Your insurance agent is a bit like your doctor: you won’t be calling them every day, but when you do, you need them to be there for you (learn about the benefits of working with an agent in Insurance Agents: What's The Point?).

There are several stressful scenarios in which you may need assistance from your insurance agent. When you have a hospital stay you’d like covered or you get rear-ended at a red light on your way to work, you may want help getting that claim paid. When you receive a notice in the mail that your policy is changing or that your premiums are going up, you will benefit from having someone you can trust available to answer your questions about these changes.

When hiring an insurance agent, your number one goal should be to work with someone who is experienced, knowledgeable, and truly cares about you. They should have the expertise required to properly assist you and the availability to provide help when you need it most.

When sifting through the options in search of the right expert, try asking these 5 questions before you select a new agent.

1. What is Your Area of Expertise?

Insurance comes in many forms: life, health, homeowners, disability, and so on. Ask your insurance agent which types of insurance they provide. Does their expertise cover your current needs? Even if the agent cannot provide all the types of insurance you want to purchase, you shouldn't automatically rule them out. You may consider selecting more than one agent to cover additional insurance needs. Remember to always choose agents who are knowledgeable in the field for which you’re hiring them and look for people who are committed to taking care of you.

2. Are You an Independent Agent or a Direct Broker?

There are two ways to purchase insurance: from the insurance company via a direct broker or through an independent agent. When you buy directly from a company, you are cutting out the middle man and might receive a quote faster or even be offered slightly lower premiums. On the other hand, you will also forfeit a number of advantages that come with choosing an independent agent. For example, an independent agent isn’t tied only to one insurance company and can present you with a wider range of options. They also legally represent you and your needs instead of the larger company. You can even choose an independent agent in your hometown to ensure their increased availability and better customer service. Regardless of your specific needs and priorities, always choose an agent willing to research your options and communicate them to you clearly.

3. Can You Tell Me Which Discounts I May Qualify For?

This question serves a dual purpose: you can learn more about your options for discounts and you can test the agent’s knowledge and willingness to help. Your options (and their suggestions) will vary based on the type of insurance you’re seeking and their area of expertise. Discounts could include a good driver discount for car insurance, a multi-policy discount for bundling more than one insurance, or a lifestyle change (such as quitting smoking) to lower life insurance premiums. Take note of how helpful the agent is when answering your specific questions.

4. How Accessible are You for Questions or Ongoing Support?

Again, you won’t be calling your agent every single day, but when something goes wrong and you need help getting a claim paid you want to be sure that your agent is available and willing to help. Ask your insurance agent what you should do if you need support after hours. Can they answer your questions if your policy changes and explain what those changes will mean for you? Find out the best way to reach your agent with any questions in the future and keep their contact information in a convenient place.

5. Do You Have Client References?

Many agents will put their best face forward when you're meeting them for the first time. How do you know they will continue to provide excellent customer service after you’ve signed on the dotted line? Ask to talk to some of their other clients. Client recommendations can ensure you’re hiring someone who is knowledgeable and helpful. When you follow up with client references, remember your ultimate goal: finding a friendly expert who will take care of you every step of the way. Do the other clients feel well taken care of by this agent? Do they describe the agent as trustworthy, knowledgeable, and helpful? If not, you may need to consider other options.

Summary

Your relationship with your insurance agent is important. You will want their help when you are confused about your policy or need help filing a claim, so you should feel comfortable calling with concerns and trust them to answer your questions accurately. Taking the time to ask an agent these 5 questions before you make a decision will ensure you are calling someone you can rely on when you need it most.