Auto insurance can be complicated, and having an agent you trust can help make it much easier filing a claim or establishing a policy. However, before choosing an agent it’s a good idea to learn about what agents do and don’t do and how to find one that will suit your needs. This will help you develop a long-lasting relationship and reduce the odds of you having to switch car insurance companies down the road.

What Do Insurance Agents Do?

First and foremost, insurance agents sell policies. They may be independent agents, in which case they might sell policies for multiple companies, or they might be employed by a specific company. The agent will then maintain a relationship with the insured throughout the life of the policy, making changes as necessary to reflect life changes. For example, an insured may need to add a vehicle to the policy, add more drivers or change coverage. To do this, a policyholder would simply contact his agent and request the necessary changes.

Insurance agents also answer general questions about policies. They explain what coverage does and why premiums cost what they do. They help customers find relevant discounts and explain rate increases whenever they occur. They can also answer certain claim-related questions and assist customers with filing claims.

What Don’t Insurance Agents Do?

Insurance agents don’t handle claims directly. They may assist an insured in filing the claim initially, but they are not involved in the details of the claim. This means that agencies don’t inspect vehicles, determine liability or issue settlement checks.

The degree of involvement an agent has in the claims process will vary from one insurance company to the next. Some companies involve agencies more thoroughly in the claim. For example, State Farm insureds file claims at an agent’s office rather than calling a toll-free claims number. In other cases, the agent may take photographs of a vehicle and forward these to an adjuster.

Even when an agent is involved in the claims process, he is not a licensed adjuster. This means that he may not have the most accurate information regarding claims and that any claim-specific information should be directed to an adjuster rather than the agent.

How do I Choose an Agent?

Not all car insurance companies have an extensive network of agencies. Some companies, like State Farm, employ thousands of agents nationwide and rely heavily on the agencies to sell products and offer customer support. Other insurance companies like GEICO primarily sell policies directly to consumers through websites or toll-free phone numbers. GEICO and Progressive have both begun utilizing agent services, but they still function primarily through direct sales.

Then you have companies (like The General) who only sell policies directly to consumers. These direct-sales companies usually offer inexpensive insurance policies; not having to pay an agent’s wages frees up money for the company. Direct-sales insurance companies usually focus more on advertising campaigns to attract customers rather than the personal connection that a person might form with an agent.

It’s a personal choice whether or not to have an insurance agent. Most insureds are able to purchase a policy online or over the phone, and they can change their policy this way as well. For some people, however, having a single point of contact for all insurance needs is comforting and convenient. These people prefer to have an agency to work with.

If you want to work with an agent, the most important thing is to choose a person you get along with and are comfortable dealing with in business matters. If you feel comfortable with your agent, you will be able to form a long-lasting business relationship with him. If you don’t feel comfortable, you may not have the courage to ask questions or clarify something, which might lead to purchasing a policy that you don’t want or need.

The search for an agent can begin online, or you can start by asking for referrals from friends and family in the area. If you already have insurance, you may wish to limit your search to agencies specializing in your company. If you don’t have insurance, finding an agency that you like may be the deciding factor in choosing a company to work with.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which insurance agent you choose as long as you are comfortable with him. You may need to try multiple agencies before you get a good match, or you may fall in love with the first agency you visit. Either way, be sure to check the agent’s credentials to be sure that he has the appropriate licenses to sell insurance; if he does, you can work with him for all of your insurance needs.