Insurance isn’t a once-and-done thing – it requires a periodic assessment of the changing circumstances in your life and a thoughtful evaluation of whether you should add protection against any new risks. As you budget for the new year and prep for tax season, it’s the perfect timing to think about these things.
With the start of a new year and the emphasis on resolutions, there have been a few good articles on insurance that caught our attention. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners issued a handy Insurance Checklist for the New Year. It offers some considerations about common forms of insurance – life, home/rental, health, auto.
When new life events occur, you should review of insurance coverage. You may need to add a new type of coverage, you may want to raise or lower deductibles on an existing policy, or there may be opportunities for savings or discounts. Your independent insurance agent will be able to inform you about various coverage options – but can only advise you based upon what he or she knows.
Here’s a list of life events that should trigger a call to your independent insurance agent:
- Birth or adoption of a child
- Death of an immediate family member
- Military deployment
- Purchasing a new home, condo, or a second home
- Home renovation
- Adding buildings to your property
- Renting out your home
- Moving to a new geographic area
- Renting an apartment
- A teen child getting an auto license
- Getting a new car
- Joining a carpool
- Acquiring expensive electronics, antiques, jewelry, furs, or specialty collections
- Acquiring a recreational vehicle – boat, motorcycle, snowmobile
- Getting a recreational drone
- Changing jobs and job benefits
- Starting a small business
- Joining the sharing economy, such as renting property through Airbnb or driving for Uber
Lacie Glover at Nerd Wallet, USA Today offers good risk limiting advice for us all with her 10 smart insurance resolutions for 2017. We particularly like #1 – making an inventory – and #9 – informing beneficiaries about your policy. We’d go one step further and suggest that you look at any insurance policies and financial accounts and make sure your contact information and beneficiaries are updated. People often forget to keep those things up to date – unfortunate consequences can ensue: you might not intend to leave your home, your 401K or your life insurance to an ex-spouse, but it could happen if you forget to update your beneficiaries when circumstances change. See our best practices for updating your beneficiaries for insurance policies and retirement plans.
Whether you’re seeking commercial or personal insurance, an agent can bring a lot of value to the table. There are plenty of online price comparison tools, but getting the right coverage to protect your business, your personal assets and your family involves more consideration than just price. Explore some of the other advantages to working with an independent agent in the links below. And we invite you to check our expert list of independent Renaissance Alliance members in the sidebar or find a New England insurance agent near you.
4 Advantages of an Independent Insurance Agent
FinancialWeb summarizes a few key benefits of working with professional independent insurance agents.
Why Use an Independent Insurance Agency?
Our own Renaissance Alliance member Joe Harrington of Markham Priest Insurance talks about 3 ways to buy insurance and lists some of the benefits of an independent agent.
Insurance: An easier way to comparison shop
At the personal finance blog Get Rich Slowly, April Dykman talks about the experiences that led her to use an independent agent instead of flying solo.
Benefits of an Independent Insurance Agent
Safeco, one of our partner insurers, talks about what to look for in a good insurance agent.
Benefit from the personal attention of a Travelers independent agent
Another of our partner insurers offers a testimony to the benefits of buying insurance through an independent agent.
This is a guest post by Gordon Insurance Agency, a Renaissance Alliance member agency. It is a post that was previously featured on the Agency’s Personal Insurance Blog.
Insurance can be puzzling- the more you know, the better. As surprising as this may sound, insurance is not entirely about the price. Thus, we’ve created a list of things-to-know about insurance for your convenience.
1. Amount of coverage
What do you want to protect? That’s the overall question for deciding the amount of coverage you need. The best advice we can offer you is for you to think about all the things that could potentially happen. Or consult a professional agent who will ask lots of questions to uncover areas you need to pay special attention. Although you might want to push these thoughts to the side (i.e. “that could never happen to me!”), someone has to think of these situations. Nobody plans for a car accident or a guest being injured at his/her house, yet these sorts of things happen all the time. A good way to cover a lot of these is by running down a prepared list such as this checklist for your homeowners insurance.
2. Risk level
The amount of risk you take sometimes depends on one aspect of your life: money. If you have available money, then choosing a policy with high deductibles is probably the best option for you. Remember, “Insure only what you can’t afford to lose.”
Obviously, this part of our list is also going to discuss risk. Some policies cover more than other policies do, so be informed on what risks you can afford to take, as well as what is the cost of transferring that risk (via insurance)? An example of this is would be a dog with a biting history. The only company that will offer coverage after a dog has bitten someone (resulting in an insurance claim) is the Massachusetts Fair Plan (MPIUA). But they might do so with a $25,000 limit of liability for dog bites. So you have to ask, is the dog worth that much to me that if he/she bites someone and it results in a $100,000 claim (we’ve had one here that exceeded that, and not even from a dog ‘on the list’), are you prepared to pony up the next $75,000? Make sure you know what is covered on your policy, and be careful with what chances you take where insurance doesn’t go.
