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Buying Insurance from Independent Insurance Brokers vs Direct Writers

No matter what type of insurance you need, navigating the available choices can seem like a big hassle. Perhaps the first decision you'll need to make is whether to use an independent insurance broker or a direct writer. What's the difference? Simply put, independent brokers and agents will work for you and connect you to insurance products from a wide range of companies. Direct writers work for one company, usually one of the "big name" companies like Geico, and only have access to that company's products. Some large companies like Liberty Mutual and Allstate make use of both independent agents and direct writers, but many employ only direct writers. In some cases, using a direct writer is the only way to purchase a policy from a particular company.

Neither choice is a clear winner or always better than the other. You need to determine which type of agent is best for your unique situation. However, understanding the benefits of using either an independent agent or a direct writer can help you make your decision.

Researching Pricing Options

Cost is probably the biggest factor when it comes to choosing an insurance company, both independent agents and direct writers can obtain quotes from insurance companies. The biggest difference here is that independent agents will do the legwork for you and can offer you coverage. With access to a variety of insurance companies, including some you may not have heard of before, they can quickly and easily offer you a list of options and different price points. This variety can, at times, provide overall cost savings with the same or better coverage.

If you're working with direct writers, you'll have to contact each company individually. This can be time consuming, as you'll have to answer a standard battery of questions with each agent along with additional question that particular company needs to know. You're also only likely to compare quotes from the large insurance companies you're most familiar with, like State Farm, Allstate, Geico, and Liberty Mutual. After spending an hour on the phone with each of these companies, you'll no longer want to spend the energy to contact smaller companies.

Of course, sometimes the "better deals" offered by the independent agent are through smaller companies, and you may not want to work with those companies. The advantage of working with brand name companies is that you'll feel a lot more confident about their ability to pay you when you need to file a claim. The independent agent may be able to direct you to a more affordable insurance company, but this smaller company may not have the greatest financial rating.

Understanding Available Policies

When you purchase an insurance policy, you want to understand what you're getting. Your contract contains several pages of legalese, and an independent agent may be more likely to go through the contract and explain anything that you don't understand. Independent agents may also be better able to listen to your exact needs and find a policy that fits those needs. Direct writers, on the other hand, have limited options when it comes to policies, and may try to fit you into the policy they have rather than the policy you need. This can mean that you end up purchasing either too much or not enough insurance.

An independent agent may also be better equipped to help you understand the differences between the policies you have available to you. For instance, if one policy will only pay for damages caused by named perils, while another policy is more inclusive, the agent can help you determine whether those perils are the ones that are most likely to require coverage. When your insurance company excludes perils that you are more likely to experience, it may not be the best fit for you.

Purchasing Multiple Policies

Things get a lot more complicated when you need to purchase multiple policies at the same time. An independent agent can more easily get quotes within a variety of situations. For instance, they can tell you how much money you can save by bundling car, homeowners, and life insurance policies with one company. However, they may also be able to note that you could save a bit more if you bundle car and homeowners insurance with one company, then purchase life insurance from a different company.

Many insurance companies offer discounts to customers who purchase more than one policy through them, but this makes it hard to compare quotes when you're getting quotes on your own from direct writers. To accurately compare quotes between companies when talking to a variety of direct writers, you'll need to get quotes for each type of insurance individually, then see how much it will cost to bundle them in a variety of ways. For example, you'll probably want to see the following types of quote combinations:

  • Car insurance
  • Homeowners insurance
  • Life insurance
  • Car and homeowners insurance
  • Homeowners and life insurance
  • Car and life insurance
  • Car, Homeowners, and life insurance

It's easy to see how this process can become exceedingly tedious, especially when getting quotes from multiple companies.

Getting Quotes

When it comes to the process of getting quotes, though, the large companies can make things pretty easy. By filling out simple forms online, you can get an instant quote, along with a follow-up call from one of the company's direct writers. In this day and age, this is a convenience that many people enjoy, especially because it's so easy to do at any time of the day.

When you work with an independent broker, you usually have to speak with the agent on the phone about your needs during normal business hours or in the evening. This isn't always the most convenient option for those who work during the day and manage a family at night. More independent brokers are starting to utilizing online quoting like the larger carriers, but many still don't.

Managing Your Policy

With any luck, you'll purchase your policy and then not have to think about it unless you ever want to switch companies. However, there's probably going to be times when you want to review the things that your policy covers, double-check the rate you're paying when considering changing to a new company, or file a claim with the company. In this respect, using a direct writer with a large company is probably the better option.

The big insurance companies have the resources to create advanced websites. Not only are you able to easily get a quote from the website, but you should be able to log in to view your account information and make any changes to your policy on your own. In general, you tend to be the one who controls the account. If you've chosen to work with an independent agent, on the other hand, you'll probably have to contact the agent directly for more information or to make changes to the account. It's a small difference, but can be a big inconvenience to some people.

Remember, though, that even if you select a major company, you often choose a particular agent who works with that company to be your agent. While you have the options to log onto the site and make changes to your policy, you often still have the ability to contact your agent directly and discuss any changes you're thinking about making.

Filing Claims

When you need to file a claim through your insurance company, you want the process to be as painless as possible. When you have insurance with a direct writer or through the insurance company directly, it is typically easy to file your claim online or speak to someone on the customer service line to help with the process. If you have a more complicated or unusual claim, it might be more difficult to get the assistance you need online or via a representative over the phone. However, your direct agent can also assist you in filing a claim.

If you've chosen an independent agent, though, you may have more personalized service. Not only can the agent help you fill out the necessary forms and file the claim, but he or she will act as your representative with the insurance company. This becomes especially important in cases where the insurance company rejects the claim. Without a deep understanding of how insurance should work, you might simply take no for an answer. Your agent, on the other hand, can fight for you to get the money you deserve.

Dealing with Mistakes

There are few things worse than discovering your insurance policy doesn't cover something you thought that it did. A simple mistake like this could cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars. For instance, car insurance policies don't always cover repairs for your windshield unless you specify that you want this benefit and are willing to pay extra for it. Without this coverage, you might be looking at a big expense when a rock cracks your windshield.

If you bought your insurance directly from the company, you're probably on the hook for the mistake. You might try to explain to the company that you didn't understand that the policy didn't include that coverage, but it was really up to you to fully understand the policy you bought.

However, you may be able to get help if you worked with an independent agent. These agents have their own form of insurance called "errors and omissions" insurance that protects their business in situations like this. When the agent makes a mistake by letting you purchase a plan that doesn't include everything you need or omits information that could have been vital to your decision, the agent's insurance may kick in to cover some or all of the costs.

A Local Touch

Many people want to feel a connection to the companies they do business with. Whether that's seeing the same cashier at the grocery store or choosing to eat at a local restaurant instead of a fast food chain, these social ties can make a person feel like they are supporting their community. When using an independent agent, this is often what you get. You choose an agent who lives in your area and has a better understanding of what your particular needs might be. For instance, an agent in Buffalo will understand the importance of getting a policy that will cover repairs from ice dams in the gutters, while an insurance agent in Houston knows you need to worry about termites. This makes a difference, and is one of the biggest reasons why people tend to select independent agents over direct writers.

Finding direct writers who are local is a possibility, though. If you're set on comparing quotes on our own and have decided on a major company, you can sometimes find local agents in your hometown to act as your representative when you need help navigating the process. Not all large companies have this option, so if you find it important to have an agent you can visit in person, it's something to consider before making your decision.

Everyone has big choices to make when it comes to choosing an insurance policy. Independent agents and direct writers can both help you understand your choices, but if you're a person who doesn't really know where to start, the independent agent is likely going to be the best choice for you.