Evaluating & Choosing Insurance Companies

liz_hSeptember 2, 2009

A friend is interested in changing insurance companies for her home and cars. She asked me how to find out if a company is any good. I'm embarrassed to say that I really don't know. I told her to find out the full legal name of the company and we could check the AMBest rating but that is all I could think of. For that matter, I'm not even sure AMBest is still around - it's been 25 years since I was in the mortgage business.

Comparing premium costs from various companies is easy. What we need to know is how well the company will pay, and if they will still be around if and when she needs to file a future claim.

She is presently with State Farm, and has gotten a quote for lower premiums from Standard. I don't exactly which variety of SF she has. When we had SF homeowners' coverage, the agent switched us at one point to State Farm Lloyd's

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We made a BIG mistake of switching from Auto Club to National or something like that. I have never heard about Standard, but what happened to us was a nightmare. DH had a accident, did very little to the truck, but did alot to the car who was illegal driving next to the curb. He pulled over for a fire truck, did not see the car, (new truck to him) as she was in the blind spot. She went to 2 emergency hospitals and several doctors to find out how bad she was hurt, but refused medical at the scene. We got sued, harassed, phone calls, had to go to arbitration and lost. She lied so much Even though the insurance paid everything, we could never talk to an agent, just someone many miles away. That is the big problem. I like an agent with some sort of local office. If your friend ever has an accident, she probably will get the insurance cancelled, where if she stayed with one company, she might/might not.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2009 at 8:43PM
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Check with your state dept. of insurance concerning records of consumer complaints filed against a carrier. Most have this info available on their websites.

I believe you can also check the carrier's state of domicile for records of lawsuits filed against them.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2009 at 10:35PM
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As far as auto insurance goes, ask a body shop which insurance companies respond to claims fastest, pay the estimated amount without balking at every little fee, pay on time, etc. If you have a claim, it will be nice to have your vehicle repaired in a timely fashion rather than sitting at the body shop waiting for the adjuster to come out.

I used to work at a car dealership that had a body shop. All the guys there had State Farm. I got SF when I bought my first car 20 years ago and have been very happy with them. The rates are very reasonable, even though I drove 2 sport cars and 1 Jeep Wrangler.

When I was in an accident 2 years ago (other guy's fault), SF went to bat for me about a lot of things. First, I couldn't get in touch with the other agent about getting a rental car or where to take my Jeep. SF told me to just get my Jeep fixed where I wanted and to get my rental and they'd work it out. The estimate said that I wouldn't be reimbursed for rental car when my car was waiting for parts. SF said "oh yes I WILL get reimbursed" and I did. They also got me into the repair shop I wanted (a Jeep dealer) and not the one the other insurance company wanted (some crappy place that had a very poor record with BBB).

I've never had a home insurance claim, knock on wood, but I have SF for that too.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2009 at 4:37PM
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State Farm may be great on the accident front but let me tell you about the go round I had with them a couple of months ago. DH & I went over to my 83 y.o. mother's house to check out a leak on her car. Since she keeps all of her service receipts in her glove box as I was going through them I saw her insurance card was expiring the next day - and this was late morning on a Friday. I asked her if she had a new insurance card. mmmm - no. Let's look in the checkbook to see if she paid the bill. (She's starting to get forgetful). No. Did she GET the renewal bill? No. So I look on the card for the phone number to call. Only phone number on there is the local agent's number. Call it - it's "out of service" not working. (Not turned off - just not working - that funny ring ring beep beep beep thing). So I look on the bill for an 800 number. No 800 number - nothing! You have to call the agent only!!! So I take her info with me and go home to get on my computer to look up the State Farm website customer service. Now this is Friday - Mom will be w/o insurance tomorrow. State Farm website - no 800 numbers (you can email them - hah! again this is Friday - don't have time for this) they want you to call a local agent. So I find another local agent. THEY can't look up my Mom's info 'cause each agent's client's are in their own database. So they give me the regional office. Their out to lunch. I'm leaving messages all over -by now it's 3pm. I try again at her agent. The phone now works. I'm leaving messages till I get a real person I explain the situation - saying she never got the bill. (Oh that's corporate's problem). We'll take a credit card payment over the phone or she can drive down to the office or mail a check in to the local office - if they get it by Monday she'll be covered. So I tell them she'll mail a check in.
I call my Mom - tell her to mail a check to the local office - give her the address info. So she mails it the next day (Saturday) - but I'm sure it's without any of the insurance infor - account number or anything. For the next couple of weeks I asked my mom if she ever got a new insurance card. She never said. So - I certainly hope she did.
But IMO - to not have an 800 number on the card is ridiculous and to have to deal strictly with the local office is also frustrating. (Obviuosly I don't have State Farm).

    Bookmark   September 7, 2009 at 8:56AM
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I have had State Farm for almost 20 years with no problems. I have paid my bill late twice in that time, I simply forgot and was about a week late, and I was still covered.

