Your first step in obtaining life insurance coverage should be to contact a life insurance agent in your area. Collect the names of several agents through recommendations from friends, family, business associates, and other sources. A list of agents can also be found in your local phone book or by contacting your state's or province's insurance department. Find out:
Is that agent licensed in your state? A licensed insurance agent in your area can provide information and advice on coverage options and cost-saving measures. Agents should be familiar with insurance companies in your city, state, or province, especially those that will be able to provide the coverage needed. Agents may represent one company or several companies. All insurance companies and agents are regulated by state insurance departments. Keep in mind that agents who sell variable products must be registered with the National Association of Securities Dealers and have additional state licenses.
Does the agent have any professional designations? Determine if your agent has any professional designations. Most states or provinces also require agents to take continuing education courses to remain licensed in a given state or province. In addition to the courses required by the state or province, many agents take a series of courses and are awarded with professional designations. You may notice the following designations next to your agent's name indicating that a professional designation has been awarded for successful completion of a series of courses.
Professional designations that life insurance agents may earn include
Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU) and Life Underwriter Training Council Fellow (LUTCF). Agents who also are financial planners may have other designations, such as, Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC), Accredited Estate Planner (AEP), Certified Financial Planner (CFP), or Member of The Registry of Financial Planning Practitioners. Other designations include Registered Health Underwriter (RHU) and Fellow Life Management Institute Program (FLMI).
Is the agent a member of a professional association? Ask whether the agent is a member of a professional association. The major association for agents is the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors (NAIFA) in the United States and the Canadian Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors (CAIFA) in Canada. NAIFA's local associations provide educational seminars and help update agents on trends. Similar training and services for financial planners are available through the Society of Financial Service Professionals (SFSP), Institute of Certified Financial Planners (ICFP), and International Association for Financial Planning (IAFP).
Initials after a name only go so far. Make sure your agent has the experience and knowledge necessary to see the big picture. A good agent will take the time to understand your objectives, help you construct a financial game plan, and then work with you to find the right insurance products for your specific situation.