It can be cheaper to buy car insurance online than through an agent, if you are willing to do the work of understanding and comparing policies. Using an agent can cost you 5% to 20% extra on a new policy in the first year and 2% to 15% every time you renew, according to numerous sources.
There are two kinds of car insurance agents: independent and captive. Independent agents work for themselves and sell car insurance from multiple companies. Their income comes from sales commissions. You will pay these either directly, as a service fee, or indirectly through higher premiums. According to the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, Inc., independent agents earn 8% to 15% of a new policy's first year premium and 2% to 15% at renewal.
Captive agents work for a single company, offering only that insurer’s products. They earn a salary, usually plus commissions. Their initial commissions range from about 5% to 10% of the value of new auto policies that they sell, plus a small percentage at each renewal. This cost is included in your premiums.
Commission costs tend to be higher for independent agents than captive agents. However, an independent agent can comparison shop among multiple insurers to find the best price for the coverage you need. Sometimes, this may be worth the higher commission.
Direct comparison shopping online, with no agent and no commissions, is the cheapest way to buy car insurance. But it takes time and research. As a good rule of thumb, you should get 3-5 quotes. Plus, you’ll need to understand the coverage in detail to compare quotes accurately. Look closely at insurance types, protection levels, deductibles, coverage limitations, discounts and any special services. Also read reviews of the companies you’re considering to learn from the experiences of other consumers.
If you only want state minimum insurance, buying directly online is probably your cheapest and best method. If your needs are more complex, decide whether getting expert help is worth the extra cost.