What to know about insurance agent licenses and bonds
The steps to becoming an insurance agent can depend on the licensing requirements in your state and what kind of agent or broker you want to be. Overall, the requirements typically include taking classes, written exams, and a background check.
You’ll also need to decide which types of licenses to pursue within the insurance industry. Many agents start with a few limited lines of insurance before adding any additional licenses and increasing the number of policies they can sell.
When do you need an insurance agent license?
You’ll need a license in order to discuss policy options with a client and conduct a sale. Attempting to sell insurance without a license could result in large financial and even criminal penalties. Selling insurance to anyone without a license could even result in a felony charge.
Some insurance agency tasks, however, can be performed by someone without a license. Unlicensed employees can return a customer’s phone call, arrange meetings, provide information to the client, and help with paperwork.
An unlicensed employee can also provide policy information to clients, so long as the employee reads from an agency script and does not interpret the information for the customer. An unlicensed employee is not allowed to receive any pay that is formally tied to insurance commissions.
How do you get an insurance agent license?
Each state has different, but similar requirements for getting an insurance license. For many of them, the application process requires pre-licensing courses before taking a proctored state exam at a test center, although some of them do not require a licensing course.
Some of them limit the number of times you can take a licensing test in a year. They all require in-person testing, fingerprinting, and background checks. Many states also require a surety bond.
When you are ready to apply for a license, there is normally a filing fee when you submit an application. This can vary in price depending on the type of license you are applying for. For instance, in California a filing fee can range anywhere from $60 up to $6,000. Additionally, you will likely be required to renew your license after a set amount of time, which typically requires you to pay a fee of equal or lesser value than your original application fee.
Let’s take a look at the insurance exam and license information in four different states to see how their insurance laws compare.
How to get an insurance license in California
California requires 20 hours of pre-license education for either a property and casualty license or a life, accident, and health license—plus 12 hours on ethics and the California insurance code.
Licensing tests must be taken within one year of completing a pre-license education course. Each exam consists of 150 questions. Information on these tests and what to expect from them can be found on the on the California Department of Insurance educational resource page.
Anyone who fails the licensing exam 10 times in 12 months is barred from taking the same exam for another year.
After passing the test, the state requires a fingerprinting and background check before applying for a license with the state.
For more information, check the California Department of Insurance website, or the department’s insurance licensing page.
How to get an insurance license in Florida
Florida requires license applicants to take a pre-license education course that corresponds with the type of license they intend to pursue. These courses are available in person and online.
A property and casualty license requires 200 hours of instruction, while a life and health license requires 60 hours of instruction. After successfully completing the course, you can apply for a license with the state, undergo a fingerprinting and background check, and take the state licensing exam.
The life and health exam consists of 150 questions, while there are 160 questions on the property and casualty, general lines exam. You can take each test up to five times per year. You can also see an outline of the tests to get an idea of the subjects they cover.
More information and study materials are available through Florida’s Division of Insurance Agent and Agency Services.
How to get an insurance license in Georgia
Georgia requires 20 hours of pre-license education for either a property and casualty license, or a life, accident, and health license.
After completing the course, you can take the in-person licensing exam. Each exam consists of 80 questions, and you can check out an outline of the exams here.
If you fail the licensing test, you must wait at least two weeks before retaking it. If you fail the test three times, you must retake the pre-license education courses through a different provider before you can take the test again.
You must also complete a fingerprinting and background check, as well as fill out a citizenship affidavit, before applying for your license.
For more information, check out the state’s Office of Commissioner of Insurance and Safety Fire’s website, or the department’s insurance licensing webpage.
How to get an insurance license in Texas
Texas does not have education requirements for an insurance license, but you might consider taking a pre-license education course, either in person or online. You can also see an outline of the test to get an idea of the subjects it covers.
You’ll have to take an in-person exam for either life and health, property and casualty, or both. Each exam consists of 125 questions. There are no limits on how many times you can take either test.
