Everyone will need an insurance agent at some point.

When you need protection for your first car or home, when you're looking for health insurance for your family, or when you're planning for your future and what you leave behind for your loved ones, your insurance agent will be an invaluable source of information.

Since they'll be helping you make some very big decisions, it's important to find the right insurance professional to work with. In this article, we'll go over the things you should consider when looking for an agent.

Can't I Just Google That?

Dealing with an agent might seem outdated. After all, anyone who needs to get insurance coverage can do a web search, get an automatically generated quote, and fill out a one-size-fits-all application (learn more in 5 Ways New Technology Will Change the Way You Buy Insurance).

And if you have any questions, you could always just do a web search to find answers. You might even find a chatbot that will help you out (see Insurance Advice from a Robot? It's Already Happening to find out more).

This approach has its appeal, especially with how quick and convenient it is. But there are some downsides that are worth bearing in mind. When you rely on a computer to determine what's best for you, you miss out on the personal touch you could get from working with an insurance agent. They can determine what policy would be a best fit for you by getting to really know your situation and your needs. They might also suggest specialized policies, endorsements, or riders that you may not have been aware of (for related reading, see 12 Disability Benefit Riders to Improve Your Coverage).

That's their job: to get to know you, find out what you're looking for, and search for the policy that will best suit your situation. That's bound to get you better results than filling out a generic checklist.

What You Should Look For in an Agent

When you're looking for an agent, you shouldn't just click on the first link that comes up in your online search or call the first insurance agent whose name you see in an ad.

Making a smart choice will require a little homework, but you'll be grateful you took the time to do it – especially when you need to file a claim or have a problem with your insurance policy.

Referrals

This can be one of your greatest sources of insight. Word of mouth can tell you a lot about the pros and cons of dealing with a particular agent,

Knowledgeability

Any agent worth their salt will know the products they're selling.

An important part of their role is to educate you before you make a purchase, so make sure they know their stuff. Do they seem to know how the policies work, what their limitations and exclusions are, and what alternatives you could consider? If not, you might want to look for someone else.

Experience

Agents who have been practicing for a longer time tend to have a better handle on how a policy will aid (or harm) an insured.

More experienced agents have also seen it all. They'll be better equipped to handle any issues that come up.

Personality

The more you interact with your agent, the more they get to know you and learn to anticipate your needs before they arise.

It's important, then, to pick someone you don't mind talking to. If you do your best to avoid your agent or keep calls with them short, you'll never get the kind of personalized service they can offer you.

Availability

Some agents have too many clients and won't be able to give you their full attention. They're likely to focus their efforts on the clients that bring them the greatest commission, and if you're looking for an agent for the first time, it probably won't be you.

If you ever have to file or deal with an insurance claim, you want your insurance agent to be ready to help you. If you have to leave them several messages before getting a call back, you're better off finding someone who will be able to prioritize you.

Some Things to Consider

There are a few aspects of the insurance business that are worth knowing about when you're looking for an agent.

Direct Vs. Independent Agents

A direct agent is only able to sell you the products of the company they are appointed with. Your agent will still try to find you the best option for your needs, but they will only have a few options to choose from.

An independent agent, on the other hand, has access to a wider range of products. Although they might still be only offering products from he companies they are appointed by, that gives you more variety to choose from and increases your likelihood of finding a policy that suits you perfectly.

Other Lines of Insurance

Consider what kind of insurance you might need in the future.

You might be getting car insurance while still sharing an apartment with a few friends, but a few years down the road you might be ready to put a down payment on a house. You'll want an agent who will be able to advise you when that time comes.

Find an agent with multiple licenses so they can handle your various insurance needs – now and in the future.

Commendations and Complaints

Complaints lodged against insurance agents are easy to find. Search a potential agent's name on the websites of:

Each of these organizations collects complaint data and makes it available to the public.

What About Insurance Brokers?

if you still have reservations about an insurance agent, you could consider working with an insurance broker instead.

The real difference between the two is that while an insurance agent is there to help you find insurance, they work for the insurance company. A broker, on the other hand, is independent of the insurance company. They will have greater leeway in what they sell because they do not have to be appointed by the company to sell their products. They will also have greater knowledge of what they sell because the law requires that they do (see What Is an Insurance Broker? to learn more).

Find the Right One

Working with the right insurance agent can make all the difference. So take a bit of time to do some research and look for an agent with the right qualities.

Once you find the right agent, you won't regret taking the time to do it.