Choosing an insurance agent: Experience is not expertise

In my last blog post, I wrote how you should choose an agent with enough experience to be competent. More than 2 years is enough, but 5 to 10 years experience is preferable. Anything more than 10 years is not relevant. But experience does not guarantee expertise.

True expertise is hard to find. I have always been surprised how little your average, experienced & successful agent knows about the products they sell, or how much bad information they can provide to their customers & prospective customers. Continue reading

Reviewing Florida Home Insurance Companies for Financial Strength, Stability, & Solvency

Florida home insurance companies becoming financially insolvent is not an uncommon problem. Sunshine State Insurance Company, recently one of the 25 leading insurance companies selling new policies insuring homes in Florida, stopped selling new policies, after receiving a consent order from the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation (FOIR), to raise its surplus or shed its business. The FOIR consent order issued in March, came after Sunshine State reported it discovered accounting errors relating to reinsurance contracts from 2008 to 2011 that required correction. Sunshine State Insurance Company advised the FOIR that correcting the errors would negatively affect its surplus, as would fourth quarter losses. Customers of Sunshine State Insurance Company need to be concerned about the company being able to pay claims, and choosing another company to insure their home, as reported in this Insurance Journal article.

As any Florida property owner knows, finding companies to insure their homes and choosing the best insurance company, can be a challenge. The homeowners, condo, renters, or mobile home insurance companies available to them are often newer, very small companies not rated by AM Best, the most well-known company rating insurance company financial strength & solvency. If you are concerned about having substantial damage to your home covered by your insurance, particularly from a catastrophe, like a hurricane, where your insurance company may have many claims to pay, you want to do the best you can to avoid companies unable to meet their financial obligations. This blog post will discuss the issues regarding home insurance company solvency for Florida property owners, and show you one rating company that may be of great help with assessing an insurance company’s financial strength. Continue reading

Gun Friendly Insurance Companies?

Is it true some insurance companies decline, cancel, or non-renew home insurance policies based on an applicant’s ownership or use of guns? One major home insurance company in Florida currently does use gun ownership to determine eligibility for its property insurance policies. Which home insurance companies are better for firearm owners? This blog post will explain what gun owners need to know about how insurance companies use information about you and your guns, to determine your eligibility for their home insurance policies. Continue reading

Is Allstate Insurance Expensive?

Is Allstate Insurance expensive? Does Allstate home & auto insurance cost a lot more than other companies, like State Farm, Progressive, or GEICO? Are insurance companies with lower rates than Allstate selling “cut-rate” insurance, inferior to Allstate? As a former sales person for an Allstate agency, I’ll tell you what you need to know about Allstate’s pricing, and how you really can save a lot of money on your auto or home insurance. Continue reading

Progressive Home Insurance Review 2013: Bundle and Save?

Did you know, when you buy homeowners, condo, or renters insurance from Progressive Insurance, through their Progressive Home Advantage program, it is not Progressive insuring your home? Progressive primarily insures automobiles & trucks, but acts as an agent, representing other insurance companies, when Progressive sells you property (homeowners, condo, renters) insurance, for you to receive the “bundling” discount you hear about in the Progressive advertisements. How good is the bundling discount? It can vary by state, home insurance company insuring you, and the type of coverage needed. When I called Progressive, the customer service representative told me only the home insurance policy would be discounted. Discounts for insuring your home and auto together are common with many insurance companies these days, and some companies discount both policies by as much as 20%. If you insure your car with Progressive, is bundling your property insurance with Progressive your best and least expensive option? If you bundle with State Farm or Allstate, unlike Progressive, both of those companies will be insuring your home & auto, possibly with much larger bundling discounts. This review will analyze the pros & cons of bundling your auto & property insurance together with Progressive, to help you decide if this is the best option for you. Continue reading

Do you need an insurance agent?

Yesterday, I posted about finding auto & home insurance companies with good customer service. Something that can help you get better insurance company customer service, is having a great agent working for you. However, it’s almost 2014, and it’s easier than ever to buy auto & home insurance online, direct from the company. Do you need an insurance agent these days? Buying direct does not always save you money. You should shop with all the major insurance companies in your state, regardless if they have agents or not, to find the companies with the best rates for you. With some insurance companies, you pay the same, whether you buy direct, or from an agent responsible to serve you. This blog post will explain what value insurance agents provide their customers, and how it can cost you money, and be more than just a hassle, if you don’t have one. Continue reading

Progressive, Geico, Esurance Homeowners Insurance: Is it a Good Deal?