After passing, you must apply for a license within one year, but first you’ll have to submit to a fingerprinting and background check.
If you pass the fingerprinting and background check, you can apply for a license. A separate application will be needed for each license you seek.
For more information, check the Texas Department of Insurance website.
Renewing your insurance license will require more classes
Keep in mind that even after obtaining a license to sell insurance, your education requirements aren’t over. Every state requires continuing education courses to renew a license, while also complying with all relevant laws and regulations.
In addition to continuing education courses, many insurance agents also take classes to improve their knowledge and increase the type of policies they can sell.
For more information on licensing requirements in all 50 states, check out the National Insurance Producer Registry website.
What licenses and bonds should an insurance agent consider?
Insurance agents will need a resident license to sell personal lines insurance within their home state. Personal lines include insurance products that protect individuals against a financial loss resulting from injury, death, property damage, and loss of property.
Once you’ve obtained a license, you can also apply for a nonresident licensure to sell insurance in other states as well. Many states have different insurance licenses grouped by the types of policies an agent can sell. Most states group them according to the following categories:
Insurance agents and brokers
- Fire and casualty, also known as property and casualty (P&C): Allows you to sell a broad range of policies, including automobile, personal property, business insurance, and flood insurance. For many agents, this is the first license they seek.
- Life and health insurance: For selling life insurance, annuities, Medicare, health insurance, long-term care, and related products.
- Surplus lines: A specialized license involving financial risks that are considered too high for a regular insurance policy.
Insurance adjuster, or claims adjuster
An adjuster settles insurance claims by inspecting the insured’s property when a claim is filed to determine what the insurance company will cover.
There are many adjuster licensing options, including:
- Staff adjuster: This role works directly for an insurance company in settling claims.
- Independent adjuster: This type of adjuster usually works under contract with an adjustment or claims administration firm. Might also be hired by insurance companies when facing a large number of claims.
- Public adjuster: A public adjuster is hired by policyholders to gain the maximum amount of compensation from the insurance company on a claim.
- Catastrophe adjuster (CAT): Typically works for insurance companies during large claim events such as hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. They will normally work directly for insurance companies.
A third-party administrator (TPA) insurance license covers a wide range of options related to insurance. A TPA license may be required for an individual or company with administrative responsibilities involving insurance.
This can include operational services, such as processing claims and managing employee benefits for another company. Their responsibilities may include managing health insurance and retirement programs, such as 401(k) plans.
Surety bonds for insurance agents
Most states require a surety bond to sell insurance. Also known as insurance producer bonds, fidelity bonds, and insurance broker bonds, surety bonds offer financial protection to any clients harmed by negligent or fraudulent acts from their insurance agent.
Some states require an entire brokerage to have a surety bond for the company and its agents. In other states, each broker must be individually bonded. The cost of an insurance surety bond primarily depends on the size of the bond purchased.
For example, using the same four states whose license requirements we evaluated:
- California requires an insurance broker bond of $10,000
- Texas requires a $25,000 insurance agency bond
- Florida requires that an insurance agency have a $35,000 surety bond
- Georgia requires a $50,000 surety bond for insurance agencies
What about coverage for an insurance agent?
To provide protection for themselves, insurance agents will typically consider the following policies:
- General liability insurance: This policy covers basic insurance agent risks, such as customer property damage and injuries. It's often required for commercial leases and contracts.
- Errors and omissions insurance: E&O covers legal defense costs related to work performance, such as a P&C agent sued for negligence in a claims dispute. It's also called professional liability insurance.
- Business owner’s policy: A BOP bundles commercial property insurance and general liability insurance under one plan. It's often the most cost-effective type of commercial insurance for insurance professionals.
- Workers’ compensation insurance: Most states require workers' comp for insurance agencies that have employees. It also protects sole proprietors from work injury costs that health insurance might deny.
While insurance and bonds may differ, both are key to a business’s risk management strategy.