How to Choose a Life Insurance Agent

Life insurance agents can help you determine the right type of life insurance based on your unique needs and situation, and can help you find a policy at a price that you can afford. Choosing a life insurance agent is a personal decision, and one that should be taken seriously given the significance of the purchase.

What life insurance agents do

A life insurance agent's goal is to help you find a life insurance policy that best meets your needs and situation in terms of your family obligations, your finances, your health, and your personal circumstances. The life insurance agent you work with should be able to present you with a number of insurance options that meet your criteria, and should be able to explain clearly and simply the details, advantages, and drawbacks of each option. If you have questions, the agent should be able to listen to your questions and offer honest, understandable answers. At no point should you feel pressured into making a purchase; the life insurance agent should work with you until you can find an insurance arrangement you're comfortable with. Once you have purchased a policy, the agent should be available to review the details of the policy, including beneficiary designations, every few years.

How life insurance agents operate

Life insurance agents usually either work for one company directly or they work independently, and can help you buy insurance from a number of different companies. If an insuring agent works for one company, he or she will only be able to sell you insurance from that particular company. If an insurance agent represents multiple companies, he or she can sell you insurance from any of those companies.

In order to determine the best insurance for you and get you the best rates, insurance agents will often ask clients to fill out a questionnaire or answer a series of personal and financial questions. These questions usually address personal and family medical history, lifestyle, employment, and financial details. (At some point, you may also be required to receive a general medical examination by a doctor employed by the life insurance company. This medical exam will be used by the insurance company to determine your health, which in turn factors into the insurance premiums you'll pay.)

How to find a life insurance agent

If you already know the company you would like to purchase life from, you can contact that company and request to meet with an agent. If you don't know where you'd like to purchase your insurance from, one of the best ways to find a quality life insurance agent is through referrals.

Talk to friends, family members, and colleagues to learn if anyone has had a particularly good experience with a life insurance agent. While people may be reluctant to talk with you about the type or amount of life insurance they've purchased, you don't need to know the details of their purchase in order to learn about their experience.

Professional advisors, such as attorneys, accountants, and financial planners, may also be able to refer you to life insurance agents they work with and trust. Since your professional advisors already have a sense of your situation, they may be able to recommend an insurance agent who specializes in working with people in similar situations.

How to judge a life insurance agent

  • Is the agent properly licensed? Insurance agents should be licensed by the state in which they sell insurance, and licenses should be current (not expired). You can ask the agent you're considering if he or she is licensed, or you may be able to find out from your state's insurance department.
  • Does the agent have the proper experience? In order to find the right policy for you, it's a good idea to work with an insurance agent who has experience working with people in your situation. Ask the insurance agent if he or she has experience working with people in similar financial, family, and personal situations as yourself. In some cases, the agent may be able to provide you with client references you can call.
  • Does the agent have appropriate education, training, and professional credentials? Many insurance agents complete additional training and courses to obtain advance credentials. These credentials may include Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU), Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC), Certified Financial Planner (CFP), and Financial Services Specialist (FSS), among others. These advance credentials often signal a commitment to the profession and ethical business practices.

To get a sense of how much life insurance you might need, see our article How Much Life Insurance Do You Need?

If you're looking to purchase life insurance, use our resource Get Help Finding the Right Life Insurance.