Have you seen Geico, Esurance, or Progressive insurance ads on TV? The ads promote their auto insurance, but the ads often mention they offer homeowners & renters insurance, too. In fact, one of these insurance companies is heavily promoting a discount for “bundling” home & auto insurance together, to get low insurance rates. However, buying property insurance from these companies can be misleading, and you might be insuring your home with an insurance company you have never heard of, with a poor customer complaint record. This review will give you information, to help you decide if buying home insurance from Progressive, GEICO, or Esurance is a wise decision for you. Continue reading

Are Insurance Companies Owned by their Policyholders Better or Less Expensive than Companies Owned by Stockholders?

I’ve noticed some insurance companies, like Nationwide Insurance, have been emphasizing their ownership by their policyholders, not investors, as a selling point in their TV ads. One of the more popular ways to organize an insurance company is as a mutual company, like Nationwide, where the policyholders are the owners of the company, instead of the typical ownership of companies in other industries, where the companies are owned privately, or by stockholders. But some insurance companies are organized as stock companies, owned by stockholders. Some examples of major mutual companies are State Farm, Amica, American Family, Northwestern Mutual Life, Mass Mutual, Guardian Life, & Nationwide. Some examples of major stock companies are Geico, Progressive, Allstate, Prudential, Travelers, & Metlife. Are mutual companies better for the customer than stock companies? Do mutual insurance companies have lower rates, since they don’t need to provide a profit to investors? Do mutual companies provide better service, because the companies operate for the benefit of their policyholders? I’ll answer these & other questions in this blog post, and explain why I think, whether an insurance company is a mutual company or a stock company, its type of ownership should not sway your opinion when buying auto, property, or life insurance, except in certain situations. In fact, in spite of the appeal of policyholder ownership, where an insurance company works for its customers, instead of investors, I’ll tell you how some mutual insurance companies can cost you money. Continue reading

Are Big Auto, Home, & Life Insurance Companies Better than Small Companies?

When insurance companies want to convince people they should insure with them, they often cite their long history and size, usually expressed by the dollar amount of their assets. For example, Prudential Financial, Inc., a major life insurance & financial services company, states on their website they have been in business for 137 years and have $1.061 trillion of assets under management. Does this make Prudential better than a competing company like TIAA-CREF Life Insurance Company, which has been in business 95 years, and has only $520 billion assets under management? Is Prudential financially stronger than TIAA-CREF? Not according to the rating agency AM Best, which rates Prudential at “A+” for financial strength, but gives the higher grade of “A++” to TIAA-CREF. State Farm states on its website it has 81 million policies & accounts in the USA & Canada. State Farm is the largest insurer of cars in the US, and its subsidiary, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, has close to 115 billion dollars in assets for 2012 (according to the financial statement from its website). In comparison, Auto Owners Insurance has less than 6 billion dollars in written premium. But Auto Owners Insurance scored higher than State Farm in both the 2013 JD Power US Property Claims Satisfaction Study and the 2012 JD Power 2012 US Auto Claims Satisfaction Study. It’s good to see any potential insurance company has a long history, and a significant asset base, but bigger does not mean better for the customer, beyond a certain point. When it comes to getting a competitive price for insurance, size does not matter at all. However, there are pros & cons for both small & large companies. This blog post will give you tips about how to consider a company’s size, when buying auto, home, or life insurance. Continue reading

Auto, Home, & Life Insurance Companies: Stick with the Big Brand Names?

State Farm. Prudential. Allstate. AFLAC. GEICO. Metlife. Progressive. These insurance companies are household names. No one likes paying for insurance, much less paying more for insurance, but if you are in a major car accident, your house burns down, or you get a life threatening disease or develop a health condition, you want to be sure your auto, home, or life insurance company will be there to take care of your claim. Because of this concern, many people prefer familiar brand names when buying insurance. What if an insurance agent quotes you an insurance company with the coverage you need at a great price, but you have never heard of the company? Can you trust this unknown company to pay your claim? You know the big brand name companies are legitimate companies, even if you have heard stories about some of them having bad customer service. Is some insurance company unknown to you a fly-by-night company? Do they lure you in with low rates, but can’t be reached when you have a claim? It’s human nature to be inclined to buy a product from a company with a familiar name, but are you familiar with the company name because their customers rave about it being a great company, or is it because you are constantly exposed to the company’s advertising? An insurance company is not a better company because it spends a lot of money on advertising, or because it has a lot of customers and many agencies in your area. The wise insurance buyer does not limit their shopping to a few companies with brand name recognition. However, whether you know them or not, all insurance companies are not equally good. This blog post will tell you how to shop for your insurance without being misled by insurance company hype, and what you need to consider, when evaluating an insurance company, to see if it’s the right choice for you. Continue reading

