Insurance is notoriously complicated, and few people have the time or desire to pore over their policies. But some basic knowledge can go a long way -- and that's where an insurance agent can help, by clearing up some of the most common misconceptions they encounter.
Here are five things agents say are helpful for customers to know.
1. INSURANCE DOESN'T COVER EVERYTHING
When it comes to insurance, "Most people don't understand the details," says Andrew McGill, agent at The Insurance Shoppe in Collierville and Nashville, Tennessee. For instance, they often don't realize that most homeowners policies won't cover flood or earthquake damage. If your home is at risk for these disasters, you need separate coverage.
Auto policies generally cover only personal use of your car, so if you've picked up a side gig delivering groceries or meals during the pandemic, you likely need additional coverage, says Keya Pratt, agent and CEO of Pratt Insurance LLC in Richmond, Virginia. Otherwise, accidents you have on the job may not be covered.
Insurance policies of all types also generally exclude wear and tear, says Katherine Navarro Wong, a State Farm agent in Santa Rosa, California. She often gets calls from policyholders asking if their insurance will pay for things like broken dishwashers or aging gutters.
The answer is no. Insurance is designed to cover sudden, accidental damage, not regular maintenance. "We're not going to replace (an) old pipe," Wong says, "but if the pipe accidentally burst and ruined the wall and the flooring," that would be covered.
2. A GAP IN COVERAGE CAN BE COSTLY
There are various reasons you might let your car insurance policy lapse, whether you're having trouble paying your bills or you no longer own a vehicle. But this could cost you, Pratt says. "People tend to shop insurance after they've already canceled their insurance, (but) unfortunately that's a huge negative" when calculating your price.
After a gap in coverage, insurers view customers as riskier and charge higher rates.
You can avoid this by shopping for quotes before your policy expires, buying nonowner car insurance if you're between vehicles and asking your carrier for leniency if you're struggling to make payments.
3. YOU CAN'T GET COVERAGE FOR SOMETHING THAT'S ALREADY HAPPENED
If you get into an accident and your car needs repairs, you might want a rental vehicle to help you get around. But by that point it would be too late to add that coverage, Wong says. Your auto policy would pay for this only if you had rental car coverage in place when the accident happened -- not if you added it the day after.
The same goes for other insurance. For example, say a storm leaves an inch of water in your basement, but you haven't purchased flood insurance. You can still buy coverage for future disasters, but it won't pay for damage your home has already sustained.
4. YOU SHOULDN'T SKIMP ON LIABILITY INSURANCE
Many people focus on buying enough coverage for their belongings, but the liability insurance on your policy may be even more important. It pays for injuries or property damage that you're at fault for.
A lawsuit "is going to be more devastating than losing your laptop (or) ring," Wong says. Including legal fees, the cost can total hundreds of thousands of dollars, especially if someone is seriously injured.
To protect yourself financially, buy enough liability insurance on your auto and home insurance policies to cover your net worth.
5. YOUR AGENT IS THERE TO HELP
Confused by your policy's fine print? Don't struggle through it on your own, says Jana Schellin Foster, agent at Nevada Insurance Agency Co. in Reno, Nevada. "We're here to take care of you and walk you through this process."
Foster advises interviewing agents to make sure you trust them and they have the services you need.
Once you've found an agent you're comfortable with, Wong recommends touching base once a year or whenever there are changes in your life. This might include getting married, buying a new car or renovating your home, all of which could trigger updates to your insurance.
The most important thing to have in your agent is trust, Foster says. "You get so busy with your kids and your job and whatever else you have going on; you shouldn't have to think about what you need your insurance to do."
This article was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Sarah Schlichter is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.