Sunday, September 10, 2017

Free auto insurance quotes: What really happens when you get them

But what actually happens when you fill out a free auto insurance quote? Does the experience live up to the promises we see and hear in all of those perky ads? And what happens to all the personal information you have to hand over, and how bad is the ensuing marketing bombardment you get on your phone and in your email inbox?
I’ll make a safe bet: Within the last two days, you’ve seen or heard an offer to try your luck at a lower rate by getting a free auto insurance quote. All you have to do, the insurance company promises, is fill out a free ‘n’ easy questionnaire to get your new price.
I went on a free insurance quote spree. Here’s what I found
When I needed a new insurance policy recently, I put off the chore for weeks until I decided to fill out as many free quotes as I could in one night. All I was hoping to do was break through all of the questionnaires and advertisements to get a list of prices from different companies, but I got a little more than I bargained for.
Filling out the quote surveys wasn’t too hard — Each takes around 10 minutes and the info you provide is nearly identical for each quote, and after filling out quotes and creating several accounts I’ll never use again, I got my list of prices.
Then I got called. A lot. I was contacted twice by each company: once on the day that I filled out the quotes, and once the next day. I was surprised by how quickly and consistently I got called by the insurance companies, and I began to feel like I handed out my personal information too carelessly. Was I in for months of spam?

When you get a free quote, you have to give insurance companies this info

When you begin filling out a free quote, you’ll first be asked to provide basic information about yourself that helps insurance companies calculate your estimated premium.
  • Your personal info: age, gender, marital status
  • Vehicle info: make, model, year
  • Driving habits: expected miles per year
  • Your job
  • Your contact info: email and phone number

To complete a quote you have to allow insurance companies access to this info

After providing your own basic info, you have to agree to a terms of service or a privacy policy that asks for information like this:
  • Your driving record
  • Your insurance claims history
  • Your credit history (in the states that allow that, not all do)
  • A consumer report
It’s all publicly available information, but it’s not always clear what information they get, where it comes from, or how they’ll use it. In the end, I found that there’s nothing devious going on — all the insurance companies want to do is figure out how much to charge your for insurance and then try to sell you a package.

You consent to being contacted one or more times by phone

This might be the biggest annoyance of all: To get free quotes, you have to agree to provide a phone number. Insurance companies know that they need to get you on the phone to complete such an expensive and complicated transaction, so be ready to get called once or twice for each quote you fill out.

Insurance companies share your info with these people and entities

Are you signing your privacy and your information away when you’re getting a free quote? Not really. I dug into the privacy policies of insurance companies like Allstate, and I found that they have pretty strict policies governing the way they share your information that prevent them from circulating it.
Insurance companies mostly share your information behind the scenes to get their job done. It might seem like you’re only dealing with one company, but in reality many different people and entities work together to deliver auto insurance products, and each of those people needs your information to get the job done.
Your information will be shared with people and entities like: insurance agents, payment processors, web behavior tracking companies, claims adjustors, actuarial researchers, marketing and communication services. (Allstate privacy policy)
You’re not handing over your information to be sold and shared with spammers who will bombard you with flurries of unsolicited offers, but the company will try to advertise to you. It’s not totally clear how they deal with third-party marketers, but since filling out many free quotes I’ve only gotten offers directly from companies — never from an unrecognizable third party (spammer). So it seems like the insurance companies are actually sticking to their privacy policies.

You are quoted insurance prices, then you get contacted by phone and email

Once you complete the form and agree to the terms, you’ll finally see insurance price estimates. You can tweak the price estimates by changing your level of coverage, and if you want to move closer to a purchase you can click a buy button or call a phone number.
Expect phone calls soon after. The phone sales people aren’t pushy, but they’re persistent. If they think you’re at all interested in making a purchase, they’ll stick with you. If you tell them you’re just shopping around, they’ll give up after a call or two.
I actually needed to buy insurance during my free-quote spree, so I spent some time on the phone with each company. After a while I understood more about what I wanted, and I ended up buying a six-month policy.

Is there a better way to get pricing estimates than free online quotes?

All the small hassles involved with free online insurance quotes — filling out questionnaires, agreeing to long and potentially sketchy terms of service, getting called by each insurance company — might make you want to find a different way to get a quick quote.
Is there a better way? Is there any way to get a price without handing over too much of your sensitive personal info?
Alternatives to free online quotes:
  • Call insurance companies directly — You’ll still have to provide all the same information, but it will be over the phone instead of in an online survey.
  • Call a local agent — Local agents need the same info, but they get it over the phone or from in-person meetings.
In the end, if you want as many free auto insurance quotes as fast as possible, you’ll have to suck it up and sit through online surveys and phone calls.
The process is annoying if you’re just shopping around out of curiosity, but if you’re actually looking to buy insurance right now, you’ll be able to get a lot of information in a short period of time.