2013 JD Power US Property Claims Satisfaction Study Numerical Scores for Home Insurance Customers

The annual JD Power auto & home insurance customer satisfaction & claims satisfaction studies are great tools for insurance shoppers to measure an insurance company’s claims & customer service, but people make the mistake of weighing its power circle ratings too much. You may think a 4 power circle rated company (better than most) is a much better company, and companies with the lowest power circle rating of 2 power circles (the rest), provide poor service, but when you look at the numerical score many of these companies received, they are actually not much better or worse than average. However, some companies do outperform others, while some low scoring companies are far below average. Today’s blog post reviews the raw scores and ratings for the 19 major insurance companies included in the recent JD Power 2013 Property Claims Satisfaction Study for homeowners insurance, released earlier this month. I’ll compare this year’s scores with last years scores, and point out the companies really earning their high or low ratings. Continue reading

Auto & Home Insurance Companies: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly?

Everyone wants a good price on auto & home insurance. But people also want to avoid the bad insurance companies that deny claims all the time. An affordable price for your car insurance and homeowners insurance is important, but you also want to choose a company that pays claims and does not hassle you.

Some people believe all insurance companies want to sell insurance, but none want to pay claims. Other people think some insurance companies are honest and pay claims, and other companies are dishonest and weasel out of paying legitimate claims. Some people think bad insurance companies automatically deny any claims over a certain dollar amount.

Many car & home insurance buyers have misconceptions about insurance companies, leading them to make mistakes they regret when they have a claim. This blog post will tell you about these misconceptions and mistakes, how to avoid them, and how to make better decisions when choosing your insurance company and coverage. Continue reading

Home Insurance Claims: Company Ratings for Property Claim Satisfaction in 2012

As readers of my blog know, I really like the annual JD Power insurance studies, and I think people should use the studies as a measure of customer service, instead of online customer reviews. Of the annual JD Power insurance studies, none are more important than their annual claims satisfaction studies. Today’s blog post reviews the raw scores and ratings for the 19 major home insurance companies included in the JD Power 2012 Property Claims Satisfaction Study. Continue reading

Why Do Some Insurance Companies Ask So Many Questions?

If you have received an auto insurance quote online, or you have called an insurance company or agency for a home or car insurance quote, you know insurance companies ask a lot of questions before they give you a price. Why do insurance companies ask you for so much information, instead of just giving you the price quote you asked for? What do they do with your information? Do they sell it? Why do some companies ask for more information than others? In this blog post, I will answer these questions, and tell you how to get the insurance agent or company representative quoting you to do their best to give you the lowest insurance rates for the coverage you need, and all the discounts you deserve. It’s worth it to you to read this entire blog post, so you know what’s going on when an agent quotes your auto or home insurance, and how you can use it to your advantage. Continue reading

Nationwide Insurance Phone Number for Recent Security Breach: How safe is your personal information with your auto or home insurance company?

Earlier this month, Nationwide Insurance had a database compromised, which resulted in the theft of confidential information for one million policyholders and non-policyholders. You may not be insured with Nationwide, but if you gave information to Nationwide for an insurance quote in the past, you may have been affected. If you think Nationwide might have your personal data, you can call this phone number, 1-800-760-1125, to see if your personal information was stolen. The information taken includes names, social security numbers, and other information, but no credit card information was supposedly accessed. Nationwide is notifying the people affected by this data breach, and offering free credit report checks and identity theft coverage. You can find out more about the Nationwide Insurance security breach, and links to articles regarding how several state insurance commissioners have reacted to it, by clicking the link to my Facebook page in this paragraph.

Computer hacking and theft of customer information from large companies is often in the news these days. This may be an even greater concern for customers of insurance companies, because unlike a retailer like Barnes & Noble, insurance companies are usually in possession of their customer’s social security numbers. This blog post will give you some tips on how to minimize your risk while shopping for insurance, and warning signs showing your insurance company or agent is putting you at greater risk of having your personal information stolen. Continue reading

Choosing an insurance agent: Questions to ask before you buy

Most people do not know the important questions to ask, or what to look for in the replies of an insurance agent, to know if an agent is deserving of your business. This blog post will give you tips on what questions to ask, and how to ask them. so you are able to see through empty claims of great customer service & expertise.

