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The importance of advocacy: 'Who loves ya, baby?'

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When buying insurance, the choice of your agent can be as important as your choice of doctor or other professional. Why? When you chose your doctor, you chose him or her not only for the specialty, but for your compatibility and "bedside manner", especially if you have kids. Same goes, maybe more so, for your dentist. No child wants to go to the dentist, and if the dentist is not very likeable, the problem is compounded. Choosing the right insurance agent goes beyond what products he or she sells. A good agent will be your family's advocate, will be there when he or she is needed. Think of the State Farm commercial, where every time the jingle is sung, the agent appears. This is the kind of relationship you should have with your agents.

The kind of relationship you have also helps determine the kind of service you receive. Does your agent contact you regularly, i.e. at least once a year to review your policy's coverage and talk about changes? Most agents do this. But does yours send you a Thanksgiving Day card? Or congratulate you on a special occasion? Is your agent visible in your community, helping to sponsor soccer or baseball teams? Or working with various community or church groups? It's these non-tangible assets that your agent brings to the table that you should be looking for; in other words, his value.

Value can be defined many ways, but when it comes to your family's well-being, it's his or her knowledge of your situation and circumstances that add value to the relationship. Take life insurance, for example. A good agent will take the time to educate you on the various types available, and ask questions to determine which is the best for you at that point in time. Remember, you buy insurance, not for what it is, but for what it does, and in the case of life insurance, it protects your family's way of living in the event of early death. But all life policies do that, don't they? The difference lies in the relationship your family has with your agent. Maybe you can save a few bucks by getting coverage online, but if you die, who does your family turn to? An 800 number, with multiple keypad options, and the ever-present "all of our agents are busy assisting other clients. Please stay on the phone for the next available agent."? Wouldn't you rather pay a few dollars more for local, caring and knowledgeable representation?

Buying insurance is an important piece in any family's financial strategy. Don't leave it to chance. Hire someone with whom you're comfortable working, who knows what he's talking about and can prove it, and who cares about you and your family. If a loss occurs, you and/or your family needs to feel certain that there is someone they can turn to for help. When shopping for an agent, remember that price is only an issue in the absence of value, and shop wisely.

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