Navigating new world of auto insurance

Apr 4th, 2008 | By Hot News Reporter | Category: Insurance Today

Ipswich – We live in an age of choice. With seemingly endless consumer offerings available to us – from the cable TV package we select to the brand of coffee we drink – choices empower us. They allow us to make decisions based on price, functionality, comfort and other factors.

The same can be said for the new auto insurance system in Massachusetts that goes into effect on April 1. For the first time in three decades, drivers can choose from auto insurers who now have the ability to set their own rates and offer new products, credits and discounts.

With auto insurance reform, drivers will no doubt march into their insurance agents’ offices en masse this month and inquire as to the carriers with the lowest rates. That’s human nature. And with mounting prices on everything from a gallon of gas to a gallon of milk, Bay State families are looking for ways to save money.

But auto insurance, when you take a deeper look, transcends price. You need to make sure you have the right coverage to meet all your needs, including ensuring that all your assets – not just your car – are protected in the event of an accident.
Consumers should consider four specific factors when either renewing their policies or changing policies. In the end, the cost of a policy is just one factor in the bigger insurance picture.

– Find a trusted agent. As important as it is to work with an agent who understands your special financial and other circumstances, it is equally critical to find an agent who is fully aware of all of the options available in the market today. With countless coverage options available to drivers, there is nothing more valuable than a consultative agent who considers consumers’ best interests when shopping for the best policy.

– Evaluate your situation. When auto insurance policies are up for renewal, consumers should contact agents to find coverage that best match their circumstances. Consumers will be well served if they work with an agent who either already knows their insurance needs or asks probing questions that lead to proper coverages and limits. For example, agents should ask whether the consumer has any special needs or may be eligible for unique discounts that only certain carriers offer. Good savings can be found, including discounts and credits for being a good student, driving a hybrid vehicle, having multiple cars on a policy or possessing anti-theft systems. Whatever the situation, agents can help you take advantage of these discounts.

– Don’t rely on Web sites. Consumers have been directed to a variety of Web sites recently to understand sample rates. These sites derive price quotes from an extremely limited amount of information and do not include most of the rating variables and other characteristics insurers use to rate policies and determine prices.
For example, a Web site may request five or six variables to rate samples when, in fact, many more variables may be in play when determining insurance costs. For this reason, the actual rate a consumer will pay could vary by several hundreds of dollars from sample rates found on the Internet. Some sample rates that look attractive could be much higher for most drivers and others that appear high are much lower in reality. Once again, your best bet is to use the resources found online as a guide only. Contact your agent for a policy that suits your needs.

– Stay tuned for future news. This is not the final resting point for auto insurance reform, but rather the first step. There will be new products and pricing coming out during the next year. Important changes made throughout the initial year of managed competition, followed by a multi-year transition with a much more consumer-oriented and responsive market. New product enhancements will occur down the road.

The 4 million drivers who navigate Massachusetts highways and byways deserve to know as much as possible about the new regulations. Only then will we all become better-educated consumers.

Susan K. Scott is senior vice president and general counsel for Travelers of Massachusetts. She served as acting commissioner of the Massachusetts Division of Insurance from 1990 to 1991.

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