Meeting an insurance agent and buying an insurance policy for the first time is sort of like going on a blind date. You’re hoping to find someone who makes you happy and fulfills your needs. But while you know a little bit about what you want, you’re not quite sure what you’re actually going to get.
It’s good to do a little research before any blind date so that you’ll know with whom you’re dealing on some basic level. It’s the same with an insurance agent: You want to know that this person is reputable and well liked, and when you do meet, you’ll want to have a few topics lined up to discuss with him or her.
One of the first things you should find out about an insurance agent is with whom he or she is affiliated. Is the agent independent, meaning he or she represents a wide range of insurance companies? Or is this person a captive agent, meaning he or she represents only one company?
Before your meeting, search for the agent through the Better Business Bureau and see if there are any complaints, or check out reviews on services such as Yelp or Angie’s List.
When you meet for the first time, you’ll want to ask a few important questions to determine if this is really the right agent and policy for you. Keep in mind the following five questions to ensure a productive first “date.”
1. What is your role as an insurance agent?
People typically think that an insurance agent handles all aspects of insurance, but that’s not the case, said Linda Rey, an independent insurance agent with her family’s company, Rey Insurance, in Sleepy Hollow, New York.
“An agent helps to facilitate between the insured and the insurance company, helps resolve discrepancies, or intervenes with any kind of dissatisfaction,” she said.
For example, an agent helps set up the policy and billing, and he or she can help get the claim reported, but the agent does not necessarily handle the claim from start to finish.
2. How do you handle insurance claims?
Asking the agent about the procedure for handling claims can reveal how he or she operates. Is this agent very hands on, helping you deal with a claims adjuster, for example? Or does he or she only offer help when you hit a snag with the insurance company? What happens if you’re dissatisfied with the insurance company’s payout—does the agent intervene?
3. Why do you need my Social Security number?
According to Rey, she and her agents are frequently asked why an insurance company needs a customer’s Social Security number and for what it will be used. Frequently, it’s used to check your credit score.
“The credit score has been proven to have a direct correlation with the policyholders’ bill-paying habits and maintenance of their policy,” she said.
Basically, the higher your credit score, the lower your premium may be if you’re a “low-risk policy holder.”
4. How do insurance policy renewals work? What about raising premiums in the future?
To get the specific answers you need, ask the insurance agent the following questions: How are the insurance policy’s deductibles applied? Is the deductible applied per year, per claim, or in the case of auto insurance, for example, per member of the family? When can I renew or review my policy?
As far as cost goes, Rey says to expect increases periodically across all lines and all companies. “If it doesn’t happen,” she says, “embrace it and consider it a bonus.”
5. What does or doesn’t my policy cover?
If you need a little more explanation of your insurance policy, try throwing out some scenarios to your agent to test your coverage. It’s a good way to understand how your policy functions—and how your agent thinks.
And like with any date, don’t settle. If you don’t click with the agent and he or she is not offering you what you need, keep looking. As the saying goes, there are plenty of fish in this particular sea.
Michelle Stoffel Huffman is a researcher and staff writer for Think Glink Inc. Prior to joining Think Glink, Michelle worked for the Chicago Tribune as a daily news reporter and community manager, covering local government, business, tax issues and crime. She now specializes in real estate industry news, consumer financial reporting and home design and decor. She is a graduate of DePaul University in Chicago.