Rachael Brennan has been working in the insurance industry since 2006 when she began working as a licensed insurance representative for 21st Century Insurance, during which time she earned her Property and Casualty license in all 50 states. After several years she expanded her insurance expertise, earning her license in Health and AD&D insurance as well. She has worked for small health insuran...

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Chris Harrigan has an economic degree from Limestone College and an MBA from Clemson University. He previously managed auto insurance claims for Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Currently, he is using his business and insurance expertise to provide insurance data analysis and visualizations to enhance the user experience.

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Reviewed by Chris Harrigan
Former Auto Insurance Claims Manager Chris Harrigan

UPDATED: Apr 13, 2022

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Key takeaways...

  • All states mandate car insurance or proof of financial responsibility
  • You can buy car insurance through an agent or online
  • There are two types of car insurance agents: brokers and direct agents
  • An agent acts as an advocate on your behalf and can help you find the best coverage
  • Buying online is usually cheaper because it cuts out the middleman

No one loves buying car insurance, but the alternative of driving without it is worse. All 50 states impose strict financial responsibility laws on drivers. You could be looking at a fine, driver’s license suspension, or even jail time if caught driving uninsured.

You need to buy car insurance, but the question is where to get it. Your options include purchasing an auto insurance policy through an insurance agent or buying it online.

Get online car insurance quotes for free right here. Just enter your zip code above to begin.

Car Insurance Laws


No matter your state, you must be able to prove financial responsibility at all times when you drive. Each state has a minimum required coverage level. You have to show that you can cover the costs of an accident up to that amount.

If you have strong liquid assets and can prove it, this proof qualifies as financial responsibility in a few states.

Most states, though, require you to have auto insurance.

What are the penalties for going without? They can include the following:

  • Fines
  • License suspension
  • Vehicle registration suspension
  • Points on license
  • Jail time (for repeat offenders)

If you cause an accident while driving uninsured, you’ll have to come out of pocket to pay for damages. You could potentially have your bank account seized and wages garnished until the balance is satisfied.

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What are your options for purchasing car insurance?

For many years, there was only one way to buy auto insurance, and that was from an insurance agent. Now, with modern technology, you can buy it online in a few clicks.

Auto insurance agents fall into two categories: brokers and captive agents.

  • Brokers represent a variety of different companies. They market themselves on their ability to shop around and get you the best rate.
  • Captive agents, by contrast, represent a single carrier. They ultimately serve as salespeople for their company.

The internet features hundreds of websites where you can buy car insurance. You can buy insurance on the website of a particular carrier. You can also buy from third-party sites. These are like insurance brokers. They allow you to choose between multiple carriers.

Buying From an Agent


Some drivers prefer the personal service they get from an agent. Even if they could save money online, they’d rather work with someone face to face.

Many people also appreciate the industry knowledge that good agents possess. They feel an agent can help them receive the best policy at the best price for their needs.

An agent also gives you a point of contact with the company. You can call your agent to do the following:

  • make a claim
  • update your policy
  • add or drop a vehicle
  • include a new driver (such as a newly licensed teenager) on your plan
  • Ask insurance questions
  • Add or drop auto insurance coverages

Good car insurance agents don’t sell you a policy and then disappear. They maintain a relationship with you and act as advocates on your behalf.

For example, if you file a claim, your agent can help you negotiate a higher payout with the adjuster. Your agent can also let you know of discounts you qualify for, such as a safe driver or good student discount. Many major insurers offer multi-policy discounts for bundling your auto insurance with homeowners or life insurance.

The downside to working with an agent is they don’t work for free. True, they rarely charge you directly for their services. But their income has to come from somewhere. Often, it’s built into your premiums. You pay a higher price compared to purchasing online.

Buying Online


There is no shortage of options for buying insurance online. A Google search for car insurance in most cities yields hundreds of results.

Some are websites for major car insurance providers that you’ve heard of. Others are third-party sites that let you compare rates from different companies.

The biggest benefit of buying car insurance online is the price. Since you’re buying directly from the auto insurance company, there’s no middleman, and that usually means cheap car insurance for you.

One less person has to get paid resulting in savings for you.

Even some of the big companies offer discounts for buying online. The reason is that when you buy online, they don’t have to pay anyone to sell you insurance.

The same comparison applies to third-party sites and insurance brokers. Both let you compare rates from various companies but the online companies don’t have to pay anyone to work with you one on one.

If cost is your primary concern, purchasing insurance online is the way to go. The downside is the lack of personal service. Some people want the personal touch of customer service that comes with speaking to a real person. Experienced agents can also go over your coverage options with you to help you determine exactly what kind of insurance you need.

You’ll receive a toll-free number to call if you have to make a claim or make changes to your policy. The person you deal with will be a random call center representative and not an agent you know.

Before applying to a bunch of companies online, be aware they might pull your credit. As you likely know, a bunch of credit inquiries in a short time can lower your score.

For this reason, you should be wary about letting too many companies run your credit especially if you’re planning a major purchase soon, such as a house or new car.

You have more options than ever for buying car insurance. If you still like personal service and doing business face to face, you might prefer buying from an agent. But if it’s more important for you to save money, the best deals are often found online.

Compare car insurance rates today by entering your zip code below.