But there is no heat, no bathroom, no underlayment between the vinyl squares and the concrete floor, and no source of water. Neither of the agents I spoke with by phone seemed willing to make that determination, and I was unsure as well.
  • Is my home wood frame, frame with aluminum siding, or brick? Actually, it is a combination. So how should I answer? One company's website offered the option of part brick, part other, but required me to choose from certain ranges of percent brick. It's winter; I wasn't going outside to measure and figure that one out, so I gave my best guess.
  • I sometimes missed questions. For example, I selected the type of roof but failed to notice the box to enter the year it was installed. (The default was 1992, much older than my roof actually is.) I missed the fact that I had choices about the amount of the deductible for wind and hail damage.
  • One company's tool asked if I would be purchasing both home and auto insurance from them, and reflected the savings in the quote. The other couldn't do that calculation unless I already had a policy and could enter the policy number. When I spoke with an agent, they also contended they couldn't tell me how much that discount would be.

I cannot say for sure how accurate the quotes were that I received anonymously, since I did not pursue any of them further. As to the quotes I received on the individual company websites, where they had much more information about me, I believe the quotes are pretty accurate. When I spoke with agents who reviewed most of the information, the quotes changed only slightly. Of course, they will check driving records, claims records, and (usually) my credit history or insurance score, if they didn't already while I was working on the quote. On the homeowners insurance, there may be an inspection of the home, which could include coming inside.

I was able to save and retrieve my quotes to review or update later. But in one case, I could no longer view or edit my quote online after I spoke with an agent to ask a question. Some quotes included prices for two or three coverage options. With others, I could only see the quote for one set of coverages at a time, making it tedious to capture that information. And the quotes from different companies didn't always provide as much detail about the coverage as I needed to compare.

One nice surprise from this process is how few follow-up messages I have received. Since I didn't have to provide any contact info on the comparison website, there was no risk there. One company that I contacted directly sent me several email messages, but didn't call, which was what they had promised. The other company did call, but not until two weeks after I spoke with them.

I will be switching my insurance to one of the companies I checked during this exercise, but I haven't purchased the new policies yet. I want to call each of my two "finalists" and ask them one last question. And then, I will finally be able to check this off of my To Do list. Of course, I should revisit this in two or three years. Since this experience was relatively painless, maybe I won't put it off so long next time.



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