Spending smart

Shopping auto insurers can really pay off

By Geoff Edgers
Globe Staff / February 1, 2009
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When Massachusetts last year embraced the idea of allowing competition among auto insurers, the assumption was that drivers like Barbara Rippberger, a social worker from Sharon whose family has three cars and five drivers, would pounce on the opportunity to save hundreds of dollars. And many drivers who did pounce, indeed saved.

But Rippberger did nothing. No phone calls. No website research. In this, she had plenty of company.

A survey in the fall by the Massachusetts Insurance Federation, which represents insurance companies, found that 3 in every 4 drivers had not shopped around for better deals. Such passivity seemed surprising considering that, for the past 30 years, Massachusetts' rates had been set by the state and were always among the highest in the country.

So why were drivers hesitating as if the light was still red, when in fact it was green? Some were waiting for their existing insurance to expire. Some relied on their insurance agents to steer them. But many simply couldn't bother with the hassle of looking up various companies, digging out their paperwork, or making a confrontational phone call to fight for a lower rate.

But at a time when families are evaluating every penny they're spending, such excuses for not chasing a lower rate seem downright silly. Even Rippberger admits that now, after the Globe helped her find significant savings in less than an hour.

Target: Auto Insurance

Subject: Barbara Rippberger, 53, social worker from Sharon.

Problem: A daunting $4796 auto insurance bill. Barbara has three cars on her policy - a 2003 Volvo S60, a 2004 Volvo S80, and a 2007 Highlander - and five drivers: herself, her husband, and her three children. She believes her rate is too high.

Strategy: Sometimes the simplest thing is just to pick up the phone. I decided to put her case to a couple of other insurance companies and see if they will offer her a better rate.

Time on Phone: 28 minutes, 32 seconds.

Result: I had heard that Progressive offered great rates. But when we called, the guy on the phone told us we had to initiate the process by filling out a form on-line. Barbara didn't like that idea, so we moved on. Liberty Mutual let us talk through the process. We were given special credit for the strong academic records of Barbara's three college-age children. In addition, a discount was offered because Barbara's husband went to Georgia Tech, whose alumni get a group rate. We were also fortunate that this was a family of five with a flawless driving record. Without much trouble, Barbara was given a much better new rate.

Bill after call: $3,579.

Savings: $1,217 per year.

"You know what, shame on me," Barbara said when it was done. "I really tend to research things really well."

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