If you have visited the “about us” section of almost any insurance agency web site, you read the same things: Our customers are the focus of our business. We are committed to personal service. We work hard to get you the coverage you need at a low price, etc. The truth is anybody can claim to provide a high level or personal customer service, and just about everyone claims to provide it. Continue reading

Choosing an insurance agent: What to expect from a good agent

I started this blog series about how to choose an agent, telling you about the hype you hear from every agent, usually in a confident, friendly manner: “I have many years experience. I represent a large, old, financially stable company with 24 hour claims service. I’m an independent agent, and I can shop the home & auto insurance market for you (except I don’t tell you I don’t represent some of the biggest & best companies). I put my customers first. Yadda, yadda, yadda.”

There are lots of well-established, financially strong insurance companies. Most companies have 24 hour claims reporting. Almost all of the reasons agents tell you why you should insure with them are not unique, and they are common among all insurance companies. If other companies offer the same benefits, why shouldn’t you choose the company with the lowest price?

Some agents do add value with the service they provide, and this blog post will show you how to recognize this value, and allow you to tell the agents really putting their customers first, from the majority of agents merely claiming to put their customers first. Continue reading

Choosing an insurance agent: Your agent’s office location

How important is it for your agent’s office to be close to your home or work? For a lot of people, this is an important factor for choosing an agent. But for most people, choosing an agent based on the agent’s office location can be a mistake. Depending on your needs, the location of your agent’s office may not be important at all. This blog post will tell you when having an agent close to you is important, and when choosing the agent closest to you is a mistake. Continue reading

Choosing an insurance agent: Referrals

One thing recommended to insurance shoppers, often by objective sources like your state’s department of insurance informational brochures, is to ask your friends, family, & neighbors for their opinions about insurance companies. In my opinion, personal referrals are not useful in making sure you will get good customer service from your agent or insurance company. This blog post will explain why referrals are not reliable, and where to find more objective measures of customer service, so you can avoid having problems when you most need the help of your agent or company. Continue reading

Choosing an insurance agent: Check for license & complaints

Whether you buy your insurance from an agent, or directly from the company, you need to make sure your agent or company is properly licensed in your state to sell the type of insurance you are buying, and see if there has been any complaints or disciplinary actions against your agent or company. Continue reading

Choosing an insurance agent: How much experience is needed?

Here is my second tip for choosing an insurance agent, which can save you from making costly mistakes:

Know how much experience is important, & avoid inexperienced agents

Some agents try to convince you to insure with them based on their many years of experience, or the experience of their employees. I know one agent added up the total number of years of experience of their agency employees to conclude their combined experience equals over 100 hundred years! This sounds impressive, but does it really benefit the customer? I don’t think so. Continue reading

Choosing an insurance agent: Is your agent any good?

Do you have a good insurance agent? Most people find out the hard way when they have a problem or a claim. This is the first in a series of blog posts giving you tips on how to find an excellent agent and avoid bad ones. The first thing you may think, is you can avoid having to worry about finding a good agent by not having an agent at all, and buying direct from the insurance company. Doesn’t it cost more to have an insurance agent? Isn’t it cheaper to buy direct, anyway? Continue reading

Vermont Home Insurance Reviews: Complaint Ratings for Leading Companies

Does your property (homeowners/condo/mobile home/renters) insurance company have a huge amount of customer complaints? Will you have any problems placing a claim, or have a valid claim delayed or denied? Is your insurance company good or bad? Most consumers fail to check the complaint records of their insurance companies. This blog post provides complaint information for the major insurance companies selling property insurance in Vermont, and ranks them from best to worst, based on their 2011 JD Power homeowners insurance customer satisfaction rating. National homeowners insurance complaint ratings for their subsidiary companies are available by links to insurance company reviews on my website. I also list complaint ratings for several large regional home insurance companies selling property insurance in Vermont, not rated by JD Power. Continue reading

How much is home insurance? Rates increased 19% Nationwide in 2011

Today’s Insurance Journal has an article about a report from an online home insurance provider,, indicating national homeowners insurance premiums went up an average of 19% in 2011. According to the report, the typical premium for a new home insurance policy in December 2011 was $810 nationwide, up from $682 in January 2011. The quarterly RateReport data from represents approximately 15,000 policies sold across the United States with various carriers including Travelers, Safeco, Foremost, Liberty Mutual, The Hartford, and ASI/Ark Royal. This blog post will tell you what you can do to reduce your price after a large home insurance rate increase. Continue reading

Buy Insurance Direct for Discounted Rates without Agent Commissions?

It sounds reasonable you can get less expensive auto insurance if you buy direct from the insurance company, because there is no commission paid to an agent. Just like buying wholesale is less expensive than buying retail — you save cash by cutting out the middle man. Insurance companies selling direct to the public through their call centers or the Internet want you to believe this is true. Continue reading