ASK KIM


Check an Insurer's Complaint Record

Kimberly Lankford

Here's how to find out if a company does a good job of paying claims.



I'm looking for a lower premium on my auto insurance. I found a good deal from a company I haven't heard much about. How can I find out whether it does a good job of paying claims?

State insurance departments keep records of complaints against insurers. You can access this information through the National Association of Insurance Commissioners' Consumer Information Source.

Type in the name of the company, the state where you live and the type of insurance. (Under "statement type" and "business type," click on "property/casualty" for home and auto insurance; you can also search for complaints against companies that sell life, accident and health insurance.) The site then provides the insurer's national complaint statistics.

Focus on the complaint ratio, which shows the ratio of the company's U.S. market share of complaints to the company's U.S. market share of premiums for a specific policy type. Compare that figure with the national median: If the national median complaint ratio is 1.00 and the ratio for the company you're considering is 2.00, for example, that should be a big red flag. Also look at the complaint trend report to see whether complaints have been increasing or decreasing over time.

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By clicking on the "Closed Complaint Counts By Code" report you can see why the complaints were made (select "insured" from the drop-down menu because you'd be the person insured). According to the NAIC, the most common complaint in 2008 was for claim delays (19% of closed complaints), followed by claim denials (18.5%) and unsatisfactory settlement offers (14.3%). You should be concerned if the company you're considering has a lot of these types of complaints. Only 2.2% of complaints in 2008 concerned billing, which is not as critical.

It's also a good idea to check the insurer's complaint record at your state insurance department to see if any enforcement actions have been taken. You can find links to your state insurance regulator at the new Kiplinger Insurance Center.

The complaint statistics show how important it is to report problems with an insurer to your state insurance department. You go on record as having complained and, after the complaint is investigated, it can then be included in the figures to help warn other people about potential problems with the insurer. Plus, the regulator may be able to put extra pressure on the insurer to resolve your complaint.

Got a question? Ask Kim at askkim@kiplinger.com.




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