Insurance Agent Career Overview

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become an insurance agent. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about schooling, job duties and licensure required to find out if this is the career for you.

An insurance agent's duties can consist or more than just selling insurance. With the appropriate initial education, training, experience and continued education, the job can become multifaceted as well as lucrative.

Essential Information

Insurance agents sell insurance policies, and they may also offer financial planning services. In order to work, they must complete some licensure preparation coursework and obtain a state license. College graduates with a bachelor's degree are preferred to hold insurance agent positions. Some employers also hire high school graduates, particularly if they have relevant work experience. Continuing education is necessary for maintaining licensure.

Required Education High school diploma or equivalent, though a bachelor's degree is preferred by employers; pre-licensure college coursework required in most states
Other Requirements State license and continuing education; work experience required for applicants with a high school diploma; on-the-job training is common
Projected Job Growth (2014 - 2024)* 9%
Median Salary (2015)* $48,200 annually

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Insurance Agent Job Description

Insurance agents work with clients and suggest the best insurance policies based on their clients' needs. They may also help settle claims. An insurance agent can either be captive, employed by a single insurance company, or independent, working for and selling the policies of several companies. Different types of insurance can be sold, but agents can specialize in a specific type. Some options include health, life, disability, casualty, long-term care or property insurance.

Many insurance agents also offer financial planning services to clients interested in planning their retirement and setting up investment or pension plans. Successful agents can move into more advanced positions, such as sales manager.

Education Requirements

Most employers prefer to hire someone with a bachelor's degree, especially in a major like finance, business or economics. However, work experience and proven sales ability may be able to help individuals with only a high school diploma obtain work as an insurance agent. New agents may be required to shadow a more experienced agent in order to become familiar with interacting with clients, writing policies and conducting business. Participating in continuing education is often necessary to keep up with changes in State and Federal regulations, government benefit programs and tax laws.

Licensure

Due to insurance laws varying from state to state, insurance agents are required to have a license specific to the state in which they work. Separate licenses must be obtained to sell health, life, property and casualty insurance. Agents typically complete prelicensing courses and pass an examination to earn licensure. Many states mandate that insurance agents complete continuing education every two years to maintain their license.

Certification

Certification can also be achieved in specialty insurances by completing courses offered by the National Alliance for Insurance Education and Research. This designation shows future employers and clients that certified insurance agents have sufficient knowledge in their area of specialization. Continuing education requirements must also be met to maintain certification. The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards offers a credential to insurance agents interested in financial planning.

Salary Information and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), insurance agents earned a median annual wage of $48,200 in 2015. Individuals in the lowest 10% earned up to $26,330 per year, while those in the highest 10% earned at least $122,590 annually. Insurance agents may be paid by commission only, a combination of salary and commission, salary only or salary plus bonus. Independent insurance agents can earn commission only, but captive agents earn a salary. Some employers offer commission as well, while others provide a bonus after reaching a sales or profit goal. The BLS projects that employment for insurance agents will grow 9%, which is faster than the average for all jobs in the U.S., during the 2014-2024 decade.

While a bachelor's degree in an area such as finance or business is the academic credential preferred by most potential employers, demonstrable sales ability and prior work experience may be enough for insurance sales agents. Licensure requirements are state-specific and also specific as to the type of insurance being sold. Certifications are available through professional organizations such as the National Alliance for Insurance Education and Research and the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards.


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