By Karen Cheney and Ashley Tate
Updated: August 17, 2014
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Clayton Junior

What’s that again? You’ll work with one (or more) of these folks when you’re shopping around for coverage for your vehicle, home, life, health care, or long-term disability.

When to hire: It’s simple. Contact an agent if you need help figuring out what type of coverage and how much coverage you should have. That’s something insurance websites can’t assist you with. “Agents learn the details of your life and help you determine the specifics of your coverage,” says Jack Hungelmann, an independent insurance agent and the author of Insurance for Dummies (Wiley, $22, And down the road, if you have to file a claim (say, an SUV sideswipes your hatchback or your basement floods), the process will go more smoothly if you have a relationship with an agent.

Expect to pay: Zip. Agents work on commission from insurance companies, usually earning around 10 to 15 percent of your annual premium. To ensure that you are getting the best deal, hire an independent agent who is an expert in the type of coverage you’re seeking and who works with multiple insurance companies.

How to find a good one: Your first stop should be, which is owned by the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America, a trade association. Ideally, you want an independent certified insurance counselor (CIC), who receives 100 hours of education, plus 20 hours of continuing education annually.