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In terms of sales careers, selling insurance tops the list of the most potentially lucrative, even for those with limited experience. In fact, it’s possible for an agent to earn well over six figures in the first year of sales, with the potential for significant growth over the course of his career. Because it’s possible to get a job as an insurance agent with little to no experience in the field, it’s an attractive option for many people. Becoming an agent typically requires completing state-mandated insurance education, securing a license and becoming appointed with an insurance carrier to sell its products.
Every state has its own requirements for individuals who want to become insurance agents, but these usually begin with an insurance education course for the specific line of insurance you want to sell, such as life, health or property and casualty insurance. All states require prospective agents to be at least 18 years old with a high school diploma to take the courses, which generally involve anywhere from 20 to 40 hours of classroom training. Many education providers offer self-paced or online courses, as well as in-person training. You may also find insurance-agent preparation courses through your local adult or continuing education department. Check with your state’s department of insurance to determine the specific requirements for your state; the hours and course requirements may vary. In California, for example, applicants are required to complete a 20-hour prelicensing course and a 12-hour course in ethics and code, while Maine only requires a prelicensing course.
Pass the Exam
Upon completion of the education requirements, you can take the licensing exam for your state. Typically, you have up to a year after completing your course to take the exam; most prospective agents opt to take the test at the end of their licensing course while the information is still fresh. The test is usually offered at local testing centers, and you must register in advance to take it.
Tests vary by state, but are usually multiple-choice tests of your knowledge on specific insurance products as well as local laws, regulations, rules and practices. To pass the exam, you must earn a score of at least 70.
Apply for a License
After passing the insurance exam, you may apply for a state insurance license. The easiest way to do this is to apply at the National Insurance Provider Registry, which will walk you through the process of completing all of the steps. The application will include authorization for a background check, and you’ll also be directed to a local agency to be fingerprinted, in accordance with federal law. In some cases, you may be able to complete the fingerprinting requirement when you take your licensing exam. You will also need to pay a fee for your license; costs vary, but are generally between $75 and $100.
Once you are licensed by your state, you can apply to work with insurance companies. You can either work with an established agency, which will help you become appointed (or authorized) to sell products from specific carriers, or work with carriers directly if you are an independent agent. Every carrier has its own appointment process, which usually requires you to submit an application with copies of your insurance license, an additional background and/or credit check and company-specific training. Once you are appointed with a carrier, you are allowed to sell its products.
Keeping your insurance license current requires completing both state continuing education requirements and carrier-specific training. Insurance agents working with specific life and health products, for example, must complete carrier training on an annual basis to remain appointed. Most states require insurance agents to earn a specific number of CE credits every two to three years, with at least some of the credits from ethics courses. In most cases, these requirements can be fulfilled by attending seminars or taking online courses.
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An adjunct instructor at Central Maine Community College, Kristen Hamlin is also a freelance writer and editor, specializing in careers, business, education, and lifestyle topics. The author of Graduate! Everything You Need to Succeed After College (Capital Books), which covers everything from career and financial advice to furnishing your first apartment, her work has also appeared in Young Money, Lewiston Auburn Magazine, USA Today, and a variety of online outlets. She's also been quoted as a career expert in many newspapers and magazines, including Cosmopolitan and Parade. She has a B.A. in Communication from Stonehill College, and a Master of Liberal Studies in Creative Writing from the University of Denver.
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