Picking a home insurance company

Cast a wide net.

First, check what's out there. Get quotes from at least four carriers. Try a free database such as InsWeb, which offers quotes from up to 8 insurers.

Buy direct.

Companies that deal directly with consumers without using independent agents are called "direct writers." In theory, they can pass on their savings by eliminating the middleman.

Read your junk mail.

Direct marketers save on overhead -- and pass on the savings -- by marketing by phone, mail or the Internet.

Check with your state.

Most state insurance departments offer online shopping guides for homeowners insurance. Your state's guide may identify little-known companies with competitive rates. Insure.com can link you to your state guide.

Unfortunately, if your home's in a hurricane zone, you may be stuck with just one expensive option, your state-sponsored high-risk pool. But try shopping again a year from now. Private insurers are continually looking for new ways to cut up the market, and one company's black mark is another's business opportunity.

Some states provide assistance -- either shopping help or special coverage -- for homeowners who can't find insurance in urban or vulnerable coastal areas.

Look at service.

No discount in the world will make up for slow claims processing, so find out as much as you can about a company's service before you sign on. Consumer Reports periodically publishes service ratings for large insurers. You can also ask a representative about a company's claims turn-around time; a shorter turn-around is an indication of better service.

Focus on financials.

It's wise to look at the financial ratings of your home insurer. Ask the company for that information, or check out one of the financial ratings services on the Web.

An A rating or higher from Standard & Poor's or an AA ranking or better from Moody's Investor Service is a good indicator of strength. Weiss Ratings, the most independent of the ratings services, and arguably the most stringent, publishes a list of the currently weakest homeowners insurers.

Look for discounts.

You can save money by taking advantage of discounts that insurers offer for behavior that lowers your risk. That could be anything from driving less than the average number of miles per year to quitting smoking. Certain types of people -- senior citizens, for instance -- also are eligible for price cuts. You'll also save by installing certain safety or protective equipment in your home.

Because it's cheaper to service two policies from the same customer, insurers often cut premiums up to 15% if you link auto and homeowners policies.

Also: Try to boost your credit score. Many insurers give better rates to homeowners with good credit histories.

Getting started

Getting a job

Buying a car

Starting to invest

Buying a home

Starting a family

Retirement planning

Sponsored Lending News

CNNMoney Sponsors