The best way to find a good insurance company, IMO, is to talk to friends. That's how I found my agent.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2009 at 9:57AM
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I like Geico. We had Allstate for years. In all the time we were with them (10+yrs) we only filed one claim. They handled it terribly.

We were involved in an accident that was the other drivers fault. The driver tried to sue us for a hefty sum. Even though we had a deadline to respond, the claims adjuster took his time getting back to us. The lawyer they appointed got lost on the way to arbitration. Thank goodness we got there on time anyway. The last straw was our snotty agent. He didn't seem very concerned about the way our claim was handled so we decided to try another company. We went with Geico.

A month after we switched, an elderly driver ran into us while we were stopped at a light. Geico handled everything beautifully. Even though they don't have individual agents, each and every person we have ever spoken with has been polite, professional and helpful.

In spite of having to file a claim so soon after switching, they DIDN'T raise our rates and even checked up on the elderly driver who hit us, to be sure she was ok.

Another plus is that they are cheaper than Allstate. I also appreciate that they will fix our windshield for free if it gets a ding.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2009 at 4:28PM
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Yes, we've also had wonderful customer service from Geico. I was in an auto accident finally deemed (after 6 wks of investigation) to be the other driver's fault.

A full 18 months later, I received a bill for $1600 from a collection agency! Seems that our HMO plan doesn't cover emergency services, so my ambulance ride and Xrays weren't covered (although the HMO did cover the surgery and any followup).

I was embarrassed to have to call Geico and ask them to reopen the claim, but they were friendly and efficient, saying this wasn't that unusual. I faxed them the letter, and that was that - they took care of everything.

I was impressed, because it was only 1 WEEK before the accident that I had switched to Geico from AAA, after finally getting disgusted at how AAA was gutting their customer service. What a difference in service, I was so glad I had switched. And I agree, that windshield repair service is great - I've used it a couple of times; very quick and convenient.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2009 at 11:58AM
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I'm a retired attorney, after practicing 25 years. A lot of my practice was representing injured auto accident victims. I had an opportunity to observe which insurance companies treated their insureds the best, and which were the worst. The best, IMO, was Geico. Needless to say, we are insured with Geico.

Allstate and State Farm tied for worst. I had so many clients tell me, "but I've been insured by them for 20 years and this is how the treat me?" This was usually in response to paying for their medical bills (PIP) and, sometimes, paying the client a reasonable amount for their totaled vehicle (when the at-fault person didn't have insurance).

    Bookmark   September 10, 2009 at 10:13PM
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Interesting comments above. My personal experience? I was once hit by a geico insured driver. My car was PARKED at the time, so fault wasn't even an issue, and it was STILL like pulling teeth. I finally had to tell the other driver, that I was going to sign out a ticket for him if I wasn't paid by the last date I could do that. That worked.

State farm? My daughter was hit by one of their drivers a few years back. They IMMEDIATELY took full responsibility, rented her a car, and quickly paid for her totalled car, and ended up paying her medical bills and future medical needs. She got a fairly nice settlement from them. And interestingly, THEIR lawyer was working hard for her. Partly because their insured was an idiot and a hothead and no one like dealing with him, including any of the SF folks.

But personal anecdotes aside, you might want to advise your friend to do two things. Call the state insurance commissioner to find out which companies writing policies in the state are the most highly rated. Also, once she thinks she's got a few finalists? She needs to check and see if they're permitted to write policies in NY state--they have extremely high criteria and that's a really good way to assess an insurance company

    Bookmark   October 13, 2012 at 9:50PM
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Amica. I pay a little more, but their service is excellent (I've had one house claim and a few auto).

They are consistently rated at the very top of AMBest in customer service and value.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 3:11PM
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I'll add a complaint about State Farm. DH was broadsided a a 3-way stop in our town at noon on Saturday, Oct. 20. (He was traveling west over some RR tracks and had no stop sign.) Another driver traveling north 'assumed' he would be stopping and accelerated into the intersection. I reported the accident to the police and State Farm and drove DH to the ER.

I called them about 3 p.m. from the ER. They couldn't help because our claim wasn't written up yet. They told me to call the claims division 'later'.

We got home from the ER at 5 p.m. State Farm's claims division is CLOSED from 5 p.m. Saturday until Monday morning. State Farm operates like a corner store, not a huge insurance company! Their employees sound totally bored; couldn't care less.

Once I was able to discover that the responsible driver's "Great Northern" insurance was actually Chubb Group, things improved. Chubb's people were much more helpful. I think we will investigate insuring with them.

Now I am wondering whether to accept Chubb's agrement to pay $7K to repair our car. (See my separate post.)

I would also like to know if the other driver was ticketed, and for what. She is a 17-yr-old, driving her father's SUV.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2012 at 12:03PM
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