3. Insurance company
People often assume that the insurance company will be able to handle anything and everything- you should never assume. If the company goes under, or even if the company stays around but has poor finances, then you won’t get what you need. The best way to make sure that your company will be able to provide for you is to check a credit rating agency. We recommend A.M. Best Company for this. Other credit rating agencies include Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor’s.
Everybody loves saving money; discounts can be available all around you, and you might not even know it! For a list of most prevalent (MA) auto insurance discounts, click our video and list. For homeowners discounts, visit our short video on homeowners discounts here. Account discounts, where you have two lines or more (such as home and auto), are often the most compelling.
Always ask your agent questions, he/she is there is serve YOU.
5. When do I need to look at new insurance?
Certain life changes will cause you to look at new insurance. These changes include:
- Starting a new business
- Buying an additional home
- Adding a driver to the auto policy
- Changing jobs (especially if you leave a rich benefits plan for a bare bones benefits employer)
- Volunteer work (such as serving on the board of a non-profit organization)
This list just helps prove a very important point: insurance is not only about the price. For a few extra dollars, you can have all sorts of things protected. Think back to the dog example- imagine how expensive it would be to defend a bad dog bite without insurance! When it comes to insurance, price is important, but it’s not the only thing that matters.
In this internet age of immediate access to wholesale prices and discount merchandise, many consumers may be tempted to buy insurance the same way they buy music: immediately downloaded from the source. While with some purchases it can make sense to cut out the middleman, so to speak, insurance is not the same as a new mattress or a DVD. Would you dispense with a lawyer at a real estate closing? What if you’d been unjustly arrested? Expert advice is important and your independent insurance agent can provide that, along with a layer of protection you can’t get in any other way. We’ve spoken about the value of local, independent insurance agents before, but it’s always worth rethinking.
Most people realize that insurance can be purchased in three separate ways:
- Directly, from an agent of the insurance company
- From an internet or telephone agent who may represent several different companies
- Through an independent insurance agent in your community.
Purchasing directly from one insurance company means that you’re not getting any comparison to other policies that might serve you better. It’s not in the company’s best interest to steer you to another company, after all.
Internet and phone agents may represent several different companies, but they are not members of your community. Not only does this mean that they simply may not be aware of specific state and local conditions and laws, it also means that they are just not as accountable as someone you can visit at any time. If you’re purchasing insurance directly, you’re also directly responsible for the level of coverage you may or may not have. That can mean that you’re not covered when it counts, because no one can be an expert in every field.
A local independent insurance agent is an expert and is your representative. They are licensed professionals who know local conditions intimately. They can recommend the coverage that will keep you, your family and your property safe. It’s in their best interest to keep you happy and they can shop around several different companies to find the policies to fit you best. When your life changes, they can help you change your insurance policies to reflect your new circumstances. Your agent knows you and will recommend policies that suit your lifestyle. All too often, people shop for price and sometimes unknowingly sacrifice coverage, a point this writer for Insurance Agents magazine makes. How good is it to save a few dollars if you risk a loss that costs you thousands?
Your insurance agent can also help when you need to file a claim. They act as your agent and not for the company. That can offer a lot of peace of mind at a time when you may need it most.
Don’t have an agent? Here’s a list of New England independent insurance agencies.
Plymouth Rock Assurance has a consumer information blog that offers tips on safe driving, saving money, and understanding auto insurance. Recently, they featured posts on the value of independent agents when it comes to purchasing auto insurance. We couldn’t have said it better ourselves! The following are links to their posts, along with a excerpts highlighting a few points that we think are important.
The Value of the Independent Auto Insurance Agents – Part 1
Independent agents are local businesses located in the community where insurance shoppers live and work. Independent insurance agents offer the convenience of one-stop shopping for a full range of insurance products – auto, home, boat, business, life and disability – since they typically represent multiple insurance companies and products.
Independent insurance agents also bring a wealth of knowledge, experience and helpful resources to selecting the correct level of insurance for each customer’s individual needs. They are licensed under rules set by the state(s) in which they do business, and are required to complete continuing education courses to maintain their knowledge of industry trends and regulations.
The Value of the Independent Auto Insurance Agents – Part 2
An independent insurance agent has a broader perspective on the insurance marketplace in a local area. He or she can provide helpful insights about a policy, from discounts that apply to a given situation, to unique service programs that can save time or money, to extra savings by bundling more than one type of insurance (auto and home, for example) with a single company. Independent insurance agents not only help with shopping but also provide valuable advice to help make a more informed decision.
Additionally, most independent insurance agents provide services that online companies don’t, such as complimentary paperwork and fee processing with your state Department of Motor Vehicles. They also provide an annual coverage review and personal assistance in the event of an accident or claim. An independent insurance agent can advocate for the consumer in ways that an insurance company cannot, such as facilitating settlement of a claim or acting on the consumer’s behalf to resolve a problem with a insurer.