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When shopping for life insurance a generation ago, you probably would have discussed policies across the desk from a local life insurance agent.
Going old-school is still the best option in some cases, but if your coverage needs are simple, you can buy from an online life insurance agent or broker without going anywhere or talking to anybody.
Which approach is right for you depends on your situation. Here’s what to consider:
If all you need is term life insurance, an online agent or broker might fit the bill. Term life insurance covers you for a certain period, such as 10, 20 or 30 years. It’s inexpensive and sufficient for most families. (Learn more about the .)
Online agents or brokers let you get term life quotes, apply and buy coverage online. Some, such as Quotacy, which partners with NerdWallet's , let you compare quotes from several companies and select a policy.
Others sell term life online from a single company. They include Haven Life, a subsidiary of MassMutual; Ladder, which partners with Fidelity Security Life Insurance; and Ethos, which sells policies from Assurity Life Insurance Co. These companies specialize in a quick application process and can offer nearly instant coverage, without requiring a medical exam, for many applicants.
In addition, some life insurance companies let you get quotes and apply for term life directly from their own websites.
» MORE: See our roundup of the . Click on the insurers’ names to check out our reviews.
Choose a traditional agent or broker if you need more hand-holding than an online broker can provide or want permanent life insurance, such as or universal life. Permanent life insurance covers you for your whole life and includes “cash value,” a savings account that grows tax-deferred over many years. The policies are more complicated than term life.
Confused about life insurance and how it fits into your overall financial picture? Consider hiring a , who doesn’t make commissions on product sales. A certified financial planner can advise you on the type and amount of coverage to get and refer you to a reputable insurance agent. You can find planners who charge by the hour through the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, XY Planning Network and Garrett Planning Network.
A “captive” life insurance agent sells products from just one company. A State Farm agent, for instance, can sell only policies issued by State Farm.
An independent agent or broker can sell policies from a variety of insurance companies. That means you can compare prices and offerings from different companies -- but only those with which the agent has an agreement to sell. You can’t buy a policy through an independent agent from a company that uses only captive agents, such as State Farm, or only sells policies directly to the consumer, such as TIAA.
An independent agent is your best bet if you might have trouble qualifying for affordable coverage because of a health condition, such as diabetes, or a risky hobby, such as scuba diving. A good independent agent will know the rate-setting guidelines at different insurers and steer you to the one most likely to offer the best-priced coverage.
Ask your accountant, attorney or financial planner for referrals to life insurance agents. You can also find agents in your area by going to life insurance company websites.