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Most of the jobs for which an insurance license is legally required are sales jobs. Insurance licenses are also required for some other jobs within the insurance industry, such as claims adjusters, property appraisers and trainers. There are several different types of insurance license, depending on the state you live in.
Sales Agent Licenses
Anyone who intends to sell insurance must first hold the appropriate insurance license issued by their state. In addition to life, health, auto and property insurance, separate licenses are required for industrial fire and burglary insurance, motor vehicle rental insurance, title insurance,and surplus lines insurance. Some states, instead of issuing separate licenses for life insurance and health insurance, consolidate the two into a single license, commonly called “life and health.” Likewise, some states consolidate the property and casualty licenses into a single license.
Sales Agent Jobs
The majority of sales agent jobs are held by agents with licenses to sell life, health, automobile or property insurance. Their time is divided primarily between prospecting for clients, primarily by phone, and making sales presentations in prospects' homes or the office. Sales agents' work hours are often irregular, as they frequently make their presentations in the evening. They're classified according to the type of relationship they have with the company or companies whose products they sell:
- Captive agents work exclusively for only one insurance company, and can sell only the products that company offers that are permitted by the agent’s license. Captive agents generally earn lower commissions than their independent counterparts, although some captive agents can boost their compensation with bonuses based on their production. They also enjoy marketing and administrative support, as well as sales leads provided by the company they work for.
- Independent agents don’t work for one insurance company, but are appointed by many companies and thus have a broader range of products to sell. Most independent agents belong to an independent insurance agency with which they share their commissions, and which offers them administrative, marketing and prospecting support.
- Self-employed agents comprise about a fifth of all insurance agents nationwide. Like independent agents who work for an agency, they secure appointments from several companies to be able to offer clients a wide range of choices. They’re responsible for their own administrative and marketing support, but don’t share their commissions.
Most insurance sales agents, including captive agents, work as independent contractors, not employees. They earn commissions based on their sales and those commissions aren't subject to income or payroll tax withholding. Agents are thus responsible for paying income and payroll taxes when they file their income tax returns; in addition, they're also responsible for paying self-employment tax.
Appraisers and Claims Adjusters
Another type of insurance license is required to become a claims adjuster, a person who evaluates damage done to insured property. They physically inspect damaged property and determine the cost of repairing or replacing it. Appraisers, the people who determine the value of real estate for the purpose of issuing homeowners’ insurance, are generally licensed through their state’s real estate commission.
As is the case with sales agents, adjusters have different relationships with insurance companies.
- Staff claims adjusters work for a single company, like captive insurance agents, and are paid a salary.
- Independent claims adjusters are similar to independent sales agents in that they work for a claims adjustment company that contracts with several insurance companies. Considered independent contractors, they’re paid a percentage of the settlement amount of each claim they handle.
Most insurance companies that provide agent training in-house require that their trainers have extensive experience in the area they're teaching, and may also require that they hold active licenses.
Some less common insurance licenses are credit, travel, car rental and surplus lines. These are all sales licenses and permit the agent to sell specialized insurance. Credit insurance, for example, is life insurance which pays the creditor any outstanding balance on the insured's credit account, in the event of their death. A surplus lines license authorizes an agent to sell insurance which hasn't been authorized by the state, but is sold in other states, and for which no reasonable state-authorized alternative is available.
Earning a License
Candidates must complete a training course, either online or in person,and pass a written examination to earn an insurance license. Once licensed, agents are required to satisfy continuing education requirements established by the states in which they're licensed.
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- AdjusterPro: Insurance Adjuster FAQ
- US News: Best Business Jobs -- Insurance Agent
- The Truth About Insurance: Independent Agent vs Captive Agent
- insureme: Captive Agents versus Non-captive Agents -- Finding Your Niche
- NYS Dept of Financial Services: Broker Payments to Unlicensed Trainees
- Florida Div. of Insurance Agent and Agency Services: License Qualifications
- U.S. Dept. of Labor: Occupational Outlook Handbook - Claims Adjusters, Appraisers, Examiners and Investigators
- U.S. Dept. of Labor, Burea of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- Insurance Sales Agents
- Indeed.com: Insurance Trainer
Dale Marshall began writing for Internet clients in 2009. He specializes in topics related to the areas in which he worked for more than three decades, including finance, insurance, labor relations and human resources. Marshall earned a Bachelor of Arts in communication from the University of Connecticut.