The Internet is a powerful tool for the savvy online consumer. You can review products, compare prices, research companies and purchase almost anything. Following this trend is the increased availability of insurance online. Insurance companies are providing coverage information, quotes and even contracts online. This includes automobile, homeowners, life, medical and even pet insurance. Insurance has traditionally been a high customer service field with direct in-person contact with your insurance agent. Because of the change in customer contact, the migration towards providing insurance online has not always been a smooth one. Instead, companies are finding some tools work and others only cause frustration or confusion. Indeed, the availability of insurance online is still fluctuating and developing. Below we have compiled a few of the ways you can utilize online insurance options and determine if it is the right tool for you.
Discovering Online Insurance!
Researching and obtaining insurance online is much easier today. Many websites now offer comparison tools that will provide quotes and coverage information (some of these sites are listed in the right column). Keep in mind if you choose a carrier from these searches, you will then be contracting with that carrier for your insurance, not the original site. This will either be done by forwarding you to the carrier's website or the comparison site will forward your information to the insurance company and they will then contact you. Many insurers still prefer to have a representative call you and discuss your coverage over the phone. Although not the same as meeting with a personal insurance agent, it allows them to make certain you understand the coverage provided. Also, because buying insurance online is new, many companies believe that individualized customer care is still the best way to get your business and a follow up call still provides some of this customer service.
There are many benefits for utilizing online insurance:
- Easy comparison shopping: Using insurance comparison websites you can compare coverage and prices on almost any type of insurance. You can also browse the individual insurance carrier websites once you have narrowed your search. Almost all companies now have libraries and tools for you to learn more about their services online.
- Your time is money: Shopping for insurance online can be done at any time of day. It is hard to get time away from your daily schedule to sit down and comparison shop with insurance brokers, or indeed, individual agents.
- Low pressure: Let's face it, many people find it easier to stand firm without the person-to-person contact. Users feel they can be more savvy and better informed when every option is at their fingertips rather then relying on an agent's account.
- Save money: Due to the time needed to comparison shop, the pressure to stay loyal with one company, and the uncertainty about other companies, some may lose money by staying blindly loyal to one insurance carrier. The online market allows for easy comparison shopping, less pressure, and research tools to learn more about other companies. By becoming well informed, you can either work out a better rate with your current provider or move to a new provider who offers better coverage for your dollar.
Be aware of these complications when purchasing insurance online:
- Understanding coverage options: Without an agent to explain 'insurance speak' you may not know all the coverage you may need. This is especially the case for those getting insurance for the first time. However, if you have discussed options with an agent before and have a generally good idea of the type of coverage you will need, this may be something that is manageable with a little extra research.
- Is that quote really a deal: All quotes may not be equal. Take care to examine all the coverage included with quotes. The online quotes may help you narrow your search, but should not be taken at face value as not all companies offer the same 'comprehensive' coverage.
- Buying insurance coverage in your state: Not all states will allow you to purchase insurance online. Some allow you to get quotes but still require you to meet with an agent before signing any contracts. Also, because the internet clouds locality, you will need to make sure the insurance carrier is licensed in your state.
- Individual customer care: Do you really want to push 1, then 2, then 4 to talk to someone about your insurance coverage? Working with a local agent still offers the advantages of individualized customer service. This agent can offer coverage that speaks to your locality as it is more likely they live in your community. They will also have a better knowledge of the coverage their carrier provides and can help you understand all of your options. They may also be aware of more discounts available to you that you may not know to ask for online. In this way they can offer better individualized care.
Whether you choose to shop for insurance online or not, you should look at your insurance carrier websites. Insurance carriers now offer detailed information about coverage online. In fact, once you have settled on a carrier you can often answer coverage questions, pay bills, get updates on claims and find useful tip sheets and information on how to better protect yourself and your property. A primary example of this is your health coverage. Most health insurance carriers still prefer you to sign up through your employer or an agent. However, once you have your coverage, they offer information about doctors, medical options, prescriptions, and claims. Considering health care is one of the most complex types of insurance used, their increasing online presence is an invaluable tool. To explore online insurance options more, please see the links to the right.
When purchasing any product online you always want to make certain it is an authentic website representing a verifiable company with a good reputation. Here are some tips for a safe and rewarding online shopping experience:
- Be assertive in getting answers about an online company you have not worked with before. Learn as much as you can about them and ask tough questions. Check reviews online, in magazines, with your Secretary of State/Attorney General, the Better Business Bureau, or by word of mouth.
- Call them up and talk to their customer service. If they don't list a contact number be careful.
- Make sure any payments are made in a website with https or other secured system.
- Keep a printed copy of every online transaction.
- Consider using one credit card for your online purchases/payments. This way you know which to cancel in case of fraud. Also, make sure the card is not linked to any bank account. Some prefer getting a pay as you go credit card for any online transactions. These can be found at any grocery store and can be refilled as needed.
- Keep your computer updated with anti-virus software, browser updates and spyware programs.
- NEVER provide personal information from an email they supposedly sent to you! This is a common phishing scam. Everything in the email will look legit but lead to a false site collecting your information. Instead call the company with the number on your contract - not the number given to you in that email!
- Initiate contact yourself. Go to their website yourself from the address they gave you on your contract. To be on the safe side, never go to their website from an email.
- Don't give account information to anyone. Your online providers have this information and if anything will be emailing you a forgotten password - never vice versa!
- Change your account passwords often; every six months to once a year. Use strong passwords with numbers, symbols, changes in case and at least 6 characters.
AM Best Company - Insurance Reports
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Standard & Poor's Ratings
US News & World Report - Top Health Insurance Companies
State Insruance Regulators