There's a lot you can do online these days, and shopping for insurance is no exception. While you can easily compare premiums on Web sites, they can't help you much with tactical insurance strategies.
This is where an agent's help can be invaluable. Insurance agents will help you strategize, answer your questions and assist you in getting complete coverage. Independent agents, also called brokers, can help you find the policy and the company that's right for you.
A good agent will save you money while acting as a risk manager for your household. How do you find an agent who will lead you through the insurance jungle rather than deeper into the thick?
Below are some tips designed to help you find an insurance agent you can trust:
1. Do some preliminary research. Use an online agent locator at the Web sites of organizations with rigorous ethical codes. Bankrate's Tools & Resources page provides links to several organizations.
2. Check out the agent's qualifications. When you find an agent by other means, look for a couple of things: Is he/she licensed by the state? What are his/her credentials? Is he/she a Chartered Financial Consultant? Is he/she a Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter or Chartered Life Underwriter? Check all candidates with your state insurance commissioner to see if there have been complaints.
3. Consult your own network. Take the list to friends or advisers -- maybe your financial planner or lawyer -- in your community and ask who they would recommend. Word-of-mouth referrals are often the best.
4. Schedule a consultation with the prospective agent. Finding an agent that's thorough is key. "A good insurance agency works as a risk manager for a household," says Robin Olson, senior research analyst with the International Risk Management Institute in Dallas and member of the CPCU Society (Chartered Property Casualty Underwriters).
It's important that the agent listens to what you say and asks the right questions to best understand your situation and needs. Even when the agent is qualified, you might not want to work with him or her if the chemistry isn't right.
5. Check out the insurance company. Whether you buy from an independent agent or a dedicated company representative, it's important to check the financial rating of the company from which you ultimately buy insurance. You're investing money on the promise that it will pay out in the future, so you need to be confident that company will be around when you need it.