Theoretically, the Internet should ease the unpleasant task of shopping for insurance. When we explored the online offerings, though, we found some information about auto, homeowners, disability, long-term-care and health insurance, but hardly any quotes.

You can find a low-price, term life insurance policy on the Web, but there are a lot of dead ends along with the useful sites. To find the best deals, you still need to visit several destinations.That said, here are the best of the life insurance sites:

- LOWEST PRICES. The lowest quotes we found came from InstantQuote (www.instantquote.com) and Quotesmith (www.quotesmith.com). Both provide "real-time" quotes - that is, you can see quotes online within seconds.

ConsumerQuote (www.consumerquote.com), which mailed the quotes within a few days, and MasterQuote (www.masterquote.com), whose quotes arrived more than a week later, cited the same low-price policies as Quotesmith.

Among several quote services that do not provide prices for 30-year policies, TermQuote (www.rcinet.com/termquote), which also mails quotes, provided the lowest 20-year rate.

- BEST FOR POLICY INFORMATION. When you receive an insurance quote, you don't know whether you'll get that price until you take a physical exam. If the quote service doesn't obtain enough medical-history information, you may be charged a much higher rate after the exam.

InstantQuote and Quotesmith automatically quoted prices for the least expensive, "preferred plus" rate class without asking enough questions to determine whether you would qualify. However, both services provided quotes and detailed information about all the policies in their databases that fit the criteria.

Most important, InstantQuoteand Quotesmith were the only sites we found that include each policy's underwriting criteria - the list the company uses to decide who qualifies for each rate. Use the underwriting criteria to predict whether you'll qualify for different rates.

- BEST PRESCREENING. If you don't want to spend time wading through InstantQuote's or Quotesmith's information to find a price you can count on, go to a quote service that asks more detailed health questions in the first place.

ConsumerQuote and MasterQuote asked more questions about health condition, but provided much less policy information, listed no underwriting criteria and provided quotes from only a handful of companies.

Quicken InsureMarket (www.insuremarket.com) and InsWeb (www.insweb.com) asked some of the most detailed medical questions but had fewer than 10 companies apiece in their databases. Generally, quote services with more than 50 companies in their databases tended to find the same low rates.